- CAMPUS LIFE
Punk rock and world music may not make sense together at first thought, but the band Firewater has fused cultural music from the Middle East and elsewhere with punk rock, creating a fresh and original blend of musical forms that challenges listeners in how they perceive both. To make the album Tod A spent time in Turkey and Israel during the Arab Spring of 2011, and the impact of that tumultuous time can definitely be heard in the music. The new album, International Orange!, was mixed by Tamir Muskat of Balkan Beat Box. Interview by Neil Ferguson.
Your new album has a lot different influences and musical elements. Talk about how you came upon the "world punk" sound.
I started getting fairly bored with strictly “American” music several years ago: everything sounded so sanitized, compartmentalized and and corporatized. Living in NYC exposed me to musical traditions, styles and rhythms from all over. Those flavors naturally seeped into my songwriting.
Describe the experience of working on the album in Tel Aviv and Istanbul during the time period that you were there. What was the environment like and how did that weigh on you musically?
We recorded in Istanbul during the middle of the Flotilla Crisis, a conflict between Turkey and Israel over Israel's blockading of Palestinian aid. At one point, it looked like the two countries would go to war. I liked the fact that during that scary time, Turks and Israelis were collaborating musically on this record. Tel Aviv is a crazy town. Nobody knows how long they've got, so they tend to live very much in the moment. Being there was surreal yet inspiring, with all the revolutions going on so nearby. Imagine the people of Canada and Mexico rising up and overthrowing their governments. That's sort of what it felt like.
Did you encounter any difficulties (politically or other) in being able to make record in either of those places?
Thankfully, no. In my experience, ordinary people can usually find a way to get along. Governments are a different story. I did have to cancel my plan to travel overland through Syria. I still want to do a trip through Iran. That will be the next place to blow up. Mark my words.
How different was the experience from recording an album in America or even Europe?
The studios were cheaper and the hummus was much, much tastier. Seriously, I think some of the energy of the place you record in inevitably gets captured on tape. Istanbul is a high-energy place, full of youth and optimism – pretty different from the feeling I get in most parts of America these days.
Are there any particular artists currently making music that you feel relate to your sound or that you just really enjoy?
Yes! There are many. But the band I'm most excited about at the moment is The Bombay Royale. I don't know where they've been my whole life. They do surf covers of classic Bollywood songs from the golden age of experimentalism (the 60's and 70's). I've been a huge fan of the genre for many years, and now I can hear it in hi-fi! Buy their record immediately.
How did you connect with the folks at Bloodshot Records?
Their label manager, Scott Schaefer, is an old buddy. Any friend of his is a friend of ours. We're very happy with Bloodshot, though I think they find us a little peculiar.
Talk about your upcoming Austin show at Red7.
The basic plan is to drink copious amounts of [Shiner] Bock and rock the house. Don't forget your dancing shoes. We don't tour the states too often anymore, so we're really looking forward to it. Austin is always a major highlight of the trip: an oasis of sanity in a dark desert of creeping conservatism. We'll play some of “International Orange!” but lots of old stuff as well. Sort of a 'greatest hits and misses'. Truly hope to see you there.