by Mark Horn
When you tour as hard as the soulfully, raucous Celtic-American punk band Flogging Molly does, down time is rare and brief. Suitcases aren’t in the closet long enough to collect dust. Over the past 17 years, Flogging Molly has performed across the country and all over the world, playing music that has at times been called boisterous, defiant, rebellious, and at yet other times, somber but heartfelt.
Flogging Molly has been as much defined by its connection to fans as to the unique but infectious sound they have produced for nearly two decades. The band has beaten a path across the globe that has left an indelible mark on thousands of fans.
Led by charismatic Irish native and band founder Dave King, the band finds itself on the stage once more in the U.S., performing its Green 17 Tour, its annual countdown to St. Patrick’s Day, for the last time.
Diehard fans shouldn’t be too concerned about the future of Flogging Molly tours.
In an open letter to fans, venues and opening acts alike, singer Dave King wrote, ““To everyone who at one time or another has joined us on the Green 17 tour, from the bottom of our collective glass, we say cheers to each and every one of you. It has been ten years of friendship all of us will never forget.”
“Of course, this does not signify the end of Flogging Molly as a touring machine,” King says in a phone interview. “This may be the 10th and final round, but the gloves are still well and truly on. To Molly's Army, we salute you.”
After a well-received seven-show tour of the heart of the UK, the band returned to the States and has begun a 27-gig American tour. On Tuesday, March 4, it stops at House of Blues, its usual Northeast Ohio haunt where the band has had a handful of memorable shows. Long-time pals the Drowning Men who have recorded two LPs for FM’s Borstal Beat label will open.
“This tour has had an amazing run,” says King, who just turned 52.” We just want to try different things though, you know.”
Flogging Molly’s blend of banjo, fiddle and tin whistle with the high-octane buzz saw guitar and driving bass and drum is truly original and different. The seven-member group has attracted a diverse base of all ages. Its influences range from the likes of the Dubliners and Luke Kelly on one end to The Clash and Johnny Cash on the other.
King, who had been in ’80s heavy metal band Fastway, left Europe to strike out on his own in the early ’90s and landed in Los Angeles. Flogging Molly began in Los Angeles back in 1997, quickly becoming a house band of sort at local water hole Molly Malone’s. It was there a seventeen-year-old Nathan Maxwell was so enamored with the sound of the band’s earliest line-up, he snuck through the bathroom window of the bar to catch a glimpse of the band; he would soon join the band as its bass player. Now, many years later, Maxwell says the make-up of the line-up is quite simply the key to its tenacious tenure.
“The group is a chemistry of different people, and when that chemistry powerful, you have to appreciate that and over the years to learn to appreciate the good qualities,” he says. “Hopefully that has made us better people and we are a better band and we keep getting better. It’s like a marriage, you know how hard it is; once you get past the 10-year mark, it truly just gets better with every moment; it’s the same thing with the bands and its longevity.”
The band would record its first album, the raw but revered Alive Behind the Green Door, a few covers and a handful of originals such as “Black Friday Rules,” “If I Ever Leave This World Alive,” “Swagger” and “Every Dog Has Its Day.”
Flogging Molly punctuated world tours with four studio album releases: Swagger (2000); Drunken Lullabies (2002) which is certified gold; Within A Mile of Home (2004); and Float (2008), which debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at No. 4. Through these first four releases, Flogging Molly covered a wide array of subject matter. King sang about love and loss as well as the passing of his father when he was a youth and seeing his mother for the first time after several years. He dedicated the title track of Within A Mile of Home to the Clash’s Joe Strummer.
The band’s most recent release, 2011’s Speed of Darkness was released on the group’s new start-up label Borstal Beat Records. The fifth studio effort shed its on light on the plight of the industrial recession in Detroit, where lead singer Dave King and wife, fiddle player Bridgette Regan, live part of the year.
The album which reached No. 9 on the Billboard Album chart and No. 3 on its Alt Rock chart, took the band in a slightly more serious direction, a departure from the more light-hearted frolicking tracks found on early efforts. When bands like the Clash and U2 covered similar scenarios in the UK and Ireland, some critics complained they were becoming preachy. However, for Flogging Molly there was never a soap box stand on, just a gentle reminder that they felt a tug on their heartstrings for the Motor City people trying to survive the urban decay brought on by the spiraling downturn of the auto industry.
And, as much as the lyrics have tended to have a sometimes dark look at life and the downtrodden of the world in general ; across the country and the world at large, King tries to unite forces with fans on a universal approach by lifting them up with the music.
“It’s nice to be able to get some things off your chest but have fun doing it,” explains King. “It’s not all gloom and doom. We sing songs about death but it is about celebrating that life. It’s the sweet and sour of life. It’s fun a couple of hours each night to unit them (the fans) and have fun with them and enjoy it.”
After 17 years of incessant touring King is ambivalent about slowing it down or speeding things up to keep to maintain the level of energy and passion that fans have come to expect from him and his band.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there are both involved, but it’s the energy on stage,” he acknowledges. “I don’t feel it from [being] 52; there are people on stage and people in front of me that have the energy, and it’s great. And it’s got to be harder for the guys, I mean I have my wife with me and that makes it very enjoyable for me, but the guys who have kids — that’s got to be lot harder to deal with.”
After the tour bus finally reaches New Orleans on the final night of the current jaunt, the seven members will head to their respective homes across the country and recharge their batteries before reconvening later in the year to begin working in earnest on a their sixth studio album.
And when not on the road, or in Detroit, King and Regan make their home in Wexford, Ireland, near King’s hometown of Beggar’s Bush in Dublin. Guitarist Dennis Casey lives in Long Island, drummer George Schwindt lives in Columbus, Ohio, accordion player Matt Hensley lives in San Diego, banjo/guitarist Bob Schmidt lives in Boulder and Maxwell lives in Denver.
For King, it has never been about living a lavish lifestyle or selling millions of records. He and his band mates live comfortable lives, but the road is what pays the bills. Aside from that necessity, the accomplishment that inspires him to continue hitting the tour road is being an inspiration to others.
“From the very beginning, for this band, it’s that somebody picks up an instrument that they wouldn’t normally have picked up, whether it’s an accordion, fiddle or banjo,” King says. “It’s almost more about what we leave behind more so than what we achieve.”