The wise philosopher that said “the grass is always greener on the other side,” probably wasn’t referring to Southern Arizona’s “lush” lawns. But that may all change with Flogging Molly’s gig at Kino Stadium on May 7.
The Celtic punkers are in town for KFMA Day and you can be sure that they’ll be greenin’ up the Old Pueblo, sure ‘n b’gora.Over the years the band’s legendary live shows have garnered them a loyal following that matches their energy note for note, night after night. And Saturday’s show will be no different.
Drawing on the hardships and joys of their own lives and a rich musical history, the Mollys continue to catch the attention of new fans – and they do it with a charm and ease that makes them one of the most accessible bands performing today.
Their extraordinary blend of traditional Celtic sounds, hard-edged punk and thoughtful lyrics, combined with the sheer power of their concerts have thrust them past “good,” – and even the record industry’s Holy Grail, “marketable” – to reach sublime.
Fans have been particularly keen for Flogging Molly’s 2011 tour as the band has showcased songs from their eagerly anticipated upcoming album, Speed of Darkness, set for a May 31 release.They spent three months in Detroit writing songs for the follow up to their acclaimed 2008 release Float, which debuted at #4 on the Billboard Top 200, #1 on the Billboard Independent Albums Chart and #2 on the Billboard Alternative Album Chart.
Speed of Darkness is the band’s fifth, and arguably most important album. The new disc was written in Detroit and takes a hardnosed look at the economic collapse in the US, centering on the causes of the breakdown and the direct effect it has had on everyday people. Pre-order the album here.
After the band’s St. Patrick’s Day show in Tempe, lead singer and songwriter Dave King sat down with me to talk about the hard hitting new album.
For starters, I mentioned to King that I’d listened to the album and thought it was fantastic.
“It’s hard for meself to talk about it to someone who hasn’t heard the album. The last couple interviews I’ve done, the people have heard the album, they’ve been like ‘wow.’”
“It’s Irish – but it’s its own type of Irish. We made it between Ireland and Detroit – two situations that are very similar I think. All of my lyrics are about my surroundings, whatever they are at the time, know what I mean?”
“This time unfortunately it was the economic crash, how I’ve seen it affect people. Like the neighborhood that I live in in Detroit, meself and Bridget (Regan, multi-instrumentalist and King’s wife). You know, you walk the dog and you walk around the neighborhood – you’ve got houses boarded up and it’s really scary. And the attitude of the people is incredible. It’s like Ireland. Same type of thing.”
Musicians have often said that some albums are difficult to do, while others are easy. Given the subject matter, was Speed of Darkness one of the hard ones for King?
“I hate to say this, but we haven’t had a hard one yet. It’s just, when we go into the studio, we’ve already done most of the work. We know what the song is gonna have to sound like.”
“Once you feel like you’re progressing as a band and you’re progressing musically – you know, you’re becoming a finely tuned unit – and you have been over the years. I mean, we all felt it, there’s no reason why the music doesn’t (reflect it).”
What the music does reflect is King’s passion and empathy for those that have been struggling due to the effects of the downturn. He agrees with those that describe the new album as Flogging Molly’s most important to date.
“Yeah, as a collective piece of work, I’d definitely say it’s our strongest, one that we’re very, very proud of. You know we tour a lot on the road – we spend a lot of time on the road. And we don’t get as much time as a lot of bands get to actually write an album.”
“But this time, things were sounding different –and things were startin’ to progress – you know, it’s like ‘This is fun. This is ok. Are you ok with this?’ ‘Cause it was different, you know?”
“Yeah, we had fiddles and accordions and mandolins and all that stuff in it. But it had its own voice, you know what I mean? And that was a big issue for this album.”
Although the Molly’s reputation as a live band is unparalleled, King indicated that he doesn’t write specifically with a “live sound” in mind.
“No. No I don’t. At the same time, it’s instinctively you know that. Because we have been such a live band over the years, any new songs that we write, we know whether they’re gonna fit in.”
“There are so many songs off the new album that we’re chompin’ at the bit to play. So many. I just want to go out and do it. It’s almost like we don’t know what to do. Usually we go out and tour and we have two bands.”
“And we’re actually talking about just having one band now so that we can incorporate what we really want to do. I mean, our sound – it’s like a lot of people say ‘Oh, it’s Irish,’ ‘It’s this’ or ‘It’s that’ – it has its own life and it’s hard to get that across in an hour and a half.”
