In a few short hours, gallons of green dye will be pumped into the Chicago River, pub crawls from the South Loop to Wrigleyville will commence, kilt-clad bagpipers will wail down Lincoln from bar to bar, and Chicagoans – Irish or not – will be lining up their first round of Jameson shots in hopes that what follows will live up to be a more drunkenly awesome St. Patty’s weekend than the last.
Oh, yeah. And Flogging Molly is playing 2 nights at the Congress Theater too. What else could be more drunken and awesome? (FRIDAY MARCH 11th & SATURDAY MARCH 12th TICKETS HERE)
It’s not every St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Chicago that we get Irish-punk pioneers to devote tour dates to one of the most piss-tossed, wild calendar weekends of the year (last year I found myself wandering into an RJD2 show and while badass it was, culturally festive it was not). So, when an opportunity for Bang Bang Slang to interview accordion player/vocalist (and skateboarding great), Matt Hensley, of Flogging Molly – we couldn’t have felt more lucky and eager to hear how their Green 17 tour had been shaping up so far and get some dirt on their anticipated new release “Speed of Darkness”. Matt and I had a chance to catch up last Sunday while he was en route to Flogging Molly’s next date in Minneapolis and I was en route to a hangover. Here’s how it went down:
Matt Hensley Source: Gapersblock.com
BANG BANG SLANG: I know that a lot of fans are really stoked on the new single that dropped last month, “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” – tell me a little bit about that song and what else we can expect from “Speed of Darkness”.
MATT HENSLEY: ‘Shut ‘em Down” and the new record were recorded in Detroit. With every songwriting process you’re affected by where you’re around and your day-to-day surroundings and the result from recording in a place like Detroit is that the record has a sort of tonality about it that’s very working class. We were affected by what we saw in Detroit every day, a lack of jobs and overall frustration with the working world right now. I think this record really lends itself to that. As a band I think we’re continually trying to be better musicians, better songwriters, better performers, better in every regard to our craft. Also, we don’t want to release the same record over and over and we know no one wants to hear that either. This new record is a sweet departure from our usual sound and I think the end result is something really good. It feels a little prickly around the edges which makes me happy and the ‘Shut ‘Em Down Single’ has this kind of Motown vibe which makes sense to me, also like a little jam in there too. Ya know, it’s us, but my heart really feels the influence with that song.
BBS: Will you be playing these new working class songs when you return to the Midwest for the Chicago double header?
MH: Right now we’ve been playing about 4 new songs a night. And since we’re obviously playing 2 nights in Chicago, we’ll be set up to play at least 4 new songs a night off the new record.
BBS: So the record is complete?
MH: Well, the record is mastered. I have the mastered version right now and while it doesn’t officially come out till May, I got the mastered disc about a week ago and I’m pretty pleased.
BBS: 2011 seems to have Flogging Molly busy as shit on tour – how has Green 17 been so far?
MH: It’s been really great man, it’s been SOLID.
BBS: Which cities traditionally tend to be the kindest to the band?
MH: In America it almost goes without saying that any city with a lot of ethnicity has been very kind to this band – New York, Chicago, Philly, San Francisco, Los Angeles (which is where we’re based from). I think because of the instruments that we’re playing and the vibes that we give, it’s pretty good everywhere we go. It feels good. Ya know, Arizona – we get a lotta love there. We’re actually playing St. Patty’s Day there, at a place that’s been giving us crazy amounts of love for a while now. You wouldn’t think it’s a place at first glance that would be a big Flogging Molly town, but Arizona’s huge for us. And then we’ll play Texas and you wouldn’t think towns in Texas would be lvery Irish or anything, but Texas actually has a lot of Irish roots and European roots and it’s a border state, so you’ll get a lot of people cool with accordions and acoustic instruments – our sound isn’t exactly that sort of music specifically but it lends itself to that.
BBS: I also see that you and the guys will be a part of some MAJOR festivals in the coming months – namely Coachella and Sasquatch in the U.S. and plenty of others in Europe over the summer – how does playing to tens of thousands play in to the dynamic for the band and how do you like it?
MH: I think for me personally, and I’m sure if you asked the other guys in the band they’d probably have a different answer for you, but for me after you start playing for about 200 people then it kinda feels the same to me when we play the really big shows. If it’s 1,000 or 2,000 it feels the same. Put me in a room with like 20 people and I’ll actually get pretty nervous. When you’re lacking the amount of people at a show, you become more vulnerable to it all, that’s the feeling I have. At the same time though it’s always like the closer I am to the people, the better it is that I feel. When we’re actually playing a stage where we’re close to the crowd and we can high-five people, just within 2 feet of them it feels great. And the farther I am from the stage, I kinda get removed from that feeling. Sometimes in Europe you’re playing 20 feet in the air, 40 feet from the first people, it can take a little while to get out of your own head, get in your zone, and make sure you’re putting on a good show and build up the energy.
BBS: So you like playing the big festivals too then?
