“With disappearing clouds the sun arrives/Within a mile of home” - Within a Mile of Home…
For Dave King, the Dublin-born singer/guitarist/songwriter of SideOneDummy recording group Flogging Molly, the band’s third studio album, Within a Mile of Home, brings him back to his childhood and the traditional Irish music he grew up with. With the help of his Flogging Molly compatriots and producer Ted Hutt, Within a Mile of Home has finally taken King full circle, back to his roots, and oh what a journey it has been.
“My family would go to the pub and gather up people to come back to the house to play tin whistle, mandolin, fiddle and spoons, with my mom on piano and my uncle on accordion,” he reminisces. “But I wanted to run away from that. As you get older, you want to pick up electric guitars and play loud. You rebel against those traditional elements.” So Dave hit the road and did just that.
King began his musical career as a member of Fastway, teaming up with Motorhead guitarist Eddie Clarke in the late ’80s, having played New York’s Madison Square Garden and L.A.’s Great Western Forum, only to eventually find himself scrubbing the toilets of ghetto clubs where he performed with just an acoustic guitar. For the musician, who originally came to L.A. from London in 1989 at the invitation of legendary Geffen A&R exec John David Kalodner to be in a band called Katmandu, it wasn't until forming Flogging Molly that he began to write and play “for myself and no one else.” These days, he insists, he is right where he wants to be.
Recorded at L.A.’s Cello Studios and Hollywood Sound, Flogging Molly's new album fuses the traditional music of King's youth with the feverish punk-rock of bands like Stiff Little Fingers, the Pogues, the Undertones and Dropkick Murphys, not to mention seminal influences like the Clash, U2, and David Bowie. Songs like the speeded-up martial punk of “Screaming at the Wailing Wall,” a searing critique of Bush’s warmongering in the name of God, co-exist with the timeless English pastoral folk of “Factory Girls.” The latter, reminiscent of Fairport Convention or Richard and Linda Thompson, features a duet with King and acclaimed singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams.
“We’ve developed a really unique sound,” says King of his seven-piece outfit. “The first time we all got together to play, there was an energy in the room that I’d never experienced in any other band I’d ever been in… and it wasn’t due to any single ingredient, instrument or individual. We started playing in a bar and just played and played and played. We’re a live band. We’ll always have that.”
The band's fabled energy and presence can be heard loud and clear on the band’s new album, which follows 2000’s Swagger and 2002’s Drunken Lullabies. Their unique sound has enabled Flogging Molly to entrance crowds of all ages at four of the last five Warped tours, where they have played for 10,000 fans on a nightly basis.
Describing the band’s unique melting pot, King has said, “If it didn’t have mandolin, accordion, fiddle and whistle, it would be punk-rock, and if it didn’t have guitar, bass and drums, it would be traditional Irish music. Flogging Molly has both.”
For King and his mates, playing music is more than a livelihood; it is a living narrative of all that has influenced Dave throughout his life. On songs like “Tobacco Island,” King describes the Irish being shipped to Barbados in the 17th century by British military leader Oliver Cromwell to work as slaves on the sugar plantations. “The Wanderlust” and “With a Wonder and a Wild Desire” also celebrate music's instrumental role in allowing the Irish to survive and maintain their tradition despite historical turmoil and struggle.
“Music was all we had left,” explains King. “And no one could take that away from us. Even without vocals, if you have a tin whistle, a fiddle and a mandolin, the music still speaks volumes. It’s the lyrics that help carry that message to a new generation.”
You can hear that message on the Cajun fiddles and washboards of “Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon” or the tribal fever of bassist Nathen Maxwell’s “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” where the music carries hope for the future without forgetting the past, or more importantly, marking the present. Elsewhere, King offers tributes to late heroes Joe Strummer, on the pirate-like sea chanty “The Seven Deadly Sins” (“Johnny strummed his Tommy gun”), and Johnny Cash, on the soulful “Don’t Let Me Die Wondering,” where King's vow to live life to its fullest was influenced by the passing of the Man in Black.
“I started writing that song when I heard Johnny Cash had died,” King says of the tune, composed, as always, on a typewriter manufactured in 1916, the year of the Irish uprising. “There was a man who lived life to the fullest. I don’t want to be wondering on my deathbed what I left behind. I want to leave nothing behind. I want to be ready to go to the next world - and enjoy life here at the same time.”
In “To Youth (My Sweet Roisin Dubh) - Roisin Dubh is Irish for “Black Rose, the traditional name for Ireland - King delivers a moving tribute to his homeland. The mournful tune, which could have come from the Middle Ages, is at once a look back to his father, a man who pumped gas for a living and died 30 years ago, and a glimpse into the future generations he performs for every night on the Warped tour.
“I’m finally doing what I love,” King says, after describing the long path that he took before Flogging Molly allowed him the ability to infuse the traditional sounds of his youth with the punk-rock of his adulthood. "I’m singing about what I want to sing about and people want to listen."
Don’t expect Dave King to die still wondering.