BioLike most of us, Tod A is nagged by doubts, riddled with insecurities and plagued by questions. Questions like, "Why do the rich get richer while the poor keep buying into the whole damned charade?" Questions like, "If most people in this world are idiots, don't they really all deserve what they get?" But more importantly, "If there is a God, why is He doing such a lousy job?"
For most of his adult life, Tod A has looked ugliness in the face and burst out laughing. Following the breakup of his first group, Cop Shoot Cop, Tod A formed Firewater in 1996. A tightly-wound band of like-minded delusionals, Firewater have made it their mission to cut through the cheap and nasty veneer of modern life to expose the beauty they saw just beneath the surface. Firewater’s first three albums covered a broad swath of stylistic and thematic territory - from Gospel drinking songs to iconoclastic anthems, from the black comedy of airline disasters to the tragedy of a typical American life. On The Man On The Burning Tightrope, Firewater continues to blend eccentric instrumentation with an idiosyncratic world-view to distill a mix which is both original and potent.
So is Firewater still obsessed with ugliness?
"Not exactly, we’ve tried to make our peace with it," drawls Firewater mouthpiece Tod A, "since it's always sitting there in the mirror staring back at us."
All self-deprication aside, at first glance Firewater's worldview is not a pretty one. The typical hero of a Firewater song is an anti-hero: a prostitute, an insurance-scam artist, a bum. The songs are as often about failing to succeed as they are about failing to give up: a liar confesses, a junky makes amends, a suicide changes her mind. In their championing of the archetypal loser, Firewater has managed to stagger the crooked line that divides art and commerce, without falling between the cracks.
Firewater has always been hard to pigeonhole. They like it that way. Musically, the band seems as inspired by John Barry, Perez Prado or Ennio Morricone as they are by bootleg cassettes of Eastern European circus bands or Indian wedding music. Firewater has no easily marketable 'sound', no preconceived image - only good songs - an anathem in a culture which markets music as if it were cheeseburgers.
So who is "The Man on the Burning Tightrope?" George W. Bush? The everyman? Or Tod A himself?
Typically, Tod dodges the question. "That would be telling," he deadpans. "I can identify with George Bush to an extent: I was lousy at school, plus I¹ve had my problems with alcohol and the law," he laughs. But here, the singer says, the similarity ends. "Number one, I’m not an ignorant xenophobe, and I was eventually able to nail down a basic grasp of English. I’m a person who would happily trade a few blow jobs in the white house for a country which is not at war, in debt and reviled by the rest of the world."
Is Firewater's music only about laughing at life’s absurdities?
"I’m sick to f*cking death of irony," Ashley says. "I mean, if you don’t really mean it, why bother doing it at all? I’d rather be honest and risk looking ridiculous and have a shot at saying something real."