Stirring the Eire
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."
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 Motrhead'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 Kimmel since. 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.
"People think I'm anti-American because I say and do stuff like that," he continues. "I'm not. I love American people. I think they're the best bunch of people in the world. I think it's the greatest country in the world. But at the same time, coming from a place where I've seen war just devastate people, I don't want to see that happen here -- or to people in Iraq or Iran, or wherever."
While Molly's third full-length, Within a Mile of Home, makes time for drunken pirate chanteys and a vocal duet with Lucinda Williams dedicated to King's mother ("Factory Girls"), most of the tunes deal with political struggle: "Tobacco Road," for example, rails against Oliver Cromwell, the seventeenth-century English butcher who enslaved Irish children to work sugar plantations in the West Indies, among other evil acts. And "Screaming at the Wailing Wall" points out God's seeming indifference toward foreign liberators who "growl with oil-soaked teeth" while the suffering multiplies all around.
"George W. Bush's version of freedom is not the Iraqis' version of freedom," King asserts. "They have to find their own freedom. When Ireland was trying to find its freedom from England, who was there to help us? Nobody. We had to find it ourselves -- not by somebody coming in and telling you how they think you should be free."
While he's not yet an American citizen and can't vote, King pays taxes to Uncle Sam, so he's entitled to grouse a bit. Using a typewriter built in 1916 (the year of the Easter Uprising, in Dublin), the red-haired upstart pens lyrics full of passion, politics and poetry -- though he takes greater liberties with his homeland's own musical heritage.
"I'm sure the purists would say that we're strangling it to death," King admits, "but that's okay with me. It's my take on the tradition of Ireland that I grew up in. So it's not all pretty, you know."
Even so, King cherishes his memories as a wee lad on the Emerald Isle. And in a way, he's come full circle.
"We lived in a one-room flat, but we had a piano," King enthuses. "Every Friday and Saturday night, my mother and uncle would bring people back from the pub and have a big old sing-song, you know. I remember the energy in the room. I think one of my journeys in life is to go back to that room. I suppose musically is the only way I can."
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