FIREWATER: The 1997 Your Flesh Profile

Music Features
FIREWATER: The 1997 Your Flesh Profile
Mar 2, 2009, 09:35

If there were any justice, said Firewater leader/singer/bassist Tod Ashley, “I Am The Rain” would be on your local radio playlist with the metronome regularity of the latest No Doubt tune.

“Ah, but the world isn't like that right now,” he conceded. “I guess we'll have to make due with what we have.”

What Firewater has is an album on Jetset, Get Off The Cross (We Need The Wood For The Fire), that brings together an all-star cast from the nether regions of music, i.e. places where the good stuff resides.

That pedigreed ensemble includes drummer Jim Kimball (Mule, The Laughing Hyenas, Denison Kimball Trio), the Jesus Lizard's guitar whiz Duane Denison, Soul Coughing's Yuval Gabay on percussion and violinist Hahn Rowe (Foetus, Hugo Largo).

Get Off The Cross... has more in common with Tom Waits than Ashley's former outfit, Cop Shoot Cop, which disbanded early last year. The sound leans heavily on eastern European flavor, from the peasant drama of “The Circus” to the ode to Hungarian melodies carried by “Bourbon And Division” or “When I Burn This Place Down.” The stuff would be more at home in a Czech bakery than on some silly alty bill in NYC.

“I guess the idea sounded a little crazy on the surface,” Ashley said recently from his New York apartment. “You know, a lot of indie musicians playing middle European kind of music. There were a few raised eyebrows, but I don't care. It feels totally right doing this and everyone involved felt the same way.”

The songs were written over the past few years as Ashley toiled in Cop Shoot Cop. They were tunes that did not fit the abrupt, abrasive, anti-social thrum that CSC carried so well.

Gritty, anti-social—trademarks of CSC but they are at the forefront this time, vocals mixed way up instead of behind the blur of eruption that was Cop. Ashley is imbued with the feelings of aggression—things just aren't so obvious with Firewater.

“I wrote most of the stuff on piano at home, late at night, when it was relatively quiet,” he says unaffectedly.

When Cop finished, Ashley already knew where he was headed.

“I had a wish list of musicians from other bands and I sent them demo tapes with skeletal versions of the songs,” said Ashley. “They seemed enthusiastic, so we rehearsed for a couple of weeks and everybody added their own personality to the songs. Then we recorded.”

Nobody on Ashley's wish list refused him. But he still has a secret dream for a producer.

“Tom Waits. I've always admired him. I sure would like to have had him work with this.”

The scattershot percussion is reminiscent of Waits' work in the mid-to-late '80s, with some songs featuring far away drum snaps and clanging tanks. Guitar parts are understated. There are clarinets, there is piano. It is beauty without the encumbrance of sentimentality.

And there is still the cynicism and irony that marked Ashley's writing in Cop. It just takes a little digging this time. The lyrics tell stories of murder and Prozac Nation girls and factory life.

Driving a John Deere becomes totally imaginable after listening to the country-ish “Balalaika,” although the listener would probably rather be ploughing cattle than fields of grain.

And there is the album title and cover. It has drawn the ire of religious zealots in Florida so far. A Tampa retailer refused to carry the album and all of Jetsets' releases because of the CD cover, which depicts Jesus Christ clutching a beer and cigarette, Ashley has his own version of religion for those who scream sacrilege. “I guess the idea was fairly juvenile, but it was something I've always seen when I looked at that picture of Christ. Actually, he was a Jewish guy who probably looked more like Woody Allen.”


This feature originally appeared in Your Flesh #37

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