The Dirges may not be a household name quite yet, but their dedication to their self-described “Ag-fO” sound is certainly paying off in spades. For those not yet familiar with the band, The Dirges are part of a budding traditionalist Irish-American rock movement that includes such genre icons as Flogging Molly, Young Dubliners and Dirty Thieving Bastards. Since their formation, this multi-faceted band has wasted no time in leaving a lasting impression on the highly competitive music scene, while adding legions to their dedicated fanbase. After catching the ear of ‘Boondock Saints’ director Troy Duffy in Los Angeles, the band would end up penning several songs for the highly anticipated sequels soundtrack. 2009 would mark the biggest year to date for The Dirges as they would embark on more ambitious tours, play a key musical role in the Boondock Saints 10th Anniversary Celebration and would be dubbed ‘Official Band of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day’. With momentum building, The Dirges show no signs of slowing down and are looking to make 2010 an even more epic year! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with vocalist Fran DeAngelo and drummer Bill Stuhlly to discuss the band’s past, their involvement with ‘The Boondock Saints’ and what the future may hold for this band on the rise! Find out what all the buzz is about…
First off, I want to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
Bill: I grew up in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts called Peabody (pronounced Pebidy).
Fran: I grew up in Schenectady, New York — a place of which most of the first record is about.
How did music first come into your life?
Bill: For me it was through my mom playing Elvis records while I was chillin as a toddler playing with the matchbox cars in the living room.
Fran: My parents had a gang load of records and eight tracks, a lot of folk and soul stuff. Some of my earliest music memories were playing The Kingston Trio, The Fifth Dimension, Five Stair Steps and a record by Wendy Carlos called “Switched On Bach”. It was an experiment on a Moog synth. I would play it incessantly; I think it’s where I got my love for a cacophony of notes. It’s an awesome record I still listen to it today when I’m looking to break through a writer’s block; it humbles the shit out of you.
Who and what were some of the influences that have helped shape you, the musician that we know today?
Bill: Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth.. First Zappa inspired me to be the best at my instrument and how to be a professional DIY musician… And DLR because the showmanship and personality he possessed just drew everybody into the show, except for the assless chaps period…Just wrong.
Fran: When I first started playing guitar I bought a Bob Dylan and a David Bowie tab book. They definitely shaped my writing style in the beginning, certainly got my ska and reggae influences from the likes of Desmond Dekker and the Specials and Jimmy Cliff, was way into The Pogues and The Dubliners they certainly showed me how to romanticize my immediate surroundings. More recently I listen to Against Me when I feel I need to be inspired I think they’re amazing songwriters.
What drove you to make music your career?
Bill: It was not really a choice as much as a passion that no other job could fulfill that and I don’t take orders very well
Fran: I like the fact you can write a story put a sound track to it and perform it practically on the spot. You can get your message across without to many cooks in the kitchen as opposed to film or theater, for mw its completely primal, like a motor skill, there’s no one around to edit you except that little guy in your head.
The music industry is often a hard path to follow. What has kept you inspired through the years?Bill: Every year I learn 10 times more than I knew the year before. It’s kinda like golf or any activity that you compete against yourself, get one success and your hooked.
Fran: I love to perform and music for me is a mental and physical release I just can’t live without I’ll do anything to keep the ball rollin’.
For those who may not be familiar with The Dirges, how did the band initially form?
Fran: Tall Pete and I started writing songs on an old 4track we found just for something to do, really .We would have after hours at our place and everyone would get high and drunk and we would play well into the mornings. Then we compiled a cache of songs I wrote and decided to look for some people to to play with. Our hiring pool came from the bars we hung out and worked in. Bob Cella was on guitar, Matt Van Alstyne on drums and Elijah on electric banjo, we called it the Pig Slaughter , it was a banjo on a tele body. As we were forming 911 happened and one of my best friends Mike Canty died in the second tower. I wrote Stuytown in celebration of his life, decided to call the band The Dirges, which is a funeral hymn, and began our trek to sing songs about our fallen friends and our lives in the bars, and to romanticize my childhood in Schenectady. We went through a lot of personal changes but have had this inception for six or seven years now, which is kind of when the we got serious about being more of a pub band now that we had a group that really gelled. Marc Strommer on guitar, Alicia Allen on mandolin and such and obviously Bill Sthully on drums.
For those not yet familiar with the band, how would you describe your sound?
Bill:. We call it “Ag-fO” or aggressive folk… We got a lot of influences and they all appear at some point or another.
Fran: The aggressive folk thing was my original concept; the idea was to play folk music at as fast and as loud as we could. Our early shows we were loud dark and smoky and I loved every second of it. Then we got Bill Marc and Alicia and they brought dynamics to the table and I loved it more. They made the songs more musical and enjoyable for the audience. Before I would try to beat people over the head with my music and if people walked out of the room I was happy, now I rather have people hang around and enjoy themselves, they showed me how to get my anger across in a more powerful way through musicianship instead of obtuse carelessness. I have problems.
The Dirges’ have two official releases, the full-length CD ‘When Laughing Got You Killed’ and the 2009 EP, ‘Widows Walk.’ What can you tell us about the writing process for these records?
