DS Exclusive Interview with Matt Hensley of Flogging Molly

DS Exclusive Interview with Matt Hensley of Flogging Molly

Last Saturday was my mother’s birthday. She was in Key West celebrating, so I had my own little celebration in an equally beautiful city, Oakland, CA. Ok, maybe not AS pretty as Key West, but that night, there was nowhere else I would rather be than rainy, gloomy Oakland.

I was privileged enough to sit down with Matt Hensley (skateboarder/accordionist of Flogging Molly) before their last show for this year’s Green 17 tour. The band is now enjoying a three-week break before they head back out on the road for a whole slew of summer festivals, starting with Coachella.

The end of May will see a new release by the septet, Speed Of Darkness, which will be the band’s first album on their newly founded label, Borstal Beat. Check out what Matt had to say about the new album, recording process, how the tracks have been received, and more, RIGHT HERE.

Matt and I spoke for almost an hour, with topics ranging from music festivals, Flogging Molly’s fashion sense, skateboarding, his accordions, and much much more. It was a great interview with a truly kind, talented, humble, and genuinely nice guy. Thanks again, Matt.

If you are interested in reading all that Matt had to say, head here to read the entire interview.

Don’t forget to check out a live video of the band’s unreleased song, So Sail On, taken at the same show, here.

For more live concert pictures, head here.

Let’s talk about your new album coming out, Speed of Darkness. I’ve read a release date of May 24 and May 31, can you clarify the official date?

It’s the last Tuesday of May, so I’m pretty sure it’s the later one. It’s been pushed.
Ok, so we’re going with the last Tuesday in May which is the 31st.

How many songs from the new album have you been playing on this tour?

Four songs. We start off each set with a brand new song.
Same four?
Yea, they’re the same four. The very first three shows we changed it up. We were trying to figure it out. You know, we wrote the record, recorded it, it’s all good. But before you play those songs live, it’s really hard to tell how the energy is going to be transferred and how the audience will respect it or how they’re going to react to it. So we did a bunch of different new songs and we kind of came up with the four we liked the most that would make sense with the set we’re doing. And Dave’s like, “You know what, fuck it. We’re not going to do what people think we are; the norm.” The normalcy would be us to come out with “Drunken Lullabies” right out the gate…
Because you have before!
Well, yea, we have before and people kind of are expecting it. But this tour man, every night we’ve started off and no one’s even heard the fucking song before, which is just going for it.
The only song I’ve heard so far is Don’t Shut ‘Em Down…
We will play that song tonight…
Great! Is that song somewhat representative thematically of the entire album?
Yea, I think it is. That song has a definite, almost Motown vibe, bluesy. That song for me, especially when we play it live, I got a Leslie FX pedal that makes it sound like a proper organ. So when I play that thing on the accordion it sounds like a fucking Hammond organ now, it’s like, it has just like an old Motown vibe to it. But I think lyrically that song is a good definition of this record. It’s like a conceptual record, and not on purpose, kind of just by accident, definitely about where we are in the world, and the financial breakdowns and like people’s normalcy – homes, businesses – everything being kind of shut down, fucked up, and people’s lives just getting shot to shit. You can’t even have a decent, not even a rich man’s, just like a poor man’s job. It’s not even guaranteed anymore. So it’s difficult. We wrote the majority of the album in Detroit. So, we were there for like four months, so it didn’t start that way, but it ended up that way.
So you noticed an effect of just driving around and witnessing all these abandoned businesses and homes?
Yep, it absolutely has an effect on you. And I only say that kind of almost in retrospect. At the time you drive around and you just see all these empty buildings. When you realize how many empty buildings are downtown, it’s crazy. What the fuck?! It just has an effect on your psyche. So when you start writing stuff, or when Dave starts writing lyrics, we as a band just do whatever we do, that’s definitely in the background. When I listen to this whole record from A to Z it definitely is a conceptual record of just, for our band, in music, where we are and where the world is right now. This record may not make as much sense if all of a sudden in 10 years everybody’s a billionaire. But, it still will be the truth of where we are today, as we see it.

Guitarist Dennis Casey is quoted as saying this album, “has the theme of the struggle of life.” It sounds like you agree with his assessment.

I do agree with that. I think it’s, without sounding too cliché, this is a very working-class sounding record and verbal record. There’s just a lot of street smart lyrics in it. When I listen to these songs…and everybody in our band will tell you something different, because we kind of come from different places. But when I hear it, it kind of reminds me of us, Flogging Molly doing our thing, but also little hits of things that I love. Like, “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” reminds me of Motown kind of, not really, it doesn’t sound completely like Motown, but it does a little bit to me. And that’s just the truth of it. And there’s other songs on this record that kind of remind me of The Jam a little bit, or just a bunch of little pieces of love like that.

Can we expect any different instruments or guest vocals on Speed of Darkness?

