Interview: Blood or Whiskey discusses St. Patrick’s Day, crowd-funding, musical progression, and more

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. Worldwide, this day is celebrated with mass consumption of whiskey, beer (sometimes green), and boiled food (corned beef, cabbage, etc). Besides the boiled food, it sounds like just another day to me.

To commemorate the day, we have for you a little interview with Irish punk band Blood or Whiskey, where we discuss crowd-funding, songwriting, St. Patrick’s Day and more.

The band is performing over in Dublin today, and we wish them the best of luck!

You can read the entire interview below.

Blood or Whiskey last released “Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil” last year, and you can check out a video for their ska song “Gone and Forgotten” below.

Dying Scene (milhouse): I’m chatting with the only remaining original founding members (Dugs and Chris) of Irish punk band Blood or Whiskey before their set at The Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. I first met the band back in 2005 during the Rude Boys Unity Anti-Fascist Anti-Racist Festival in Geneva, Switzerland. The guys befriended me and gave me a copy of their second studio album, “No Time to Explain”, which had been released back in 2001. I was living in France at the time, and had limited music, so this new CD proved to be a very important commodity.

For those that may not be familiar with you, can you give us a brief history of what Blood or Whiskey is all about?

Hello, I’m Dugs, and along with Chris, am one of the founding members of Blood or Whiskey. We started way back in 1994 and have done four studio albums – “Blood or Whiskey”, “No Time to Explain”, Cashed Out on Culture”, and “Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil”. We’ve been touring on and off for the last 20 years, and we took a hiatus for around three years because one of our members got sick. We’re back on the road again, and as you can see we’re supporting Dropkick Murphys on their West Coast tour of America.

This current tour started last month (September) in Salt Lake City…how has it been?

Yeah we started in SLC and went right up through into Canada, down into Seattle, Montana, Utah, Oregon…all these places. Then we played a few of our own shows down in Santa Cruz.

Yeah I saw you played with Custom Fit, and before that The Slackers..

That’s right. I had never heard of Custom Fit before but they’re a brilliant band, really blew my mind. They’ve got a really old-school singer – the voice she has. Kind of reminded me of Pauline Murray from Penetration. She has that kind of voice. I just thought it was different; there’s a lot of different influences in it, but they really blew me away. And The Slackers, they’re legends in their own right and they’re absolute gentlemen. We love The Slackers.

You share the stage with so many different genres of music – Oi, Streetpunk, Ska…with this newest album, it’s a bit more ska-focused, up-beat, catchier…

Have you heard it yet?

A couple songs and I have read some reviews on it. Also watched the video for “Gone & Forgotten”…now that ska sound was kind of already there in previous songs like “Poxy Pub” or “Impaired Vision”…

We’ve just kind of done it a lot better on this album. We worked really hard making sure the brass was right on it, and the effort went in to put a little bit more influence on the electric guitar. We just made a much better attempt at the ska on this album.

When I think of Blood or Whiskey I think of that ripping banjo and tin whistle with this kind of earthy accordion in the background, is that something that you guys are moving away from?

No that’s still there..

I get that it will still be there, but are you looking to become a little more horn-dominated, or bringing in a permanent horn player?

C: Nah, I mean we’re already traveling with six, then we’d be traveling with eight or nine. It’s all about logistics. We do want to give the best show that we can and with the instruments that we have in that album, to do that show properly we would need to have a brass section with us. It’s not that we’re getting away from anything, it’s just that we’re developing as a group.

I can understand that. If you look at “No Time to Explain” versus “Cashed Out on Culture”, I mean “Cashed Out on Culture” was the album that was lauded as the iconic album of your discography at that point, but they are clearly different albums. “Cashed Out on Culture” is definitely more punk, more sing-along, whereas “No Time to Explain” has a lot more of that traditional Irish sound – more macabre, dark, political. I wouldn’t say that you necessarily have that structure of a genre that you have to fit in with, or the expectation because you’re always doing something a little bit different.

When we write songs in Blood or Whiskey anyway we don’t just sit down and go, ‘okay we’re an Irish band so we’ve better sound Irish’. We all have similar tastes, yet very different tastes if you know what I mean. When we’re writing songs we don’t go ‘alright we’ve got to write songs about whatever…things that reflect our home or something that make us sound Irish’. We write songs that reflect our home – the gnitty and gritty of it – and we write probably more in a punk manner, but it’s because we have the whistles and the banjos we have to incorporate that into it. But me and Chris are massive fans of all the old ska stuff.
C: For our band, a band that’s been a huge influence for us has been The Clash, who were very much experimental all the time. They brought in different styles of music, and more than anything we’re trying to experiment with this style of music that we’re playing in, and not get railroaded into one genre.

Going back to the songwriting process, can you briefly take us through how that goes down?

Usually someone will come in with an idea, and the boys walk around the idea and fiddle with the song, and then I’ll write the lyrics. It is very much a team effort anyway.

Does the banjo ever come first? It seems like a lot of the songs are driven by those riffs.

To be honest, it almost never comes first. For example on th new album, me and Chris and the guitar player went into a room together and came up with the nuts and bolts of this album. We give it to the banjo player and he just puts his bit onto it, and that’s how it works.

Now you two are the only original founding members left, do you feel like you drive the vision or the momentum of the band?