Fran: ‘When Laughing Got You Killed’ was mostly about growing up in Schenectady and some songs were written years ago some just before we went in the studio. On that album I would bring in a simple acoustic version of a song then we would kind of shape it to be more of a completed song in rehearsal. We like to beat the dead horse out of a song, we’ll play it live fifty times before we decide we like an arrangement or not. ‘Widows Walk’ is more of a collaborative album mostly dealing with relationships from the male and female perspective. The concept of the widow walk came from the whaling days in Nantucket where the architecture was shaped by the fact that the woman of the island would go to the Widow watch to wait for there men to come home from sea. A whaling trip would take year and was obviously dangerous, resulting in a lot of the men not coming home. I always thought there was something romantic in that moment when the ship comes and they found out whether their man was on the boat or not, such an extreme of emotion, not unlike what is happening with our soldiers today except the steaks seem hirer now that its both men and women. I guess were trying to nail down that feeling of extreme happiness and sadness at the same time.
Can we look forward to a new album in the near future?
Fran: It’s written we just need to record, know anybody who wants to finance it. By the end of year we should have Widows finished and hopefully a new album written. We’re thinking of releasing a live thing too.
The band got a big push with the help of ‘Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day’. How did you initially get involved with Troy Duffy and company?
Bill: Aaahhh Troy Duffy.. The band met Troy at Birds, a Hollywood chicken restaurant/bar back in the day, which we all still hang at. He’s an east coaster most of us are east coasters so we get along perfectly. Lot’s of shit giving and strong opinions mixed with alchol… Back to the story, he was getting music together for the second film. His wife Angela got a CD of ‘Widows Walk’ from Alicia with the assistance of Pete and our man Gert. They listened, they liked and the rest was history! We’re all very grateful to have the exposure to the Boondock Saints fanbase and have made some great new friends
Fran: I just remember that over the years we have had lot residencies around town and even when it was stormy in LA or the spot had run its course Troy and Rocco would always be there ready to rock out. Troy always said when I make ‘Boondock Saints II’ you guys are in; unlike a lot of people in this town he kept his word.
You guys have a tour coming up what can you tell use about that?
Bill: I can tell you that we’ll be out from October 27th until November 6th. It’s a short run to hit the cities we did with the Boondock tour in February/March of this year. After the New Year we’ll be expanding our tours to the southeast and Midwest and hopefully grabbing some support slots along the way. We’ll be announcing the dates in the coming weeks, around mid July.
What can people expect from your live show?
Bill: A kickass live show with lots of intensity. People can definately expect to hang with us and drink, before, during and after the show that’s for sure.
Fran: Our thing is definitely alive thing. We like to be part of the audience and the audience to be part of us. I never mind people getting up on stage if their feelin it or talking amongst themselves its all part of the storm that is our show, if I could afford I’d break shit every night.
The you formed in 2001. To what do you attribute the longevity of the band?
Fran: Friendship and the drive of everyone in the band to make The Dirges a sound we can be proud of when we leave this blue marble.
How do you think you have evolved as artists since starting out?
Fran: When I first started out I didn’t care what anything sounded like. I just wanted to finish something. Now that I have the band around me I think that we have more of a concept of what we want and direction of what I want. It’s cool to be free to do whatever you want but when the music suffers because of it, there is no point of continuing on. Being more of a collaborative band now I’ve learned to edit myself and give myself parameters in the art and keeping the integrity of the concept in tact
What has been the biggest challenge for the band since it’s formation and what do you consider your biggest milestone?
Fran: Our biggest challenge was keeping it together when we had to give Tall Pete a break a couple of years ago. His head wasn’t in it and we weren’t sure of the direction of the band either. At that time things felt dead in the water and getting rid of Pete felt like the nail in the coffin. So Pete took some time and decided he really wanted to move forward in the band and when he came back it was like a new band. I used to play acoustic and switched to electric when he came back witch gave the sound more power. We also had a very talented violin player in the band but it wasn’t working with the sound either, so when she left and Pete came back everything felt right as rain and it’s been the same ever since. I guess that was a big challenge and a milestone.
As artists, what do you want the listener or concertgoer to come away with after experiencing The Dirges?
Fran: I want them to feel like they just saw something that was performed for them personally and that they got to leave their problems at the door for hour and just have a blast. Why not?
Have you ever had a “Spinal Tap” moment on stage, where something totally unexpected has happened to you?
Fran: At a Molly Malone’s show I fell over my amp backwards and had to play the whole song stuck between the wall and the amp, thank God it was an instrumental.
What is the best piece of advice someone has given you along the way in your career?
Fran: Gary from Flogging Molly told me to let the audience see my eyes, because I always had my hat pulled over my brow. I thought it was cool and brooding. Sure enough though I got smaller hat and I felt I connected with the audience better.
Bill: ”Fortune Favors the Bold” and “Always Bring a Napkin”.
That being said, do you have any advice you have for someone who would like to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
Bill: Right now is a great time to be in music. The fans are willing to explore and find bands that you’d never hear through radio or mainstream media. Which is forcing them to turn their ears to the DIY bands. If you’re passionate and are willing to work hard you’ll have a nice career
Fran: Just do it any way you think is right. If you’re in it for the money, audition for “American Idle” if you’re in it because you love making music put your nose to the grindstone and enjoy every moment.
Is there anything else you want to add or let your fans know before you go?
Fran: Without the fans this whole thing is for nothing. As long as you’ll have us we’ll be there. There isn’t a place we don’t want to play so if you’re out there and you want us in your town put the party together and lets do this thing
Bill: Thanks for all your continuing support and we expect to see and meet you at a show.
Where are the best places for fans and our readers to learn more about The Dirges?
Bill: You can check us out at o ur various social media sites:
Thanks for your time. We wish you all the best and will be spreading the word!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.