Love, Death, Redemption, and Rock 'n' Roll
For over 28 years, The Mahones have been refining a genre of their own creation--Irish Punk--a combination of punk rock and Irish folk music inspired by The Pogues, The Who, and The Clash. The Mahones' leader and songwriter Finny McConnell describes Irish Punk as "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."
We last spoke with McConnell during the recording of The Mahones' epic double album, The Hunger And the Fight, which chronicled the history of the Irish immigrant experience in New York during the 20th century. Now, after a year of loss and sickness among the band members, The Mahones are back with four new albums slated for release in 2018 including an album of Irish folk songs, an unplugged collection drawn from the band's catalog, an album of covers, and Love, Death, and Redemption, inspired by the sudden loss of McConnells' mother and biggest supporter Annie McConnell-Strong, who died tragically after a fall from stage while accepting an award for her work as a booking agent for Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann in Canada East.
Thanks for speaking with Epiphone.com, Finney. It's always great to catch up with you. How was the reception for The Hunger and the Fight?
It was fantastic, thanks. The album was a history of the Irish people and the story of them coming to the States. I focused on two cities, Dublin and New York. We got Album of the Year for it in all the Irish and Celtic circles. It was pretty epic. It was a 24-song album. I was thinking that I hadn't released an album last year but I did record a Best of--all brand new versions of our old songs. This time I'm going to do four!
Writing narrative songs requires a different kind of mental process than rock 'n' roll. Now that The Hunger and the Fight is behind you, do you feel rejuvenated creatively?
Yeah, the double album was one of those kinds of epic things that I always wanted us to do. I tried a couple times in the past and it was very hard to do a double concept album. I'm a huge fan of bands like The Who, who made Quadrophenia and Tommy--these classic double albums. So I always wanted to do one. I finally did--25 years into the career! And it was great fun. But it did free me up because it was the bucket list thing I did, you know? Once I got that done, I thought next time I'm going to do a record and only have eight songs on it! It's gonna be nice, quick, short--a half hour. And unfortunately it turned out to be an album called Love, Death, and Redemption, about my mother's death last year. My mother fell off stage and died last year in my arms. She was a concert promoter for 40 years. She was brought out of retirement to do the Echoes of Erin 1916 tour and on the final night, they brought her up on stage to give her an award and she fell down the stairs. I went through a bad year. A lot of trauma and stuff--PTSD. So I wrote this album and did an Irish album for her. Then I did a covers album and then I did an unplugged album. All completely different. Something for everybody. I thought: I'll do four albums at once because nobody does that. And I'll release one every three months. I might even release them for free digitally. Because, the music scene has changed so much now. I don't get paid from any of those digital places. They're all getting rich and I'm not getting any money. So why don't I just give it directly to the fans for free? Why line Spotify's pockets? Let the fans keep their money and give it to them for free? So I'll sell vinyl albums and cds but I think the digital downloads on these album I might just put up for free on my website. I'm giving it away anyways!
Since albums are no longer a source of income for many musicians, has touring taken up the slack for The Mahones?
Touring is still lucrative. We headline festivals all around the world so we don't even have to tour that much anymore. That's why I booked a studio for 6 months and been going crazy. Because of my mother's accident I had writer's block for a year. So I booked a studio in Belfast in Northern Ireland last summer. I went in there and I wrote the new album basically on-the-fly and made myself start writing again. And it worked. That's where I recorded the Irish songs, too. Funny story. I was in this studio in Belfast, behind the wire in these dangerous neighborhoods. And I recorded the "Fields of Athenry," the most famous Irish song and my mother's favorite. And the guys at the studio came running in the door and said: "Finney, you can't record that song! Close the windows!" It's about the freedom of Ireland, you know? So I had to start the song again. But I got a killer version of it, though--knowing I might get shot at any second.
Were all the band members involved in these new albums?
In Ireland I just used a couple band members but I played all the string instruments. Everybody wanted to hear us unplugged because my guitars keep getting louder and louder every album. I tell you, people are gonna freak out it sounds so good. I only used Epiphone guitars, too.
I bought myself a Hummingbird because I was walking by a music store and it just kept yelling out at me. So I picked it up and played it and I liked it so much I bought it on the spot. Then I bought the Epiphone DR-212 12-string and I bought the MM-50E mandolin. And I rented the 6-string banjo! Katie McConnell played accordion. But I gave your guitars a really good work out so everybody's gonna hear them. And they sound fantastic. I loved the Hummingbird so much that I'm going to bring it on tour. I've been exclusive to you guys for about 20 years. I'm also interested in the Riviera P93--it's just fantastic. I've played it a few times after I broke my other Epiphone archtop.
Of all the new albums, is there one that you are especially looking forward to performing live?
I'm really looking forward to giving the new record--Love, Death, and Redemption--a workout live. It's the one I'm excited about right now. The acoustic one I'm excited about, too because we're probably going to have to do an acoustic tour once people hear this thing. It would be nice not to have to be deaf after the show.
For a long time you've juggled touring and recording about equally. Do you find that you're more interested in working in the studio? Does that seem like a better outlet for you creatively than it has in the past?
The Mahones have existed for 28 years in March. And we have never had a hit single or a hit album per se. But we have a huge fan base. What we do is we sell records steadily. And we get a lot of songs in movies. We're in The Fighter. We were in Celtic Pride. And then we tour when we want to. We don't have to tour all the time like we used to. I'm starting to spend more time in the studio now. I'm enjoying that. I got a lot of records in me.
Basically what I wanted to do is get ourselves healthy again. I had a creative block last year. So I decided to really get into making art again. And I got a little carried away. And I've got more in me, too, which is the funny part. When you get on a flow, you just kind of roll with it. Let's put them out and let people choose the one they like. Though I think people will like each one of them. My quality standard is very high.
What have you been listening to for inspiration?
I'm still a classic old-school kind of guy. So, I like bands like The Who and The Clash. The Pogues and stuff like that. I don't listen to many bands these days. I haven't experienced much new lately. I'm digging more into folk--especially the history of Irish music. I always thought that when I get much older that I'll go back to acoustic (laughs) and play folk. I'd like to be in the Mahones for 50 years like the Dubliners. I'm just over halfway. When I did this acoustic album I tell ya--I really liked it. It was like 'wow--this is fun!' Nice to get rid of all the gear and just show up with an acoustic instrument. The sound is so fantastic. I think it's going to be one of our most popular albums for sure. I try to really go all over the place and take people places they wouldn't normally go. I went pretty deep on the acoustic album. I'm really pleased with it. And really pleased with the Epiphone instruments, too.