Within a Mile of Home (Side One Dummy)
An interview with frontman Dave King
By Grady Gadbow
This fall found Flogging Molly on the road, as usual, this time with the new album of hearty Celtic rock anthems flying off the shelves. Within a Mile of Home hit the stores this summer and is already the best-selling L.A.-style seven-piece traditional Irish/punk rock band album of all time.
Pretty hectic tour schedule, eh?
Oh yeah. Well, we’re a live band, you know? Why sit home when you could be out there playing music? We’re in Chicago right now.
I thought you were in Detroit. I guess that was last night. How was it?
Detroit was amazing. It was a beautiful theater, the State Theater, and the crowd was fantastic. Bridget’s from Detroit, so her whole family was there. Bit of an event, you know?
I’ve been listening to your new album all week. I really like “Tobacco Island,” and I get the feeling you have a personal connection to the previous generations of Irishmen who came across the sea.
Yeah, I did it for different reasons, obviously. People back then had to do it, cuz that’s what they had to do. I try to understand that and get inside that. Oliver Cromwell shipped like two hundred thousand Irish people over to Jamaica and the Caribbean and had them as slaves for English landlords, but that song is about stuff that still goes on today. There’s still tyranny and war, and are we ever gonna learn from it? It baffles me that we still fight in the name of God and stuff like that.
And redemption from slavery is a powerful traditional theme in American music.
At band practice, I imagine you’re like the conductor of an orchestra.
In some ways, yeah. I usually have an idea for a song, and then we’ll have a few beers at rehearsal and sit around and play with it. But everybody, and I mean everybody, has something to say about some part of the song, so it’s totally a joint effort.
Do you run through it on the acoustic guitar and then stomp your foot and the rock band comes in?
There you go! I usually sit down at my little desk with all my little belongings around me, usually really late at night, and I just sit down and see what happens. Sometimes something really good happens, and sometimes fuck-all comes out, but it’s just a really natural thing.
Do you write on the road? Do you guys get to practice?
It’s very difficult cuz there’re so many of us and the bus is so small that it’s hard to get room, but yeah, every now and then I’ll pick up a guitar and play some chords and record them. Then, when I get home, I play it all back, and sometimes things will hit me in a new way or better way. So yeah, you could say things are written on the road.
You have slow sad songs as well as pissed-off ones. Do you know as you’re writing them which one it’s gonna be? Or do they develop as they go along?
It depends on the mood I’m in. “Don’t Let Me Die Still Wondering,” the last track on the album, I wrote the day I found out Johnny Cash died. Johnny Cash was a hero of mine and a hero of music, and he always gave me the impression that he would never be on his death bed going, “I hope I did this right,” or “I wanted to do that,” or “I regret I didn’t do this.” When I’m on my death bed, I’d like to be able to say “I’ve lived life to the fullest I could, I did the best I could, and I didn’t hurt anybody on the way.” So the songs depend on what I hear. It all depends what I’m reading about. For “Tobacco Island,” I was reading a book about that, and it inspired me to sing a melody about people’s hardships back then, and how it relates to people today.
What was that book called?
You know, I don’t even remember. It might’ve been called To Hell or Barbados.
Do you read a lot of history?
History, to me, especially old literature and stuff like that, is very interesting because I learn from it and I can contribute to it by writing myself. I always want to learn cuz I get bored really easily, so I always like to keep on learning. I think sometimes life can be very stagnant and very boring, so I have to challenge myself all the time, you know?
Back in ’89, when you first came to L.A., what did you imagine things would be like for you by this point?
Eh, quite honestly, I had no idea. I came over here and got a band together and it was still the tail end of the corporate ’80s in the rock world. I discovered very quickly that I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore, that it didn’t interest me. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I decided to stay in L.A. and, I think, just write for myself, maybe be lonely, I don’t know. Being away from Ireland was really hard for me, but at the same time, I knew I could find something, and think that I had a huge impact on my writing. When I heard Bridget play fiddle, it sort of musically made sense to me that although physically maybe I can’t go back to Ireland, maybe musically there was a way for me to remember it and to write about it. It wasn’t a plan, it just seemed to fall into place that way. Since we got the band together, my life has taken on a whole new meaning, a whole new purpose. I’m very, very proud of this band, to be in this band. It’s a wonderful thing when you write just for yourself, but at the same time, it affects people. We get emails from all over the world, from all different walks of life, about how our music touches people.
It also breaks down a lot of barriers. Music people can be real cliquey and snobbish, but everybody has to tap their foot to Flogging Molly.
(laughs) Yeah, well, those are the type of beats I grew up with. In Ireland, we’re definitely tapping feet. At a very early age I learned that from my mother and father. And to once again mention Johnny Cash, that type of honesty in music is foot-tapping good, you know?
And your sound is very rock and roll, too…
Yeah, well, we’ve got a lot of different elements with seven people in the band. Seven people, all with different influences ranging from Bob Marley to Morrisey to AC/DC to The Rolling Stones to The Clash to The Sex Pistols to David Bowie.
You guys get through to some of the kids that think they’re harder core than thou and make them open up their minds a bit.
Well, they can be very open-minded, to be honest with you. I’ve seen five-year-olds to 75-year-olds in our audience, you know? All I can say is that we play our music as honestly as we can, and we try to have as much fun with it as we can. It’s like life: Life is a very serious thing, but you can also have fun with it, you know?
You’ve got a lot of songs about drinking do you guys like to party?
Do we like to party? Oh my God, yeah! Absolutely. I mean, obviously you have to take nights off here and there, but we like to, yeah. Like last night, for example, we all went out and had a few pints, and then we had a bit of a session when we got back to the bus. We all like to play iPod DJ.
You’ve got a lot of songs about the sea as well. You ever do any sailing?
I’ve been on boats all my life. I don’t mean like little boats. My sister used to live on an island called the Isle of Man. It’s between Ireland and England, and I used to go every summer. So I was used to being on a ship every summer, and I always had a fascination with it. It’s beautiful to me. Songs like “Seven Deadly Sins” are metaphors for life, using a sea/pirate type of thing, you know? But there’s always a little bit more depth than meets the eye.
Do you see the band as the seven drunken pirates?
Ahh… we’re, like, in a bus. And we’re with a crew. And we’re driving from city to city, going into town and running back out again. So it definitely has an element of that. Coming into a city and fuckin’ attacking with music, and leaving again and going to the next town… So yeah, it’s like a metaphor for being in a rock band.