Yeah I think we do. I mean we make all the major decisions for the band and along with Pete, who is the next longest member who’s been in it 10 years. We have a lot of younger lads in the band, who are like 10 years my junior…I’m not going to give you my age, but it’s good for the band – it keeps a youthful feel around us, and it keeps us on our toes, ya know being older. And they come in with more current music as well, like music I wouldn’t be up on…I’m too old-school ya know? I have my tastes now, but they’ll come in and be like ‘did ya listen to this band or that band?’

The current line-up you have right now…

Yeah the current line-up that we’ve got right now has been around since about 2012, because a member got sick in 2010, and we didn’t really know if we were going to come back as a band, but he got better. It’s been going great since.

Apart from the studio horn section, do you see yourselves changing the line-up at all?

Well if we were to bring in one more member, it would be a brass player. But as Chris was saying, the logistics…we’re already six of us traveling, and getting VISAs and traveling, getting extra room…it all costs money.

Have you thought about putting out an open-call to larger cities for talented, local horn players to help out?

Chris and I actually discussed this a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t really get around to it because the last few weeks have been quite busy, planning shows and what not. But maybe by the end of the tour you might see a brass player jump on in the middle of the show. You might take your idea and borrow it.

You’re playing a string of shows with Dropkick Murphys leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, and then you’re back in Dublin for the proper holiday. What is the difference between St Patty’s Day US style versus back in the mother country?

Well we’re actually not sure about what’s happening with the St. Patrick’s Day gig, but we’re doing the shows with Dropkick Murphys before, but ya never know.
C: But St. Patrick’s Day is a completely different deal at home. It’s celebrated much better, much cleaner in America, for me. At home, in Dublin especially, it gets very messy. I mean, around the country there’s really nice parades and all that carry-on, but in Dublin…I mean it’d be great to play in Dublin on St. Patty’s Day obviously it’s a big deal. But it’s not the same as what it would be over here. It’s a bigger event over here than in Dublin. A lot of people are surprised who fly over from America or Australia and they realize…it gets kind of political and a lot of people start drinking too early and there’ll be fights breaking out. St. Patty’s Day for me in Ireland is the parade. But like, I don’t partake in any of the other stuff.

Alright…well let’s get back to your newest album, “Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil”, which came out this past March and was self-financed by the band. What made you choose that route, it seemed like you had a good relationship with Punkcore?

I don’t really want to talk about Punkcore because there’s a legal issue there and it’s basically settled out of court, so part of the deal is we can’t really talk about it. But I wish them all the best if they’re still around. But we chose to self-finance this album because you see a lot of bands doing the plede stuff nowadays. Nothing against the pledge stuff but I think a lot of people by true and honest means by getting up and going to work, and if I want to do the rock ‘n’ roll thing then it’s our necks. But I’m not going to be asking my fans to pay for my lifestyle pretty much and stuff like that. It’s a good idea and all but ultimately we were uncomfortable with it. So we decided if we were going to put this album out, we do it out of our own pockets and our own expense and if people start illegally downloading it then that’s fine. Then Chris and I would have the right to complain about that since we paid for it, but we don’t care about that.

Well now there is something to be said about the crowd-funding theory. If you need money in the front-end to record, lots of bands will have little gifts for pledging – $10 for a CD, $20 CD and poster, etc. So you’re not necessarily asking your fans to pay for your lifestyle.

C: I can understand that part, but for me where I see that going is these band’s that promise to play at your house or write a song with your name in it or all that. That’s kind of selling yourself down the river in my opinion.
I know it’s a new way of doing things, but basically if we can’t afford to be on the road, and we can’t afford to make records we might as well back to construction work. That’s where we got our money from; Chris and I were construction workers and we used all our savings from our wages from that to fund this album.

Do you still do construction when you’re not touring/recording.

I’m not a construction worker anymore. For two reasons – One, I’m not gonna go in there because the economy is so bad and that’s why we’re really trying to give this a go, ya know? But I don’t expect anybody though – my fellow construction workers, or like doctors or nurses to pay for the chance to come out here and play music.

Now you are signed to APA (Agency for Performing Arts), what do they do for you?

As an agency yes, but they’re just booking agents so they’ll just help book the shows for us.

And they’ve been good so far?

Well after we got the Dropkick gigs, they’re just kind of letting that play out. It’s kind of all starting to happen.

Now you’ve all just received three-year band visas to come and play in the US. Did APA help out with that? How did you secure the visas?

We had a number of people work on that but APA did help us out as well. It’s basically just for one year, but because of what’s going on with us as a band, they’ve said when we go to renew it next year it’ll be no problem.

I definitely think the more exposure you get in the US the better, especially sharing the stage with bands like Dropkick Murphys…

Oh yea, I mean we have a big big thank you to the Dropkick family. They’ve really looked after us and opened up so many doors for us by taking us up on tour with them. Lots of gratitude to them.

Before we catch the last bit of Bryan McPhearson’s set, is there anything else you would like to add?

I’d just like to say, you cannot get our newest album in the stores because there’s no distribution. We’re not millionaires, we self-financed it, but if people are interested in it, they can buy it off iTunes, and other downloadable sites.
And I also wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped Blood or Whiskey along the way. None of you are forgotten.
And thank you for the interview!

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