Interview: Nathen Maxwell (of Flogging Molly)

You’re in for a treat readers! Writer Nicholas Comney is back with an epic interview. This time around, he managed to squeeze in a few words — who are we kidding, it’s a mouthful — with bassist Nathen Maxwell of the Los Angeles punk troupe, Flogging Molly, who performed a sold-out show at Orlando’s House of Blues a couple of weeks back.

During Dub Trio‘s opening set, Comney met up with Maxwell in the backstage dressing room, where the two discussed everything from tattoos to band shirts, punk rock mentality to father-son experiences. It’s quite the read, folks. So, if you have a cup of joe or a cool brew (after all, it is St. Patrick’s Day), sit back, relax, and read on.

Consequence of Sound (CoS): Instead of taking the typical route of asking you a series of questions about yourself and the band [to open the interview], I was wondering if could explain some of the stories behind one or two of your tattoos.

Nathen Maxwell (NM): Sure. This ship on my hand, I got this because I was going through a really positive, as well as a really heavy time in my life and I wanted the heaviest thing I could think of to represent that. And, the heaviest thing I could think of was to put a big, fat clipper ship at nighttime on my hand.

What it was, was basically we were touring and I had gotten my lady pregnant, so I was about to have my first kid, which is so awesome…

CoS: Did you have a boy or girl?

NM: A girl. She is absolutely amazing.

At the same time, the day before I actually decided to get it, I ran into an old acquaintance of mine and he told me a mutual friend had just killed himself [jumped off the cliffs] and I was like, “Fuck man,” so I was feeling really heavy for both good reasons and bad reasons, so for some reason in my mind, I thought the best way to symbolize that was with this tattoo. So, that is one tattoo story.

“Suburban Home” (Descendents cover)

CoS: Now, I’m a huge Descendents fan and I had seen a video of you on YouTube singing “Suburban Home”, so I wanted to talk to you about being raised in California, around the West Coast punk scene and all the great bands [Minutemen, Black Flag, Circle Jerks] that emerged out it.

It seems that when the origins of punk are discussed, the West Coast always loses out to New York and England, which is a tragedy because the early groups from California are so much more progressive.

NM: Well yeah, that was all of an older generation to me. That would’ve been of my uncle’s generation with bands like Black Flag and such, but I was definitely influenced by them.

I guess a lot of people don’t know. It seems that a lot of people do know, but yeah, the South Bay, where I grew-up, is home to Black Flag and the original singer, Keith Morris [he ended up splitting from the group and forming the Circle Jerks]. They’re one my favorite bands. And like you said, the Descendents. They all grew up in Hermosa Beach.

And then you have cats from up north. The Dead Kennedy’s were kicking ass and stuff, but I think a lot of that had to do with the Ramones coming there (Laughs).

CoS: Really?

NM: (Laughs) Yeah, I think that’s kind of how the story went. You’d have to ask a cat from a different generation, though.

But, as you get closer to my generation, you have bands like Pennywise. I went to the same high school as those guys. We went to Redondo Union High.

CoS: Isn’t Bad Religion from California, too?

NM: Yeah, Bad Religion, same thing. Down in Pedro, where I just moved from, you have the Minutemen and Mike Watt…

CoS: Have you seen the documentary on the Minutemen called “We Jam Econo”?

NM: No.

CoS: It’s really good. You should check it out, sometime. It has a few early day interviews with the band and then it has Mike Watt driving around in his van, sort of discussing the origins and philosophy of the group, etc.

NM: Cool, man.

You know, I heard stories. Even when I was younger [like a teenager], down in Hermosa Beach…I don’t know if you have any idea of what that place is like…

CoS: I have no idea.

NM: Umm, it’s still a very beautiful place, but back in the day, it used to have like punk rockers, everywhere, just hanging out and skating the pier, you know, but now, like anything else, it got turned into a big, walking mall. (Laughs) Kind of like where we are now.

CoS: (Laughs)

NM: I heard stories, that even before that, it used to be HUD housing, which is like lower income housing…and that blows my mind because now it’s all million dollar homes.

CoS: Yeah, there are similar situations like that here in Orlando. They call it “revitalizing,” but it’s really just the force out of lower class communities, so they can develop condos in those areas.

NM: Yeah.

CoS: Okay, I usually save this question for the end of my interviews, but since we were just talking about musical influences, what artists and/or albums has been on-rotation in your tape deck, as of late?

NM: Well, I’ve been checking out this music that my old man and I have recorded together (Laughs), so I’ve been listening to that a lot. Just checking up on the mixing and such for it.

As for other artists that I’ve been listening to lately…well today, I listened to Jimi Hendrix. I also put on that new song by Kings of Leon, “Sex On Fire”.

CoS: What’s the kind of style that you’re playing with your dad? I imagine the whole father/son collaboration being sort of surreal. Kind of like when Ken Griffey, Jr., and Ken Griffey, Sr., both played on the Mariners, together, back in the early 1990s.

NM: (Laughs) It’s real mellow. There’s some Reggae influence on it because I grew-up listening to Reggae and I still do. There’s definitely some danceable Reggae vibes going on, but the majority of it is all acoustic – pretty mellow and intimate.

