Alongside multi-instrumentalist bandmates Dave King, Matthew Hensley, Nathen Maxwell, Bridget Regan, Robert Schmidt and George Schwindt, guitarist Dennis Casey of Los Angeles-based Celtic-punk group, Flogging Molly, is appreciative of many things: a 15-year career making music with his second family; their topical, fifth studio album Speed of Darkness; and for that fateful gig in Las Vegas that led to meeting frontman of The Clash and personal hero, Joe Strummer.
Another musician told me that when listening to his band’s old albums, he could hear exactly what was going on with them at the time, sort of like an aural journal – could you do the same? Wow, that is such a great question… and I’d say, yes. I could do that. This new record sounds nothing like our old records because you change. People don’t want you to, but you can’t make the same record after 15 years because you’re not the same person. I go back and listen and feel all those memories, and I know how I felt when we were making it. I don’t know if it’s 20/20, but it’s a real sense of who we were. It’s really personal.
Tell me about politics in Flogging Molly’s music.
Dave said it great once – ‘We don’t have all the answers but we’re not going to stop shouting about all the problems.’ We’re not going to run for office, but we do have strong personal beliefs. When you’re in the position of being a songwriter, you have to write about what’s going on around you… especially when you can inspire your audience to look at things in a way they never have.
Your album Within a Mile of Home is dedicated to Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash – why?
We listened to a lot of their music on the tour bus at that time and we were inspired by the music they made. It was our way of tipping our hat to them as songwriters. And because like you, they made their political beliefs known? Johnny Cash saw a lot in his life and wrote about himself in an unpretentious way. As a listener you really got what he was saying; that’s the sign of a truly great songwriter. And we did a show with Joe Strummer, actually. It was a couple months before he died and we got to meet him. He was such a hero of ours and he was so down-to-earth and the friendliest, most humble person you could meet.
Was that what you expected?
Well, you have personal fears when you meet one of your heroes, you know? But when he started talking, all that went away. We were playing in Vegas at Mandalay Bay and [Joe] didn’t have his badge to get to his VIP area. He was like, ‘I don’t care; I’ll just sit down here and talk to everybody.’ People kept coming up to him and he didn’t mind at all. I felt like, ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Joe Strummer sitting right here in front of me,’ but he was a cool, everyday kind of dude.
Do you recognize that your fans might feel that way meeting you?
Yeah, I do. Coming from a simple, working-class background, I’ve never lost my sense of gratitude for what I do. I love meeting fans of the band to this day. They can get nervous and it’s charming in a way, but… it’s just me (laughs).
Dave King said that Speed of Darkness ‘became the album we had to write.’ What did he mean? Dave and Bridget bought a house in Detroit just before the U.S. economy started collapsing, so when it came time to write, this was the environment he was in. He went back home to Ireland at one point to write some more and the economy started to go south there, too. It was like a tidal wave… and swept the album in a different direction.
What’s the tone in the studio when your subject matter is so intense?
The recording process is hard to explain because every song is different, but to me [the album] sounds relevant, not dark. It’s not somber. Irish people – and I’m stereotyping here – have a way of crying into their beer; but after war and hundreds of years of hardships, they’ve developed this sense of humor about it. They’re not like, ‘The world’s going to hell in a hand basket and we’re all f—-d.’ They’re like, ‘We’re still here and we have hope,’ and I think the record is sort of like that, too. I’m proud of it because it speaks about what was happening at the moment. That feels like a great accomplishment.
Flogging Molly is on tour now with cross-Canada dates commencing September 23 in Newfoundland. For a complete list of shows, visit www.floggingmolly.com.
*Originally published under ‘Interviews’ on MyTelus.com.