- 05 Nov 20
As Flogging Molly celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Swagger, Dave King reflects on a remarkable career – discussing living undocumented in the US, and finding major success around the world for their explosive blend of traditional Irish music and high-energy punk-rock.
"Our livers didn't think we'd make it this far. Never in a million years."
20 years on from the release of their acclaimed debut album, Swagger, Flogging Molly's vocalist, Dublin native Dave King, is looking back at an odds-defying journey – which took the Celtic punk band from an Irish pub in LA, to the No.4 spot on the US Charts.
To celebrate their anniversary, Flogging Molly are set to release a limited edition vinyl box set of Swagger – which will include a remixed and remastered version of the album, plus eight additional tracks, a never-before-seen documentary, exclusive artwork, and an expanded booklet.
"It's a pretty amazing experience for a band like us," Dave resumes. "I met Bridget in a pub in Los Angeles called Molly Malone's – and it all just kind of kicked off from there."
Before meeting Bridget Regan, who is now both his bandmate and wife, Dave was playing solo shows at the Irish pub, and struggling to find his sound, after relocating to the US.
"Musically, I didn't really know where I was going," he reflects. "I was painting houses, and doing whatever I could do. Then Bridget told me that she played the fiddle. The next day, I went over to her apartment, and she started playing over the songs I already had. It all just fell together then, with the rest of the band.
"We put two microphones in Molly Malone's, one on the stage and one on the crowd, and we recorded a live album," he continues. "We were hoping that we'd be able to get enough money through that to make an actual studio album. And then, the next thing you know, we're up in Chicago with Steve Albini. It's just ridiculous."
The legendary artist and producer was "amazing to work with", according to Dave: "Because he let you do whatever you wanted to do."
"He wasn't sitting behind the desk going, 'Ah, you know what, I think...' He didn't really know what was going on either! He'd record you, and basically let you do what you wanted to do with the rest of it yourself."
After recording the album, Flogging Molly teamed up with independent record label SideOneDummy, run by Joe Sib and Bill Armstrong.
"There were no record companies jumping down your throat to sign you back then," Dave reflects. "We got really lucky. SideOneDummy were just starting off, and we’d already made Swagger – but it wasn't released. They knew Kevin Lyman, who was head of the Warped Tour, and we did that. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were on the same Warped Tour, and they said to us, ‘Listen – we’re doing a nationwide tour, and we’d love to take you out’. So we did the US tour with them."
However, Flogging Molly couldn't play the Canadian dates on The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' tour, or, for that matter, any other dates outside of the US for eight years – as Dave was living as an undocumented immigrant.
"At the time Swagger was being written, I was illegal – by no fault of my own – in America," he says. "I had an O1 visa. My lawyer told me a couple of years before that, ‘You’re okay if it goes over time – they’ll just renew it, and you’ll have no problems’. But in those couple of years, they changed the law, and it meant I couldn’t leave America – or they wouldn’t allow me back for 10 years.
"So a lot of the lyrics and a lot of the mood of Swagger is about not being able to go back home," he adds. "We were eight years touring the States before we could even go to Canada. So we had all that to contend with at the time."
The experience has profoundly shaped how Dave views US politics today.
"You read these horrific stories – like today there’s 545 kids on the border who have been separated from their parents, and don't know where they are," he remarks. "When our tour in March was cancelled, myself and Bridget immediately got a direct flight to Dublin from Los Angeles, where the tour was supposed to be starting. And, to be honest with you, if that guy wins again, there’s a huge possibility that we won’t be going back there. I lived in Los Angeles for about 16 years, and I’ve toured America a million times – and you’d have to have lived there to see just how much he has divided the country."
Despite Dave and Bridget calling Wexford home these days, Flogging Molly have largely found their biggest success far from these shores.
"We'd have a massive following in Japan, Russia, South America, all over Europe, England, Canada, and of course the United States," he says. "We developed in America, and for those eight years we were stuck there. We had no outside link with the rest of the world, so we were doing our own thing."
He describes the attitude to Flogging Molly in Ireland as "quite depressing".
"I remember I got a phone call from a friend of mine in Ireland," he recalls. "We were talking about getting gigs over here, and he said that people didn’t want to book the band – because they were saying, ‘We had The Pogues, why would we want a bunch of Yanks?’ I was born and bred in Dublin! I lived there for 18 years, before I moved to London. My wife Bridget has been living here since she was a kid!
"We ran into that a lot," he continues. "Nobody really wanted to know or even develop us over here – because, for want of a better word, we felt like we were a novelty over here.
"And I don’t give a flying fuck!" he adds, laughing. "We play to from 5,000 to 100,000 people around the world, at every show. This band have sold over three million albums around the world. Myself and Bridget live in Wexford, in the middle of nowhere, and we enjoy that."
That's not to say they haven't played some unforgettable shows in Dave's hometown.
"Our tour before last was in Europe, and we ended it in Dublin, in The Academy, just before Christmas," he says. "They told us we could’ve played three nights there, but we just did the one. And between me and the whole band, we were like, 'That was one of the best gigs we’ve ever fucking played'. It absolutely went off the charts. It was amazing. So it’s not the people!"
Like countless bands around the world, Flogging Molly have been heavily impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.
"We had a huge American tour that was supposed to be coming up this year," he reflects. "And there were so many bands that we wanted to bring with us. We were talking to Lankum, and we were even talking to Fontaines D.C. – I love that band.
"That’s who I feel sorry for, in these times. We've already travelled the world. We’ve played everywhere you could ever imagine you could play! But these young bands now aren’t getting that chance, and that’s what breaks my heart."
Despite Covid-19 also disrupting Flogging Molly's plans to write and record their next album in LA earlier this year, they've managed to keep busy over lockdown.
"I have a bunch of songs now," Dave says. "Myself and Bridget will record a verse, a bridge, a chorus and maybe a middle 8 – something really loose. And then we’ll send it to the rest of the band, so that they have room to make suggestions – so, when we do get together, we’re not going in blind. We usually have everything pretty much done before we get into the studio. When we’re there, recording, we just like to do four or five takes. And that’s it."
The 20th Anniversary Edition of Swagger is available to order from floggingmolly.com