These songs developed over the last 10 years with me playing by myself, kind of singing under my breath with my guitar, so I sort of just said, “fuck it.” Instead of trying to turn it into something that it’s not, like some big, over-the-top rock band, I’m just going to let it be what it is. That’s why I pulled my old man into it. Just keep it organic and natural. He and I obviously have a connection…he’s a world-class drummer, so he came and laid down real simple rhythms and I just laid down everything else on top of it and sang. I like it. I’m proud of it.

CoS: That’s cool. Maybe this can even be like a new tradition for the Maxwell family, when Christmas time comes around. You two can pull out the drums and acoustic guitar and play a little duet type thing for the family and friends.

NM: Yeah, exactly. (Laughs) A matter of fact, I even wrote a little Christmas song for it, too. (Laughs)

CoS: (Laughs) That’s awesome. While I was drinking outside at the bar, waiting to do this interview with you, my friend and I were talking about how the music of Flogging Molly pretty much has the whole Irish culture monopolized, for lack of a better word. It’s weird because you’re fans show up and your songs evoke this sense of nationalism in them, to where it’s like “yeah, I’m fucking Irish. Let’s fucking rock.” In essence, though, they kind fall into this uniform mentality…there’s a kid outside wearing a kilt, right now, even though I thought that was Scottish.

NM: Right.

CoS: It’s just really unique that your music brings out such an intense level of cultural identity in people.

NM: Yeah, you know, it’s kind of two-fold in a way. There is definitely a sense that Dave [King] instills this Irish pride in people and at the same time…I believe for me that he transcends that and his lyrics concern themselves not only with Irish pride, but also human pride and the fact that we all are in the same boat.

Like there’s a line in the song that we’re going to play tonight called, “The Sun Never Shines”, where the last line says, “We all go the same way home.” To me, that is the bigger message. Dave says that as an ex-patriot from Ireland. He talks about…when he was an illegal alien [when I had first joined the band]. It wasn’t until 2002 that he became a legal resident. So, he had that longing sense for Ireland and kind of wrote about it romantically.

They say there are four or five million Irish people that live in Ireland and there are 34 million Irish people that live in the United States (Laughs). I think our music just gives people that renewed pride for their culture.

I hope everything I said kind of made sense to you and didn’t…

CoS: I think that last line you said sums it up perfect.

NM: You know, it’s cool because Flogging Molly fans are so similar to Dropkick Murphy fans and fans of the Pogues or any other band that may be grouped with us. At this point, there is such a big movement of fans that it is kind of an identity all on its own, like the whole Irish-punk thing. And it’s a look. I mean, you see the kids with the kilts and a lot of them are straight up from Scotland. That’s their grandfather’s kilt. They think it looks cool. It’s punk rock. Have a tattoo, wear a kilt, “fucking what’s up,” you know. And to me, it’s a positive club to be involved in and it’s not exclusive. You don’t have to be Irish to join. (Laughs) You don’t have to be Scottish to wear a kilt.

CoS: With the punk rock mentality, it is really about awareness, but it only takes you so far. Like, it will point and even take you to the trough or the water’s edge, but beyond that, nothing. It never crosses that line.

NM: Well, some bands do. I mean, Jimi Hendrix isn’t considered punk rock by very much anybody, but for me, punk rock is pretty simple. Punk rock is freedom. Punk rock means thinking for you.

Going back to the California discussion, the Dead Kennedy’s…there’s an album by them called “In God We Trust, Inc.” and there’s a song on it called “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Punk isn’t a religious cult. Punk means thinking for you.

I remember when I was 13, I heard that for the first time and I was like “this is it, I’m a fucking punker.” I have the freedom to think and dress, however the hell I want. I don’t have to wear a uniform or conform to any standard of anything. I’m free. And that’s what punk is. Jello said so (Laughs). To me, that’s what punk is all about.

For artists, it’s such a hard thing…with art, to educate people and inspire people to dig deeper, but when it all boils down to it, you have to work to make change. You have to be physically active. You have to go out there and do whatever it is you think you can do, but physically do something. Use your life’s energy towards the goal.

Art is so important to point out other aspects, other ways of thinking, you know.

CoS: It seems from generation to generation…I mean, I’m not apart from this by any means, but my generation seems extremely complacent to the point of sheer laziness. Nowadays, you won’t see street corner revolutionaries pushing and pushing for honest change and actually make things happen. I think it’s because we’ve become so comfortable and almost numb in this middle state that…

NM: Well, I think a lot of times I fall victim to this, too, to where I think I’ve done my good deed for the day because I clicked here and I’ve signed the petition or I’ve sent an email to my Senator, you know, which is important. I don’t want to take anything away from that. It is important, but eventually it’s going to have to come down to people just physically moving, lifting, and helping out to get things done. It eventually has to transcend to that and I think with your generation, which is a little bit younger than me, a lot of it, or almost all of it, has to do with the Internet. You have these tools and all this information coming at you and you feel so connected and involved that you forget that “oh shit, I just spent the past year sitting in front of a computer screen. I didn’t actually go out there and do anything.”

