Stirring the Eire

Flogging Molly resurfaces with its most politically charged album.

I grew up in a country that was uneasy from the day I was born," says Dave King. "I have a lot of friends who were imprisoned for political activity."

As the token Irishman and founding member of the Los Angeles-based Flogging Molly, King endured a childhood that wasn't exactly full of slap-happy leprechauns. His father, who pumped gas for a living, died when King was fourteen, leaving him and his mother to fend for themselves in Beggar's Bush, a former British army barracks on the east side of Dublin, where members of the IRA would gather for drills.

"I know what it's like to live in terror," says King. "I remember sittin' in the flat, and I heard this huge boom, and the whole building shook. So I got the TV on, and there was a huge bomb that went off where I knew my mother was going that day. It was the longest time I think I've ever experienced -- sitting there four hours, waiting to hear the key go into the latch, not knowing whether she was alive or dead."

Greenpeace: George Schwindt (from left), Matt 
Hensley, Bridget Regan, Dennis Casey, Bob Schmidt, 
Nathen Maxwell and Dave King are Flogging Molly.
Shawn Bishop
Greenpeace: George Schwindt (from left), Matt Hensley, Bridget Regan, Dennis Casey, Bob Schmidt, Nathen Maxwell and Dave King are Flogging Molly.

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Thankfully, his mom got home safely that day, and life eventually returned to relative normalcy. But King soon heard the call of amplified music and gainful employment, and at age nineteen, he left home for London and joined a hard-rock outfit called Fastway that included Motörhead's string-bender, Fast Eddie Clarke.

"It had a little bit more credence than most of the hair bands at the time," King says. "I knew that I was meant to leave, because I'd gone through that phase, so I went back to Dublin again."

It wasn't long before Geffen Records called and King moved to L.A., where he played in another short-lived, hair-centric outfit called Katmandu. "I felt like I was startin' to get labeled, and I totally rebelled against that," King recalls. "When Katmandu ended, I got a solo deal with Epic, and that's when I started to try and find myself."

A truck driver and house painter by day, King accompanied himself on acoustic guitar in coffee bars and small clubs, where he eventually met fiddle and tin-whistle player Bridget Regan. "She started playing with me, and it made me realize, 'Ah! Maybe this is the path I should take,'" says King. "'I should go back to where it all started for me.' Because I remember seeing a band called Horslips when I was a kid, and they were the first, I think, ever to mix traditional Irish music with contemporary rock. And those fuckers would blow my mind. So when we started to get the band together, it just seemed to go that way. Musically, I knew that's where I wanted to go, though I didn't realize how it was gonna happen."

Enter five more Yanks with a taste for Guinness and mulligan stew: guitarist Dennis Casey, bassist Nathen Maxwell, mandolinist Bob Schmidt, accordion player (and former pro skateboarder) Matt Hensley and drummer George Schwindt. Flogging Molly mixed Gaelic folk traditions, lusty world music and rowdy punk rock into a defiantly cheerful sound -- one that King describes as a "musical body blow."

"We used to play this place called Molly Malone's down on Fairfax in Hollywood every Monday night," says King of the band's namesake. "And we felt like we were flogging it to death."

After issuing Alive Behind the Green Door in 1997, Flogging Molly made its studio debut in 2000 with Swagger, then followed up two years later with Drunken Lullabies. Each of the SideOneDummy releases drew countless critical comparisons to Shane MacGowan's own pub-torching outfit.

"Comparing us to the Pogues is a very lazy way to come up with an idea of what Flogging Molly is all about," King maintains. "The highest compliment that I've ever gotten was from a Pogue himself, Spider Stacy, who said we've taken what they've done and completely turned it into our own deal, which we're taking to another generation.

"We have so many influences: the Dubliners, the Clash, Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Bob Marley -- and I think all that comes out in our music," King continues. "Yes, we're taking our influences, but we're turning it all into our own sound."

A spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live two years ago gave Flogging Molly a golden opportunity to supplement that sound with a simple political message.

"It was the day they declared the war was gonna begin -- St. Patrick's Day, which was ironic," King says. "So on the back of my guitar, I wrote 'No War' with electrical tape, and during the song, I flipped it over into the camera. And, yeah, that's my opinion, and maybe I shouldn't have put it forth like that, but I was standing up for what our band felt, too. I mean, it is the land of the free and all that."

A far cry from Sinéad O'Connor ripping up a picture of His Holiness, King's stunt went ignored by network executives at ABC, who have invited the Floggers back to Kimmelsince. But it did manage to raise the blood pressure of at least one television viewer. "I had a load of interviews to do one day afterwards, and the phone rang, and the guy goes, 'Can I speak to Dave King, please?' I go, 'Speaking.' He says, 'You're fucking dead,' and hung up.

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