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Flogging Molly albums ranked from worst to best by Dave King

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, Flogging Molly frontman Dave King ranks the Irish-American folk-punks’ back catalogue from worst to best…

St. Patrick’s Day is always a special time of year for Los Angeles-based Celtic punks Flogging Molly. Having emigrated from Dublin to California in his 20s, frontman Dave King initially set up the seven-piece collective as a way of reconnecting with home from 5,000 miles away, and over the years he’s led many a drunken get-together. Thanks to COVID, last year’s big night out was cancelled, and he’s spent the subsequent 12 months (his first full year in an age) back in Ireland alongside bandmate and wife Bridget Regan. With a return to full live shows still months away, a plan was hatched not to miss another shamrock celebration, and to broadcast this evening’s shindig live from from Whelan’s pub in Dublin.

Our first ever gig in Ireland was in Whelan’s,” Dave explains from his home in Wexford. Flogging Molly have never played a gig in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, so it could never really have been anywhere else. It’s been quite the undertaking, though. We don’t all live in the one city. We live all over the world: Ireland, San Diego, New York, Colorado, Michigan… We’re gonna do acoustic versions of our songs, we’re gonna do traditional songs, and we’re gonna do a full Flogging Molly set. It’s going to be special for us, and hopefully for our fans as well.”

Renowned director and photographer Richie Smyth will be lensing the festivities, too, and Dave explains he was hired on far more than reputation. I grew up with Richie,” he smiles. He’s one of my dearest friends on the planet. We went to school together, and we lived together in LA. He went his way, and I went mine, but thankfully our paths crossed again on this occasion. He’s a phenomenal human being and a brilliant director.”

In preparing for the career-spanning set, we asked Dave to rank the band’s six studio albums to date from worst to best. Albums are like your children,” he explains, somewhat reluctantly. They grow. It’s very simple to look back through your albums, but it’s very difficult to rank them. We’ve never really done anything different from album to album. We’ve just been in different situations. It’s much more about the memories you take from them.”

On that understanding, here is the Flogging Molly discography, ranked by the man at the helm…

6. Life Is Good (2017)

There is an irony in the title of our last album that some fans might’ve missed out on. Life was not good. But, at the same time, it reflected an outlook I learned from my mother. She had a hard life but she always enjoyed it. The title mirrors that same idea of brushing over the negatives and trying to feel better than the situation you find yourself in. 

It’s a collection of songs that I’m so proud of, as a songwriter, but the process of actually making the album was an ordeal. It’s a record we went into with a sense of joy. The soul of the band was never lost in that. There were egos beyond the band, though – people sitting behind desks, shall we say – who were fighting each other, which made things quite uncomfortable. 

I do love those songs – I listened back to them in my kitchen just last night – but every band has that album where it was punishing to make. Our torture was to go back to the place where we recorded Float – probably our favourite recording experience, as you’ll see later – hoping to rediscover that sense of joy, and to have that experience [soured] by all these different circumstances we found ourselves in.

In the end, though, it’s just an experience to learn from. That was the last album we made and they are mistakes that we won’t repeat. It’s about having the great songs, but setting aside all of the bullshit that can come with them. You don’t necessarily need to go back to the beginning, but you need to remember what was there at the beginning that gave you the spark to go forward as a band. It’s about not listening to anyone but yourselves, just doing what is right in your soul. If recent times have taught us anything, it’s to be with the people you want to be with and not to be with the people you don’t.”

5. Speed Of Darkness (2011)

I’m ranking Speed Of Darkness second-last, but it was still an amazing experience. The album was written in Detroit, Michigan, where Bridget had grown up, but it was recorded at Echo Mountain studio in Asheville, North Carolina and the last track we did, Saints And Sinners, was written and recorded at Sonic Ranch studios in El Paso, Texas.

There were some echoes between being in Detroit in the early 21st century and being in the Dublin tenements when I was growing up. I remember writing songs like The Power’s Out about the terrible situation that city was in. Both places had a darkness, but both places always had that sense of hope. That always tied into the Flogging Molly mindset of lifting your own spirits while also trying to lift other people’s.

When we went to Asheville, we were in this old converted church, with such an incredible atmosphere. Then we found ourselves recording the last song on an almond plantation right up against the Mexican border. 

The album title came from our good friend Dino Misetić, too, who also did the album artwork. His son came home from school and said to him one day that we learn about the speed of light, but we never hear about the speed of darkness. His family knew about that, having fled the former Yugoslavia with nothing but the backpacks on their backs.

I think the combination of those different influences and places we recorded makes it feel like a very small world’ album. I don’t think its message is about outrunning the darkness, it’s more about having that outlook and perspective on how these things can be. There might be stark differences between places and people, but that album brought it all together: music, songs, and passion. Life is ultimately simple.”

4. Within A Mile Of Home (2004)

Within A Mile Of Home feels like the moment that we really solidified as a band. If you listen to it song by song, it’s just incredible. As a band, we were growing up. And we are a band with so many influences, with seven different people, all of whom came with their own ideas and passions. We’ve always made sure never to stop learning as a band.

When you have a base like Swagger and Drunken Lullabies, you have to expand; you don’t want to make the same albums all the time. We’ve always been aware that we’re not going to [rinse and repeat] what we’ve already done, even if that might not be what some fans want. It was about identifying those influences, grabbing them and going with them: trad bands like [Irish folk band] Planxty and rock bands like Led Zeppelin, all with the energy of a live band like The Clash – plug in and play. 

