Interviews

Interview: James Fearnley Discusses The Walker Roaders

The Walker Roaders is not just yet another band to surface on the scene. This is a brand new project formed by people who are well-respected veterans in various styles of rock, folk, punk and more. In fact, The Walker Roaders features members of acclaimed genre icons such as The Pogues, Flogging Molly, and Dropkick Murphys.

What’s interesting about these three bands is that historically, they’ve been known for exploring the folk/rock hybrid in different ways. The Pogues can be easily defined as true pioneers of blending classic Irish folk vibes with punk influences, while Dropkick Murphys represent the hard-hitting edge of the genre, often diving into hardcore territory with their releases. On the other hand, Flogging Molly is sort of a middle ground between the two, in my opinion – often bridging the gaps between the energy of punk, the grit of alternative music, and the timeless togetherness of folk.

What’s truly special about The Walker Roaders is that the different nuances of these three bands are captured within a single project, and the group’s debut album is all the more exciting for it. Some of the songs are more traditional, while others are not necessarily what the audience would expect, giving the setlist a more mercurial feel.

The group features James Fearnley (The Pogues) as well as Ted Hutt (Flogging Molly) and Marc Orrell (Dropkick Murphys), who serendipitously got together to release a one-of-a-kind album, bringing the immediacy and fast-paced of alternative music, with the lyricism and storytelling element that’s so commonly associated with bands like The Pogues.

The new record features nine tracks. You’ll find anything from emotional folk ballads to fast-paced ballroom stomps, future moshpit classics – and pretty much everything in between! The opening number, “Lord Randall’s Bastard Son,” sets the mood with a high-energy pace, laying the cards on the table from the get-go as to what the group set out to deliver. On songs such as “Will You Go Lassie Go,” the band explore their more melodic side. The song isn’t exactly a melancholic ballad, but it is a mid-tempo track with a fun arrangement, which has a nostalgic vibe that still keeps the pace running.

“Here Comes The Ice” is one of the highlights on the album, in my opinion, with its unflinching sound and exciting rhythm section. These are only some of my favorite moments from the album, which was released on the 23rd of August.

I recently caught up with James Fearnley, to talk about the band, as well as their debut self-titled release.

First, I’d like to know a little bit about the band’s origin story. How exactly did this project come together?

I’m going to go way back here: When I first came to Los Angeles I started a band called the Low and Sweet Orchestra with Zander Schloss (Circle Jerks, Two Free Stooges, Thelonious Monster and Joe Strummer’s guitarist on a number of projects – film music, the Mescaleros, etc.) and with Mike Martt (again, Thelonious Monster). I brought my friends and neighbours Dermot and Kieran Mulroney (the former the actor, the latter the actor and screenwriter – on cello and violin respectively).

After the Low and Sweet Orchestra split (we recorded a critically acclaimed LP called ‘Goodbye to All That’ for Interscope), Dermot, Kieran and I formed The Cranky George Trio. I’d got to know Brad Wood through the elementary school our kids attended.

Brad owned and managed Idful Recording Studio in Chicago before he moved to Los Angeles, producing such artists as Liz Phair, Pete Yorn, Smashing Pumpkins, Ben Lee and a host of others. I brought him into the Cranky George Trio (but with the addition of a fourth, we couldn’t call ourselves a trio any more obviously, so we became just Cranky George).

Cranky George released an LP in 2016 called ‘Fat Lot of Good’, independently. In the meantime, Brad recommended me to Ted Hutt, to do an accordion session in Los Angeles, for Go Betty Go. We got on well, had a lot in common, obviously, due to his co-founding Flogging Molly around the time that the Low and Sweet Orchestra were playing around Los Angeles.

We kept meeting up, haphazardly – restaurants, bars, etc., out at Coachella once or twice. In the past few years, we’ve been getting together – not just socially, but to write songs, which has been rewarding, the two of us in a spare room, knocking things out, discovering mutual musical passions and finding out how locked in they seemed to be.

I’d known Marc Orrell from Dropkick Murphys since Dropkick Murphys opened for the Pogues in 2005. He and Tim Brennan from the band hung out with the Pogues in our dressing room after the shows up and down the UK on one of our Christmas tours – thoroughly likeable – and funny – guys. I came across Marc again at a gig I guested on with Dead Man Walking (Captain Sensible, Duff McKagan, Chris Cheney, Mike Peters, Slim Jim Phantom at the Troubadour in West LA). It was great to be reassociated with him. It seemed an obvious thing to do, to bring us all together – Ted, Marc and myself and see what happened.

