Singer and songwriter Dave King founded Flogging Molly in Los Angeles in the late-1990s. A native Dubliner who relocated to the States in his 20s, King’s cultural heritage forms an essential component of the band’s identity.
Similar to The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan and the Clancy Brothers, King’s songs regularly pine for and mythologise his homeland. The band’s sound owes significant debt to Celtic and traditional Irish folk music, with the seven-piece lineup featuring fiddle, mandolin, accordion, concertina and tin whistle.
However, Flogging Molly have always been allied with the punk rock scene and their six album catalogue also includes a number of stripped back, country-influenced songs.
Ahead of their April Australian tour, Music Feeds speaks to guitarist Dennis Casey about non-stop touring, entering the band’s third decade and Flogging Molly’s unique identity.
Music Feeds: Your first album, Swagger, came out in 2000 and the band’s been together for more than 20 years. That’s a significant milestone, but you show no signs of slowing down.
Dennis Casey: It’s a wonderful problem to have, to be really busy and travelling and touring a lot. It’s a sign that a lot of people love your music all over the world. It’s not easy to do that and I’m forever grateful. All I wanted to do was become a professional musician in my life. I never really wanted to become some sort of big rock star or anything like that. I just wanted to play music and be able to get paid for it.
To be able to do it for 20 years and just have our career slowly creeping its way up, doing better and better is very rewarding. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that, but it’s mostly gratitude for having such a great fanbase and people who keep coming out to see the band.
MF: As well as releasing six albums, you’ve kept up a constant touring schedule. You’ve played an enormous number of shows in the USA as well as covering Western and Eastern Europe, South America, the Caribbean and Australia. Is onstage where the band feels most at home?
DC: We started as a live band in a pub in LA called Molly Malones and I think through all these years we’ve built up a wonderful loyal, incredibly awesome fanbase and a large part of that is due to our live show. We would hear that a lot too – our records are good, but man you’ve got to catch them live. It’s a way different experience. I think we’re what you would call a live band.
MF: When you joined the band you’d already lived a bit of adult life and played in projects across the US with Joe Brucato. The band members all come from different backgrounds. How does that affect your relationships?
DC: Nathen [Maxwell] our bass player and Bridget [Regan, violin/backing vocals], they were fairly young. Nathen was only 18 when he started in the band. We’re spread out all over the world and all over the age demographic. None of us grew up together. None of us ran in the same circles and we have crazy different influences. So it’s really almost like something you wouldn’t think would work for so long, but I think it’s what keeps it together, that we’re all so different.
MF: Flogging Molly was founded in Los Angeles but Dave is a born-and-raised Dubliner. Do you think Flogging Molly is inextricably connected to Irish folk music and Irish cultural identity?
DC: Dave writes the majority of the lyrics and the songs, so I think it stems from that. The other analogy I like to give is if you look at the Rolling Stones, they’re a bunch of middle class British boys playing Mississippi Delta music. And doing a great job of it. I think good music is good music. If you’re influenced by it and it speaks to you and moves you, then so be it.
Dave put this band together, but I play the electric guitar. I wasn’t asked to join the band because I can play traditional Irish music. I was asked to join the band to make noise.
MF: You’ve recorded a couple of albums in the Irish Republic – 2008’s Float and your latest, 2017’s Life Is Good. Was it important to establish a relationship with Ireland given how integral it is to your music?
DC: The whole thing about recording in Ireland with Grouse Lodge, it was very intriguing at first. The first time we went there it seemed like a mystical place in the middle of nowhere in Ireland surrounded by farms, very secluded. The place has its own pub, it’s a 30 minute drive to any sort of civilisation and that is a very great way to make a record. It is inspiring to walk around the hills of Ireland and be making this music.
MF: Punk rock forms a significant part of your DNA. A lot of punk bands stay away from intimate material, but the Flogging Molly catalogue includes some really tender songs. For example, ‘Reptiles’ and ‘The Last Serenade’ from Life Is Good are both slow-burning epics. Do you think having a diverse combination of influences from the start gave you more creative freedom?
DC: Because everybody’s so all over the place our different influences and musical inspirations come through. There’s seven of us so there’s a lot of different things happening. None of it is really contrived or thought out so much. I think it just comes out when you’re doing it.
I also know that we like to challenge ourselves musically and try to push against the boundaries of what maybe people would expect or want you to play or easy formulas. We keep trying to push ourselves into territory that may not be comfortable or familiar.
MF: The song ‘Life Is Good’ draws attention to mortality and acknowledges existential impermanence. It seems representative of the band’s growth over the last 20 years.
DC: Everybody thinks it’s about rock stars, yachts and caviar and champagne and debauchery. No – life is shit and life is also good. They both exist equally.
Flogging Molly Return to Australian this month for Bluesfest. The band have also announced four sideshows in Auckland, Sydney and two Melbourne shows. Details below.
Flogging Molly Bluesfest 2019 Sideshows
Presented by Music Feeds
Tickets on sale now.
Friday, 12th April
Tickets: AAA Ticketing
Sunday, 14th April
The Croxton, Melbourne
Wednesday, 17th April 2019
170 Russell, Melbourne
Thursday, 18th April
The Metro, Sydney