An intimate look inside Flogging Molly with frontman Dave King

An intimate look inside Flogging Molly with frontman Dave King

In the vibrant realm of Celtic punk, few bands have left an indelible mark quite like Flogging Molly. With a rich history that weaves together the raw energy of punk rock and the soul-stirring melodies of traditional Irish folk, the band has become a stalwart presence in the music scene. Before the band set sail on the 2023 Salty Dog Cruise, my dad and I sat down with the charismatic frontman, Dave King, and we delved into the band’s journey through time, tracing the roots of their distinctive sound and exploring the evolution that has defined their musical trajectory. Our conversation unfolds against the backdrop of their latest album, a testament to their enduring creativity and commitment to pushing musical boundaries. Beyond the notes and chords, we delved into the band’s deep connection to their Irish heritage, unraveling the threads that tie their music to a cultural tapestry. Join us as we navigate the seas of Flogging Molly’s past, present, and future, exploring the sounds and stories that make them an enduring force in the world of music.

Flogging Molly is iconic for their ability to seamlessly weave punk rock and traditional Irish music together to form their unmistakable sound. There are a few others who bring something similar, but few do it with such beauty and soul stirring perfection as Flogging Molly. King expressed that the blending of the two genres was easy and just made sense from the get-go. King expressed, “Well, I mean, you know, it wasn’t really that difficult once we started, we kind of fell into what we were doing and it just seemed really natural, you know? I mean for me personally, growing up, traditional Irish music was always punk rock music, you know? It was, there was always that agro in it, you know, and it was something that just felt very natural. And yeah, I mean it came about honestly, really, really easy. I heard Bridget’s riffs on the fiddle and it’s like, yeah, we could, we can definitely do this.” Speaking to the rebellious nature found in so much Celtic, and specifically traditional Irish music, and blending the two to give us that unique Flogging Molly Sound, King said “I mean it seemed just a logical thing for us to do, you know?”

While Flogging Molly’s music has always touched on the history and culture of Ireland, the new album, Anthem, has a significant and profound focus to it. Frequently, themes of history, politics, culture, and social justice can be heard in the powerfully moving lyrics from King. King takes pride and pulls no punches in staking claim to the band’s role and responsibility for tackling such issues. He stated, “Well, it’s always been part of our culture, you know? Irish history up to the very recent time was a history of struggle and then you know as one song in our new album, “Keep the Man Down” kind of emphasizes that. And I think you know being Irish and seeing the way that the country has gone is absolutely incredible. I mean, even in my generation, I never thought that things would change the way they have done to be honest with you Ian. I mean so many things have gone so differently and I’m quite amazed by that because I never thought it would ever happen. You know it’s the first country in the world to vote in gay marriage as a as a civil right. We had our vote for women with abortion. I mean that went through. I mean it’s just it’s a country that has completely and radically changed for the better, may I say, and it’s just wonderful to see. And it really is a great energy over there. You know, we love being there. I mean I was born in the British army barracks you know, I grew up there. I was there for 17 years, almost as old as you Ian. But you know there is hope, you know, I mean Ireland has changed so much in such a short time that if there’s hope there, just hope for anywhere, you know, and we want to continue to sing about it and support it.”

