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Flogging Molly’s Dave King: “There Was Always That Capability That The Band Could Do Anything”

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 26 October 2020 at 10.14

The band are celebrating 20 years of their debut album 'Swagger'.

It’s been 20 years since Flogging Molly released their debut album ‘Swagger’ and they are celebrating in some style with a huge reissue boxset. 

A traditionally beautiful and raucous combination of celtic folk music and punk-rock, it's a record that is still as unique and rousing today as when it was first recorded and holds a lot of poignant memories for all who have let it into their lives.

We chatted to frontman Dave King about the roots of the band, what they wanted to create with this record and how important it was to him to simply create a celebration with their music...

What do you remember about the origins of the band? What was it that you were trying to do?
“Well it’s funny because it’s just been 48 years since my father died. When he passed I was so young that I never really grieved. So when I started writing lyrics for Flogging Molly, I was going back to my youth and mourning my father for the very first time. That’s where things started really.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll said it again though, if it wasn’t for Angus Young of AC/DC than Flogging Molly wouldn’t be together. I remember years ago I was in Germany with AC/DC and I was talking to Angus and he was explaining to me that he didn’t if it was The Beatles or The Rolling Stones who were on before they were, because they were AC/DC. I never really quite understood what he meant by that. Now I know what he meant, because when we first got together I felt this energy that I had never felt with any other band. I said to myself, ‘I know exactly what he was talking about now’. It doesn’t matter who you are, but if you believe in what you’re doing, and whether you’re good or bad or whatever, that’s all you need. It didn’t matter who went on before or after Flogging Molly ever again, because we were Flogging Molly and that was it.

“We knew we had something going on. We’re not quite sure what it was though, nobody did. We were doing punk-rock festivals with fiddles and accordions. People were quite taken aback at first, as were we. But then when we got on our feet, things started to make a little bit of sense.”

What was the energy like?
“It was almost like we fell into all of this together. I think the spark for me was when I first met Bridget [Regan]. I used to play down at Molly Malone’s [In Los Angeles] and I met her during my performance. She told me that she played the fiddle and I went over to her apartment the next day and we started playing and it was the first time that I had ever heard fiddle on existing songs that I had. When I heard that it made me realise that I couldn’t go back to Ireland and I had so much history behind me already, that maybe I could merge everything together, make something click and bring it all round to now.

“Then everybody else started to come alone and it all really started to gel. We started by playing at Molly Malone’s to ten people, and then the next week there would be double and then a few weeks later there was a queue round the block of people trying to get in.

“I think it was when we met Side One Dummy and Kevin Lyman from the Warped Tour, that’s when things as a functioning band really started to take shape. We did the Warped Tour and then toured with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. We just built on that there. Then Steve Albini really helped as well. Everybody just let us be ourselves. We were very fortunate, because we knew from being in other bands that record companies can try and steer you to their way of thinking. We never had to fend for ourselves in that way.”

Coming into contact with people who have the same attitude as you, it almost helps you realise that you’re not out here on your own. That’s what was magic about something like Warped Tour…
“What was great about the Warped Tour was that everybody had a 35-minute set. You would than do everything you could with those 35 minutes. Everybody on there hung out at some point as well. Kevin Lyman created this wonderful atmosphere for bands. For a band like us as well to try and book a club tour would have been next to impossible I think, but because of the Warped Tour we met so many people. From NOFX to Bad Religion and so many bands that we’re still in contact with now.

“That whole period was such a learning point for us though. If you were in a band that was just starting off, you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  I think with songs like ‘The Likes Of You Again’ were always good for people who didn’t know who you were. You would come on stage with fiddles and accordions and you would know they didn’t know what to expect. When we would start and they would be looking around at each other going, ‘What’s going on?’ and then it would kick in and you would just see faces smiling.”

So how did those songs you had originally wrote develop into the full compositions that appear on ‘Swagger’? What was it like being in the studio rather than being on the road?
“What was different for me with Flogging Molly was that we could sit in the corner of a pub and play and it would still have the energy as if we were on stage in front of 200 people. There was always that capability that the band could do absolutely anything. Going into the studio there were always different elements. We had so many influences, I can’t even begin to describe. With seven people, everybody gave their own little bit. I’ve been in bands before where you’re just pigeonholed and that’s just what you do. The secret to our longevity is that we have never been pigeonholed.”

The most difficult thing must be trying to bottle that feeling and make sure that it comes across as much on record as it does when you’re in front of people…
“I think when you start playing these sorts of songs in front of people you quickly realise that it’s a celebration. We all know that there’s always going to be shit and there’s always going to be something that we have to deal with, but when we’re on that stage together it’s a total celebration. I think that people get that euphoria. I think that having that made it really easy to keep it in the studio. Everything we record in the studio was live anyway. It’s the only way for this band. We take our time rehearsing because when we’re in that studio we want to get a song down in hopefully four takes. Just to keep to that honest energy there. Most of the arguments come in rehearsals then. We will always do that.”

So what songs on ‘Swagger’ still resonate with you now 20 years on from when you first committed them to tape?
“I think there are certain songs that have carried on through every incarnation of the band and grown with us. I think a really important song for us back then, and still is now, was ‘Black Friday Rule’ where lyrically and musically it was bombastic but we still that beautiful and traditionally soulful element to it. At that time, that was the pinnacle of what we were all about. It just did it all so effortlessly. It was a kick in the face, a cry in the eye and still really beautiful. It’s one of the songs that really defined the album. More than anything ‘Swagger’ laid the groundwork for everything that we’ve done, and even though we’ve travelled down many roads along the way we will always be that same Flogging Molly.”

Did you expect a reaction like the one that you got?
“Because I was in so many different bands before this, you learn a lot about patience. Until you find yourself comfortable in what you’re doing, you’ve got to be patient. I knew in my heart that when we found out feet we would have something to shout about. Working our way up from ten people to queues round the corner, we knew that our two drink tickets were going a long way.”

Finally, when you look back on this period of time, what’s the feeling that instantly comes back to you?
“I think I was going through a period when I was actually illegal in America. Not through any fault of my own, but they changed the law and I wasn’t aware of it. So I couldn’t actually leave America and when the band were touring we couldn’t even go to Canada. I felt rather bottled up. I didn’t see my mother for eight years. When I was young my mother and father and me lived in a bedsit in Dublin and we had a piano. Every Saturday night my mother and father would leave me to watch Match Of The Day. They would then come back from the pub and they would have loads of people with them. My mother would then play the piano and everybody would sing a song, including me. I have always wanted to get back to that room because the energy in that room was just amazing. We had nothing at that point.

“So when I physically couldn’t go back to Ireland, writing in the way that I did was a way of being able to go back home and getting back into that room. It was just about doing it our own way. That’s why this band is such a celebration.”

You can pick up the new reissue of 'Swagger' from right HERE

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