MH: I do, but my favorite gigs are when we get booked in like a bar, or I guess now like a very big bar, when it has that feel. It gives us that feeling like when we we’d play Molly Malone’s or a small pub, that’s my favorite. When we used to stand on the goddamn bar and throw shit, just raise shit – that’s my favorite.
BBS: How’s [Hensley’s] bar going, man?
MH: I’m actually not the majority owner of it anymore, I sold it – it’s still my bar though to some degree, it has all my artwork, all my vibe to it, I just couldn’t deal with being in a full time rock band and trying to run a restaurant. It just overwhelmed me to the point where I had to choose what situation was best for me.
BBS: I know that skateboarding is still a huge part of your life and your son’s life. You said in an interview with Fuel Tv “I still look in the mirror and see a skateboarder who’s in a band”. Is that still true?
MH: It is still true. I’ve been skateboarding my whole life, so it’s who I am first absolutely. I make a living playing music, without a doubt, but I wouldn’t be in this band an I wouldn’t have these opportunities had I not been a skateboarder to begin with. I know that sounds crazy but it’s the truth. I’ve given everything I could and skated my ass off since I can remember, but it’s also given back to me more than I could ever describe. When I moved to Chicago, I worked at Sessions Skateboard Shop and its because I did a demo at The Vic and I met Dan Fields who ran that shop and next thing I know I’m in Chicago working there. So I wouldn’t have even had my first job in Chicago if I wasn’t a skateboarder, ya know? It’s a very cool, small cyclical world.
BBS: Do you feel like success has changed you at all?
MH: I don’t man, though I’m sure it has. I still feel like I’m 16 years old goin to a demo. I’m just trying to keep it fuckin real. In the back of my mind I know that I don’t get to see as many people that I used to. I blow at the internet – I don’t have a myspace account or anything like that. I can’t do it. I probably don’t get in touch with my friends as much as I’d like to, but when I show up to do a gig I still feel like that’s a big part of my psyche that’s like, ‘I gotta keep this shit real. Street-level’. I never want to be in a situation where it’s so blown out that I’d be unapproachable. I’m never striving to be like that.
BBS: When you have time are you still skating or chilling with anyone from the H-Street days or when you’re back in Cali?
MH: I’ve skated with Steve Ortega a couple times. About two weeks ago I got a call from Sal Barbier and we just talked about music for like an hour, but I definitely keep in touch with a lot of the H-Street guys. Right before I went on this tour I did an interview for a Danny Way documentary – I must’ve talked about him for like 3 hours and I’ve been talking to him a little bit back and forth since then. They’re definitely part of my life still.
BBS: Do you get worried that if you ever bail too hard your accordion days with Flogging Molly would be fucked?
MH: I’m not really pushing myself to that limit anymore and I really haven’t in a while. When I was first making it happen with Flogging Molly, I’d show up to shows with a broken wrist in a cast or shit like that and the band would be like , ‘You need to watch what you’re doin, man!’. I still skate with my son when we go, but I’m just not doing crazy shit because I really can’t. I literally can’t afford to break my hand, which is a weird thing for me. If I break my foot it’s one thing, If I break my elbow it’s another, but if I break my right hand I’m pretty fucked. Especially if I know I’m about to crash, I’ll be flying through the air and I’ll take my right arm and tuck it or try to make it safe and use the rest of my body to take that beating – that’s fine – but, I just can’t fuck with my right hand.
BBS: You were touching on this before when you were catching up with Sal about music, what are you listening to right now?
MH: It’s kinda all over the place. Right now on my iPod I’ve been listening to a lot of Hank III. Also been listening to a Spanish accordion player called Tony De La Rosa, a lot of Mexican music. A lot of Mexican accordion music.
BBS: Why should Chicago fans take a break from their pub crawls and hike over to the Congress to see Flogging Molly next weekend?
MH: [laughs] I’d say to have a good time man! To have a drink and have a good time. I don’t know what else is going on in Chicago that weekend but I can guarantee you a blurry, good ass time at our show.
BBS: Lastly, What does Matt Hensely drink on St. Patrick’s day before he goes on stage – brown liquor or beer?
MH: Lately I’ve been on a whiskey kick, so I’d probably be drinkin Jameson to be honest with you. I’m tryin to lose my fuckin beer belly to be honest with you . I’ve been easin’ off the Guiness and settin up the Jameson. I’ll probably make an exception on that day though. [laughs]
BBS will drink to that! Make sure to catch Flogging Molly at the Congress TONIGHT and TOMORROW! And catch them on the road to St. Patty’s Day, if you can’t raise your glass with the rest of us this weekend.
FLOGGING MOLLY “GREEN 17” TOUR DATES
- 03/13: Kansas City, MO – Uptown Theater
- 03/15: Oklahoma City, OK – Diamond Ballroom
- 03/16: Austin, TX – ACL LIVE @ The Moody Theater (SXSW)
- 03/17: Tempe, AZ – LUCKY MAN’S ST. PATRICK’S DAY BASH
Thanks again, Matt… and since we can’t make it this weekend, we’ll get “blurry” with you at Coachella!