When you think of those rallying cries of anarchy and rebellion, bands like U2 and The Alarm clash head first into The Pogues and underground punk bands like The Skids. Bands that not only lived a certain lifestyle, but also practiced everything they preached. Flogging Molly is a band that has managed to not only focus their message to the people, but along the way become a consummate and original high energy band that dodges generic comparisons quite well.
With their latest CD, Speed Of Darkness, Flogging Molly takes on the corporate fat cats and hypocritical politicians that ignore the people’s demands and run our country into the red. I had a chance to speak with multi-instrumentalist Bob Schmidt about the music, the mayhem and the ultimate message that’s being delivered by this straight-shooting band.
You’ve probably done this a thousand times, but would you explain to our readers how you came up with the name Flogging Molly?
The name comes from a club we started out in. We had a residency on Monday nights at a pub called Molly Malone’s on Fairfax Ave in Los Angeles and when we were trying to figure out what the name of the band should be, the woman, Angela, who ran the place, suggested Flogging Molly because she said that we flogged the place to death every Monday night. At that point we didn’t think that we would ever be anything but a Monday night band so it seemed fitting. We thought that if we ever got to doing albums and touring we would just come up with a name then, but by the time we got to that point it just kind of stuck.
The band is like Black 47, in that you both started out in a small bar and worked your asses off to develop a following. Do you think that can still happen for bands trying to get discovered on a grassroots level?
Well, yeah. I think if you’re good, and you’re passionate about what you do, that translates well to people and it can definitely happen. It doesn’t matter where they see you or where you start, people still connect with that emotion. Especially more so now with the Internet, which has changed the way the industry works and affords you the media coverage that really wasn’t available in the past. I still think it’s more important to have people come and actually see you and kind of get that energy of what you’re about rather than reading a blog post and hearing an MP3 clip though.
Speed Of Darkness addresses so many topics that working class poor can relate to. Songs like “The Power’s Out” really hit home about our current economic situation as well as our current storm aftermath here on the East Coast. What’s the band’s main message to people who are being affected by this continuing country collapse?
Our message is about trying to make those stories known. It’s starting to turn a bit now because I don’t think you can avoid the current conditions. When we were writing this album over the last three years after the whole stock market crashed, all the news stories that were going around the country were about the positive economic recovery and saying that recession was over and stuff. Yet we were going out on tour and meeting all these people who had lost their jobs and they’ve had to move their family from the neighborhood they’ve lived in for 20 years. They’ve lost homes and their relatives and friends all have the same story. And we didn’t see those same stories being reflected in the mainstream media.
I mean, it wasn’t the same narrative that was being pumped across the country through newspapers and the web and all that other crap, so it was mostly about making the real American situation known. When you have an entire country where the majority are feeling completely disenfranchised and not reflected in the realities of what’s going on in our country, it really is just a recipe for disaster.
Is there ever a problem conveying economic themes of unrest along with the believability factor as a group of successful entertainers?
Well, it’s not like we’re making money hand over fist (laughs). We have to deal with the same things that everyone else does. I mean, everybody above us makes more money than we do. I think we all feel the same crunch and I think it’s important to us to not draw a line between the general populace and what we do. The only difference between the crowd and ourselves is that we are holding a guitar and they’re holding a beer. And I never want any of our fans to feel there’s a difference between the two, you know? I mean we’re not gods or demi-gods or even smarter than they are (laughs). Everybody just kind of does what they’re good at, I guess.
Speed Of Darkness was recorded in an old church in Asheville, NC, with Ryan Hewitt (Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Avett Brothers). What was the overall effect of making music in an old, back-country church in contrast to recording your last CD, Float, across the pond in Ireland?
Usually, most of the records we’ve done have been in some sort of refurbished building. Like, once we recorded in an old electrical plant, and when we were in Ireland it was an old hunting lodge. And I think the church itself just lends something different. There’s something about an old building that has a kind of energy that really is just so conducive to the theme. I mean the people who used to use this church as a community center, supported each other. And especially with the themes of this album, it’s a weird kind of past-life building that lends itself to the overall vibe. And aside from that, Asheville is just such a great place. Everyone there is amazing. The people are kind and it’s a very wholesome place to make a record like this.
The band has moved into its most aggressive and dynamic phase yet. Title track “Speed Of Darkness” and “Revolution” are just a couple of proverbial blitzkrieg’s that command this record. What process led to this most explosive chapter in Flogging Molly?
I think we are just frustrated with the way things are heading. The last two albums were put together and recorded in this really weird climate. I’ve never lived through a time like this. Even the ‘80s were buoyant compared to what’s going on now. I think it’s just frustrating to see these people with so much money and influence that show so little regard for everybody else. They’re kind of running the show the way they want, to make themselves more money, and to make themselves more powerful. And it’s just really an ugly and enraging thing to see when there are so many good people who give so much more to their community and country and they have none of the same opportunities. That frustration is what the power of this record is about.
The band left SideOneDummy records after a lengthy relationship and started Borstal Beat Records. Why?
Our relationship with SideOne has always been great. This was mostly for control of our output and our legacy. We’ve all learned a lot to get to this point. Our manager grew up with the band and learned everything he knew through working with us. We’ve learned all about the industry through recording, publishing and the label side of it as we’ve grown as well. And the whole band verses label thing is skewed from the get go. You’re essentially taking out a bank loan where, once the loan is paid off, the bank still owns the product. So it just made sense at this point for us to make this move. We could afford to do it and we didn’t have to take an advance to pay for the recording. At this point, people know who we are and it just seems like, “Why not own our masters?” Just really take back a little control for what we’re doing.
You guys often draw huge underage crowds. Are you setting the stage for the next generation of American revolutionists?
We hope so (laughs). I mean, what we’re really trying to do is to get people to think for themselves. We want people to look at the issues and come up with solutions. We don’t have any answers for the future. We’re musicians. I’m not an economist or a mathematician. So it’s tough for me to answer these issues or make those all work. I do know that if you let others make decisions about your life, you lose control of that life. So, the more that you know and educate yourself about what’s going on, the better your chances are to seize control of your existence and ultimately make a difference in the lives of other people.
The band has some pretty wild musical heroes. Who would win in an afterworld brawl? Johnny Cash or Joe Strummer?
(Laughs) Strummer was a scrappy guy, man, but I really think Johnny had the weight and height advantage. Hands down it would be Cash.
Flogging Molly will perform at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, on Sept. 16. For more information, go to floggingmolly.com.