One thing you will always see at a Flogging Molly show is the love of the fans, the interaction with them, and the absolute leave it all on the stage energy they give in their connection with the audience. As a musician, I can tell you that it takes an incredible amount of focus, passion, and energy to deliver that night after night. King said they do not really have to prepare for their shows each night, they just go out and give it their all because that is was the audience deserves. When asked if there was anything specific they did, he stated, “No, we don’t, we actually, we don’t do anything. It changes from show to show. Obviously, we’re playing live and that and the crowd. We depend on the crowd a lot, you know, the energy of the crowd. One thing I have noticed lately in the last couple of years, especially since the pandemic, is that there’s a lot more parents bringing their children. You know, and it’s absolutely fantastic! You know, I obviously have to curtail on my energy as regards my vocal expulsions, shall we say, just be a little bit more careful about what I’m saying. But yeah, I mean it’s the energy. I mean that’s what it’s all about, you know? It’s (live shows) really, really coming back like we were. I mean we were definitely one of the first bands to start touring again after the pandemic. And we’ve seen how it’s changed and it’s really changing now. It’s really coming back to the way it was.  We’re obviously always going to have this scare of a new strain coming out. But the thing is, you see the community spirit in our audiences. And it’s so electric when you’re on stage. I mean, yeah, I mean it’s the crowd is just such a huge part. But so that’s why we don’t make any plans for shows because we never know what’s going to really happen, you know?”

So many of Flogging Molly’s songs have a great story to tell. Few bands have such a good narrative quality to them. They cover so many important topics in their music and that really connects with the fans. As humans, we are driven by story. We thrive on them and literally live by them. I was curious where the narratives came from in King’s writing and was curious if there were any songs that were favorites of his because of the story or any that held specific significance. King opened up about some personal history about a song that was truly eye opening for him. He said, “Well, there’s a song that we’re doing live right now that we haven’t done in about, I’d say eight years or so. It’s called “Whistles the Wind”, and it’s one of those songs that I remember writing, and I thought I was writing it about a friend of mine who was going through a really bad time.  And it actually turned out I wasn’t writing about him. I was writing about myself. And I didn’t realize till I was getting towards the end of writing the song and I said hang on a minute, this is about you, you know? And it wasn’t a pretty me either. It was a period when I was going through a particularly hard time. And but so was my friend. So, I was using him as a mirror. And actually, it was reflecting back at myself, you know, and it was about me. So, we Yeah, that would be a highlight for me because that we’re actually doing that song now on this tour. I mean, I also love a lot of the songs like that. There’s another song we’re doing on this tour, it’s a brand-new song we’ve never done on tour before. It’s called “That Life Begins and Ends But Never Fails” and it’s about it’s about the Irish, the men, women and children who were forced to leave Ireland on famine ships and leave their families, what was left of them anyway, behind and to go forge a future for their new family. And it’s a pretty sad subject, but the crowd live, tt just turns into a celebration, you know, of resilience and yeah, I mean, so yeah, I mean that’s a couple of songs like there that off the bat that I’m very aware of. I mean, I was in a band years ago and I was writing lyrics that were just awful. I mean, they were just really, really, really dreadful. And they were dreadful because there wasn’t really much thought or effort put into it because that’s just the way it was back then when I was starting out. I, you know, the band I was in, it was heavy rock band. But I swore after that that every song that I would try and put pen to paper to was meaningful. It meant something to me first of all. So, the first thing I wrote (for Flogging Molly) was “Selfish Man”. I though get it out away at the beginning, you know?  And then we went on from there.”

