With the growth in the popularity of Irish-influenced rock in recent years, and the considerable visibility of groups like Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, Young Dubliners frontman Keith Roberts on occasion finds himself having to set a record or two straight about his group’s place in the Irish rock genre.
“I’ve done interviews before and people are like ‘Flogging Molly, I love them. What influence were they on you?’ And I’m like you’ve got to read Wikipedia,” Roberts good-naturedly observed in a recent phone interview, as he remembered his band’s beginnings in the early 1990s. “I had a bar for three years (Fair City Dublin, in Santa Monica, Calif.), and every Saturday night was the Young Dubliners and the opening band was the Dave King Band.
“Dave King is the lead singer of Flogging Molly. The Dave King Band was a rock and roll band. He played with us for three years and his manager finally suggested that he embrace the Irish side of him.
“Dave is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever known and I love him to death. We had such a great three years. But if there was any influence, it was the other way around.”
Indeed, the Young Dubliners are perhaps the longest running act among the generation of Irish-rooted rock bands that in the 1990s followed trailblazers such as the Pogues, the Waterboys and Black 47 onto the music scene.
The Young Dubliners were the first band in this second wave of Irish rock groups to land a record deal, signing to Scotti Brothers Records and debuting nationally with the 1994 EP, “Rocky Road.”
Two decades later, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys may have attained greater success (and other bands with similar influences, including the Tossers, the Saw Doctors and Street Dogs, are also on the scene), but the Young Dubliners are doing just fine. After raising money for recording expenses through fan donations, the group on March 4 released its first studio album in four years, “Nine.”
The album arrived on the Young Dubliners’ own record label, a venture that has put the group in a better position with its business.
“By releasing our own album, we’ve increased the profit potential now of record sales,” Roberts said. “It’s so dramatically different, the profit margin on a record that you release yourself versus on a record that they (record companies) release.”
The ability to make more money on “Nine” was a driving force in starting the label. But Roberts said the music itself also benefitted from the arrangement.
For one thing, the group didn’t have label representatives trying to influence the musical direction of the album, and the band didn’t have to rush the writing and recording process to meet a record company deadline to turn in the album.
“I think that was the huge, main advantage to doing it that way because I know I physically rewrote melodies and rewrote lyrics,” Roberts said. “We didn’t have that crunching deadline. The disadvantage is every now and again you could overthink it. You have to find a happy medium.”
Roberts and his bandmates - bassist Brendan Holmes, guitarist Bob Boulding, violinist/multi-instrumentalist Chas Waltz and drummer Dave Ingraham – wanted to spend the necessary time on “Nine” because they knew a self-released album needed to stand up to the music the group has released on its eight previous albums and EPs. Roberts feels the band achieved that goal.
“It (“Nine”) has been getting great reviews,” Roberts said. “We feel proud of it. It’s got depth to it, it’s got the variety of sound that we like, but it’s also very raw for us. We didn’t overdo it.”
Roberts’ assessment of “Nine” is accurate. Always among the most diverse Irish-rooted bands, the Young Dubliners continue that trend on the new album.
The songs are strong and range from catchy hard-hitting rock (the brisk “We The Mighty” and the punchy “Say Anything”) to poppier, but still brisk, fare (“Up in the Air”), to acoustic ballads (“Rain” and “Only You and Me”) that are graceful and even tender, to tunes that really show an Irish folk influence (the rowdy “Seeds Of Sorrow” and “Fall”).
The Young Dubliners have been playing some songs from “Nine” in concert for a few months now, and fans can expect a well conceived and well rehearsed show.
“I love these bands that say we never do the same set twice in a row,” Roberts said. “And that to me is a little bit hard to believe, because we actually like to do a show, you know what I mean. I want it to be structured and we’re very kind of into playing as well as we can every night and having things being tight.”