Get Off The Cross… We Need The Wood For The Fire (Jet Set)
An interview with Tod A. (Vocals, Bass, Bazouki)
by Lex Marburger
Since the demise of Cop Shoot Cop, those of us who held them in high regard have anxiously waited with baited breath to see what Tod A. would do next. Well, he certainly doesn’t disappoint. Joining members of Motherhead Bug, Jesus Lizard, Soul Coughing, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Foetus, Laughing Hyenas, and Elysian Fields, he’s back with a new-angled vengeance in Firewater. Edging away from the brutal power of their mother bands, Tod and crew back up and pull out… Tangos. Gypsy melodies. Bossa Novas. Get Off The Cross… We Need The Wood For The Fire is a rollicking, inebriated shot through Eastern Europe, with a chaser of good old American back beat. Opening with a fond adieu to the Cop Shoot Cop sound, “Some Strange Reaction” has the familiar chords and structures that Tod A. seems to love, but with the welcome intrusion of violin (Hahn Rowe of Foetus) and, as the bio calls it, Sex-o-phone (courtesy of Kurt Hoffman, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion). From that point on, the only immediately recognizable element is Tod’s vocals. With a solid percussion section (Yuval Gabay, Soul Coughing, and Jim Kimball, Laughing Hyenas), and some surprisingly deft guitar work from Duane “Jesus Lizard” Denison, Firewater twists and shakes like some mad belly-dancer in a smoke-filled, bourbon-soaked opium den. “When I Burn This Place Down” is a drunken tango of revenge, while “The Drunken Jew” dives straight into the Middle East, pulling out great handfuls of Jewish/Gypsy melodies and rhythms. Top it all off with Jennifer Charles (Elysian Fields) adding her woozy torch-voice on “Mr. Cardiac,” and you’ve got yourself a band that’s perfectly suited for both weddings and clubs.
You’ve got this lineup that’s almost like a mini Supergroup. Where’d you meet all these people?
Through touring. I met Duane when Cop toured with Jesus Lizard, and Dave Ouimet is a friend of mine from way back. He was in Motherhead Bug, which was this amazing “Circus Orchestra” from NY, more of a spectacle than a band. I really dug his aesthetic. Again, Cop toured with Soul Coughing, where I met Yuval… So they’re all musicians I’ve played with, who have never disappointed me. When you tour with a band, and you’re forced to see them night after night, playing the same set, if they still interest you, if they give it something new each time, well… I needed someone who could play clarinet and sax, and someone recommended Kurt. I’d never heard him, but he could do everything that was needed, and his aesthetic was right. They’re basically all people who I really admire for what they do.
Some of the later Cop Shoot Cop material sounds similar to Firewater, although Firewater is distinctly original. Have you always been into… um… “Middle Eastern Lounge Wedding Music?”
For the past few years, a lot of the stuff I’ve been getting into I learned from Dave. I always knew I wanted to do something with real instruments, because as cool and versatile as samplers are, they have limitations in terms of letting the character of the person playing it come through. Samples can be very stiff sometimes. I wanted to make a record that sounds like a real band playing in a room; to get that vibe of complete reality. The similarity between Cop and Firewater is probably that element of myself that I’ll never escape. It’s hard to see yourself objectively. There was a lot of stuff that I felt Cop Shoot Cop was uncomfortable doing. I don’t know if we’ll keep going in the same musical direction as this album. The stuff I’m working on now is much more aggressive, but in a spy theme sort of way.
There’s also a Tom Waits “Rain Dogs” era type feeling in some of it too-
I take that as high praise, I’m definitely a fan of his. Ever since I’ve been getting into different music, especially Gypsy music, I’ve found that he might have listened to the same albums I did. In other words, if there’s a similarity there, that’s fine, but I wasn’t directly trying to emulate him, I think he’s really into Gypsy music as well. A lot of his melodies sound very Gypsy and Middle European. I picked up on that stuff from Dave. He’s got a great collection of that stuff. His wife is a French Gypsy, so she turned him onto it. There’s something about the emotion of that music, being sad and happy at the same time, that really appeals to me. It feels very natural. Get Off The Cross… wasn’t an attempt to make a certain kind of record, but rather to go off in different directions and be able to do the kinds of things that, as I said before, Cop wouldn’t want to do.
Even though the music is upbeat, in a sad kind of way, lyrically I get the feeling of the down side of drinking.
(laughs) I try to show both sides. It’s definitely a drinking record, but I don’t have a problem with that.
What should we be drinking when we listen to it?
That I’ll leave up to you, though I’d say bourbon. That’s my drink of choice, but it’s really up to the individual’s taste.
When I first saw the cover, I thought it was going to be some sort of metal album.
I hope that doesn’t lead too many people astray. Already there’s been a little bit of flak. Some stores in Florida refused to carry it because they thought it was blasphemous… it’s a little silly. I was kind of worried that the cover would give people the wrong idea.
What was the idea?
I found it humorous, and a striking image. That’s about all the thought I really put into it. It isn’t any huge religious statement. Whenever I look at a picture of Christ in that position, I’ve always seen a beer and a cigarette in his hand. I guess I should have thought about it more, but I figured we live in America, and have freedom of expression, so… I just hope the cover doesn’t become more of an issue than the music. If somebody was going to think it was a Dokken record or something, just because of the cover, that would really sadden me.
Are you planning to play live any time soon?
Because of the other people’s schedules, we’re probably not going to go out until March, and then we’ll go to Europe. But Duane (Jesus Lizard) and Yuval (Soul Coughing) are both really busy in their other… side projects (laughs). But I know those bands are never going to go anywhere.
You say that your next album is going to be more aggressive. Would that be some sort of “Death Tango?”
(laughs) Well, you’re the journalist, you come up with the catch phrases. It’s in the formative stages right now, and will probably change when we start rehearsing, but that’s a long way off. I can foresee that after the band plays out live, things might get more loose.
Who do you see yourself playing with? Where do you “fit?”
There’s a band you may or may not have heard of called Skeleton Key. I like those guys a lot, and they seem to like us. We’re “buddies,” so they might come with us in March. Or possibly Jesus Lizard, if Duane is into playing two shows a night. In the end, I don’t know who this record is going to appeal to. I hope it’ll be a broad range of people, but it’s like giving birth. I have no idea what it will become.
Do you think people have a natural visceral response to the general Gypsy/Middle Eastern sound?
When I first play the album for people, it brings a smile to their faces. They’re laughing at it in a way. It’s almost comical, it’s over the top, melodramatic. But I like that aspect of it. It’s not meant to be taken dead seriously. One of the things I like about Gypsy/Eastern European melodies is that they’ve got both elements in there. It’s talking about tragedy, but making you laugh, too.
Any favorite cuts on the album?
“Some Strange Reaction” has been getting good response from a few radio stations, and there’s a song that didn’t make it onto the album, ‘cuz we ran out of dough, called “Knock ‘Em Down,” which is kind of a Gospel drinking song. I hope to release that in Europe, if we get more money. But as for the record, “The Drunken Jew” is one of my favorites. I can’t wait to play that one live. I hope to get a “drunken wedding” atmosphere when we play, intoxicated revelry and all that. And we’ve been working on “The Girl From Ipanema.”