Interview: Flogging Molly

bill bodkin raises a pint with the celtic punk rockers …

Flogging Molly makes beautiful music. Their anthems are a perfect pint-raising fusions of rollicking Celtic music and high-energy punk rock. Their ballads are wonderfully soulful — they can bring a tear to the corner of your eye. Lyrically, they embody the rebel spirit — an inherent characteristic of traditional Irish rebel music and American punk. They sing about the plight of the working man — whether he be in famine-riddled Ireland or modern-day Detroit.

As March, the celebrated high holy month for Irish-Americans approaches, the music of Flogging Molly is played a little louder and a little more frequently from iPods, car stereos and Spotify playlists. This also means their infectious sound will also be bouncing about the walls of concert venues throughout the country as the band embarks on their annual Green 17 tour.

Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Flogging Molly mandolin player Bob Schmidt about the tour, mandolins, drinking, vinyl records and the working man.

Pop-Break: Flogging Molly has started its Green 17 Tour this year in Detroit, a city that your lead singer Dave King has kind of adopted as his new hometown. It also seemed that this city was an integral part of themes of your last album. Speed Of Darkness. Was it a conscious decision to start the tour there, rather than somewhere that’s more traditionally Irish like New York or Boston?

Flogging Molly: Our fiddle player [Bridget Regan] is from here, and that’s Dave’s wife — so that’s how he kinda ended up there. It kinda was the starting point for a lot of what was on this album [Speed Of Darkness]. A lot of the themes and ideas came out of what’s been going on in Detroit and being mirrored by what’s going on Ireland — because he kinda ping pongs between the two places. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to start in Detroit, I think the routing just ended up being that way. But it bodes well for us when these confluences comes together the right way.

PB: Speaking of the new record, there seems to be a distinct difference between this album and your earlier one. Do you agreem and what was the inspiration behind the writing of Speed Of Darkness?

FM: I think it’s situational with us. I don’t want to pin it on the Clinton years or anything, but when the band was coming up, we were kind of in that eight years of fairly blissful U.S. politics. [laughs] So everyone was doing pretty well, everything was pretty calm, there were flare ups around the world which got handled well — well, as good as any war can be handled. I think the focus of our songwriting [then] was what Dave was going through at the time, which was being away from because he hadn’t been back to Ireland in such a long time. And then we got to touring the U.S. and then touring around the world, and that got our influence of songwriting out of there. Dave was able to return to Ireland at that point and reconcile a lot of those emotions he was dealing with on the first couple of albums — being exiled from his homeland.

And then we got into this stink with George W. Bush, and all of a sudden we’re seeing the country being mishandled — in our opinions mishandled — and just the realties of people’s situations not getting out. As we’re getting older, we’re more aware of those kinda thing now that we’re all married and we all have kids, some of us have mortgages. These are all realities in our life now. So, as Dave’s going between Detroit and Ireland and seeing the same kind of thing on a different scale, it’s obviously on a much grander and slower scale in Detroit then on the kind of quick and massive scale in Ireland. Seeing these social structures disintegrate, I think it’s shifted the songwriting and kind of the idea of why we write songs, because that’s what’s on our minds. It’s what we’re seeing and what we’re doing and what we’re surrounded by. And that’s just what’s going on right now.

PB: I really dug the new album, but when we posted our review of it, a lot of people didn’t like the change of styles — they missed your pub-punk style of music.

FM: I think if you look at what we sing about, it’s the experience of being a human being in whatever situation. We think about people and people’s experiences. People think this is a very political album, but there’s no politics on this album at all. There’s just a lot of stories about how people are reacting to these [current] situations. There’s a lot of stories about the frustrations of people — we’re not damning any governments. We’re just saying CEOs are being greedy right now. and it pisses us off. We’re not making any political statement about it. I don’t think there’s many people out there, outside of bankers and CEOs, that aren’t feeling that way.

