Chatting with Flogging Molly

Some words that come to mind when thinking of Ireland: distinct, political and great music to drink to.

Today the Irish identity lives on abroad in the Irish-American Celtic-punk hybrid that is Flogging Molly.

The band’s sound captures something unique and important; it’s as if a traditional Irish pub decided to hold a hardcore-punk night, but no one bothered to tell the regular band not to show up.

Violins and accordions sharing the stage with duelling guitars and effects pedals – this is the situation created by Flogging Molly.

As the band embarks on their first-ever coast-to-coast Canadian tour, The Cord spoke on the phone with accordionist Matt Hensley about touring, making music and politics.

Since the group’s beginnings in Los Angeles in the early 90s’, Flogging Molly has earned a reputation of being particularly ferocious live.

It shows in live recordings and even on each of their four studio albums.

When asked what makes seeing the band live so necessary Hensley
replied, “For what we do, we just do it better live than in a recorded situation because we’re just a bunch of people that are really going for it onstage. You can’t see that when you’re hearing the music on the radio.”

A genuine enjoyment of performance and musicianship seems to be key to the band’s presence and longevity; their first album came out in 1997 but they formed a few years earlier.

Hensley sums up his feelings by saying, “I love what I do to begin with and when I’m playing I lose myself in the music.

“There’s a great freedom in that. Whatever’s bothering you before you go onstage, it’s gone.”

As the accordionist in a fairly mainstream band, Hensley inhabits a unique position playing a unique instrument.

Never really considering the thought of being in a punk band one day when starting out, he says, “My aim was really just to play Celtic music.”

“The accordion is such a worldly instrument. You can make it sound Canadian, like it’s from Quebec or from Mexico or New Orleans,” said Hensley.

“The accordion, at least for my ears, is always associated with people’s working class music. I love the idea of that.”

From playing small clubs to becoming regulars in the annual, high-profile Warped Tour, Hensley highlights what performing is really all about.

“Personally, I like playing close to the crowd if it’s big or small,” he said.

“The closer I am to the people, the better I feel about it. Being really close to the people like that, it feels like you’re playing for them, but you’re playing with them at the same time. Playing [far away from the crowd], you’re kind of far removed from it all, it feels different.”

Despite the rush he gets performing, Hensley explains that always touring “anywhere from six to eight or nine months of the year,” according to Hensley, can take its toll.

“It can be brutal,” he said simply. Yet he takes a very noble attitude towards the struggles of the working band.

“We meet a lot of people that have bad situations,” said Hensley.

“So you meet people that come up to you and say that your band ‘means this much’ to them getting through their lives. So all my little troubles, complications with going through customs all over the damn world, it all really pales in comparison.”

Many fans appreciate Flogging Molly’s decidedly political feel to their music; they have a strong association with political causes. Frontman Dave King’s lyrics about his Irish roots and upbringing also contribute to the impression of political activism.

The band’s deep awareness is evident especially on their latest album, 2008’s Float.

Hensley explained that while a lot of the lyrics are about the struggles of the Irish nation and people, he does not consider the band’s music to be overtly political.

He noted that when George Bush was running for his second term of presidency in the United States, he found it difficult to stand by, calling it “an absolute nightmare.”

Flogging Molly contributed to a CD compilation called Rock Against Bush.

“But he won anyway,” said Hensely. “Some of the songs on Float have a very political vibe and it’s from that frustration. It’s about America not getting it. Now we’ve got Obama and like it or not, it’s a huge change. I actually have faith in America again and going abroad I’m not embarrassed to show my passport.”

Combining elements of Irish folk music and punk rock with these subtle political undertones helps make Flogging Molly accessible to people of all ages and tastes.

Hensley describes the type of crowd the band’s music typically attracts, stating “We’re all over the place. We’ve got … kids five years old wearing Flogging Molly shirts going for it. We’ve got little babies in onesies googling around while the grandparents in their seventies and eighties are tapping away out there.”

“It’s all over the place at the show,” he continued.

Flogging Molly will play at Elements in Kitchener with Winnipeg’s Inward Eye on Oct. 20.