Firewater’s Tod A is an intriguing figure: with a deep, raspy voice reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s LA Woman era, the guy’s lyrics read as dark and sad laments, and yet he’s funny as hell and always manages a surprise twist on a pop beat. He’s clearly so mad at God--or what he was raised to believe was God--but not in the Marilyn Manson baby-on-a-cross nonsense. No, Tod’s a thinking man, who broaches the subject with logic and intelligence, and yet sounds starved for faith. So much so, you have to think he may be bound for some radical spiritual transformation. Either that, or he’ll soon be struck by lightening. Tod A. spoke with www.nighttimes.com two weeks after the World Trade Center devastation, from his Soho apartment.
Throughout the new album, Psychopharmacology [JetSet Records], you have that booze and pills and despair-thing happening, but on so much more of a pop music backbone than on your earlier albums. Do you agree?
Well, I’ve always liked pop music and the propaganda aspect of it. The complex message, delivered simply and directly. That’s what I’ve been shooting for over the last few records. Maybe I’m closer to the target.
I’m probably the hundredth person to ask you this in the last two weeks, but in light of recent events—and the fact that you’re a New Yorker-- how do you feel now about songs like “Black Box Recording” [a song sung from the viewpoint of a passenger on an airplane as it crashes to the ground]?
That song was written about a personal experience on a plane. I was actually flying from London to Hamburg and the plane suddenly lost altitude, I think they call it a down-draft or something. A bunch of people hit the ceiling. The song was basically inspired by the stupid things that go through your mind when you think you’re about to die.
We actually just played a couple shows after the World Trade Center thing, but we haven’t played that one yet. I still feel like we’re kind of making it up as we go along, in terms of how we’re dealing with this as a band. I’m not really sure. I live about six blocks from the World Trade Center and I watched it all happen after the first plane hit. I still can’t believe what I saw.
Like the other Firewater albums, you have some lyrics that feel like powerful statements today, such as the title track to Psychopharmacology when you say, “All you want is peace/but all you get is pills.” Is this an issue close to you, or just a general observation?
It’s something I’ve wrestled with. You know, I’m not the happiest camper in the troop. I’m not like manic-depressive or anything, I’ve certainly gone through my ups and downs. That’s also maybe a bit of the source—everybody who’s creative kind of goes through that. It’s a question everybody has to ask themselves, ‘do I want to be stupid and happy, or do I want to keep my identity and maybe be depressed all the time?’
…and maybe wind up creating art out of it?
Yeah. I don’t know. It’s a tough question. It’s actually written about a friend of mine who had a much tougher time about it than I did, and wound up deciding to… uh, walk out of the film.
Are you really that sad? Sometimes I hear a line like, “I still think that life’s for the living,” [“7th Avenue Static”] and I feel hopeful for you. At least, until you follow it with, “At least for awhile.”
That’s one of the conclusions I kind of came to recently. Just that this is the only shot we have. As cliched as it is, I sort of want to see what happens next.
On that same note, I listen to “Because God is great, and God is good, but he’s also made of wood.” You’ve expressed disappointment bordering on despair about religion, Christianity in particular. Was there a pivotal moment in your life when this belief was formed?
Well the holocaust didn’t really bode well for a beneficent God watching over humanity. Seeing now the World Trade Center, it’s hard to believe in a God that gives a shit. But I don’t know, I’m still willing to believe in the prospect of a God, but I just haven’t found one that seems like he, or she, cares.
I love the fact that Firewater doesn’t cater to any particular genre. This of course makes you a huge celebrity in indie circles, but not really recognized by the general masses. How do you feel about that? Would you be happy if radio embraced Firewater, or would that ruin the vibe?
We just do what we want to do. There are plenty of bands that are making music as product. You know, you open a Coca-cola, you get Coca-cola. We’re really not interested in making Big Macs. We just want to make music that’s honest. If that winds up being different on every song or every album, well, you can either take it or leave it. We’re just interested in making music.
I’d be fine with me [if we were played on the radio]. But we’re not really gonna change.
Something tells me you’re not really gonna ever be there with Matchbox 20, and, God forbid, I wouldn’t want you to be!
Aw, shucks. [laughs] You win some, you lose some.
As a writer, when I hear words like, “Sippin on an oxygen cocktail/with an ambulance chaser” [“Car Crash Collaborator”] I have to wonder: where does that come from? It’s brilliant, and yet so weird.
Um, I couldn’t tell ya. Every once in awhile I come up with some good one liners.
Who is “the Man with the Blurry face”? Anyone or any type in particular?
The every man you see on “America’s Most Wanted.” It’ll sound trite when I say it, but that’s everybody. An American looking for their 15 minutes, and finding it, and becoming a celebrity through whatever ridiculous act they want to commit.
Do you feel you fit into that at all?
Yeah, sure there’s an element of that in everybody. Everybody’s a nazi. Everyone has the potential to be the best or the worst humanity has to offer.
Have you been pleased with how Psychopharmacology has been received?
I guess so. I’m always at least 15 percent disappointed that it didn’t live up to my expectations, but if I was completely happy, than I probably wouldn’t keep making music.
What were your expectations?
You know, better than Sargeant Pepper. Maybe next time.
For a sad guy, you’re pretty funny.