CoS: That disenchantment is kind of related to the whole tabloid obsession that people have. You’ll go into some random supermarket to buy a gallon of milk and the checkout lane is lined with celebrity magazine covers, reporting on what so and so did. You end up knowing more about someone who you will never meet than you do about your own neighbor.

NM: Right.

CoS: That’s a bizarre idea.

NM: Yeah, I used to be in this band called Joltergeist and my friend Fred wrote a great song and there’s a line it that says, “This ain’t the kind of place where you know your neighbors/Except the molester across the street.”

CoS: Exactly.

NM: What kind of community is that? I don’t know. I don’t know how to fix it, but like I said, I think it’s about being alive. Be-ing a-live. Going out there, living your dream. Meeting your neighbors, throwing a fucking barbeque, whatever. If there’s something going on…I was in Copenhagen, I spent some time there with a friend of mine last year and the people over there, they know how to do it.

CoS: What do you mean?

NM: They mobilize. When their leaders are going to speak, they mobilize in the street to listen and they gather into a group force of people and if they don’t like what they hear, then they’re going to do something about it. There might be a riot. I’m not condoning violence. I don’t want people to go out there and break shit…

CoS: But sometimes you have to.

NM: But sometimes, if there is some bullshit going on…

CoS: You have to bust the nose in.

NM: Yeah, sometimes you have to do it. You have to be active.

CoS: I know we were talking about my generation and the whole idea of us becoming very self-absorbed, due to the constant presence of the Internet…the Internet is great, though, because in essence it is the next phase of evolution. It’s just intellectual evolution, rather than physical.

NM: Right.

CoS: So now, it is just knowledge, 24/7, coming at you, but people get lost in this, as you mentioned earlier. Look at the phenomenon surrounding Facebook and Twitter. “Hey, I’m eating a cheeseburger.” “I’m angry with you [sad face].” People update their status or whatever, every five minutes. It’s crazy. It’s slowly turning on itself.

NM: It is crazy. I can’t do Facebook. I have a MySpace account, quite simply to help support the music and put it out there for people to hear. I do think it is important, though, and it’s a good tool to reach people with, but it’s just too much for me. It’s not what I’m used to.

I like sending postcards and stuff like that. I like receiving a postcard. It’s just a cool feeling. It’s becoming a lost…

CoS: It seems more exclusive, too. Someone took the time and made it personally for you. Maybe it has like cursive handwriting or something on it. I don’t know. “I’m in Soho. I miss you.”

NM: Yeah, I can see how someone might be like “oh, that’s wasteful,” when you can easily do it by email or text, but there’s a spirit to it, a tangibility of holding something in your hands.

CoS: Yeah, it’s almost romantic.

NM: It’s the same thing with music. I remember laughing when CDs came out. I was probably 14 or 15, when I got my first CD player and I remember thinking how there will be people who will never even see a record or a cassette. Now, I know for a fact that there are kids who have never seen a CD. Everything is just download digital. And maybe I’m just old fashioned in that way, but I like the tangibility of art, being able to see something and touch something. Being able to go to a museum and physically stand in front of the real thing. There’s a vibration attached to everything.

And to hold and feel the real thing…

CoS: To actually see the strokes.

NM: Yeah, to see the strokes and to just hold that vinyl. There’s something special about that…to smell it, to care. Like when I bought a record, I devoured it as a kid. I listened to it over and over and over again. I read every single piece of the liner note you can read. If they had lyrics, I devoured it…the artwork, too. I kind of absorbed it as my own culture. It’s who I am.

And sadly, I hope not, but I think that that is slowly being lost a little bit with downloading music and stuff. I don’t know. You can’t fight the future, though. You can’t stop change. You can only pave the way.

CoS: I hear what you’re saying. Okay, last question. The whole idea of band shirts…I have had lengthy discussions with people about this. What is your view on band shirts? I see a lot of people, outside, wearing Flogging Molly shirts, but I always thought the unspoken rule for concert going was you never wear the shirt of the band who you are about to see that night, unless it is a vintage tour shirt or something fashioned in that regard.

NM: Yeah, you know, but that kind of shows that you’re a little too cool for school.

CoS: Exactly, which is okay, sometimes.

NM: Yeah, it’s okay…

CoS: (Laughs) I’m an elitist to a point. I can honestly admit that.

NM: You got to admit it. I know what you mean, though. If I’m going to see, I don’t know, let’s say, back in the day, I’m going to go see Hepcat play, I might want to wear a See Spot shirt [I get it, I get it]…

CoS: (Laughs)

NM: But this how I really look at it. I look to Bob Marley and The Clash a lot, as my role models and both of them wore…I have pictures of Bob Marley wearing a Bob Marley and the Wailers t-shirt, you know. If Bob can do it, then shit, wear it.

If it makes you feel good, if it puts you in the spirit to come and see a Flogging Molly show, then put a Flogging Molly shirt on. That’s cool. I wear Flogging Molly shirts. If Joe Strummer wears The Clash shirts, then I can wear a fucking Flogging Molly shirt, you know what I mean.

CoS: (Laughs) Yeah.

NM: So, that’s kind of how I look at it.


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