While the Balkanfusion music scene has emerged with gusto in recent years thanks to Balkan Beat Box, Gogol Bordello and more, Firewater was actually so early to the table that a recent hiatus pushed the band into the background, even though it had been a boot camp of sorts for many members of these newer groups. Amidst the changing line-ups, Tod Ashley has remained the one constant, his raspy baritone bristling with anger, frustration and a few sardonic punch lines that belie his punk roots in the ’80s/’90s noise-rock outfit Cop Shoot Cop. For Firewater’s sixth album, the sound has moved away from the Balkan-rock fusion of the past in favor of the South Asian bhangra and Middle Eastern qawwali flavors that Ashley captured on his laptop while traveling across Asia (more on that in a minute). Even so, there are still stinging art-rock guitar lines, sweeping arrangements, and surprisingly poppy hooks amid the rich musical fabric. It’s not really a comeback, but let’s just say it’s good to have Firewater making music and touring again after such a long sabbatical.
Q & A With Tod Ashley:
Is this the first record you’ve made digitally, or has it been a slow process where you finally got comfortable with it?
This is the first record where the recording was done initially on the computer because logistically that’s how I had to do it, since I was traveling. I think we’ve done some stuff where it was recorded on tape and then went into Pro Tools [software] for whatever reason, but that’s all very boring. We have used computers in the past, but this was the first time I actually recorded the loops and then manipulated them after the fact.
How much time did you spend on it?
I did a total of seven sessions over a period of two and a half months. Before that, I was traveling around but not recording—just writing stuff and coming up with the idea of the trip. I guess each of those seven sessions was about five hours, so I had a lot of material to work with.
How did you approach playing with all these local musicians? Did you have to prove that you actually knew how to play an instrument, or—
No. I mean, they were mostly party musicians, in a way. Most of them were basically farmers who would play local festivals or weddings, or they were people in places like Rajasthan, where they might have a major event in their life and they hold a little party to celebrate it with a band with a dancer. It’s called a notch party—you sort of invite all your friends and that’s the entertainment and the DJ. So these guys were semi-professional musicians, but it wasn’t like they had really done any recording before. They were most like what you’d think of as a wedding b