The songs are very story-specific, not broad-based. I know you take creative license, but they seem rooted in reality.
It's really people we know. We come across stories. Sometimes the names and places are changed to protect the guilty, but on the other hand, I always found — and this comes from the Irish-music end of things — why tell it vaguely? The storyteller approach seems to fit. Look at Boston. The history has such a cast of characters. Why wouldn't you document someone's life and give them the history they deserve? That's the cool part about being able to make music. Somewhere, someday, somebody's going to be going through an attic long after we're all gone and maybe find a bad EP called Boys on the Dock, recorded poorly. They'll look back and laugh at that, as we did when we heard the original version of "Tessie" from 1903. Then they might pick up the lyrics and read about my grandfather.

I love the mixture of anger, rage, and celebration.
There's nothing better than going on stage and getting to vent that pent-up feeling of whether it's rage or anger or frustration. But there's also nothing better than putting a smile on people's faces and making them want to jump up and down and want to party. I'd say once again it goes back to the influence of Irish music: what other style of music can you sing the most depressing, potentially angry song about death and people are arm-in-arm like you're singing "Happy Birthday" or something?

Do you tend toward optimism or pessimism in your own life?
I'm a born pessimist who's worked very hard to become an optimist. I come from a long line of pessimists. Maybe I have a house and a car now, but you can never change what you were born into. I certainly don't run in a circle of socialites. And I still want to document life for the people I know.

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