Fittingly, Dave King's feelings about his homeland get as complex as the emotions in his songs.
"I've got a love/hate relationship with Ireland," said the Dublin-born singer of Flogging Molly, the Los Angeles septet out on this year's Vans Warped Tour. The band is carrying on in the tradition of the Pogues, the drunken pioneers of punk-infused traditional Irish music.
"I haven't been back [to Ireland] in five or six years," said King, who moved to the United States in 1990 to pursue his music career. "You might say I'm in self-imposed exile. I just don't know how I fit in with the Irish. But I'm sitting here drinking Barry's Irish tea, so I can't hate it that much."
The truth is King pines for Ireland, and he admits that his urge to "write about my life and my experience" often takes him back home, lyrically, in his songs. On "Life in a Tenement Square" (RealAudio excerpt), from Flogging Molly's Swagger, released in March, he writes of tough years growing up in and eventually leaving the squalor of Dublin's rough side of town.
"There's a line in that song, 'As the sun split the room, with its rays filled with gloom,' " King said. "That's about me seeing my father for the last time before he died. The sun came in, bright on his face, and I said, 'Da, you're yellow.' I remember that, and then he was taken to hospital and I never saw him alive again."
King's father, dying of prostate cancer, didn't want his son to witness his weakening condition and didn't allow his son to visit him in the hospital.
That blend of poignancy and punk is found throughout Swagger, Flogging Molly's first studio record. An earlier lineup famed for its long-running Monday night residency at Los Angeles' Molly Malone's pub self-released a live CD, Alive Behind the Green Door, in 1997 before regrouping with the current cast.
Skating And Playing
The band King, fiddler Bridget Regan, drummer George Schwindt, bassist Nathan Maxwell, accordionist Matt Hensley, mandolin and banjo player Robert Schmidt and guitarist Dennis Casey will play on this summer's Vans Warped Tour, previously a haven for pop-punk and ska acts. This year's outing will be headlined by Green Day.
"I know [Warped Tour audiences] will see something they've never seen before," King said. "It will be f---ing phenomenal."
Hensley is equally enthused. A former professional skateboarder, the accordion player joined the band after its live record and now co-owns Innes, a skateboarding-related clothing company based in Encinitas, Calif.
"The fact that I can both skate and play music [on the Warped Tour] is the coolest thing," Hensley said. "I spend probably most of my time playing music right now. But I would never sacrifice one for the other."
Like several of Flogging Molly's members, Hensley was a fan before he joined the group, appropriately making his first live appearance on St. Patrick's Day, 1997. Attending the old lineup's final performance at Molly Malone's, Hensley was swept up in the moment. "You could feel everything Dave was doing was coming from the heart," he said.
King readily admits the Pogues he calls Shane McGowan, that group's leader, "a pure genius" are a major influence on Flogging Molly. But King, raised on equal amounts of traditional Irish songs, metal and punk, also cites AC/DC and Irish punks Stiff Little Fingers as heroes, and wants to raise the bar a notch or two with his band.
"I saw the Pogues many, many times and sometimes [their shows] lacked energy, the energy of a really clashing guitar in your face," King said. "I'm trying to take [the Pogues' style] and really trash the f--- out of it."
His voice simultaneously filled with bitterness and glee, King said he "never felt like I was good enough for the clique" back in Dublin. "I felt very labeled and small and decided I needed to get out of there. And I'm happy now to fulfill my dream, playing music that I'm very proud of."
But there are days, he confessed, after the lawn has been mowed at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., when he misses his native land. "I smelled the grass the other day, and it reminded me of home," King said. "I love Ireland, and I'm passionate about its beauty and its wildness ... the smell of it. I would love to go back and smell the grass on the West Coast of Ireland."