THE MOTOR CITY IS BURNING Flogging Molly

With Detroit’s economic  and social woes as a metaphor for America, on
their latest album the Celt-punk rockers
deliver an emotional  masterpiece.

 

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

As a working class band, blending punk rock and traditional
Irish roots music, you’d be hard pressed to find a more appropriate town as
your base than Detroit.
 

 

The Motor
City was probably hardest
hit by the recession that decimated even those supposed recession-proof cities.
So, no strangers to struggles, Flogging Molly front man Dave King and his wife
and band mate Bridget Regan (fiddle) – a long time Detroit
resident – summoned the rest of the band from all corners of the globe (literally)
to take up temporary residence in Detroit
to start work on their latest record, Speed
of Darkness
.

 

The city certainly left its mark on the record, 11 songs of
anger, despair, uncertainty and ultimately a sliver of hope over the economic plight
of millions. Look no further than the fifth track, “The Power’s Out,” for the
vitriol that corrupt industries, selfish executives  and flaccid politicians have inspired (“The
power’s out, there’s fuck all to see/The power’s out, like this economy/The
power’s out, guess it’s par for the course/Unless you’re a bloodsucking leech
CEO”). 

 

The record, the band’s fifth, not counting a handful of
brilliant live albums, is also the first on their own label, the just-launched
Borstal Beat.

 

Fresh off a tour, that’s about to start right back up again,
King spoke recently about the record, the city that inspired it.    

 

***

 

BLURT: I know that
you and your wife live in Detroit
part time. Living in that city, it’s particularly hard to ignore what’s the
country has been going through economically. Was it your intention from the
very beginning to focus this album on Detroit
and the situation there or did that just happen after you started writing?

 

DAVE KING: Well, we started writing the album between Ireland and Detroit
and we thought it would be a good idea to use Detroit as a base, because the band lives all
over the place. We just started writing and you couldn’t get away from it.
Between Ireland and Detroit, they’ve been hit
really, really badly. Even the neighborhood we live in, you walk the dog around
and you see so many vacant houses and it’s really sad. I’m a musician, so
unfortunately I don’t have the answers for something like this, but as a social
commentary, I think it’s important for us as a band to talk about this.

 

As someone who grew
up there, what have been you’re wife’s reactions to seeing her hometown falling
on such bad times?

Yeah, our house is still in the same area she was born,
Green Acres. It’s just very sad; it kind of reminds me of when I was a kid in Ireland. Growing
up in Ireland
was really depressing, then the Celtic Tiger came along and now that’s been
declawed. They’ve built like housing estates in Ireland, but now they’re just these
shells sitting there, not being finished.

 

Are you starting to
see things finally get better in Detroit?

Well, honestly we haven’t been here a lot because we’ve been
touring since January basically, but I don’t see any improvement whatsoever
yet. The house next to us was all boarded up, but now the boards have been
removed, so maybe someone has moved in. The taxes that people have to pay in Michigan are ridiculous
as well. That’s another reason why people can’t afford their houses here. It’s
not just paying their mortgages; it’s having to pay their taxes as well.

 

Lyrically there’s a lot
of anger obviously just based on the subject matter. Do you see it that way or
is there some optimism there as well?

To me it’s an album that has hope. Lyrically there is hope.
I mean things are bad right now. We meet people at our shows from all walks of
life and people are having a hard time. I can’t get away from that and I don’t
want to get away from that.  I want to look
at this album in 10 years and say “thank God that period is over. We got
through it.” It is an optimistic album. The title is just about how quickly
things can change.

 

This is probably your
strongest album thematically. Was it harder to write or easier to write when
the songs all had a common thread?

If you had asked me a month or so before we started writing
if this was going to be an easy album, I don’t know what I would have said. We
have such a different mindset when we are on the road, so we come home, we take
a break and that’s when the writing comes in. Knock on wood, when we get
together to write things move along very quickly.

 

How did the rest of
the band take the news of relocating to Detroit
to write this one?

