In the mid-1990s, a Dublin-born singer and songwriter named Dave King began performing with a group of friends one night a week at Molly Malone's, the durable Irish pub on Fairfax Avenue. Their sound set thoughts of love, work and home against a roughed-up version of traditional Irish music, and before long the band — called Flogging Molly, in tribute to the bar — was releasing critically acclaimed albums and taking its Celtic punk around the world.
Today King and his wife, Flogging Molly fiddler Bridget Regan, live in Detroit. But along with their bandmates, they'll return to Los Angeles on Friday night to headline a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the Forum that will also feature the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and L.A.'s Mariachi El Bronx.
To hear a bit about the role Irish music has played in his life, I connected on the phone this week with King, whose band will put out a new record, "Life Is Good," in June. These are excerpts from our talk.
What do you remember hearing while you were growing up in Dublin?
You can go all the way back to the Clancy Brothers. As a kid I sometimes found that thing a bit kitsch, you know what I mean? But I've been getting back into it lately. I mean, Tommy Makem — such a wonderful voice. You ever hear of Horslips? They were bringing traditional music to the generation of the time; this was like the early '70s. They were awesome. Then you've got Clannad — early Clannad is just amazing stuff. And obviously I don't think anyone in our genre would be doing what they're doing if it wasn't for the Pogues. You can never say enough good stuff about the Pogues. All these bands, when I've had a couple pints, the wife and I, we go back in the house and put them on, and away we go.
Which is your go-to Pogues album?
I love "If I Should Fall From Grace With God." That's a classic. But there's also "Rum Sodomy & the Lash." We were at a funeral over Christmas of Mr. Frank Murray, who used to manage the Pogues. They were all there. And it's funny — I just got a text from his son about our show in L.A. He's gonna be there.
The Forum concert represents a kind of home-away-from-homecoming for you.
When I was living in L.A., there was a period when I couldn't get to Ireland. I had a problem with my visa. And the band were just starting to get out of Molly Malone's; we were starting to tour the West Coast. So it really reinforced in me, the time I couldn't leave, how much Irish music meant to me. I said to myself, if I can't physically go back home, I've got to go back musically — but in my own way, with what I've learned growing up.
Is the music still a way to go back home?
Yeah, but what amazes me is how it hits people's souls no matter where we are: Eastern Europe, Japan, South America. At the end of the day, Irish music is exciting — it's in your face, peeling paint off a wall. When I listen to bands like the Dubliners, what really moves me is it reminds me of my childhood with my father and my mother. We were a very poor family in a British army barracks in Dublin, and my dad used to play that music all the time. But he died when I was a very young age, so music kind of took a backseat in the household, and I didn't rediscover it really till I came to America. I've always said I want to go back to that one-room flat in Dublin where we had all our music and get that energy.
What would your dad have made of Flogging Molly's interpretation of Irish music?
He was a real one-man-against-the-world type, and I think there's a certain element of that in Flogging Molly. When we write songs, it's very personal — I'm sitting in a room on my own with my lyrics, and I don't imagine anything else except what I'm trying to express.
If you had to pick a song of the band's that might provide a doorway into Irish music for someone unfamiliar, what song would it be?
Jesus. Well, we're just about to release our sixth album, so that's like what? Fourteen songs on each album, so I'm just trying to rack my brain here. From the early days, I'd say something like "Drunken Lullabies," in the sense that it's a song about when times in Ireland weren't great. As a child I never saw things politically; I didn't see the future, or that things would get better. But touring around, I'm very proud every time we go back to Ireland now to see the optimism, the celebration of life.