You guys have done something different this time, which was not to take a break between albums.
Ken Casey: No break. I think that whole process of writing a concept album [2011's Going Out in Style] was so good for us as songwriters and more challenging to have to combine everything . . . you know, thinking of two mediums at the same time — and to have to formulate it — that going into this record was like, "Whoa, this is so easy!"
Matt Kelly: It was almost a breeze. There were so many riffs we had, ideas that were still incubating. We just kept coming up with new stuff. The parameters were so much wider, 'cause it wasn't that concept that we had to think about.
James Lynch: [Previously] we'd plan everything out, we'd tour, then we'd stop and write, and then go in the studio and record when we had enough material. But recently with everyone on the computer [using recording software], we'd have a constant flow of ideas going on, so the record was almost done before we even got off the road.
KC: Instead of that first couple of weeks when you come off the road and start writing, and everyone's standing there. Remember the last record? It was like, "Ya got anything? You got something?" Everyone's like, "No!" [laughter]
MK: "I thought you said you did!"
KC: We were just starting literally from scratch, whereas with this one — like, Jeff, our banjo player, between the hours of 3 and 4 am, he's like Beethoven. He gets hammered, and he sends you these songs. And in the morning, you're like, "Great riff!" And he's like, "What?" So when we hit the ground, we already had structures and frameworks — for the first time ever — on a lot of songs.
But also, we're in a band 16 years, and it's our eighth album, so it's like, we kind of aren't that much ahead of the pace that we set in the early days. Our first full-length was '98, our second was '99, [then] 2001, 2003. We were on that pace for a while. And then we started getting married and having kids. It's not like we ever slowed down, but instead of taking two weeks off between tours, we'd take a month. And if you add that little bit of time, it starts to make everything slow down a little.
I think it's that way with everything. I feel that way with writing a story. You kind of shouldn't take a break. It's not as exhausting as it is for a musician. You guys have to do really physical shit on stage, but the traveling weighs me down.
JL: Basically, waking up in a different place every day is gonna mess with your head no matter what.
MK: It makes you, like, you need to be in the bubble, between the buses and the club. You get out of sorts if you're [not]. I'm looking at my watch [thinking], "I gotta get back to the bubble," even hanging out with friends somewhere in another city. You get this mentality where you don't want to leave the bubble. It's the only comfort zone you have. I mean, it's awesome either way you look at it, but you do have that weird anxiety.
As musicians, you're told you have to do this interview at 10 am, then you have to go to this TV station, then you have to talk to a newspaper reporter, then you have to perform.
KC: For us — and it's a blessing and a curse — you wake up, you get in, you get acclimated, you're thinking about soundcheck. And then we always have these best intentions to get together on the road to write. We're lucky in the sense that we have a lot of friends in every city. It's like we've become a local band in every city, the way we kind of came up — you know, our first shows being with the local kid promoters. So literally, at five o'clock, people are showing up to hang out. And that's a good thing. It's good to have people in every city, but you really don't have any time to get away and write. But, for me, having that iPhone — if I have an idea in my bunk at 3 am for a vocal melody, you know what I mean?
You touched on something I wanted to talk about: the way you guys have effectively maintained this balance between the local and the international. That's kind of unusual. Because you guys have this hometown vibe, right? And then you're on tour all over the world. And it reminds me of Tip O'Neill's famous quote: "All politics is local." That is, of course, important in politics. But it's a balance that a lot of musicians don't maintain. And it's probably the best thing they possibly could do. Or any artists. Because then they're keeping true to what made them first find their voice.
JL: I think it's something that could only have been born here in this city. We've taken the attitude of this city on the road, and people can latch on to it.
MK: It's a pleasant parochialism.
KC: But also, I think, getting back to that local thing in every city: we know who's who in the scene, and sometimes even legitimately in politics, because in a lot of towns, if people sense that [local] vibe from you, they're coming to us with local causes, whether it's supporting labor causes in different cities, or charity things. And it's not like we try to do this on purpose. I'll give you an example: we did something for the stagehands in Pittsburgh many, many years ago, and every time we come to that city, they're rolling out the red carpet. It's like you're returning to your own hometown in Pittsburgh, even though it's not our hometown.
JL: Those guys still load our gear every time.
KC: Yeah, no matter where the show is, they show up and load the gear, you know? Whether they're employed or not. That's what's important to the band, that feeling. I wouldn't trade that feeling of keeping it small and getting to know people for any amount of international, like, "What city are we in?" Plus, you know, coming from here, if you ever rolled back into town with that "Yeah! I was just in Japan!" attitude, people are gonna smack you in the face.
I also think it's the things that we've kept ourselves grounded with here, like having our charity foundation [the Claddagh Fund]. That's the stuff that keeps you grounded.
You just did a performance at the Franciscan Hospital for Children.
Josh "Scruffy" Wallace
KC: We do that every Christmas. They're one of the Claddagh Fund's main beneficiaries. It's amazing. We play for the kids in the locked ward and in the suicide unit. And typically when parents introduce you to their kids, they're trying to be too cool for school, like, "Sup." And you're like, "Does this kid even really like us?" But then you go in to these kids who, say, haven't smiled in months, and you play music, and they act like they're so excited and happy to see you. You're playing for these kids who are in wheelchairs and have no movement of their body, and then they hear that fast beat, and all of a sudden, their heads are bobbing. It's cool to be able to do that stuff. The nature of the kind of music scene we're a part of, and the kind of music we play, that's what it's always been about: that community spirit, whether it's the punk scene or beyond. Whereas, I wouldn't trade, let's say, being in Aerosmith. I'd rather be us than to be bigger and become something that loses that community feeling.
MK: There's a complete disconnect [with some groups]. Like, we're the guys on stage, and you're the audience. Whereas, we're inviting people onstage. It's an egalitarian thing, for lack of a better term. We're all the same here. We just happen to be playing music. We wouldn't be here without you, and vice versa.
I think people are looking for that kind of connectedness and community more and more because, despite the pretense of connectedness via Facebook and so forth, we seem less and less connected as a society. As we see from social networking, people are craving community. But it's not really to be found there on the Internet in the way that it can exist face to face, in real space.
MK: It's a human thing, isn't it? Whether it be a cause or a band that's giving off that kind of mentality and people latch on to it, that's nice.
KC: I always make the point that, even just going back to the way we started, setting down our roots in so many places, and how people always say, "Oh, talk to my nephew. He has a band. Tell him how to promote. How'd you guys promote yourselves?" I go, "Well, we pressed our own 7-inches, we made our own flyers, we took out ads in Maximum Rocknroll, and hoped for a good review." And we made these handmade catalogs: I recently found one. It literally looked like a five-year-old drew it. We would draw, like, a stick figure of the T-shirt and the design, you know? So someone would order a 7-inch, but it might take us a week to turn it around, and we'd put a catalog in it. By the time they got it, then they might order another single that they saw in the catalog, or a T-shirt. That was such a snail's-pace growth. But that's what puts down the roots. And now today, a kid could write and record a whole album and have it on the Internet and have a million fans by tomorrow. But are they gonna be there the day after tomorrow?
MK: Longevity comes from the roots, you know?
JL: It's like anything else. It's the most simple, basic way of doing things that's gonna work out. But nobody wants to do the work. The bands did everything themselves, had their hands in everything. . . .
You actually enjoyed that probably, right?
KC: I'd never do it again, but I enjoyed it [laughs]. Sometimes I look back now and go, "Oh my God."
MK: It's amazing the amount of work you had to do to move, like, one step along.
KC: Or the amount of miles we logged.