There was a thematic development, too. I think when you expand on the sonic sphere, it allows you to reflect inwardly on yourself and to feel the need to write about stuff that you wouldn’t in other situations. That’s one of the great things about Flogging Molly, for me. We very much write as a band, but [lyrically] I can always write as Dave King. It’s a very fortunate situation to be able to explore those personal things with the support of the band, and without having to worry about representing the banner’ of Flogging Molly. Those stories speak to them, and they make them loud.”

3. Drunken Lullabies (2002)

In my memory, Swagger and Drunken Lullabies feel like [different sides of] one album, both recorded with Steve Albini at Electric Audio studio in Chicago. Drunken Lullabies was the first album we made after having actual experience as a touring band, though. It was already kinda written as we were going along: one of those rambling things where things just led into each other. We never had the pressure of a record label on our shoulder telling us what we needed to do and when we needed to do it. We’ve never given a fuck about what anyone else thinks. Because of that, here, we began to grow.

With the benefit of hindsight, Drunken Lullabies is also the point at which [the Celtic folk-punk formula] clicked. If you look at the [Irish traditional] bands that influenced us like The Pogues, The Dubliners and on back to The Clancy Brothers, they all learned from each other. The Pogues wouldn’t be who they were without The Dubliners. Likewise, The Dubliners without The Clancy Brothers. That Irish traditional sound was so important because it was very much the soul of the band. It’s that pub session sensibility. We could be playing that music in a room by ourselves, or we could be playing it to an audience of 10,000 people and it would feel the same. The point we really distilled that element of Flogging Molly was the point we realised that we could do anything that we wanted.

Personally, there was a frustration coming through on songs like The Son Never Shines (On Closed Doors), too. This album came late in an eight-year period where I found myself stuck in the United States and wasn’t able to travel home to see my mother. I first came to the country with an O1 visa, which allowed me to travel back and forth, then, suddenly, the laws changed and if I had left the United States, I wouldn’t have been able to go back. We couldn’t go to Ireland or Europe. We couldn’t go to Canada. We couldn’t go to Mexico. I couldn’t understand these borders being thrown up. I suppose there have been some parallels between that situation and the situation we’ve all found ourselves in over the last 12 months. I’m interested to see how we’ll get out of this [as I did back then] to enjoy life once again.”

2. Swagger (2000)

As a band, Flogging Molly all met in Molly Malone’s pub on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. We were the resident band there for years before we ever released a record. We wanted to do a studio album, but we didn’t have the money, so we decided to record a live album right there in the pub, with one microphone onstage and another in the crowd. It was horrible. That became [1997 live album] Alive Behind The Green Door. We sold enough copies in the local community to go and make a studio album with Steve Albini. As much as it was a ridiculous place to begin, it would become the greatest thing that ever happened to us. That was where it all started. So it has to be one of our favourites. 

The organic, rough-edged nature of Alive Behind The Green Door was the starting point for everything. Even since then, every song we’ve ever recorded has been recorded live in the studio, but Swagger was literally the sound of us as we were in Molly Malone’s, with someone placing the microphones and hitting record. I think Steve Albini is a master of that. He would be the first person to say he’s less than a producer than an engineer just capturing the sound. 

Swagger was pivotal in laying our foundations on record as a live band in a confined atmosphere. The things we learned on that record, we’ve taken with us all the way.”

1. Float (2008)

What some people might not know is that when Flogging Molly get together to make a record, we literally live together in the house or studio. Swagger is my favourite memory of doing that. We all went to Grouse Lodge studios near Rosemount in County Westmeath. It was about that experience of being together on this farm in the middle of nowhere in Ireland and just enjoying each other’s company. We really did feel like a family. It was a situation we never really imagined we’d be in, and we had a lot of fun.

Something else people mightn’t realise is that most of the work is done before we ever go into the studio. We write. We rehearse. We feel confident that we should be able to go in and do two takes, and that’s it. That’s exactly what happened with Float. Ryan Hewitt was there producing it and there was this incredible atmosphere where the people there who owned the studio were singing backing vocals on the actual recordings. It was the sort of wonderful experience that any band would wish for. Record in the morning; get drunk at night. It was just fucking fun.

Having that atmosphere was why I was able to sing about dark times, perhaps more than ever before, on songs like Punch Drunk Grinning Soul. My father died when I was 10 years of age, and I don’t think I ever really dealt with it until I started writing songs with Flogging Molly. It was then that I realised there is a whole different aspect of life – about enjoying it. It’s something that people who don’t really understand Irish traditional music can be confused by: having the darkest subject matter up against the liveliest sounds. Writing about the shit in your life can make for the greatest celebration songs. 

In keeping with that, the studio had its own pub and we would go in there after recording and just play music amongst each other at night. I think we drank about a keg a day of Guinness. There’s a picture somewhere of us standing beside all the barrels we’d emptied. Maybe that’s not a record or anything, but it’s pretty good going. And, you know what the sad part is? We paid for every one of them!”

Flogging Molly’s St. Patrick’s Day livestream kicks off tonight at 7pm GMT / 3pm ET / 12pm PT. Head to floggingmollylive.com for more information.

Posted on March 17th 2021, 8:00a.m.
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