From an Irish pub to an Academy Award winning movie, The Mahones have come a long way in 25 years! Heralded as pioneers of the Irish punk scene and internationally recognized as one of the best and hardest working punk outfits around, The Mahones formed on St. Patrick's Day in 1990 and have been working on their own brand of Irish punk ever since. With a working class ethic and a love of classic punk, Finny McConnell formed the band to combine his love of punk rock and his Irish culture. Epiphone.com spoke to Finny recently about the Mahones.
Thanks for taking time to talk with us. A lot of people might not know about this genre. Can you describe "Irish Punk" to the uninformed?
Irish Punk is basically Irish Folk music, but played on loud electric guitars, bass and drums with the addition of traditional instruments such as accordion, tin whistle, mandolin, banjo, etc. We also do a lot of screaming. It's very high energy and basically a mash up of punk rock and Irish folk.
You've been at it hard, for a lot of years. How do you deal with the grueling road schedule you tend to keep?
Well, The Mahones are coming up on our 25th anniversary and I think the secret to dealing with all the long touring over the years is just that we like to play music with our friends.
Playing music with people you like is definitely a plus.
Yes, and we are a very close-knit unit that has a lot of respect for each other... so we enjoy touring together. We're a close family, like a gang.
You are from Canada but seem to play overseas a lot. How important is it for you to get your music outside of North America?
It's been very important from the start. My goal was always to tour the world and we've been doing just that since 1998.
Has it been difficult to develop a fan base in other countries?
We have a grass roots following around the world, so we've just built it up country by country. It's a lot of hard work but this is what we love to do, so it's really a pleasure. I've always said that if we had no fans at all, I would still be playing guitar for free anywhere I could. But I never took "no" for an answer. There was never a Plan B. I knew we would make this band an international act from day one and I know how lucky we are to have such amazing fans all over the world who support us and keep us going. I love that I make a living doing my dream job.
And you have Katie with you too. How did that come about and what's it like artistically working with your wife?
There is a funny beginning to this. Katie used to work for a media company in Toronto and before that, she worked in Pension and Benefits for years. She was always working long hours, 60-plus a week (because she was so good at her job) and I was always on tour, so we didn't get to see each other very much in the early days of our relationship. Then one day it came about that I needed a new accordion player for a tour and I knew that Katie played classical piano. I emailed her the set list from Europe, and told her there was an accordion in my studio she could try to play. When I got home a few weeks later, she knew all of the songs perfectly, note for note.
Wow... a real natural.
When I first took her out to play a few shows, she got sick before going on stage every night from stage fright. But within three months she was a major star on the Irish Punk scene!
That's awesome! It must have been destiny... from Pension and Benefits to Irish Punk stages!
The fans just love her because she plays accordion like a punk rock guitarist, with all the head banging and stuff. And now she is loved around the world and is one of the most popular Mahones in the band's history. It could not have worked out better. I am a very lucky man and I now get to tour with my wife who is also my best friend and soul mate.
You wear a lot of hats literally and figuratively. What's it like running your own label as an artist? Is it tough to switch hats from performer to business man?
I was raised by parents who owned and operated their own businesses. My father and mother owned a hotel and two Irish pubs in Kingston, Ontario called Muldoon's and Finnegan's so as a kid I got to see the business world up close.
So the business side of things must have been comfortable for you.
I started every band I have ever played in, and I produce, write and record all of our records. I am a very hands-on guy. So, when it comes to running our own label, Whiskey Devils Records, it's just a natural progression. We also manage ourselves and have our own booking agency. My philosophy has always been that there is nothing you can't do. Just do it! Having our own label has allowed us the freedom to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. In this digital age, it's now very easy to get your music to the fans and it's also easy for fans to be a part of the record-making process by helping raise funds in advance, keeping the albums independent. You basically sell the music to them in advance and give them great gifts for helping in return. We've made lifelong friends through our Kickstarter project. It's amazing.
So, getting back to the music. What is your musical background? Was it always centered on Irish Punk?
I first fell in love with music as a kid listening to my sisters' Beatles, David Bowie and Beach Boys records. I played a very mean air guitar back in those days. Then, I got into The Who, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin before I discovered punk rock. Then it was The Clash, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols (all of which I covered in my first band Pressure Drop). I then started a band called The Filters in Kingston, Ontario with Gord Downie and Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip. I left that band and moved to London, England in 1985 to see what was happening there and to learn to write songs. I ended up drinking in pubs with Joe Strummer, Lemmy and Shane MacGowan while I was there.
Wow! Now there are some drinking buddies!
Amazing times. Then while I was there I discovered The Pogues and they made me appreciate Irish music in a new way. I started listening to Husker Du and The Replacements in the later half of the 80's, and then moved back to Canada to be closer to the Minneapolis scene. Then in 1990, my good friend the late great Barry Williams asked me to form an Irish Punk band to play a one off St. Patrick's Day gig at his Irish Pub in Kingston called The Toucan. I bought The Dubliners Greatest Hits Songbook, learned 30 songs, and I wrote one new song called "Drunken Lazy Bastard." The rest is history. We're on tour right now supporting Dropkick Murphys on the Celtic Punk Invasion Tour, the biggest Irish punk tour ever.
So what's your guitar story? When did you first become interested in playing guitar and who or what influenced you?
I think The Beatles and John Lennon got me into the guitar.
Aha... another Epi player!
Right. When I was a kid I asked my Dad for an electric guitar, and he bought me this cheap acoustic. He told me that if I would learn 3 songs, he would get me an electric guitar so I went out and bought a Beatles songbook and learned every song in it. Not only did I get an electric guitar, but I got an amp too!
As for my influences, Pete Townshend is my hero and I try to work as hard as he does. Not only is he an amazing guitarist but he also writes songs and produces records. Our new CD is a double concept album and is very much influenced by Pete's works Tommy and Quadrophenia. I just love the idea of a story, and the music being strung together over two records and now that we have our own label and our fans' support, we are finally able to do a huge project like The Hunger & The Fight.
You mentioned John Lennon. Was that the start of your Epiphone journey?
It was definitely The Beatles that first brought Epiphone to my attention. Of course John Lennon played an Epiphone Casino and I've owned a few of them over the years. I find them affordable and the highest quality guitar for a reasonable price.
I didn't know you were an archtop guy.
I have owned many electric archtops, like Epiphone Casinos, Rivieras, Sorrentos, Dot Studios, as well as solid body Les Pauls, SGs and Flying Vs. I think I currently own about 7 Epiphone guitars and I am looking to add another 3 or 4 to my collection soon. I love them!
What are your goto Epiphone guitars right now?
Right now, I'm using two Les Paul Custom Pros -- one White and one Black -- and a SG G-310 on tour. I also have a Black '58 Korina Flying-V that I like to use in the studio. These are my main guitars at the moment.
What are you looking to add?
I think my next one will be a Goldtop "1956" Les Paul Standard PRO with P-90s. It will be my Mahone's 25th Anniversary present to myself. Our birthday is March 17.
That sounds like a great addition! We are thrilled to have you as part of the Epiphone family. Congratulations on 25 years. That's pretty amazing.
It is. We started in an Irish Pub in Kingston and we now have a song in a Hollywood Oscar winning film (The Fighter) and we just played the Zenith Arena in Paris, France. Dreams do come true if you practice, work hard and never take no for an answer. You can do anything you want to. All you have to do is give it all you got and do it right. Long live punk rock!