Interview: Frankie McLaughlin and Johnny McKelvey of The Rumjacks

With a mix of punk rock, Celtic and traditional folk, Frankie McLaughlin (vocals), Gabriel Whitbourne (guitar), Adam Kenny (mandolin/banjo) and Johnny McKelvey (bass) make up the Rumjacks, who hail from Sydney, Australia. Patchchord News were able to catch up with Frankie and Johnny to talk about their first U.S. tour, recording, and next years 10 year anniversary.

Hi guys! Ian Bardecki here with Patchchord News. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy touring schedule to talk to me here today!

FRANKIE: Its our pleasure Ian, thanks for having us.

Ok, so let’s get started – You’re known as one of the hardest working and touring bands in the industry. You’ve toured Australia and Europe almost extensively over the past several years. Much to the delight of many of your North American fans, you completed your very first U.S. tour earlier this year. What was that like for you both personally and as a band, to finally come to the States and get to perform and interact with the fans?

JOHNNY: A lot of work went into getting the USA tour off the ground and to make our way there for the first time. We had been trying and wanting to get there for years so was great to finally make it there! It’s a totally different ball game touring the USA, compared to Europe etc so was a big learning experience for us.

It must have been exhilarating to play at the SXSW Music Festival, with literally hundreds of other musicians. What did you take away from such an incredible experience?

JOHNNY: I guess for myself it was pretty interesting to see the ‘other side’ of the music industry. Sometimes you forget it’s more than just playing a few notes on your instrument each night and that the business side and the industry has changed so much. For every musician there, there were a few hundred industry people to out number you. Was a nice reminder to stay on top of you game, on and off the stage.

SXSW aside, were there any other shows on your tour of North America that were particularly memorable for you that stand out from all the others?

JOHNNY: Really enjoyed playing Reggies in Chicago. The venue was awesome and had a lot people there. The Dickies also played so that was rad!

Speaking of touring, I know you’re currently wrapping up your European tour here in the beginning of December. With the success of your latest album, was this tour any different for you from your past tours of Europe.

FRANKIE: We’ve definitely seen another big jump in audience numbers and have sold out a lot of good sized shows this time around. Its a healthy growth though, and a good reflection of the hard work we’ve put in here over the last few years. Breaking into new territories like Russia, Ukraine and Scandinavia, or our first club shows in Hungary and Greece, were all a big highlights for us this year, the response was phenomenal.

Life on the road isn’t always fun, and can at times, be pretty stressful. Were there any moments during this tour where the band experienced any kind of obstacles? Or has it been pretty smooth sailing, knock on wood.

FRANKIE: As a band I think were very lucky that there’s not much we can’t get through or get over, especially when we hear tour van stories from other bands we know, hah! But seriously, I think the toughest obstacles we’ve faced are probably personal ones, and key to survival out here is knowing that in a real crunch, you can count on each other.. That’s an important tool to have on the road.

Aside from playing live, and heading to the bar after, what do you guys do to unwind in your spare time while touring?

FRANKIE: We do the laundry.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk a little bit about your latest album, Sleepin’ Rough that you released in late 2016. This was your second full length studio album and probably the best so far both musically and lyrically, and the production is really spot on. It feels like you really tried to capture the essence of the band live, even more so than previous albums. Did the band consciously make the decision to head in this direction? Or was this a natural progression of the bands musical growth?

FRANKIE: Thank you very much for the kind review. I’m glad the live feel comes across and yes, it was a very deliberate effort on our part right from the beginning. Even at the writing stage, I was clear on how I thought we should record these songs and we worked hard with our label and our producer, Steve James, to make it happen.

So we all piled into one room of this country cabin, drums, amps, guitars, console, producer and engineer too – and just smashed the songs out for a few days. No fancy mics or digital trickery, and lot of noise bouncing about the place. A lot of the arrangements and actual lyrics weren’t even down to start with and many of the parts were improvised or written on the spot. There’s a lot of ‘first takes’ on the album, and I love that, I grew up thinking that’s how bands made records, so I was keen as hell for us to make one that way.

With so many other Celtic rock and punk bands out there, are there any plans on collaborating or working and writing with any other musicians or bands for their future albums, or future Rumjacks albums? And if so, who would you like to see yourselves paired with?

JOHNNY: We have talked about working with a few others for our next album we are recording mid 2018 and tossing up ideas etc., but nothing set in stone as yet. Mickey Rickshaw would be awesome. In all honesty I would rather pair with someone like Vic from The Slackers or someone like that. If you just pair with others from the same genre, you will end up just writing a song that has already been done.

Every band has a “dream artist” that they would love to collaborate or perform with. Who would that be for the Rumjacks?

JOHNNY: Way too many to list, bit if you can get The Swinging Utters to reply to our emails….let’s start with them hah.

A lot of bands ship out holiday Christmas EP’s about this time of year, usually covers of traditional holiday music or their own Christmas songs. Is this anything you have considered? A ‘Rumjacks Christmas’, so to speak?

FRANKIE: Not as such, but we did put out a new video for ‘Patron Saint o’ Thieves’ just in time for Christmas last year, and that takes its inspiration from the old European traditions of Sinterklaas, Krampus and the original St Nicholas. A bit darker than the usual Christmas Carols, yeah,.. But way more interesting.

It seems like the band doesn’t know what “time off” means, what can the fans expect from you guys in 2018?

JOHNNY: Few weeks off over Christmas, etc., then we have a short UK tour starting in February…writing, demo, pre production, few European festivals, recording, then possible USA tour in September, South America, Europe again…It’s our 10 year anniversary around October so will be a big year.

Guys, thanks so much for your time. I greatly appreciate it. Be safe, and the best to you on the remainder of the tour. Looking forward to hearing what you have to offer in 2018!

FRANKIE: Thanks very much mate, and all the best.

JOHNNY: Cheers.

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