Drinking Anthems

The punkish Irish rockers celebrate a quarter-century as a band with a headlining tour and a new album recorded by studio wizard Steve Albini.

Flogging Molly are celebrating their first quarter century as a band by heading out on a headlining tour to support their new album, Anthem.

Singer/guitarist Dave King and fiddle player (and future wife) Bridget Regan formed the band and, 25 years later, having survived the pandemic, these veteran Irish rockers are ready to roll into the Diamond Ballroom on March 8 with Anti-Flag and Skinny Lister.

The road has always been a second home to the seven members of Flogging Molly, who have steadily built a large following and stable career the old-fashioned way – by touring and word of mouth raves about their highly entertaining and raucous live shows.

“I remember when we first started, I won’t mention the radio station, but they did a battle of the bands and they’d play four songs by four bands. Whoever had the most requests at the end of the week would be immediately put on their playlist,” King said. “And we won hands down and they refused to play the song on the radio. Their excuse was, ‘Well, it’s only your fans that are calling in.’ From then on, we knew we were never going to get any favors. There was nobody going ‘we’ll put you on the radio for this and that.’ That was never going to happen with Flogging Molly. Everything Flogging Molly had to do, with the help of our fans, we were going to have to do it ourselves.

“I feel very proud, to be honest. I think we all do. I think we’re very proud that we have done it the old way,” he said. “We’ve done it (going through) the grind.”

The talk of the early days is appropriate, not only because Flogging Molly is reaching a milestone, but because Anthem marks a return to their roots in very tangible ways. It marks a reunion with producer Steve Albini, who recorded the first two Flogging Molly albums, Swagger (2000) and Drunken Lullabies (2002).

The Flogging Molly saga began after King had made a name for himself in a very different kind of music. In the early 1980s, he was the lead singer of Fastway, a bluesy melodic metal band that also included former Motorhead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke and enjoyed a brief bit of success before King moved on in 1986.

click to enlarge Drinking Anthems
Katie Hoveland
Flogging Molly

After a stint in the short-lived subsequent band called Katmandu, King was on his own and trying to figure out his next move. Living in Los Angeles at the time, he met Regan at a pub called Molly Malone’s, and spurred on by her fiddle playing, King, a native of Dublin, Ireland, decided to return to his Irish roots by writing songs that mixed punkish rock and traditional Irish folk. King and Regan formed a band that landed a regular gig at Molly Malone’s and over time other musicians saw the band and it evolved into Flogging Molly.

Swagger and Drunken Lullabies captured the band in its early raw glory, as Albini recorded Flogging Molly playing live in the studio, completing each album in just a matter of days.

The group followed those two albums with Within a Mile of Home in 2004, a sprawling 15-track album that saw King (the band’s main songwriter) and the rest of Flogging Molly embrace a wider variety of tempos, instrumental settings and musical styles while retaining their Irish punk musical foundation. 

The three albums that have followed since stuck to a similar blueprint of keeping the Irish punk sound front and center as the band occasionally touched on different musical styles while taking advantage of studio technology to add new dimensions to the Flogging Molly sound.

But having been forced off the road and into isolation by the pandemic, King, Regan and the other band members — Dennis Casey (guitar), Matt Hensley (accordion/concertina), Nathen Maxwell (bass), Spencer Swain (mandolin/banjo/guitar) and Mike Alonso (drums) — wanted to go back to how Flogging Molly started, by playing together in the studio live with no attempts to dress up the sound with studio finesse. They wanted no outside input filtering into the project from a producer, record label or any other source. And that meant Albini, who is famous for simply recording bands live with minimal overdubs, was the man for the job. 

“We wanted to go back to our first couple of albums we did with Steve,” King said. “The band is always in control when you’re working with Albini. It’s not like you’re bringing in somebody (to produce) and they put in their little two cents, which is great sometimes. But we felt that we didn’t want that this time. We felt we wanted to put all of our energy into the album and not be, I don’t want to say hindered, but we have seven opinions in this band (already). And for right now, those seven opinions were what we wanted for this album.”

By the time Flogging Molly arrived at Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago, the band had written and arranged nearly all of the songs for Anthem – one exception being the album’s closing song, “The Parting Wave,” which was written and arranged during the recording session.

 It took only 14 days for Flogging Molly to record the 14 songs on Anthem. The mission was accomplished.

 “As a band, we’re really, really happy with it,” King said. “Working with Steve has always been a great experience, and then we got Atom Greenspan to mix it. He did an absolutely phenomenal job, absolutely above and beyond, a brilliant job.”

Chances are, Flogging Molly fans will agree with that assessment of Anthem. There are plenty of songs — “A Song Of Liberty,” “This Road of Mine” and “(Try) Keep The Man Down,” to name three — that continue the band’s tradition of crafting rowdy Irish-accented punk songs with strong melodies and solid playing. Such songs are balanced by ballads like “No Last Goodbyes” and “The Parting Wave” that share the Irish feel, but with a sturdy and folkier feel.

Anthem is also an album that reflects the pandemic times in which it was written and recorded, most obviously with the opening track, “These Times Have Got Me Drinking.” But other songs, including “No Last Goodbyes” and “These Are The Days,” also have references that relate to the pandemic experience. For King, this topic was unavoidable.

“The thing with me is I have to write about what’s going on around me at the time,” he said. “And I can’t get away from that. There’s no way I could have ignored what we’ve all been through these last few years. I couldn’t begin to do that. I have to write of what I’m aware of at the time.”

Flogging Molly won’t be shy about introducing fans to songs from Anthem during concerts on the headlining tour.

“I mean, people have been locked up for so long, they just want to have a good time,” King said. “But at the same time, we’re going to be doing new material from the new album because we feel very strongly about it and I think people will as well. I mean, we did a couple of (the new songs) at our St. Patrick’s Day show here in L.A. at the Hollywood Palladium, and they went down incredibly well.”

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