Interview: The Saw Doctors

bill bodkin talks to the Irish music legends …

Perception isn’t always reality.

When you think of a band from Ireland, one immediately thinks of them as a ‘Celtic band.’ You think tin whistles and mandolins. You think about pints of Guinness and wild Irish roses. You think scully caps and cable-knit sweaters.

So when you think about the legendary, Galway-born band The Saw Doctors, you think they’re a Celtic band, you think you know exactly what you’re getting from their music. However, perception is not always reality. Yes, the band is from Emerald Isle, but what the appeal of this band isn’t their accents or their heritage — it’s the soul, meaning and heart of their music. Their songs are the fanfare for the common man, singing about their loves and losses, their plight and their joy. It’s music that isn’t inherently Celtic — it’s inherently human.

And that’s why the band has transcended three decades and the world over with their brand of song. And it’s the reason why New Jersey has embraced the band as one its one. Every year Jersey-ites can count on The Docs to roll into The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. every March (including this Thursday, March 15) to help ring in Saint Patrick’s month.

Pop-Break had the chance to speak with The Saw Doctor’s guitarist and vocalist Leo Moran about their music, Bruce Springsteen and New Jersey.

Pop-Break: The Saw Doctors have been touring the United States for decades now, but you guys seem to have a special place in your heart for New Jersey. You’ve played The Stone Pony, Joey Harrison’s Surf Club, the now-defunct Tradewinds, Atlantic City and tons of other spots. Why perform so often in The Garden State?

Leo Moran: There’s a great Irish population in New Jersey. We have such a huge, loyal following. We started coming out 20 years ago playing to a mostly Irish-based audience. Then people brought their friends to shows and those friends brought their friends. Eighty trips later the audience has spread out nicely.

PB: I read that the current tour you’re on is one of your biggest — going from Canada to California. Why this time around is the tour so big?

LM: It’s a time when you see the tour on the list, and it looks awful big. But when you’re doing one show a day, it’s no different than any other tour. I was surprised when I bought a map, and I actually mapped out the tour. I saw how little of the country we’re performing. This is such a huge country. I mean, we’re not playing any shows between Des Moines and San Francisco. That’s almost half the country. So, this is quite a big tour, but it’s not comprehensive.

PB: In the State, there’s been such a huge boom in Celtic-influenced music. In years past, you’d see that Celtic music concerts or concerts from Irish bands — U2 being the exclusion — being attended by a much older crowd. Now, it seems the younger audiences are into this sound and bands from Ireland. Do you guys see this at your shows? I read a few years back in Ireland a lot of college kids were really getting into your music.

LM: In certain cities, yes. Then in other cities, you have the older audiences. It’s very regional. The youngest audiences are in Cleveland. The first seven, eight rows are full of teenagers. We’re just now getting that young, energetic audience. They’re being introduced [to our music] by their friends, sometimes by their parents.

PB: I’ve read that The Saw Doctors are influenced by Bruce Springsteen. Since he’s the patron saint of New Jersey, can you talk about how you got into The Boss and he’s influenced the band.

LM: My cousins are from New Jersey. They bought me the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. Of course, I didn’t listen to it — I was listening to The Clash. In 1981, I was there on vacation and they brought us to a Springsteen concert at The Meadowlands [and I became a fan].

I have a great respect for his writing and his stagecraft. The band has borrowed a few ideas from Bruce Springsteen throughout its career.

PB: Have you listened to the new record yet?

LM: You know, I did the other day. I really enjoyed it — much better than I expected it to be.

PB: The band just added a new drummer, Rickie O’Neil, to its lineup. How’s the transition been for you guys? Has it forced you to perform differently? Have you had to change your setlists? Or has it been pretty easy?

LM: [It’s been] Unbelievably easy. Our previous drummer [Eímhín Craddock] was fabulous. We were worried we wouldn’t be able to regain the level of tightness in our performance [with a new drummer]. But he plays with such enthusiasm, he got everything down the first day he played. It was seamless, surprisingly seamless. We thought we’d have to rearrange things to fit his personal style. But he can really play. We love having him play already.

PB: The band scored a hit with the cover of Petula Clark’s seminal song ‘Downtown,’ which you actually got her to perform on. Why did you cover this song? And talk about recording with her.

LM: We have a song called ‘Hay Wrap,’ which we play at the end of shows. The song has a spot where we usually slot in [a sample of] any song we want, usually we try something regional. Like in New Jersey, we’ll do a Springsteen song. So one night, we did ‘Downtown,’ and people loved it. So we came up with the idea to do it as a Christmas single. So, our producer Phillip Tennant got in touch with Petula’s manager. It was great to work with such a legend.

We worked in a studio in London for one night. It was good — it was tight and it was chaotic. It worked wonderfully well to use such great raw materials like her song.

PB: For someone who’s heard the Saw Doctors’ name before but has never heard your music before, what song from your lengthy catalogue would record them to check out?

LM: There are a good few, but I’d say N17. I think that generally shows what we do.

PB: And finally, what does The Saw Doctors have on tap for the reast of 2012?

LM: We have time for a new album in April. Then we’re performing on festival during the summer and then we do tours in England and Galway during Christmas.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named 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