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Firewater, a punk, folk and world music band from Brooklyn, NewYork, is continually testing an idealistic assumption.
“Most people – not some governments, maybe, but ordinary people – will always choose peace over war, friendship over enmity and free expression over silence,” says frontman and guitarist Tod A. “I want to test that assumption.”
A 2005 road test resulted in Firewater’s sixth album, The Golden Hour. Starting in Delhi, Tod traveled through India and into Pakistan, recording with an array of musicians he met along the way.
“Being a musician is rarely an easy life anywhere, but it’s particularly challenging in the parts of the world in which I was traveling,” he says. “But all the musicians I met were enthusiastic about collaborating with a foreigner. While they weren’t big fans of the American government, in general they seemed to be quite fond of Americans. Like me, most people didn’t feel their government really represented them. We bonded on that.”
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Which inspired Tod to dream even grander dreams: “Wouldn’t it be great to see Israelis and Palestinians playing together? Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots? Iranians and Americans?”
Tod’s interest in world music was initially inspired by a box of old records he ran across in a Russian junk shop on the lower East Side of New York. Formerly the front man of the band Cop Shoot Cop, he decided to combine his love of punk rock with the newfound inspiration of East European Gypsy and klezmer music – long before bands like Gogol Bordello and Beirut were working the same turf.
On Firewater’s first release, Get Off the Cross, We Need the Wood for the Fire (1996, Jetset Records), Tod’s punk roots shone through with his raspy voice and angsty lyrics, but the melodies were clearly Gypsy – and klezmer – inspired. The follow-up albums (The Ponzi Scheme, Psychopharmacology, The Man on the Burning Tightrope and Songs We Should Have Written) increasingly earned praise for having a unique and somewhat dark sound, and songs dealing with heavy topics such as religion, often in a light-hearted fashion.
The Golden Hour (2008, Bloodshot Records) features musicians from five different countries. “I was a little surprised myself how well the record came out,” Tod says, a sentiment echoed in the media. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but thankfully the reviews were very positive. The record got quite a bit of attention from the press and more outward-looking radio stations.”
Still, he’s looking forward to touring in Europe. “World music is still a ghetto in America; there’s very little support for it,” he says. “That’s slowly changing, but European audiences can be more open-minded.”
Firewater will be playing a good amount from The Golden Hour on this tour, along with some old favorites. Backing Tod will be Igal Foni on drums, Ravinder Sanhu on dhol and percussion, Reut Regev on trombone, Adam Scheflan on bass and Jaro Milko on guitar.
Beyond this tour, Tod is looking forward to resuming his travels through western Asia and the Mideast. “I really want to finish the road trip I initially set out to do, and maybe go a bit further,” he says. “This time I plan to start in Afghanistan and end in Palestine.”
He will be accompanied for part of the journey by Canadian filmmaker Andrew Coppin, who will document the trip. “Coppin’s film will follow the journey from Kabul through Iran, Kurdistan, Turkey, Greece, Palestine and Israel,” Tod says. “Traveling overland on all forms of local transportation and staying in low-budget accommodations should ensure lots of local flavor. The cast of characters will include everyone from well-known musical performers to local street musicians to whoever we meet along the way.”
The ultimate goal is to “continue to tour around the world, meet interesting people, taste delicious food and live life – while it lasts.”
For now, the 12-city tour of Europe will keep the band busy. Asked what he’s looking forward to, Tod says, “Italy for the coffee, Spain for the swimming and [the Czech Republic] for the pilsner!”