DENNIS CASEY OF FLOGGING MOLLY INTERVIEWED (2019): Taking Irish back to the Irish

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DENNIS CASEY OF FLOGGING MOLLY INTERVIEWED (2019): Taking Irish back to the Irish
Guitarist/singer Dennis Casey may boast a resonantly Irish surname and play in one of the most widely-acclaimed punk-influenced Irish folk-rock bands Flogging Molly, but the phone call catches him at home in Rochester, New York where he lives with wife and four children.

And where he was brought up.

With a laugh he's prepared to admit that Irish music didn't come to him until later in life, but that life now – since '99 when he joined the band lead by singer/writer Dave King (born in Dublin) and violinist/singer Bridget Regan – has been one of deep immersion in Celtic music.

Flogging Molly who play here as part of the BluesFest (see date below) have recorded half a dozen album (their 2011 Speed of Darkness going top 10 in the US) and have played all over the globe.

The one place however that didn't embrace them in the way Casey might have expected was . . . Ireland.

“The band went to Ireland in the mid 2000s and it was . . . ummm. A beautiful place.

“But what surprised me was I thought more people were going to be into what we were doing because we had toured the Netherland and Germany and people, in the Netherlands particularly, really took to the band.

“I guess I assumed Ireland would be the same and was a little surprised that it wasn't as received there, maybe because it is the music of their culture,” he laughs.

“I do know that what's real interesting is that all these years later when we play Dublin people from all over the world will come to see us there. They enjoy seeing the band in that environment. We played there a few months ago and there were people from Brazil, Belgium, Australia, Germany . . People came from all over!”

flogging_molly_speed_of_darknessThe Flogging Molly story started in Los Angles at the start of the Nineties and although the music is often a kind of furious folk, writer King tells personal stories alongside commentary on the world, as he did so notably on Speed of Darkness) as well as conjure up the names of famous figures from Irish history.

“Dave's story is interesting for people. He left Ireland as a teenager to travel the world and settled in LA, an Irish guy like James Joyce who was away from home, and he missed home so he started writing and that's how he connected with it.

“I'm getting metaphysical, but it's fascinating that people from all over the world who are of Irish heritage love the culture and they like to go back to the homeland, and to see our band play songs about missing Ireland.

“When I started in the band we were playing in a tiny pub called Molly Malone's in LA and we would wreak havoc every week there, so I knew when I joined there was something very special going on. And we knew there were Irish people all over the world. As Dave likes to say, they are like cockroaches which invade.

“So I felt a whole lot of people could could embrace this, even if you weren't Irish. It's in the way we sing and what Dave writes about which is very relatable and you can get your head and heart around it. And have a great time doing it.

195dccb8_1878_4808_b812_a831c9740157_925191_TABLET_LANDSCAPE_3_2“I like to live my life without many expectations but I love the band and have a lot of confidence in it, but yes I was pleasantly surprised by the success of Speed of Darkness. I think 100 years from now if someone wanted to know about the state of the US or maybe Europe at that time was that record is a great snapshot of what was happening at that time, especially with the economy.

“Dave also writes about personal things people can relate to whether they are Irish or not, particularly because he lost his father at a young age . . but also about political things which affect him and keeping the past alive is important, especially in the world we are in now where things are just looked at and thrown away and everything is going so fast.

“But to present something from long ago to keep it alive, particularly for some young kid who may not know anything about a person in a song, is important.”

At 54, Casey acknowledges being a late arrival into this Molly music which is inspired by the Pogues, the Clash, the Dubliners and traditional styles.

“I'm American-Irish but I gravitated to Irish music. My family was not musical at all and I didn't have a stereo until I was 14 and when I found music that was it. I sort of had to educate myself every step of the way because there was nobody showing me and I think that really helped me develop my musical tastes, because I didn't know any genres or rules. And when you are a teenager you are a sponge and you can consume so much.

“So I did.

“And when I joined the band, Matt [Hensley, accordion] and Dave showed me traditional Irish music which was hundreds and hundreds of years old and I really took to that because it was like folk music. To this day Matt and I, Bridget as well, will play jigs and reels and very old Irish tunes of the kind which would have been played around a fireplace with beer and whisky in a celebration with someone playing spoons.

“I really enjoy that celebratory aspect of Irish music

And he has encountered it everywhere: “My wide and I went on vacation to a small island in Greece and there was an Irish pub there, I couldn't believe it and we had a good old Irish time there in the middle of this paradise island.

“I have no idea [how popular we might be in New Zealand], it's the one place we've never been so I don't know what to expect. I hope there will be people who know our band, and of course the internet has changed a lot of things.

“We just did a tour of South America and I couldn't believe that in Santiago in Chile there were these kids who knew about us, knew our music. It still blows my mind that I can go that far away and the kids will know your music and who you are when you walk by.

“That never gets old to me.”

goodTheir most recent album Life is Good (2017) took them back to the old country again, it was recorded at Grouse Lodge in Westmeath in the centre of the Republic and very remote.

“Yes, right in the middle of nowhere, very secluded and a big building. You could take a half hour walk in any direction and stumble on some ruins. It is mystical and charming but everything has to be brought in because it is so remote and surrounded by farms.

“There are no distraction and that makes you focus, we've doe recorded in big studios where there are plenty of distractions.”
Again the album did well for them and Casey says it pushed their parameters a little further again. The King song Until We Meet Again is a close cousin to American country music: “That's one of my favourite songs, I think old country stems from Irish music which came over with the people many years ago”.

news_0514_floggingmollycruiseIn recent years Flogging Molly have found a new audience and unusual place to play, since 2015 they have been doing Salty Dog Cruises on cruise ship around the Caribbean with guests such as NOFX, Rancid, Fishbone and Frank Turner. Now, guys like good-vibe Jimmy Buffet who sings of margarita and lying around the pool you can understand being popular on such balmy cruises. But a flat tack, political Irish band and some punk fellow travelers?

“You sound just like me when it was first suggested,” he laughs. “I though old people like Jimmy Buffet played them and there was shuffleboard. I was really resistant to it but the first day I walked on the boat I met a young couple from Belgium and it hit me. I thought maybe this could be good and at the pool area there were hundreds of people.

“But nobody really know what to expect or what to do and how to do it.

“Having said that, guys like Frank Turner brought an intimacy to it. We don't have or own wing of the boat where we hang out after we've played. Everyone is there at the pool or concert halls, Frank will play at the jacuzzi, bands will play in your room even, it's carefree.

“So you can see a wild Irish band cut loose then stumble 20 yards to your cabin and wake up the beautiful sunshine in the Caribbean.

“It's hard to explain how it works but once you've experienced it you get it and I'd bet that many of those people keep coming back.”

So as the album title says, life is good?

“Yes, we've hit a threshold but our passion and love for what we do, and doing it for that reason, has increased the threshold every year. We haven't gone from rags to riches but we don't have to have day jobs.

“That was my dream, as long as I didn't have to have a day job – I used to be house painter – I would consider myself successful.

“The love of music and meeting people and connecting with those people who say how our music has touched their lives . . . that means more to me than anything else.”

Flogging Molly: Friday April 12, Powerstation, Auckland

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