Photo by Shane Pase

So, this topic was for the serious music nerds. There are music producers, and then there are music producers! For the newest album Anthem, Flogging Molly returned to the legendary producer Steve Albini. For those not familiar, Albini was responsible for producing and recording some of the most important bands and albums in punk and grunge including Nirvana, Pixies, and the two of Flogging Molly’s albums, Swagger and Drunken Lullabies. Rumor had it that while working on their Anthem, King and his bandmates wrote and prepped 14 songs in 14 days and then headed to the studio. King talked about this and recording with Albini again, stating, “You know, with the pandemic, like everybody else we thought at most we’d be looking at six months off doing from doing live shows and whatever. And when it turned out that that wasn’t going to be the case, I got to say we were pretty down. I was really, really down. But I decided to pick up the guitar. We were back, myself and Bridget, we’re back in Ireland and I decided to pick up the guitar and there’s no better place. For us to, well, for me personally to start writing, that’s in Ireland, you know. And so, I started writing and I started writing really quickly and songs were coming about really fast. So, I felt everything else has got to go the same way. So, when things were lifted as much as they could be Bridget and I got back on a plane, flew to the United States and we got the band out to our house in our basement, and we rehearsed the songs I’ve written, and we rehearsed them for 14 days. We got 14 songs. So, then we said, well, you know what? The best way to do this is just to go in live and do this. And the best man for that is Albini, you know, Albini’s the man that you know if you know what you want. And that’s a very important point. You need to know what you want. You don’t go into a recording session, especially with somebody like Steve, and not know what you want. You need to know what you want and what you hear. And Steve will get that, you know, and he’s great at that. I mean, we just went in and just laid it down. I mean like the “Croppy Boy”. The only thing that’s overdubbed on that are the backing vocals. It’s only the backing vocals that are overdubbed and that was the way we recorded. We rerecorded anything that needed to be fixed. We just fixed it.  We didn’t do the tracks multiple times. We did the songs maybe four times, you know, and that was just like it was just lightning. It was like, you know, that’s the way it had to be. And I think because of our history with Steve and our first two albums and then the history of us touring for so many years, it seemed perfect. That would be the way to do the new album. You know, there was no point after the pandemic sitting around in a studio going, well, should we do this? Should we do that? No. You know, we needed to do it. It needed to be live again, you know? And that’s the way it was. Yeah, and I mean like live, we do quite a quite a few songs off Anthem and the crowds are just so receptive. I mean, they really, really, really enjoy the new songs, you know? Like there’s a cheer after every time I say we’re going to do a new song, which is fantastic and rare. Albini had a big part in making all of this happen and bringing together the final project.” Having seen three shows during the supporting tour for Anthem, I can confirm that the crowd is 100% there for the new songs. I have yet to see anyone complain and beg for a “best of” show. The new songs are just as good as the rest of the catalog and bring just as much excitement and energy to the show and the pit!

One of the things that sets Flogging Molly apart is their connection with the fans. With every live show they go out of their way to not only entertain, but to connect and interact with the fans. During one recent show King saw me in the crowd and gave me a shout out from stage between songs. It was freaking awesome! But more than that, it is who he and the band are. They are just down to earth people who you could easily strike up a conversation with at the local pub while having a pint of Guinness. This connection has created an incredibly diverse and devoted fan base worldwide. Flogging Molly fans are truly passionate. King talked about some of his memorable interaction with fans and why they are so important, “last night there’s two things. There was one, there was a guy in a Wexford T-shirt from Wexford in Ireland where me and Bridget live, which was amazing. And then there’s Two lovely ladies called Ollie and Vera. And they did the video for “Song of Liberty”, and they were there last night. And they’ve been in California now for, I’d say, almost a year. And they’re from Ukraine. And they were there last night. It was so beautiful to see them. And yet there’s always something, I mean as I mentioned about the young children in the audience, I think it was in I forget where it was about four nights ago. There was this little kid in the very front row. He must have been about 10 years of age. And he was, he’d more energy than the lot of us put together. He was bouncing up and down, fist in the air. He was just going off. And the energy that we got from that was absolutely incredible. So yeah, I mean You know, we’ve had, we’ve had people where, I remember a couple of times people in wheelchairs being surfed over the crowd into and out through the mosh pit and things like that. And, you know, just there’s always something going on. You know what I mean? Someday I’m going to have to sit down and think about all this because, yeah, I mean, there’s been some incredible, incredible moments. It’s the fans that make it all possible.”

