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Yup, Dave King is Irish (on the last album, the Manchester United Football Club and Arthur Guinness himself crept into the acknowledgments). Born in the rough north side of Dublin, King came to America 10 years ago. But a decade in the states hasn't had much effect on his accent his voice on the phone still has that reedy, lilting, sometimes slow, sometimes mile-a-minute brogue particular to Dubliners.
Yup, Dave King's Irish on the surface almost typically so, with short-cropped flaxen hair, rosy cheeks, the lot of it. Flogging Molly appears to fit nicely into an idyllic little Irish picture: seven members, an accordion, a couple of guitars, a fiddle, a mandolin, the odd banjo thrown in here and there, sprinkled with a bit of pipes or tin whistle. Typical. Nothing surprising.
Then you find out Flogging Molly played the Warped Tour last year, and you look more closely at this nice little Irish picture.
Matt Hensley the ex-pro-skateboarder who helped usher in the modern era of skateboarding, along with then-little-known guys such as Jason Lee (Chasing Amy) plays accordion, with tattoos up and down his arms and an almost-shaved head. Dennis Casey, the man wearing a scallycap in almost every published photo, plays guitar loud, thick, distorted punk guitar behind a wall of acoustic Irish folk instruments.
Flogging Molly's Web site opens with the tagline, "A Guinness-soaked musical body blow," and it manages to convey what a thousand journalists, promoters and literary hacks can't seem to do with 10 times the words. Flogging Molly isn't a punk band, it's not a traditional Irish folk group and it's not rock 'n' roll. It's all of them at once.
For a band that has called the drunken acoustic hurricane that was the Pogues "pure genius," Flogging Molly is somewhat short on purely Irish members: King is the only one who hails directly from the isle. Founded after a few years of King's every-other-night performances on the stout-and-porter circuit, Flogging Molly originates not from Ireland but from Los Angeles.
Almost all of the current members joined when they approached King after one of his shows. "Everyone who's now in the band approached me to say they loved my songs," King says. "We'd start off talking, and they'd say, 'Oh, I play violin' or drums or whatever, and then I'd ask 'em to join the band. I just knew."
Two years playing every Monday night at Molly Malone's Pub in L.A. lent the group its name. Feeling as if they were beating the bar to death, beating the music to death and flogging the hell out of those who came to see them, the band members got serious and embarked on a few tours of the West Coast.
Last summer's Vans Warped Tour, a nationwide traveling mix of punk, pro skateboarding, sweaty people and tattoos, opened up a whole new audience. Drunken Lullabies, the band's second studio album, is selling better after two months than its first, 2000's Swagger. The members credit the jump in sales largely to Warped.
"I think the Warped tour had a hell of a lot to do with it, as far as getting our name out there," says Bob Schmidt, the man behind the mandolin. "We were lucky. You go out there, and you're playin' to so many kids. I think nobody really knew how the punk crowd was gonna take it, because we've got that energy, but it's a whole different thing with the mandolin and the fiddle. You come onstage, and kids don't know what to expect, but they really took it to heart. I think it really brought us up to a profile level that we didn't expect to get to that quickly. We were surprised last time out that people knew who we were."
Indeed, people soon found out who they were, though Schmidt tells tales of the whole crowd getting quiet when the band walked onstage early in the tour. Well-dressed, with an accordion, mandolin and heavens to Betsy a girl (fiddle player Bridget Regan), they were definitely not standard Warped fare. Toward the end of the summer, though, they had whole crowds pumping fists in the air. Clearly this is music that strikes people in the gut, full on, whether they're Irish or not.
"The style of music we play . . . it just kind of happened," Schmidt says. "Half of the songs on the first album came about when we were playing Molly's every week, and the other half were ones Dave had written beforehand, on his own but it just sort of happened, from us hanging out. Up until [Drunken Lullabies], we never really sat down and thought about song structure or planned it. Lullabies is probably closer to what the band's about, because we were able to sit down and actually think about what we were aiming for. It was a more organic process."