The Dreadnoughts have yet to make it through a St. Patrick’s Day without somebody breaking a nose at one of their gigs.
“We’ve actually had to stop a show and pull a stretcher into the venue,” says the band’s fiddler-accordionist Kyle Taylor (aka Seamus O’ Flanahan). “For a punk show, that might not be a big deal, but for a punk show with mandolins, accordions, and fiddles, that’s what I like to see.”
Sitting down with the Georgia Straight at the Ivanhoe Pub on Main Street, Taylor and guitarist-vocalist Nick Smyth (aka Uncle Touchy or the Fang, depending on the day) happily discuss subjects ranging from the Dreadnoughts’ deep appreciation of cider to the fact that they have been labelled everything from gypsy rock to math-punk.
“Some publication picked up on the fact that Kyle had taken some classes in math,” explains Smyth, “and they just ran with it.”
“They were like, ”˜Good people can play rock music and also be educated,’ ” Taylor chimes in. “Okay, great, but so what? It’s not like I need to promote discrete mathematics to the world. That’s not why we’re here at all.”
In addition to Smyth and Taylor, the Dreadnoughts include drummer Marco Bieri (aka Stupid Swedish Bastard), mandolinist Drew Sexsmith (sometimes known as the Dread Pirate Druzil), and bassist Andrew Hay (who answers to Squid Vicious).
Described on its Web site as “one part roaring sea shanty, one part haunting Irish melody, and a solid chaser of gut-crunching street punk”, the band enjoys mixing elements from a variety of influences, one being the nautical lifestyle.
“I really like the idea of a culture of shanties, where what got you through your day on a ship was a song, otherwise you’d go out of your fucking mind,” Smyth says. “We like to try and replicate that if at all possible.”
He notes that folk and sea shanties go hand in hand, at which point Taylor jumps in with: “A really good example of this is if you take a look at the place that folk music has taken in people’s lives over the last few hundred years. I play the fiddle, and I was playing in dance halls, where people would come in after working their balls off for six days a week, and the point was for people to just enjoy themselves on top of their work.”
Standouts like “Antarctica” from the Dreadnoughts’ 2007 debut, Legends Never Die, showcase the band’s breakneck blend of Celtic, folk, punk, and sea shanties. From the song’s opening guitar riff to Smyth’s growling Irish-accented vocals, “Antarctica” sounds like it was written for a pirate ship going 100 knots while captained by Tim Armstrong and William Wallace.
Cider also plays a big part in the Dreadnoughts’ identity. While on the road in the U.K. this past summer, the band downed no less than 16 gallons of the stuff within a week. If there’s a good cider to be had, the Dreadnoughts are sure to know about it.
“Just past Abbotsford is a liquor store that sells amazing cider,” Taylor says. “I think we’ve gone by there about 20 times in the last two years, and there hasn’t been one time we’ve gone by without cleaning out all of the cider.”
Smiling, Smyth continues: “There have been times when my girlfriend has been worried about my health, or my parents think I should just take this tour easy, and then bam, Chilliwack liquor store. I mean, c’mon, that’s not fair.”
Cider might fuel the band and their antics, but Vancouver plays the largest role in defining who the Dreadnoughts really are. Their latest album, Victory Square, takes its name from the West Hastings park, and even the pub we’re sitting in holds a special place in the hearts of the Dreadnoughts. You can probably guess what the song “Ivanhoe” is about.
“See that table over there?” says Smyth pointing at an empty spot by the bar, “That’s where we had our first band meeting.”
In the three years since that encounter, the Dreadnoughts have toured across Europe and Canada, released two albums, and signed with Stomp Records.
“Signing to Stomp was huge,” Smyth says. “You can’t ignore a label that helps that much, and is that well-placed.”
On top of that, the band recently returned from a cross-country jaunt with fellow Canadians the Creepshow, and intends to hit Europe once again in the new year. Afterwards, they plan on returning to the recording studio.
“Basically our job when we’re not on tour is to go and drink and to meet people who have stories that we can turn into a song,” explains Smyth. “We want to tell the stories about touring in Europe, meeting the people there, and more stories about what we do here and what’s happening in Vancouver. The goal for 2010 is to put out the baddest, most diverse, most powerful folk-punk album ever, period. It’s just an idea. We’ll see if it works.”
The Dreadnoughts play the Rickshaw Theatre on Thursday (December 31).