With you residing in Los Angeles now, I’m assuming it isn’t too difficult to get together with the other members and organize everything related to the group?

I find organizing a challenge, but, yes – although Ted and I crammed into some crummy cupboards full of gear, to co-write and figure out what we wanted to do – Marc had a rehearsal/songwriting studio in the Valley, miles out, but a grotto of posters, fairy lights, empty whiskey bottles, a piano, a sofa, guitars, a small PA – a chaise longue too, no less – drum kit, memorabilia everywhere, Pogues posters too. So, we met up there to bash things out, and brought in Brad to play bass, and my wingman for so many years, Kieran Mulroney to play fiddle, and a friend, Bryan Head, whom I’d known for a long time through another expat who used to be Julian Lennon’s guitar player/co-songwriter back in the 80s.

Yourself, Ted, and Marc have accomplished a lot and given so much to the Celtic and folk-punk genre, and this is like a dream team collaboration that many fans have been wanting to see in some form or another. I’m sure you must be very pleased with such a positive reaction from everyone, as well as the excitement surrounding the band?

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive – right from the beginning: the gigs we’ve done in Los Angeles – Molly Malone’s (from which club Flogging Molly got their name), Zebulon, the Hi Hat in Highland Park – from the initial recordings we did at various studios, in Downtown LA, the Hollywood Hills, Highland Park, Eagle Rock. And now that the LP is out, I’ve been hearing from fans as widely flung-apart as Mexico, Sao Paulo, Christchurch New Zealand, across the US, across the UK, Germany, France, Melbourne, Osaka, Jakarta. And to get such great feedback from groups like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Dropkick Murphys, Skinny Lister, etc.

The Celtic punk trinity that is The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly, has had a massive influence on so many artists. What has it been like for you seeing so many bands come from a genre that you took part in creating with The Pogues?

Well, we should go back further, to the artists that influenced the Pogues, such as the Clancy Brothers and the Dubliners. The Pogues drank up that stuff, on our tour of the UK in 1984 opening for Elvis Costello – the Bothy Band, Horslips, Planxty, Moving Hearts, etc. Billy Bragg described the Pogues as having taken Irish music and throwing down the cellar steps. If that’s the case, The Dubliners, etc., opened the door at the top of the staircase. Then Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly (and a legion of others too numerous to mention) booted it around the basement.

Even though it doesn’t seem like you strayed too far off the path of your previous works, how would you say this project differs from the members individual bands the most?

Oh I don’t know. The writing we’ve been doing is influenced by the same artists that influenced – I can’t speak for Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly – the Pogues: Rod Stewart and Faces among them, for which Ted and I have a particular fondness, I daresay Marc too, though he has an unquellable enthusiasm for – ELO, T Rex, to name just two (a minuscule fraction of the influences he can draw on).

How we differ from the bands we came from? Hard question. The melodies are just as open, transparent, for the most part – pentatonic, peoples’ melodies from a common heritage, expressing shared hopes and collective despairs, I suppose. That’s in the song writing. In the playing, we’ve got Brad’s individual, precise, carefully thought-out bass but with something suggesting – I don’t know – an unhingedness maybe, Bryan’s, let’s say judicious drumming, together with Marc’s unbridled mandolin-playing (not to mention his bonkers backing vocals – listen out for them).

But, I think the songs are fairly – rooted, you might say – hopefully the same way there was something rooted about the Pogues’ music, which the Pogues worked on from day one in the tiny back bedroom of a friend’s flat in Whidborne Buildings in Kings Cross.

The stuff the Walker Roaders is doing, though it’s been included on a couple of ‘punk’ Spotify playlists, I wouldn’t say was ‘punk’ – the way that I’d say Dropkick Murphys is ‘punk’, featuring chant and a ringing back beat and overdriven guitars. (The Pogues fought Shane on the matter of bringing an electric guitar in, in the reunion phase in any case – of course, you can hear electric guitar on a lot of the Pogues’ recordings – ‘Turkish Song of the Damned’ for one instance – and check out Shane’s guitar solo on ‘Hot Dogs With Everything’ on ‘Just Look Them In The Eye and Say…’.) No, the Walker Roaders isn’t punk, not Celtic punk either. Spider rang me up to encourage me to desist and rightly).

