Flogging Molly's Dave King on 21 years of Irish/American tradpunk and Irish gigs
As Irish/American tradpunks Flogging Molly return to Ireland later this month, David Roy speaks to Dublin-born band leader Dave King about rebelling against rock to embrace trad instruments and what's kept the group going for over 20 years
"FOR us to be touring and playing music for over 20 years is ridiculous, to be honest with you," says Dave King, Dublin-born founder and leader of Irish/American tradpunks Flogging Molly.
"This band was never meant to be taken seriously and I think in a lot of ways that's good. We don't take ourselves too seriously but we enjoy what we do and we're very grateful for what we do."
Due to return to the motherland in just over a week's time to play in Belfast and Dublin, the septet – Dave (vocals/guitar), Briget Regan (fiddle), Dennis Casey (guitar), Nathen Maxwell (bass), Mike Alonso (drums), Bob Schmidt (mandolin) and Matt Hensley (accordion) – have built a solid reputation for enjoyably raucous live shows over the past two decades.
Currently touring behind last year's excellent Life Is Good, the band's sixth album, while 2018 might mark Flogging Molly's 'official' 21st anniversary, the Los Angeles-formed group's roots actually stretch back a bit further to a period in which King was going through a major musical reinvention.
The Irishman had been plucked from obscurity in 1983 when he landed the frontman role with blues-metal outfit Fastway, the 'supergroup' formed by ex-Motorheader 'Fast' Eddie Clarke and former UFO bassist Pete Way.
However, by the early 1990s, King had grown tired of corporate style heavy rock following his Fastway years and a period fronting his own short-lived outfit, Katmandu (which also featured current FM drummer Mike Alonso).
Happily, the winds of musical change scene were at his back.
"When grunge hit it I was like 'thank f***ing god – because this is just bullshit!'," chuckles King, who is now based in Co Wexford with Detroit-born wife and bandmate Briget Regan.
"It [the 1980s music biz] was like prostitution, it was just horrible, it really was. I knew from very early on that I wasn't meant to be in a 'business band'.
"I was still discovering what music was all about, so when the s*** hit the fan in the 90s I was like 'brilliant'. I went from playing Madison Square Garden with Fastway to cleaning toilets and painting houses – and I was quite happy with that, because I knew that I had to keep myself alive for a few years before I really found what I was meant to do."
As we now know, what King was meant to do was to reconnect with his Irish roots and the lively post-pub musical sessions his parents would host in their tiny Beggar's Bush home while he was growing up, which often found nine-year-old Dave singing into a wooden spoon as his mother led revellers through trad tunes on the family piano.
"I just wanted to be able to sit in a room on my own and play a song and move myself with what I'd just done – and I'd never ever done that before," King explains.
"Then, I was playing one night in LA and I met Bridget in a pub. She told me she was a fiddle player. We started playing the next day and we've been playing music together ever since [the pair married in 2008].
"I met everybody in the band like that. It was just all luck, it grew together very naturally. And we loved what we were playing."
A lengthy stint as the resident act at LA Irish bar Molly Malone's (which provided King's fledgling band with their name) earned Flogging Molly a healthy local following, which eventually attracted record company attention. Before too long. they were ready to hit the road.
"I remember our first tour was five gigs in a row that went up the west coast of America from LA to Seattle," King recalls.
"That was a huge deal for us – we were like, 'Christ, we'll never do anything like this again'. But here we are just getting back from South America – it's ridiculous!"
As well as headlining their own tours and becoming regulars on the punk rock centric Vans Warped tour, to date Flogging Molly have opened for musical legends as diverse as The Rolling Stones, Motorhead and The Chieftans and now stage their own annual 'floating festival', The Salty Dog Cruise.
For King and co, life is indeed good: however, the band's current record actually takes its title from something the Flogging Molly leader's mother said to him shortly before her death in 2016.
"Just before she passed away she said to me and Bridget, 'do us a favour – enjoy yourselves, because I did. Life is good', he tells me.
"That really embedded itself in my heart. Because she didn't have a good life – she had a bloody hard life, but she made the best of it.
"We never had that close son/mother relationship that a lot of guys have with their mams because I left home when I was 17 [to join Fastway]. I remember when Fast Eddie was looking for a singer I said to her, 'ma, I want to give this a go – and she said 'f***ing go for it', man.
"She borrowed money off Mrs Murray whose house she cleaned to buy me a plane ticket [for the Fastway auditions in London] – knowing that, if I got the gig, god knows when I would see her again.
"She was an amazing singer, amazing piano player and a wonderful human being – and, most importantly, she really didn't give a f***! So that's the kind of the spirit of the album, I think."
The record is the band's second to be recorded in Ireland, following 2008's acclaimed Float.
"They [the American band members] love coming to Ireland," enthuses King.
"We recorded Float and the last one at Grouse Lodge in Co Westmeath, which has a really great vibe. We've always loved going away to record, getting away from the norm and being all together. It's a bit like going on holiday for us.
"In the beginning, we did two albums with Steve Albini where we lived at his house in Chicago – once we're all together, that's when it all kicks in for us.
"We pretty much wrote Float in our village in Ireland and our local pub has never been the same since – we'd set up there nearly every weekend and play a show. That was legendary, people are still asking 'when are the band coming back?!'"
As for the secret of the band's longevity, it all boils down to the members remaining passionate about what they've built together.
"We genuinely love each other, we get on really well and we respect each other's space," says King.
"When you're living on a tour bus for over 20 years, you've got to have that. It's just chemistry. We love what we do together and we're very proud of what we've done together.
"Not everyone might like it, but it's honestly what I'm all about – and that's all that matters to me. The gigs are always epic in our minds and hopefully in the crowds' minds too.
"At the end of the day it's all about celebrating, about having a good time for that hour or two."
:: Flogging Molly, The Limelight, Sunday December 16 / The Academy, Dublin, Monday December 17. Tickets via Ticketmaster.ie