Photo by Shane Pase

Delving deeper into their process and the content on their latest offering, we were curious about the specific focus on so many historical and important events in Irish history.  Anthem focuses on important moments in Irish history such as The Easter Proclamation, The Irishwoman’s Council, and the 1798 Uprising. The album really weaves like a poetic and evocative narrative on isolation, regardless of if it was in the past and even the present, the search for unity, hopelessness, and the freedom found by coming together even when we’re alone. It seems to be something the entire album really grasps. While these topics are certainly important, focusing on pain and isolation can lead to some really down and dark music, but Flogging Molly finds a way to take the dark and turn it into something light. They are able to take grief from pain to celebration. King addresses how they take on challenging topics and keep positivity and hope in the music, stating, “Welcome to Irish music, lad! Well, no, I think that the thing is as I mentioned earlier on is that you’re talking about something like, you know Irish freedom is only a little over 100 years old, right? The country has changed so much since then and it just, it’s remarkable to me. It really, really is. I mean, as I said, I never thought change like this would happen in Ireland growing up, but it really is and it’s just so inspiring to me as a human being. It’s so inspiring to see that this tiny little country that I come from has changed so much. And it I know it’s very naive to say it but it kind of bewilders me when you know you travel, and you know it’s very easy for me to say touring on a tour bus and I’m playing in front of people every night. But you know, it really is an inspiration to me to see, like the songs that I was listening to as a child didn’t have the future that I have, if you know what I’m saying. Like bands that I went to like, you know, The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, they didn’t have that really optimistic spirit. They had gut and they had the humor. They had that spirit, that guile of we’re not going to let anybody keep us down, but the songs were still being sung about a time when we were being kept down. And I think that’s changed now, you know. But you can also never forget where you came from, you know, and that’s very important too. I mean I remember there was always that spirit in our house and Ireland. I was born in a British army barracks with one room, but we had a piano in it. When my mother and father would go out to the pub on a Saturday night, they’d bring back all their friends and we’d all sit around on the floor because there were no chairs. We’d all sit around on the floor, and everybody was singing and it was unbelievable. It was filled with hope even in the troubled times. That’s the way I grew up. And there was always telling stories, telling jokes, and that was our way out of it, you know? That was our way of dealing with it, you know? And yeah, I mean, a sense of humor is also it, you gotta keep that. You gotta have that. I mean it’s that’s the way it is. And you know, obviously probably that’s all changed now, you know with technology and you know influx of all this thing and on a tiny little island. But you know me and Bridget live in a little village in Ireland and it still has that energy. You know, there’s still that type of thing going down to the pub and getting the instruments out and having to sing song and you know, stuff like that. It’s very important to us and our culture, and especially the band.”

As a young musician trying to find success and navigating this ever-changing world that is the music business, I am always curious to see what type of advice successful bands have for young musicians. King and I talked about this and how the ever-changing landscape has affected Flogging Molly and how they do things. King stated, “Yeah, well, the thing for us hasn’t changed. The situation hasn’t changed for Flogging Molly in the sense that we’re a live band. You know, we bring out albums. Albums to us are almost kind of like a map to our live shows. And I think what worries me about social media and streaming is the longevity of an artist. You can be a real flash in the pan kind of thing, you know? And what worries me is that young bands coming up who really have something to say and have a meaning in their in their music and they’re not there just for the quick, you know, flash or whatever. But I I’m really worried about young bands getting a chance to have longevity, to have an experience like Flogging Molly, where we’ve been doing it for over 25 years now, then we never meant to do that, but it’s just the way it’s gone. And don’t get me wrong, we work really hard at doing that. But I’m afraid that like young bands are not getting that opportunity to, you know, they’re not on TikTok, they’re just a live band. And that’s what worries me the most is that, you know, like you see all the festivals, all the all the festivals that we used to play years ago, they’re all kind of changing, you know? They’re all changing to very of the now kind of music. And there doesn’t seem to be much depth and soul in that to me. And that does worry me. I do see a lot more festivals coming up that are geared towards maybe what we do, like punk rock and heavy metal, and you know? We did one weekend a few years ago. We headlined a punk rock festival in Blackpool in England. The next night in Belgium, we headlined the Folk Festival with The Chieftains. And then the next night we played with Motörhead and there’s not many bands that could really do that but for some reason Flogging Molly, you know, we just do what we do. But I am worried about the fact that bands are not getting a chance. I mean, like on this tour we had a band called the Vandaliers from Texas who are a wonderful rootsy folkie, punky band and they need live shows to get out there. They’re not going to be dependent on, you know, TicTok and streaming. That’s not going to happen. So live, live performances are the way to go for that band. Everything comes in circles, you know, it does. But I mean, you got to work hard at this, you know, it just doesn’t fall in your lap, and you have to work hard because the things are not going to come sitting on your lap. They’re really not. Yeah, I mean, that’s the way it is. At the end of the day though, it’s all about the songs and the passion, right? You know? It takes insane amounts of work.”