I think it was said that you recorded the record in multiple studios in Los Angeles. Was there any particular reason for the studios that you selected, and what was the recording process like?

As I’ve said, yes, we recorded in a few studios – the one owned and operated by a couple of friends who helped us out throughout all the recordings, when we had a relationship with Harry Warren Entertainment in Los Angeles – then Force Five Recordings, then Kingsize (with whom Ted has had a longtime connection). No particular reason, other than the connections we have with the studios.

The recording process, as you’ll understand, was …. well, piecemeal, subject to availability, the musicians’, the studios’, etc. There was nothing to set our experience in the studio apart from any other band’s experiences, with the exception of the intensity of Ted’s scrutiny, and his sense of structure when it came to mixing. We were blessed with Ryan Mall who engineer ed, and is Ted’s partner of choice when it comes to recording I’d say most of the records Ted has made.

It was brilliant to have Brad – as a producer of a shit-ton of records himself and as refined an ear as you can come across, not to mention Kieran’s skill and fluency with harmony, Marc’s unflagging enthusiasm and spirit. Bryan is as solid as they come, but again with an impertinence that’s winning.

Lyrically speaking, some of the tracks featured on the album dives deeper into various territories, at times even paying homage to artists like Rod Stewart. Did you consciously decide to stray from having all the lyrical themes only about Celtic subject matters, or did the different influences simply happened as you were coming up with songs?

So, Ted and I, to begin with, would have ‘musical conversations’ (read ‘jams’) in a spare bedroom where I suppose our influences and shared enthusiasms would shine through. Marc came to the songwriting sessions with a couple of fully realised bases for songs.

Once we’d got the structures down, I went away to write words, basically following anything in the music that gave rise to an image, off into – I don’t know – in no particular order – Scottish border ballads, Korean myth, Chernobyl, Bob Dylan, Dickens, Shakespeare, ‘Come Into the Garden, Maud’, ‘London Calling’, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, the odd cowboy song, ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon’, Wagner, Wilfred Owen, The Bible, ‘Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go’, ‘The Third Policeman’, ‘Johnnie Cope’ a Scottish song that commemorates the Battle of Prestonpans, etc.

I really love the flow of the record. Tracks like, “Will You Go Lassie Go,” has a lush acoustic sound with an uplifting beat. And for the most part, the first portion of the album seems to have a similar atmosphere, with last half changing up the dynamics a bit. Was this focused set list intentional?

Ted and I went back and forth with sequence. Originally it was just going to be an EP, but then, to keep back the others? I didn’t want to do that. We’d already lost one in the first recording we did – because the railway-train drumming pattern got a bit lost, not through any particular fault of Bryan’s – but we were all scraping away at it and it got a bit haywire (there was an accordion solo in it that I fucked up time and time again – so, there we are: my fault).

Ted was concerned that there might be too many mid-paced songs in it with the inclusion of ‘The Old Tar Road to Sligo’ – especially if we’d described our music in various places as either ‘fast as fuck’ or ‘slow as shit’. ‘Mid-paced as…?’. Doesn’t work.

Do you have any personal favorite tracks on the album, or are there any particular songs that you enjoy playing live?

I love playing ‘Will You Go Lassie Go’ the most, if you had to press me on this, because there’s a seam of generosity about it, not just in the lyrics, but in the melody and the simplicity of the chord structure. I’d love to perform it at a festival (which I’d say would be the optimal setting for a lot of these songs, actually), because the melody is so transparent and welcoming and the sentiments, I’d like to say…well, generous and inclusive.

I know that a US tour is in the works, but do you plan on taking your shows outside of the states to say, Europe?

We’re talking to agents and promoters in the UK and Europe, and Australia at the moment. A large piece of the heart of the Walker Roaders beats in the United Kingdom. It’d be a great place play. I do hope so.

Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me. Is there anything else you would like to say to the fans?

Just, thanks for all the support. We get emails every day, a number of them, and social media messages – all of them really positive, almost as if this record has been awaited. I know I’ve been waiting to make it, and with such great people and talented.

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