Well, Bridget sings on like three songs I think, she does a great job and sounds brilliant, but she’s not really a gues though is she? Haha.
Not so much.
[Vocalist Dave King chimes in at this point] We had Joe from The Avett Brothers play cello on some of the album.

Your most recent album, Float, was recorded in Ireland, kind of in the country, this new album was recorded in North Carolina. Why the switch, what differences did you notice in the recording process? You kept the same producer, correct?

We did keep the same guy. We trust our producer. After working with him the first time, we liked the results, we liked the way the record did well, it sounded good, and we have a working relationship with him, you know? For anybody who’s doing this, you get a producer and you have to trust that dude, ‘cuz he’s got your life in his hands. For real, it’s like a fucking doctor and you’re having the operation. You want to have the guy that you know is not going to cut your fucking brains out. I personally feel real comfortable working with him, and if he doesn’t like something he’s not afraid to say it. Really, he’s there and takes the stuff we’re working on, and maybe it’s okay or good, and I think he helps us find great, sooner than we would have on our own. He has fresh ears and sometimes we’re too close to what we’re doing and so we’re like, “Oh that sounds great!” But really it doesn’t, ‘cuz we’ve just played it 5,000 times and we don’t know anymore. He’ll come into the room and be like, “That sucks, change the bridge, we gotta change that key.” Whatever it is, then we hear it, and we’re like, “Yea that was a good decision.” On the first record he got all of our trust, so this one, it was just like go for it. And the reason that we went to North Carolina, it was great, it was a cool city – I almost want to move there – and the studio was just un-fucking-believable and it was because our producer Ryan Hewitt really wanted to go to that studio. All of the equipment that they have at that studio was what he wanted to record Flogging Molly. And it just came down to that.

Tell us a little about the writing process. Does Dave do most of the lyrical writing?

He does all of the lyrical writing. And if he doesn’t, like Nathen has done a song or two over the years, and it’ll be Nathen singing it. And you’ll know it’s not Dave. Dave is definitely like the lyrical engine of what Flogging Molly is.
In your DVD Whiskey On A Sunday, you see several clips of you and your accordion just playing riffs with Dave who’s singing along. Is this kind of how the music comes about?
Yea, that is, definitely. Dave will usually, usually, write something in his mind, you know, a little lick or something and lyrics that go to it. Then he will play it to us, either me or Bridget or anybody else in this band, and we just sit and fiddle with this thing and just kind of, “Yea, yea, yea!” And all of a sudden we’ll change keys, and Dave will add something, and it just starts to kind of explode on itself from there.

This album is set to be released on the band’s newly formed label, Borstal Beat. What can you tell us about the motivations to create this label, and who will be running it?

I think, um, we as a band, because we’ve been touring so much we are in a position financially where we can afford to do this, and we’re not all fucking 18 anymore. We all love music and want to continue to be around music, so this is for us as a way to be able to continue to support our families, and have clothes on our kids’ backs. At some point, we may not be able to tour nine months out of every year, and may only tour two months out of the year. And we still have to generate money, and we still have to have a job, so this is my version of why I like this – it gives me something to work towards.
Any bad blood between Flogging Molly and SideOneDummyRecords, who have released all of your previous material?
Not at all. I mean, I’ve been good friends with Joe Sibbs for 15 years before he had ever even heard of Flogging Molly. He stayed at my apartment and we would listen to like Sham 69 ’til 5 in the morning, like in 1990. So, I’m good friends with him, we still are good friends. They’ve done nothing but right by us, and we’ve done right by them. They’ve done well by us and we’ve done well by them, so we both should be high-fiving in my opinion. At the end of the day, we want to start a record label because we want to be able to say, anything that we do from this point forward, we want it to reflect back upon us personally, you know?
Are you planning on sharing the operations of the label amongst the band, or is someone spearheading this thing?
Our manager will be part owner of the record label, but it’s all of us. Every one of us gets an equal share, in this band. And there will be someone who spearheads it, but it won’t probably be necessarily anybody that’s actually in the 7 people who’s in this band, just because we’re busy touring. But that’s not to say that won’t change at some point. Let’s say, if we’re not touring as much or whatever. Bottom line, it’s just a nice feeling for my soul, for my wife, my kid, Nathen’s wife and kids, that we have something other than just this, to continue to build. Because we’re building Flogging Molly, and it will never go anywhere as far as I’m concerned, but it’s nice to have another business – and it is a business and I hope it will be successful – but also, that we’re around music. I mean, because, that’s kind of where I want to be. And at 40 years old, you know, I’m not gonna go to school to be a dentist now, it’s not going to happen! I’m happy playing music and being around it, and everybody else in this band is too, so for us, it’s a creative way to continue to go forward.

Do you personally have any acts that you would like to sign at the moment?
[without hesitation] The Drowning Men. I can’t tell you if it will play out like that, but that’s a prospect.

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