With close-cropped flaxen hair, rosy cheeks and a gray wool sweater, Dave King is a splendid advertisement for bucolic Irish innocence. Fact is, King is a bona fide ghetto urchin from north Dublin — branded for life with the accent. Think is ”tink,“ that is ”dat,“ and every other word is fook. Over steak and fries at the Robin Hood pub in Reseda, King tries to justify Flogging Molly‘s presence on the Warped Tour, the pop-punk showcase to which the Celtic folk-rock band has just been invited for the third year in a row.
”At the end of a big show, no matter what city, we like to go out afterwards and keep playing. And so we invite people to join us in the bar across the street, but we figure, ’Ah, they must be so sick of us, no one will come.‘ I tell you, within minutes of us sitting down and singing the old songs, the place is packed. The kids go, ’What‘s that little guitar?,’ meaning the mandolin, and they love it. So what — we use traditional instruments, but the way we play, it‘s punk.“
Abuzz with acoustic guitar and accordion, fiddles and uilleann pipes, and King singing and thwackin’ away at the bhodran — an ancient Irish hand drum — nothing quite brings a crowd together like a Flogging Molly performance. Similar to the material on their debut, Swagger, which the band perfected after countless Monday nights at local pub Molly Malone‘s, the new album, Drunken Lullabies, is an even deeper examination of growing up in Beggar’s Bush, Dublin‘s roughest housing projects. It was there that King endured years of abuse from a sadistic schoolmaster, watched his mother disintegrate in the aftermath of a stroke, got shit-faced at his dad’s wake, and eked out an existence on boiled cabbage and cheap whiskey. ”It sounds crazy, but it‘s like how Joyce said he had to leave Ireland before he could write about it. I had to come here to write about there.“
King’s music career had its beginnings in ‘80s commercial-radio fixture Fastway, a disposable hair-metal band he put together with Fast Eddie from Motorhead. But what began as a poor kid’s meal ticket out of the slums turned into a nightmare that King is reluctant to discuss. ”I never got a dime from that. For years, PRS [the U.K. equivalent of BMI or ASCAP] was mailing my checks to another Dave King. I‘m pretty sure it was an inside job. I could try and get some of the money that’s owed me, but I don‘t want to pursue it. I even see the whole Fastway thing in a different light now. If I hadn’t been in a metal band, Flogging Molly wouldn‘t have the same loud energy it does.“
But we can’t skip Act 2 of our Gaelic minstrel‘s tragicomedy: After Fastway, King spent the next few years in London cleaning toilets, being a short-order cook and a messenger, and taking whatever menial job he could get to survive while raising a son. Lured as much by the sunshine as by the prospect of an outlet for his own songs, he eventually wound up in Los Angeles. He had enough contacts from his CBS-Columbia days to get a tape of his songs into the hands of an executive at a major label. ”I remember it clear as day. They had me sitting in this room with this hotshot producer fella. So your man says, ’The music is fine, but I don‘t like the lyrics.’ I says, ‘That’s it, stop right there — I‘m not changin’ a fuckin‘ thing.’“
It would be a few more years before King clawed his way back into the public consciousness. Singing his heart out every other night on the Guinness circuit, however, the rollicking energy of his performances got him noticed. ”Everyone who‘s now in the band approached me to say they loved my songs. We start off talking, and they’d say, ‘Oh, I play violin’ or drums or whatever, and then I‘d ask ’em to join the band. I just knew.“
These days Flogging Molly comprises seven members, has released two albums with SideOneDummy (which has just signed the Mighty Mighty Bosstones) and, at long last, has a shiny new tour bus. But at the moment, King can‘t get the U2 song ”A Homecoming (of Sorts)“ out of his head. He and his band will grace the Emerald Isle this fall after the Warped tour, playing for his kinsmen the music he grew up with and telling them the stories of their lives.
”I’ve been wanting to do this for so long,“ he says. ”It seems like it should be a cinch, but every time I think about it, it scares the shit out of me.“
Flogging Molly performs at the Troubadour, Friday-Saturday, March 15-16.