One of the things that’s good about this band is that we are
very focused on what we do. Like when we record the album, some of the best
albums come about when we’re all living in the same space while we’re recording
and going into the studio together in the morning. I think we tend to work
together better like that.

 

The album hasn’t come
out yet and you just finished a stint of shows on the road. Do you plan to tour
a lot once this one officially comes out?   

Yeah, we will be. I can honestly say John until the end of
the year at least.

 

At this point is it drudgery,
having to spend so much time on the road?

Oh, no, no. We’re very fortunate as a band. For example last
year we headlined a punk festival in Blackpool, England one night and the next night we
headlined a folk festival in Belgium.
So we played with Richard Thompson and the Chieftains and the next night we
played with Motorhead.  For a band to be
able to do something like that is quite incredible and we’re grateful to be
able to do that.

 

You worked with Ryan
Hewitt (who also produced The Avett Brothers and Red Hot Chili Peppers) on this
one. Was this your first time working with him?

No, second time. He did Float as well.

 

Was it easier now
that you know each others’ styles and how you work?

We work pretty well together with Ryan. He’s an exceptional
man when it comes to recording. What we never used to do before was get several
backing tracks down, but with Ryan it was one a day. You’d start with a song in
the morning and by the end of the day it was done. It was a really good way of
working and you really got to know a song better that way. It was very focused
and that’s what we need. We have seven people in this band and it’s easy to
lose focus.

 

Where did you go to
record it?

We went to Ashville,
NC [to Echo Mountain Studios]. It
was amazing, absolutely beautiful. The people there were so nice. If anybody
needed anything you’d just put the word out. If Bridget needed a fiddle, she’d
have 12 fiddles the next day to choose from. 
It really was an incredible experience.

 

This is also your
first record in a long time not on SideOne Dummy. You started your own label
for this one didn’t you?

Yeah, we decided to reinvent ourselves a little bit I
suppose you’d say; take on a little bit more responsibility for what we do and
hopefully bring on other bands.

 

Have you already
started looking at other bands to sign?

Yeah. Well obviously we’ve got to get this record out first,
but we have our eyes on a couple people that we really, really like. There’s
this fantastic band from San Diego
called the Drowning Men. We’ve had them out on tour with us and I’d love to
work with them.

 

Is there anything
about running your own record that surprised you?   

 It’s a lot more work,
absolutely. The amount of people that have to be involved in getting an album
out is quite a lot. We’ve got so many people behind the scenes with this band
that do so much work. There’s a lot of people doing the blood and guts work. It
is a lot of work, but we’re lucky to have it, you know. We’re lucky to be in
the situation that we are. We could be a band at that stage where no one is
coming to see us anymore and thankfully we’re not. So we’re extremely grateful
for it.

 

It’s exciting to hear
that you guys are looking to sign other bands. 
  

Yeah, there’s so many great bands out there, great live
bands that don’t get a chance to go on tour and get their album out. It’s not
as easy as it was and if we can do anything at all to help, that’s great.

 

There’s one more
question that I’ve been holding on to for about a year and a half. You put out
a video online about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) awareness awhile ago
and I was really interested in how it came about. My father is a vet and has
PTSD and on a personal level I was surprised and glad to see you talking about
it.

 Well, a friend of me
and Bridget’s, back in Ireland,
unfortunately took his life and it affected us… we just couldn’t believe it.
One night he was in the pub laughing over a joke and the next day he’s dead and
I think in Ireland
there’s a stigma about suffering from depression. You just never go to talk to
someone about it. It stems from there, and we have so many military fans who
come to our shows. It’s so weird you should mention this because the day before
yesterday, at our last show on this tour, this solider came up to us before the
show and said that that video saved his life. He came back from Iraq and was
thinking about committing suicide. I met a lovely girl after a show and she
said “you guys took care of me.” We play music, you know, and to have somebody
say that to you. Music can make a difference and I think in these times between
humor and music, they’re probably the only two things that get you through it.

       So, yeah, it
does make us proud. We want to be that band. We’re not just popcorn, we’re not just candy. We’re a real working class
band and we’re surrounded by working class people. That’s what we’re about.

 

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