Larry and his Flask came up in a time when punk rockers were grabbing banjos to find the common ground between the sweat and fury of punk and the raw, heart-on-the-sleeve emotion of folk music.
They got lumped in with the folk-punk movement, but there’s much more to them than tattooed fiddle players and moshing hoedowns. It’s a manic hodgepodge of every style they can possibly cram into a song.
“We used to try to use all of our influences,” says mandolin and trumpet player Kirk Skatvold. “Like a few of us love metal—just shreddy guitars, upside down beats, whatever. We would try to incorporate that into our music.”
That’s what makes last year’s This Remedy, the band’s first album in five years, so unique. It’s a diverse album with probably as many influences as anything the group has ever put out. But not only do they try to keep each song to just a few styles, they have some downright sane-sounding tracks in there too, like the almost traditional rock ’n’ roll vibe of the title track.
“We were always trying to one-up what we did last, like, ‘Did we really need to squeeze that stompy section in there? Most of the time it didn’t come across well,” Skatvold says. “This time the thought was to push it more straightforward and get something that’s easy listening.”
The members had some time to reflect on This Remedy before recording it. Most of the five years between the release of previous album By The Lamplight and recording This Remedy were spent on hiatus as the members dealt with other areas in their personal life that needed to be prioritized.
They originally came together 20 years ago as a straight-up punk band, but then reformed about a decade ago as a wild sort-of-bluegrass, sort-of-Mr. Bungle 12-piece ensemble that would busk streets as though they were basement hardcore shows. In no time they became road dogs, playing 200 shows a year and releasing several albums. The energy never let up, and the music only got more out there.
“We jumped in and tried to play where we could play. We just kind of chased the party the whole time and went for it,” Skatvold says.
The goal with the records was always to try to capture the energy of their live show. This time around they approached it differently, and even took their time recording it, giving themselves as long as they needed.
“It gave everyone time to step back,” says Skatvold. “I think if we had tried to put out an album when we were in the depth of the grind, we might have taken the easy route, and made the songs that were kind of like the last one.”
While the band was on a hiatus, the group did play the occasional show, but nothing beyond that. It was an offer in 2016 to play on the Salty Dog Cruise (Flogging Molly’s annual cruise) that kickstarted the group again. While on that cruise, members started writing new material, which eventually led to writing this new record.
It came out sounding different in another way, too—like it’s busting at the seams with joy.
“Looking back on it [By the Lamplight], we thought it was kind of dark. We were hitting it so hard at the time, just kind of tired. You start to feel a grind. Maybe that’s a reflection of it,” Skatvold says. “The happy-joy stuff that we got out this time could just be a reflection of our attitudes coming into this time.”
Emotionally, the record is still all over the place. Closing song “Three Manhattans” is about singer Ian Cook’s parents’ divorce. But even within that, the overall tone is one of sheer happiness to play and a cathartic release of feelings.
It’s not a complete departure for the band. And at their shows, fans can expect a lot of spazzy folk-punk, genre-smashing chaos. But maybe a few of the slower songs will find their way into the set.
“We definitely try to hold ourselves back and make sure that our performance is on. Take it more serious than we used to,” Skatvold says. “But we felt the obligation to play the ones that have that energy, and we go for it. We still try to make our lives show come at it hard.”
Larry and his Flask performs at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $15 adv/$20 door. 479-1854.