When Tod A was a child, the thought of revolution frightened him. Today, he embraces it.
Tod A wasn’t so much bothered by governmental overthrows, coup d’états and bloody uprisings as much as he was freaked out by The Beatles’ ultra-freaky—and nearly unlistenable—“Revolution 9.”
“ ‘Revolution 9’ used to scare me when I was 7 years old,” the singer-songwriter behind Firewater says. “It was almost like a precursor to industrial music.”
Currently, Tod A and Firewater are out on the road in support of the band’s latest release, International Orange!, a booze-soaked slice of world-music mashups and political rants featuring songs with titles like “A Little Revolution” and “The Ex-Millionaire Mambo.” The album marks the second time Tod has tackled political subjects, but whereas Firewater’s 2008 release, The Golden Hour, was largely a diatribe against George W., this year’s collection has its eyes set on the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
“It’s encouraging to see people rising up and taking control of their destinies,” Tod says. “I think there are so many governments that don’t represent the people that live in those countries.
“I’ve visited a lot of them, and maybe the United States is one as well,” he adds with a laugh.
Over his 15-year career with Firewater, Tod has combined punk rock, gypsy music, Vegas jazz and just a dash or two of Tom Waits to craft a noteworthy arsenal of songs about shit-faced sinners and down-on-their-luck drunks, including two defining discs, 1998’s The Ponzi Scheme and 2003’s The Man on the Burning Tightrope. Let’s call it Bukowski rock.
These days, Tod is a happier man. He lives in Istanbul and his new home has given him an insight into Middle Eastern affairs that many of his stateside brothers and sisters have missed—namely, the people of Iran aren’t the Great Satan-hating fundies that our leaders and the cable networks so often portray them as.
“It’s the government that is crazy. The religious extremists hijacked the revolution,” Tod says. “I’ve met many Iranians here in Istanbul, and they’re all like fucking Americans. They’re all educated, liberal people who are stuck under this crazy government. And it seems like the United States may be going the same way soon, but I hope not.”
The people of Iran were the inspiration for International Orange’s more noteworthy track, the slinky, Rat Pack-cool “Up From the Underground.”
“It was written as kind of a rah-rah pom-pom in the air for the Iranian revolution, which hasn’t even happened yet,” Tod says, noting his belief of a forthcoming Persian uprising.
Of course, Tod isn’t just a backer of a once-and-future Iranian revolution, he’s a supporter of the current people’s movements throughout the Middle East, Algeria, Libya, Syria and others. “I love the fact that people are taking over the joint,” he says.
With International Orange, as with The Golden Hour, Tod A isn’t afraid of combining disparate world-music genres, for example, mixing mambo with Middle Eastern flourishes, things that “shouldn’t necessarily work,” he says. “If you look at the birth of rock & roll, it happened in the Southern states of America. It was like U.K. folk music meeting slave music.”
For Tod, it’s like a chemist at work in the laboratory. “It doesn’t always work and sometimes it blows up in your face, but it keeps things exciting and interesting. It’s the mystery of music that I like,” he says.
Although Tod has seemingly found a new life in Istanbul—a move that he describes as happenstance and not a political statement; his girlfriend got a job there—he remains disenchanted by life in the United States. In fact, he’s just as frustrated with life in America today as he was during George W. Bush’s reign, which is when he first abandoned the States for a trek around the world, during which he recorded The Golden Hour in India, Pakistan, Israel and Turkey.
“The longer I stay I stay away, the more perspective I get on my own country,” Tod says. “I’ll never not be an American. There’s not much I can do about that.”
And even though Tod’s now an expat, he still cares about what happens back home. Case in point, the current presidential race. “Obama hasn’t lived up to the incredibly high bar that he and his supporters set for him, but it’s certainly better than the alternative would have been, and I still feel it’s better than the alternative will be,” Tod says. “Everyone’s human. Some are more intelligent and effective than others.”
w/ Juana Ghani
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m.
$10 in advance, $12 day of show