PB: I hear you. I’ve always felt your music was a fanfare for the common man — it’s about love, it’s about drinking, it’s about missing home, it’s about getting angry about something and fighting for it. It’s not just all about drinking whiskey.

FM: [laughs] I think if we continued on the same track, we’d all be dead by now. [laughs] If Swagger was our first, second, third, fourth and fifth album, we’d definitely have one foot in the grave by now. [laughs]

PB: Green 17 is the annual tour you do around Saint Patrick’s Day. Do you find when you do this annual leg of your yearly tours that there’s more energy and fervor in the crowd than the rest of the year?

FM: Functionally, I’m going to say not really. I think it’s the same [year-round] except when you get to those few days surrounding Saint Patrick’s Day and then maybe there’s a little bit of extra juice on there. I think the attitude and the state of mind people come to the shows [during this tour] in is different. I don’t think they go any more or less crazy but the focal point of the craziness is shifted due to the Saint Patrick’s Day rigermerall.

PB: You guys have teamed up with Sailor Jerry rum for this tour. What are they bringing to the table for you guys, or are they just a sponsor?

FM: They’re a sponsor for the tour, but we’ve had a longstanding relationship with them — the Sailor Jerry people who run the shops and the booze. They’ve been on the peripherary of us for a long time — bringing us a crate of rum or a bunch of T-shirts to the show, and we’ve always had an amicable relationship with them. So when it came up this year and they were like are you interested in partnering with us and [can we] have an actual presence on the tour, we were like, “Hell yeah, you can.”

PB: You have a slew of opening acts throughout this tour. Are there certain bands on the tour you think are under a lot of people’s radars and are completely under appreciated — bands that you feel people should to the venue early to check out?

FM: I think that’s what we try to do with our opening bands is to always do that: Find the act that we feel [are underrated, appreciated]. We feel like we’re past the point where we need opening bands to fill seats — we can fill these rooms on our own names. So we bring out bands that we feel like, ‘Wow, you guys should really hear this.’ We’re finally at the point where The Bosstones were at, when they brought us out on tour. They were like, ‘They’ve [Flogging Molly] never been around the States, they’re not going to bring in any extra crowd, we can fill the room, but we love this band, so let’s bring them out.’ And that’s how our career got started.

Flogging Molly’s Bob Schmidt

We feel like it’s our responsibility to do the same thing. There’s all these great bands out here that aren’t on major labels, that don’t have promotional money but are making great music. That’s what we always try to achieve with our opening bands. On this run in particular, the two opening bands we have right now are awesome. Devil Makes Three are just great players — they have a great vibe, more on the folky, blue-grassy side. And then Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears are a smokin’ great soul band and rock band. I feel they’ve been overshadowed by some of their contemporaries, but they have a great sound, a great energy.

PB: On Record Store Day, you’re re-releasing Drunken Lullabies?

FM: We’re re-releasing the ‘Drunken Lullabies’ single off the Drunken Lullabies album. The reason is after we did the [original] mixes, we recorded it with Steve Albini in Chicago, we came to L.A. and another friend of ours [Ted Hut] wanted to continue and layer it up. He added some stuff, did his own mix. Now 10 years down the line, over the summer we’re listening to the original mixes and we’re like, ‘These mixes are great and they’re different.’ They’re more stripped down a little bit and have that Albini-esque sound. So we thought we should do something with these things. Record Store Day was a good way to bring that and be like, ‘Okay, what do you guys think of this?’

PB: Is that single going to be released on vinyl and CD?

FM: It’s going to be on vinyl initially, almost like a press release for the fact that later in the year we’re going to put out the album of all the Albini mixes. So you can have all of those — but that’ll be relased on CD and vinyl.

PB: How do you feel about the rebirth of vinyl and the fact you’re going to hear your music, which was originally done for CD, on vinyl?

