There aren’t many bands a guy like Bob Schmidt can play in while forging a career in rock music, so he knows he’s been fortunate to be with Flogging Molly for more than 20 years. As the Irish-inflected punk band’s “string wizard,” he brings the unique sounds of banjo, mandolin, bouzouki and mandocello to the band’s hard-driving sound.
With St. Patrick’s Day arriving on Saturday, March 17, this is the busiest time of the year for Schmidt and his bandmates. They play the Ventura Theater Monday night, following a show at the Hollywood Palladium on the holiday itself, and Schmidt took time to discuss the band’s enduring popularity.
“I started playing with Dave [King] and Bridget [Regan] about nine months before we got the full band going,” recalls Schmidt. “Dave was living with me at the time, so I just jumped on it. Bridget, Dave and I were doing acoustic shows while we were rehearsing other musicians, so people wouldn’t forget who we were as we built the band.”
Flogging Molly marked a return by King to the hard-rock sound that he had developed over a decade as the lead singer of the heavy-metal band Fastway. A native of Dublin, King had fallen in with Fastway upon his arrival in Los Angeles years before, but wanted to play more traditional Celtic music the longer he lived in Southern California and pined for the sounds of home.
Since King couldn’t see eye to eye with Fastway’s label, he was released from his contract — freeing him to create the band of his dreams. The seven-member group went through other names initially while building a reputation and becoming a popular presence at Molly Malone’s. Band members eventually settled on the name Flogging Molly as a tribute to those days of begging friends to come see shows at the Irish pub.
“Every once in a while we do a late morning or afternoon set at Molly’s on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Schmidt. “The owners we knew sold it and we don’t have that strong a connection. If I’m in town and have time, I’ll still pop in and have a pint because it has a sweet spot in our hearts.”
The band’s worldwide popularity has taken it far away from that club, resulting in the platinum album Whiskey on a Sunday as well as six studio albums and a pair of live CD/DVD combos. While they’ve focused on social issues in some albums such as 2011’s Speed of Darkness, their 2017 follow-up, Life is Good, stepped back from topicality.
“Things around the election were pretty charged up, but mostly I think those songs were more stories about lives and people than about issues, and that’s how Dave’s nearly always done it,” explains Schmidt. “I think we’ve just incorporated more instruments and influences in as you build confidence over a long career. We’re pretty open to what we’ll tackle at this point, what we feel confident in doing. We’re at the point we could do an ABBA covers record that’s gonna sound like us.”
The band has toured with the Warped Tour and the American Fleadh Festival, and in 2011 its members were the subjects of a season-opening episode of Austin City Limits. And yet Flogging Molly’s primary focus these days is finally breaking big in South America, Japan and New Zealand.
“I think it’s just the joy of performing that keeps us together and driven because we’ve been performing together a long time and the crowd likes us and we pass the energy back and forth,” says Schmidt. “I grew up in L.A., playing guitar and bass predominantly in L.A., and the hair metal era was a losing battle to become a shredder because technically proficient guitarists were everywhere.”
“I’d go to swap meets and learned off-the-beaten-path stringed instruments because it was the only way to stand out,” he continues. “I brought mandolin, hurdy-gurdies and sitars into our sound. The folk music traditions of most countries was their punk rock, and that unhappiness with status quo mixed into jolly drinking songs is a pretty powerful thing.”
Flogging Molly will perform on Monday, March 19, at 8 p.m. at the Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 653-0721 or visit venturatheater.net.