Interview: Flogging Molly

Photo by Richie Smyth

Photo by Richie Smyth

Life is Good is both the name of Flogging Molly's latest album, as well as the mantra the band strives to live by. Flogging Molly has been a band for over 20 years, and first got their start playing at Molly Malone's in Los Angeles. Fast forward to 2017, the band has built an incredible fan base and name for themselves, as well continually touring and making their music be the best it can be. I caught up with bassist Nathen Maxwell prior to their sold-out show in Calgary in October, and we talked about the band's humble beginnings, the Celtic-punk genre, and how they've maintained their ambition even after all this time.

I know it’s been quite a few years since the band played in Calgary, so welcome back! How’s the tour been so far?

It’s been good, it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been playing with a lot of friends - Less Than Jake started the tour with us. We got to jump on one of the Punk in Drublic festival dates - one of them got cancelled because of the wildfires. We got to hang out with our friends in NOFX, and Jon Snodgrass is out with us, and all the shows have been sold out.

Congrats on the new album (Life is Good). It’s the band's first album in six years. What was the recording of the album like?

It was a long process because there were a lot of internal changes in the band. Not only within the band, but within the band dynamics - the business side, and in the lineup - there’s been some changes. Also on a personal level, a lot of us have gone through quite a bit with deaths in the family and changes in our personal lives. That takes up time, and we try and honour each other’s personal lives as best as we can while we continue to do this and commit to ourselves. That was a big part of the dynamic of why it took so long for this album to come out. Other than that, the process is quite similar to the other albums. We all generally go to where Dave King (lead vocals, guitar, pictured centre) is living at the time, and for the majority of this album, he and his wife Bridget (fiddle, pictured left centre) have been staying in Detroit, so we went there to work on it. We converted their basement to a little rehearsal and writing studio. Then we went back to Grouse Lodge in Ireland where we made Float about 10 years ago. We love that place - the kind of vibe of it, and being isolated - as a big group it’s nice to not have distractions so we can really just focus on what we’re doing. It helps the process.

Did all that personal turmoil like deaths in the family influence the record and what you wrote about?

Absolutely, 100%. It always does. Specifically, the title track “Life is Good” is about Dave’s mom and her final hours. That song really hits hard, and [the album] was directly affected by that.

Would you say you guys draw most influence from being on the road, or off from tour? 

It’s hard to say. On the road or not, life doesn’t wait. We’re just living our lives, and what is affecting us - be it personally, what we come across in our travels, what we see on T.V, just like everyone else. I personally try not to watch any of that but it’s hard to avoid it completely. It all makes us what we are, what we think about and what we absorb and that’s what we’re trying to express through our music - to try and make sense of it all.

Flogging Molly started out 20 years ago as a bar band. What did it take to turn the band into a successful touring band, and to make a career out of it?

I think the first thing is that we never considered ourselves to be a bar band, even though we played exclusively at bars at the beginning. That was only because they were the only venues we could play. We never fell into what I consider to be the trap of trying to please the audience - we never played covers, we were never trying to  make people like us like “here, let’s play something they know.” We never did that, so to me, that would have made us a bar band - playing cover songs, the easy stuff, top 40 - and nothing against that. It’s great, and people love it, but that was never Flogging Molly’s vision. We always stuck to our original concepts, and even back then when we were playing to 20 people at Molly Malone’s in LA, we always really believed that when we were on our game, we were the best band in the world or that we could be one of them. We’ve always looked towards who we thought was great - we’ve always looked up to AC/DC, The Clash, Bob Marley - we looked up to these iconic band that inspired us. We never really looked to what’s happening in our local scene, or what other bands in our genre are doing - we don’t really give a shit. 

You mentioned genre, and you guys are classified as Celtic-rock/Celtic-punk - how would you say the genre has changed over the past couple decades?

In the 90’s when we were first starting out, the only band that was doing [Celtic rock] that I knew of was The Pogues. Of course, there were a lot of other great bands that I was ignorant of. Then immediately when we started, we became friends with the Dropkick Murphys, who are kind of like our east-coast counterparts. So I always knew about them, and then there were other bands that we’d met by touring like The Tossers from Chicago and The Real McKenzies from Vancouver. We kinda would just share the stage with these bands and become friends, but I wasn’t really aware that it was a scene, it really felt more like an anomaly. Maybe it wasn’t an anomaly, but it felt like that to me because I wasn’t immersed in the Irish punk scene. Other than The Pogues, I didn’t listen to anything that would be considered Irish punk music. The Irish bands I listened to were Thin Lizzy and U2. Now I notice that there’s actually a scene. I think Apple Music has a full folk-punk playlist, and it seems like every town we go to there’s some sort of folk punk/Irish punk outfit. Did that exist before us? Probably, it’s just become more to my attention now that it’s something people categorize us with. 

As punk music has become more of an evolved genre, there are more subgenres. I think that people that are fans of old-school punk might be more drawn to your music due to it’s uniqueness because Flogging Molly utilizes the accordion, fiddle, etc. 

At the beginning when we first started playing Warped Tour, I don’t think there were any bands like us playing in that kind of circuit of the punk/skate world. So it was great for us. 20 years ago I think we did blow people away, like woah, what is this? Accordions and fiddles and it’s punk rock too? Hopefully, they enjoyed it, because I’m sure a lot of people hated it!

Next year is the 4th Salty Dog Cruise. Although it’s become a bit more common, not many bands take their music to sea, but with the genre that Flogging Molly fall under, it seems quite fitting. What is the experience of having your own cruise as a band like?

There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that people don’t need to know about that’s just work. But once all that’s done, and we set sail - it’s the best 3 days of my life. It’s just paradise. It’s this weird sense of victory. Coming from the street punk scene and that poverty consciousness - growing up poor - the thought of going on a cruise ship was never on my radar. I never thought I’d be going on a cruise ship. To be able to take this music - and call it whatever genre you want - coming from that punk rock background and to now be in what I consider to still be a punk rock band, to have our own cruise ship with our friends and to have amazing bands like Rancid, Hepcat and The Buzzcocks - international bands like The Broilers, The Donots, Cherry Coke are coming and celebrating with us - doing what they do. No one is selling out to do this, no one is changing their sound to do this. They’re doing what they love and sticking with it. Over the last couple decades, it’s accumulated, by the grace of our shipmates and our fans, because without them this boat wouldn’t float - it’s the people that come on the cruise that make it happen. We’ve just curated something we thought might resonate with people and it does. I hope we can keep doing it for the rest of our lives because there are no three better days in my life.

What’s next for Flogging Molly?

We have a lot of work to do, and we’re as hungry as ever. We’ve gone through a lot of changes both personally and in the band dynamics, so we’re really excited to get out there and work hard and take our music to as many people as possible. It’s always been our MO - we love this music so much. I think we all agree unanimously that music in some way or another has saved all our lives individually. Personally, I feel like it’s our duty to return that favour and to honour the music and bring it to people. We don’t play pop music, and I have nothing against popular music, but that’s just not what we play. So it takes a little more elbow grease to bring our music to people. People aren’t just gonna turn on the radio or the T.V. and hear about us, we gotta get in the van or bus and get out there and tour. So I think there will be a lot more of that in the future. 

Nathen Maxwell performing in Calgary on October 20, 2017. Photo by Josh Platt.

Nathen Maxwell performing in Calgary on October 20, 2017. Photo by Josh Platt.

Life is Good is available now through Vanguard Records. Click here to stream the album, or here to purchase a physical copy.