FM: I love it. All of our original albums were done on tape. We’ve pressed all our albums to vinyl, just not 180 grams virgin vinyl. So now that the real, high quality vinyl is getting pressed, I’m super excited about it. I have turntables at home, I have a stereo at home that plays it. I think its a great way to listen to music.

PB: Do you go for the older stuff, or are you more into buying newer music on vinyl?

FM: I buy all sorts of stuff. The last thing I think I bought was The Flaming Lips’ version of Dark Side Of The Moon. But then at the same time, I bought the 180 gram reissue of Small Change by Tom Waits. I’m all over the map.

PB: You guys were on the Bob Dylan tribute record Chimes Of Freedom, performing the classic ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.’ Talk about how you guys got involved on this record and how it felt re-recording such an iconic song.

FM: I think as far as the song selection, it just fit what we were doing with the new record and everything. I think it was just the perfect complement theme that been building around Speed Of Darkness. I think we got involved in it because of one of our friends was talking to the organizers of the album, and he said, ‘You should get Flogging Molly to do the record.’ And they wondered if we would do it. and he said, ‘Yeah they love Dylan, this would be perfect for them.’ We got a phone call about it a day later. It was that simple.

PB: You just recently signed a deal with Fender to work on a signature line of mandolins. How did this come about, and tell us what you’re planning on doing with these mandolins?

FM: I’ve been playing Fender since I started playing in the band. For me and what I do, it’s just been the perfect instrument. They just approached me last year, and I’m one of the guys, probably [one of the few] that plays this type of mandolin that’s doing this kind of music. There’s not a lot of rock mandolin players out there … there’s a handful of us. So I think they were like, ‘You guys [Flogging Molly] have done pretty well and you’re a known player, so would you be interested in doing this?’ It’s hard to say no to something that’s that flattering. I had made some changes to the stock model I play to suit the way I play, and what we do on stage which is different from your standard bluegrass player. They liked all the changes so they said: ‘Let’s put ’em out and see if kids like them.’ [laughs]

PB: Did you physically come up with plans to redesign the mandolin, or did you collaborate with Fender?

FM: The body style was the same body style I’ve been playing all a long, and they were like, ‘You’re kind of associated with this body style at this point.’ The rest of the little tweaks were stuff I had done to it over the years to kinda simplify it and make it playable and carefree as possible.

PB: Like you said, there are very few rock ‘n’ roll mandolin players. What drew you to such a unique instrument?

FM: I grew up in L.A., and playing guitar in Los Angeles seemed like kind of a dead-end thing, because everyone played guitar. So I just got drawn to different instruments. That’s what drew me out and into that [mandolin] world.

PB: What’s a Flogging Molly song that is one of your personal favorites that you think people are sleeping on? Everyone wants to hear your hits, but what’s a song that you think people have overlooked?

FM: Right now, there’s a song on the end of Speed Of Darkness called ‘Rise Up,’ and when I listen to the album … it’s that song that makes me happy. Not that many songs that make people happy these days. I think people should give a listen to it.

PB: What can we expect from Flogging Molly in 2012?

FM: I think we’re going to keep doing what we do and hopefully give the people a way to forget about the crap that’s dragging them down in their lives.

PB: It’s been a year. Any thoughts of going back into the studio?

FM: There aren’t any talks about the studio, but we’re toying around with the idea of a proper studio recorded — [something] with a purpose rather than just an afterthought. We’re trying to work out the logistics of that.

PB: And you guys were just added to the big Hang Out Music Fest this year.

FM: We’re doing a lot of festivals this year — Hang Out, Bonarroo and a lot of stuff in the south, [an area] we haven’t done a lot in regularly.

PB: And I saw you guys have an app for the iPhone and Droid. Tell us what that’s all about.

FM: We’re just trying to keep relevant I guess. [laughs] I think the more ways you make it easy for people get to your music into their lives, the more likely they are to do it [have your music]. If people are using apps, we figured let’s make an app for them!

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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