Catching the flu is something we are all trying to avoid this time of year, but let me tell you about one worth contracting!
Icewagon Flu is this gloriously quirky jam band that has warped the traditional melodies of our culture into an alt-rock on their recently released album Off the Wagon 2.
“Nancy Whiskey” becomes a snarling kiss-off, “Spanish Lady” becomes a garage band blowout, and those old songs suddenly present themselves to a new generation of music fans.
Tacking on some lines from the Grease soundtrack at the end of “Spanish Lady” is a perfect example of how silly and inventive this band can be at times. I’ll drink to that!
The band originally hatched in Hoboken, New Jersey and have been bouncing around the Manhattan area for years. Recently, some band members relocated to D.C. and they have been focusing efforts around the Beltway.
I spoke with guitarist Martin Bristow about the making of Off the Wagon 2 and the band’s plans for the great green holiday. Here’s how it went.
How would you describe Off the Wagon 2 to someone who hasn't heard it?
We have taken a bunch of Irish songs that we are fond of, escorted them around the world, introduced them to some people they may or may not have approved of ... and then kicked them in the nuts when they weren’t looking, for good measure.
Seriously, all these numbers have been performed and recorded brilliantly in the past, so we just wanted to continue the tradition and enhance their attraction with another layer. Putting the lipstick on the model you might say.
How did you come up with the idea of re-imagining the trad songs? Love the harmonica and soulful backup singers on “Nancy Whiskey” -- genius arrangement!
Thanks. Re-imagining the trad songs is not a new idea in itself. The Pogues have done it very successfully as you know.
It’s also been very popular to present a harder punk like face to these type of songs but that wasn’t for us. Perhaps we are just not angry enough, I don’t know!
Perhaps overall we wanted to expose the beauty of the song by allowing them to stand up side by side with any of today’s current pop songs.
At a very young age I was exposed to a very irreverent looking “lock up your daughters” Phil Lynott performing “Whiskey in a Jar” with Thin Lizzy on Top of the Pops and it released my mind to the possibilities of all songs.
I’ve also been very taken with the modernization that Solas and Michael McGoldrick, to name but a few, have applied to their own music. Hopefully what we are doing is different again, and who knows, maybe we could achieve some notoriety for it.
Another factor is the Icewagon Flu conveyor belt that all our songs are placed on. If I take the credit for conceiving the idea, I stand aside while Kevin revisits and comes up with everything that I didn’t have the imagination to provide. He then has the audacity to improve upon that when we get in the recording studio.
We then are very lucky to have great musicians working with us (Christopher Speich, Tony Steele, Andrew Sharp and George Smith) who are capable of taking these ideas, understanding them and turning in stellar performances.
What's new with the band? Recording any new stuff?
We are playing a lot of gigs in the spring and summer. We have also been recording and writing a collection of original material. We would like this to be complete before the end of the year.
I like following up Off the Wagon 2 with an original collection because we don’t have to waste time comparing to its predecessor. The band includes people who couldn’t be further apart in ideas other than music. It’s a wonder we ever survive the long car trips.
It’s this tension that we want to exploit in the next CD. It runs the risk of being a bit deep, but as long as we emphasize melody and groove I think it will be a strong effort and after all, we are grown-ups now.
What has been the reaction to the album? I would imagine it goes down well live.
The reaction has been very positive I’m pleased to say. We’ve had some great reviews and we’re getting a lot of airplay.
Yes, in choosing these songs we were conscious that they are proven live material; it’s just up to us to provide the dynamics and for you to give it a listen. Catch us live and hopefully both will happen.