While the band readily admits being musically inspired by The Pogues, The Clash, Johnny Cash and others, they’ve managed to take the best of their influences and use it to develop their distinctive style, ignoring labels along the way.
It’s one thing to ignore labels, however, and another to rebel against them.
“You see, we’ve just always been ourselves. A perfect example is, we did this interview for Detroit Free Press. It was quite a big deal. They actually didn’t know that meself and Bridget live in Detroit – didn’t know that people were actually moving into Detroit (laughing) as opposed to moving out of Detroit.”
“So it was a big deal for them, they were very excited. But they also interviewed the promoter of the shows – and he put it the way it is. You’ve got from eight-year olds with their fathers or mothers. You’ve got the 50 and 60 and 70 and 80-year old punks.”
“You’ve got 60, 70-year old people. You’ve got teachers – a lot of literature teachers come to see our shows. That’s what he was saying – you’re standing next to somebody completely different. But that’s what music is all about.”
The discomfort with labels extends to King’s eclectic musical taste.
“I kind of blame my mother for that. I remember as a child, I was a kid and out playing football – my mother screamin’ at me to get in the house. So I came in, she’s like (excitedly) ‘Look at this! Look at this!’ And it was David Bowie’s doin’ ‘Star’ on ‘Top of the Pops.’”
“And I was like, ‘What the hell is she on?’ (chuckling) It was absolutely incredible. But I think in hindsight – they say that music should be music that you have. I don’t agree with that at all. I really, really don’t.”
“My favorite writer of all time is Beethoven. Now you mightn’t hear that in the music that I write (smiling), but the thing is, that’s the way I think of music. The next album I put out will be The Sex Pistols or The Clash or David Bowie – you know what I mean?”
King’s ability to draw on life’s struggles to write purposeful, introspective songs is front and center on Speed of Darkness. He knows no other way.
“The only way I can do it – I can only write about situations when I’m in a good mood. Some people write when they’re in a bad mood. To me, it’s too close to it.”
“So I step back from it and when I’m in a good mood I can step back from it and say ‘What a piece of s***!’ or ‘What a dick!’ or whatever – and that’s why in our songs there’s a lot of humor and a lot of hope. Because I’ve stepped away from the initial body of a song.
“It’s about life. Everybody struggles in life. But for me, I have to stand away from it and be in a positive mood to be able to write about it. Because without that positive mood, there will not be a positive outcome to the song. And I really firmly believe that no matter what song I write, there has to be a positive outlook in it.”
The new album reveals a deliberate pacing, from the hard driving title track, to the edgy “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” to the soaring “So Sail On.” King remarked that it was by design.
“Every song had its place, it was like a jigsaw. We went to Asheville (North Carolina) and we recorded like 13 songs or something like that and we finished. And the group were like ‘Yeah, we’re finished!’ and I said ‘No, we’re not!’ I says ‘We have one more song to do.’ ‘But we can’t,’ and the band had never heard the song.”
“’We have to do it.’ I said ‘Listen, I have one more song.’ So what happened was, we said ‘Let’s rehearse in El Paso,’ ‘cause the studio was about identical to the one in Asheville. Same gear, lovely room. So we recorded ‘Saints and Sinners.’”
“Now to me the album starts off with ‘Speed of Darkness’ but it ends with ‘Rise Up’ and it’s just a struggle through the s*** that gravity has on us. But at the end of it, it’s just ‘Come on, let’s get through this.’”
It’s no surprise that King is so comfortable living in a city rich in a tradition of great soul music. When I suggest to him that traditional Irish music is itself soul music, King agrees.
“Exactly. Absolutely. When Ireland was in the condition it was in many, many years ago – I mean, I remember as a child – my father died when I was 10, you’re talking 6, 7, 8 whatever – my parents were away on a Saturday night to get the baby sitter to babysit me, and they came home – and we lived in a one-room house or flat.”
“But there’s a piano – and where that piano came from I don’t know. Where it went, I don’t know. But there’s a piano in that room. My parents would come home and they’d bring half the pub back and they’d all sit around and they’d all sing, play.”
“I would sing. I was part of it and my mother’d play piano and my uncle’d play accordion cause that’s all we had. We’d no money when the country was under the crest of – shall we say – whatever – that’s the one thing they couldn’t take away was the music. That’s why Irish music, you’re absolutely right, is soul music.”
As our interview ended and I pondered the “soulman’s” final declaration, I wondered to meself “How could fans settle for anything less than music from the soul?”
For a Saturday in Tucson at least, they won’t have to…