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It's a few hours before showtime in Detroit, and Flogging Molly frontman Dave King is on the phone with New Times. He's polite but a bit aloof apparently not all that interested in answering questions from a nosy journalist. He's road-weary, as his publicist says the next day. Fair enough King's band has been touring Europe and America nonstop for months; actually, for the past six years straight, it seems like. With his Dublin brogue only slightly watered-down from nearly 15 years of living in Los Angeles, the 40-something King's replies tend toward the one- or two-word variety, at least for the first part of the chat. It takes only one question to get King to loosen up: Does he prefer to let Flogging Molly's music do the talking?
"Oh yeah, abso-lutely!" King chuckles.
It's surprising, then, that King and the rest of the septet agreed to give total access to filmmaker Jim Dziura for two years, across seven countries, for the highly enjoyable and penetrating documentary Whiskey on a Sunday. The nearly two-hour combination of revealing interviews and high-energy performance footage exposes the inner workings of Flogging Molly, a rollicking outfit that combines traditional Irish folk instrumentation with crusty, Clash-like punk rock like the Pogues for the Warped Tour generation. The movie, screened in theaters earlier this year, has just been released on DVD with an accompanying ten-track CD of live and acoustic versions of songs from the band's four studio albums.
In a way, Sunday is like a variation on MTV's The Real World "Take seven strangers, put them in a band, and see what happens when they stop messing around and start getting real about making music." Indeed, all seven Flogging Molly members are characters themselves: King, the bespectacled, goateed, quietly focused singer/guitarist working out his inner demons in song; Nathen Maxwell, the young, earnest, exuberant, tattooed bass player; Dennis Casey, the grizzled guitarist who won't ever forget his working-class roots; Matt Hensley, the pro skateboarder who picked up the accordion on a whim, just because the instrument was so offbeat and challenging; Bob Schmidt, the Zen-like master of many stringed instruments (mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, guitar) and gear-whiz who can fix almost anything; George "Sarge" Schwindt, the über-intense drummer and handler of business affairs whose instrument doubles as therapy over the childhood loss of his father (a race-car driver who died on the track); and Bridget Regan, the soft-spoken violinist and tin whistle player who brings a crucial softer counterpoint to all the testosterone.
"For the people who've come to see the band all these years live and then go home and that's it, it's probably nice to see who's behind it, y'know, some of our more personal affairs and stuff like that," King says, slowly warming up to the topic. "I mean, I remember when I was younger, getting into bands. You wanna find out as much as you can, what made the whole thing tick. So hopefully people will see more where the music does come from, and the fact of the matter is it's just music of an everyday life, and I think that's why people can relate to it."
As to the process of making the film, King notes: "He [Dzuira] put the camera everywhere he could, but we didn't feel it was too intrusive. He's a very nice chap; he kept to himself, but at the same time, he got what he wanted. If it had been any different, it would have been a nightmare. But I've watched it only once. It's been done now, it's over, and that's the end of it."
Unlike The Real World, Whiskey on a Sunday offers little in the way of romantic hookups or histrionic blowouts. Instead, it portrays the band's mid-'90s formation and hardscrabble early years, and (perhaps most important) the inspiration behind King's lyrics. The film's most poignant segments deal with King's Irish upbringing, which occurred in the midst of some of the nation's most devastating sectarian violence. (King reveals that if he hadn't gravitated toward music, he might very well have joined the IRA.) Sunday also touches upon the death of King's cancer-stricken father and the fact that he didn't see his mother for eight years after moving to America. Perhaps the most moving moment of all occurs near the end, when King, his mother, and Regan visit King's father's grave in Dublin.
"Yeah, that scene... ," King says, pausing for a few seconds. "My father's been dead over 20 years, and my mother had never been to the grave since he died. I remember we went one time and she had to turn back because she couldn't make it, and uh..." He pauses again. "So, yeah, stuff like that was... pretty intense."
Flogging Molly fans will certainly say the same of the live show, King's most cherished part of all of this. Though the band's continued touring is keeping it from making a new album King says it's impossible to write on the road the singer relishes every opportunity to get in front of the band's diehard followers.
"It takes your breath away, just how loyal people are," he says. "They've really latched onto it and seem to enjoy it as much as we do. I mean, y'know, we just write honest-to-God music and play an honest-to-God thing, and that's pretty much it. There's not much else to say about it. It's simple as that, and I think people really realize that it's real."