THE MORE MOLLYS, THE MERRIER: Think back five years. A young, idiot Hoosier was a heartbeat away from the Presidency, Bob Costas had a broadcast sidekick known as The Juice, Kurt Cobain was relatively happy in his anonymity and The Mollys were gearing up for their very first gig. Isn't it funny how time slips away? Probably not.
But we can have a good time marking its passage by celebrating birthdays, and naturally, Tucson's most popular Irish band has its birthday on St. Patrick's Day. If The Mollys were a dog, we all know the group would be the equivalent of 35 years old. But what's the formula for figuring out how old a band really is? I've never heard of one, but if you use the canine equation the Rolling Stones would be 231 years old, which seems about right.
But we're talking about Nancy McCallion (vocals, guitar, tin whistle and harmonica), Catherine Zavala (vocals, guitar and mandolin), Dan Sorenson (bass), Kevin Schramm (accordion, banjo and guitar) and Gary Mackender (drums and percussion), not Charlie and Co.
The Mollys came together half a decade ago when McCallion got together with Zavala (the two had played in the new wave band Nadine and The Mophonics) and flutist Linda Winkleman to play some St. Paddy's Day ballads.
"Catherine and I have a great relationship as far as being able to play together, being able to talk to each other and being straightforward when talking about music," McCallion says. "The relationship with Catherine is one of the best I've ever had. We have common interests and we're also pretty good friends."
The pair started playing together 14 years ago when both were taking drama classes in their senior year of high school. After graduation, both enrolled in a guitar class at Pima College and began playing long-gone places like the Mosaic Cafe under the name Nadine. When they added other players (including lead guitarist Sorenson) they affixed The Mophonics to the name.
A year or so after Nadine and The Mophonics split up, McCallion found herself in a music education class at the University of Arizona with Winkleman. The evolution of The Mollys had begun.
"Since she played a flute I was trying to think of what we could play," McCallion remembers. "I have an Irish background and I'd heard a lot of Irish music and it happened to be a couple of months before St. Patrick's Day, so I thought we could get a gig on St. Patrick's Day playing Irish songs. So that's what we did. I asked Cathy to play with us and we started out with the real St. Paddy's Day type of thing, you know, 'Danny Boy' and really sappy stuff."
After the holiday gig at Cushing St. Bar passed, the trio continued to play, but began to tire of the green, corny material. With groups such as The Pogues serving as inspiration, they expanded their sound by adding bass, drums and new material, with both McCallion and Zavala contributing original songs.
These days the group plays virtually every weekend to a fan base that extends south from Tucson to Bisbee and north to Phoenix.
"Right now it seems like we've got the most compatible and ambitious group of musicians we've ever had in the band. Everybody seems to feel like we've really got something good going. They've played music to empty chairs and tables and know how hard it is to get work and it's hard to get people to come out to see you."
If you're one of the many who get out to dance to the rambunctious mixture of Irish, Latin and American music that is The Mollys, you may hear yourself whooping and stomping your approval on their new live album Welt The Floor!
As the name of the self-produced cassette recording implies, this is music to shake your thang to. The 11 tracks include the loose, whirling traditional Irish dance song "Tell Me, Ma," shot through and through with Zavala's spitfire growl; an emerald sparkle of norteño penned by McCallion called "La Llorona" and a bruised, slow blaze of romantic ballad and sad drinking song that McCallion and Zavala wrote together--"This Is My Round."
"A lot of people say the CD and other recordings we've done don't capture the live sound and that we have more energy live," McCallion says. "So we just went ahead and recorded several gigs in a row and then picked out songs that we liked--partially to earn money for our next project."
That's a CD project recorded over a year ago that the band has been shopping to various labels. With the money they get from Welt The Floor! they'll release the CD this summer before McCallion and Zavala leave on their annual tour of the East Coast (which culminates this year with a gig at The American Heritage Festival of Folk Life at the Lincoln Center in New York).
You can pick up a copy of the new album when The Mollys celebrate their fifth anniversary at Cushing St. Grill and Bar, 343 S. Meyer, on Friday, March 17, or look for it at selected music stores around town. Admission to the St. Paddy's Day party is $4.
LAST NOTES: The righteous wrath of 7 Year Bitch explodes Club Congress on Wednesday, March 22, in an all-ages concert. Grotus and Season To Risk are also on the bill. Admission is $8 in advance.
The same venue hosts Gila Bend, the Drakes and the Heart Attacks (a reformation, of sorts, of Earl's Family Bombers) this Friday night. Congress also has the sultry surf-pop of The Mermen on Sunday evening, along with The Saddletones and Chinchilla.
English singer June Tabor has been called "the greatest voice of the last 20 years" by the London Guardian (haven't these people heard Mariah Carey?) She lights up the Southwest Center for Music on Thursday, March 16. Tickets are $10 at the door.
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