For the better part of 20 years, St. Paddy Day’s favorite folk-rock punk band Flogging Molly has made a career recording and performing rousing blasts of celebratory cheers and, sometimes, reflective weepies for the benefit of thousands of fans worldwide.
The group has also been a fixture of local St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Valley fans of the group could circle March 17 on their calendars, celebrating with Dave King and his band of merry makers, raising a pint or two of Guinness to the green masses gathered, while enjoying an energetic and emotionally moving set. But alas, it came to an end in 2014.
That year the band decided to put the brakes on the never-ending tour circuit and focus on recording its elusive sixth album. Not having produced a full-length album since its 2011’s Speed of Darkness, which debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard chart Top 200, King decided FM needed a breather, fresh material, and quite frankly, something new to roust about.
“It’s really hard to concentrate when you’ve got seven people in a band,” confesses King, the band's leader and only actual Irish native. “We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to bring out something new and excite ourselves again."
But with the release of the album comes a return to tradition. Flogging Molly returns to the Valley at Pot of Gold Festival this Saturday at Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass. Flogging Molly will share the stage with a musical spectrum of acts as diverse as NOFX, Less Than Jake, Bouncing Souls and We the Kings.
The key to what has given Flogging Molly such longevity and a near two-decade lover affair with fans is its ability to play infectious numbers. Its catalog is replete with anthemic pub sing-alongs such as ”Drunken Lullabies,” “Devil’s Dance Floor,” and “Rebels of the Sacred Heart” as well as more somber numbers as “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” and “Float.” In both styles, the band has kept evolving.
"You can’t write the same song over and over and over. Some people think that’s okay, but when you’re in a band, it can be the kiss of death,” says King. “Even though I’m in a band called Flogging Molly, the room I’m speaking to you from has pictures of David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Freddie Mercury. They're an influence to me, 'cuz they’re people who were not playing the same thing because they were growing. As a songwriter as well, it would be so boring to try to re-write 'Drunken Lullabies.'"
The veteran members of his band — fiddle/tin whistle player Bridget Regan (King’s wife) bassist Nathen Maxwell, lead guitarist Dennis Casey, banjo/mandolin player Bob Schmidt and skater-turned accordion player Matt Hensley — no doubt feel the same.
After replacing longtime drummer George Schwindt at the close of 2015 tours with band friend and fellow beat-keeper Mike Alonso, Flogging Molly debuted a new single last year called “The Hand of John L. Sullivan” paying homage to one of Ireland’s boxing heroes. They debuted the single on St. Paddy’s Day in Hollywood on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
King’s father Richard, himself a boxing trainer, died when the young King was just six. Son and father watched matches together.
“That was always in my head. And I was also thinking that being an immigrant in whatever country you’re in, John L. Sullivan, in his day, was the vision of America in that you could be anything you wanted to be if you really went after it. And, he was a great inspiration to the Irish people at the time. And the phrase used to be, 'I’m gonna be the man who shakes the hand of John L. Sullivan.' It always stuck in my head. What a great vision. It’s the story of the struggle in life of any man, getting knocked down, but getting up again.”
The new studio work will be reflected on the band’s first album release on Concord Music Group Vanguard label following the release of the single. Previously, Flogging Molly had recorded Speed of Darkness on its own short-term label Borstal Beat after its first four albums had been with Side One Dummy, but King said running the label and band became too much of a pull from the creative process and touring.
They recorded the new album in Westmeath, Ireland, where the band’s 2008 album Float was recorded.
The band has been fortunate in its choice of producers, outside of self-producing its debut album Swagger in 2002 and the more politically-toned Float in 2008. It has worked with Ted Hutt (Gaslight Anthem, Bouncing Souls and Old Crow Medicine Show) on 2002’s Drunken Lullabies and 2004’s homage to Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash, Within a Mile of Home, and Ryan Hewitt (Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow and Matchbox 20) on Speed of Darkness.
It was on Speed of Darkness that King and his mates centered its attention on the economic downturn of Detroit King and Regan’s American home from where King was speaking on the phone. Never a band to stray from using song to reflect its feelings of day-to-day life, its ups and downs but this became, it became more pointed, more personal.
“I think when we were doing Speed of Darkness, obviously being in Detroit, it was a hard time for the people, it was all around you, where we lived, and it was broken down. Things have really gradually gotten better here in the city,” King recalls. “I love the place.
"This album, it’s hard to explain. I lost my mother, Dennis lost his father, and there were a couple of changes going on in our lives, but it was all still very positive. I was very angry writing Speed of Darkness.”
Before his mother passed back in 2011, King and Regan were at her Dublin bedside before she passed, and her very last words to her son became his mission as the new album began to unfold
“She said, ‘Enjoy yourself, because I did,’” King says. "That became a line in one of the new songs. The song is called 'Life Is Good,' And that’s what the album is about, enjoying yourself. You don’t know what the fuck is around the corner.”
And like many of the bands that have inspired King and his band, Flogging Molly is as much about continuing to win the hearts of fans, as it is about getting a political or socio-economic message across.
“I love the way this band has gone," King says. "We’re very proud of the way we’ve tackled what we do, the issues we tackle. I listen to some of my favorite bands, and next thing you know instead of being whacked around the head, you’re being whacked around the heart. I love all of that. That’s life.”
It is obvious in speaking with King that his love of his bandmates has been built upon the rigors of the road, traversing across continents, and a sound that identifies itself with each members’ signature input.
The fact that FM is known for playing gigs of equal intensity whether it is playing small intimate pub or 10,000-crowd stadiums and still connects with fans is not lost on King.
“The main thing is songs, and we’ve played them in so many different variations and different countries, halls, stadiums. It’s part of our chemistry now,” he explains. “It’s part of our make-up now. It’s an amazing thing to be able to do, to be sitting in pubs one night and you’re playing in stadiums the next night. Ya' couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
And as for playing in Arizona, where the band has come since 2000?
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“I can’t remember the name of the first club we played [in Arizona], geez. I’ll never forget the heat," King says. “It was crazy. We took up on St. Patrick’s Day there [Tempe Beach Park] and that was always a great night. To play outdoors on the 17th of March, it was such fun. With the crowds in Arizona, we’ve always had a great time.”
In the end, King just wants fans to appreciate the new music.
“We never started this band with a list of accomplishments we wanted to maybe achieve,” he says. “There’s a part to you when you’ve just recorded a new album, and the period in between it being recorded and released — it's quite anxious. You can’t wait for people to hear it; you hope everyone likes it as much as you do. We’ll see what happens.”