During our conversation, King talked about how diverse their musical experience has been, especially live. I asked if there was any band he would love to play with or any special moments with other bands that really stood out. He said, “Wow. No, I mean, we’ve been really, really lucky. I mean, playing with a band like The Chieftains and then playing with Motörhead, the next night, I mean, it doesn’t get any more radical than that, you know? Yeah, I mean, you know, playing with Green Day, playing with Foo Fighters and, yeah, I mean, we’ve been very lucky with the bands that we’ve played with. You know, bands like Bad Religion and NOFX. I mean we’ve run the gamut. We’ve been with the Rolling Stones. When we played with them, you know, which was, yeah, that was one of those moments where I say is this really is this really happening? I remember one day we were playing a festival and I turned to my right and James Hatfield was there from Metallica looking at us. It was it was pretty special. Yeah. Yeah, it really was.”

Photo by Shane Pase

After such amazing experiences, countless shows, and multiple great albums, Flogging Molly isn’t ready to stop any time soon. Twenty-five years on and they plan on being around a long time to come. Being constantly curious about what’s next to come from my favorite bands, I was curious as to new projects, collabs, or shows King had in the mix. He said, “Well, I mean, on this tour, we’re not even halfway through this yet and it’s been going incredible. I mean the people coming out to the shows, as I said earlier on it’s all coming back. The enthusiasm is coming back and that’s a great thing to see that’s a wonderful thing to see. And then we have our cruise immediately after that which sold out the first week of announcement, which is incredible. It’s one of those things that we never really could have dreamed of you know? I mean when you start off in the pub, you don’t realize, you know 20 years later you’re going to be doing a cruise. But the thing is it’s actually it’s a lot of fun! It’s a lot of people releasing a lot of energy and not worrying about what’s going on the land. You’re on the sea and you’re out there. So that’s a lot of fun. We’re already getting shows together for next year, talking to people about joining us, you know, where we’re going. We’ll always be writing songs and we’ll always be bringing out songs here and there. But yeah, I mean our album Anthem is not even out a year yet you know? So we’re still riding on that. We’re still working on that. So yeah, I mean, we’re glad to be back out and doing what we’ve always loved doing and seeing things coming back to the way they were. You know, that’s our focus right now is it’s just enjoying what we do and what we’ve done for all these years and making up for the couple of years we all lost. But there’s more exciting things to come.”

As the echoes of our conversation with the charismatic Dave King of Flogging Molly linger in the air, it’s clear that the band’s journey is one of unwavering passion, musical evolution, and a profound connection to their Irish roots. With a new album igniting their sonic sails, Flogging Molly is set to embark on the next leg of their tour, promising audiences an electrifying experience that transcends the boundaries of genre. And for those seeking the ultimate musical adventure, mark your calendars for the Salty Dog Cruise in 2024, where the band invites fans to join them on a nautical celebration of music and camaraderie. As Flogging Molly continues to carve their path through the musical landscape, one thing remains certain – the journey is bound to be as exhilarating as the spirited melodies that define their signature sound. Get ready to raise your glasses and stomp your feet because the next chapter in the Flogging Molly saga promises to be nothing short of extraordinary. Sláinte!

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