Matt Hensley/Flogging Molly Interview

Why Matt Hensley quit Flogging Molly (and why he couldn’t stay gone for long).

From our February 2008 issue on-sale now

Words by Arlie Carstens
Photo by Skin Phillips

Sometimes skateboarding is purely the act of riding a skateboard down the street, and sometimes it isn’t actually about skateboarding at all—it’s as much about the alleyways and unknown avenues that a skateboarder’s life can take in between. For some, Matt Hensley’s part in H-Street’s Hokus Pokus will forever mark him as one of the godfathers of modern-day street skating; for others he’s identified as a father, a husband, and a friend; and still to others he’s known as the nattily dressed accordion player in the hard-touring, hard-living Irish-American punk band Flogging Molly. To this list you can now add owner/operator and leader of the house band at Carlsbad, California’s newest Irish pub and eatery, Hensley’s Flying Elephant. It has been a long, interesting road for this understated icon of our skateboarding age.

We recently checked in with Hensley to discuss his decision to quit Flogging Molly after ten years in the trenches, start a pub, and to find out why he’s opted to rejoin his band last month.

It seems like an awful lot has been going on with you lately. How many years now have you been in Flogging Molly?
Over ten years now.

You quit the band a year ago, why? And quite recently you’ve rejoined, correct?
Yes. Well, after being in a band for ten years, and being married and having a son, and just dealing with the pressures of being on the road all the time, it eventually just wore me down. Flogging Molly tours really hard. I mean hard-touring bands look at our schedule and go, “Goddamn, you guys are f—kin’ crazy. Ten years of that just got to me; I was missing too many of my kid’s games, and I just got manically depressed over all of it. One day I just freaked the f—k out and said, “I’m gonna walk away, I just can’t do this anymore.
And then I had to do something with myself, so I started a pub—a musical place—so I could be around music still and kind of keep it together. But I dunno, after doing it for a while and taking some time away from it (the band) I kind of came to the realization that the grass is always greener no matter what you do. Not being in the band anymore just kind of screwed my whole gig up; it’s such a big part of my life and who I am, it’s just weird to not be part of that anymore. It just doesn’t feel right.
So after talking with those guys and going back and forth, they were happy to have me back.

And it was while you were out of the band that you started the pub? And it’s a live-music venue as well?
Yup, I quit and then went immediately into making this thing happen. It’s not like I have some other way of making a living; I have to do something. It’s a pub and restaurant, and it has a few stages on it, and we play music. I do a lot of old-timey stuff, like old 40s stuff. I have a 100-year old Steinway piano and old-school Patsy Cline-style singers. It’s kind of, uh, swanky is the only way I can really describe it. I’ll probably be on stage in two or three hours with two or three other guys playing Johnny Cash stuff, and Waterboys and Pogues covers, and a lot of traditional Irish music.

Flogging Molly’s just completed a new album. Where was it recorded?
It was written in a little town near Athlone at Grouse Lodge Studios in County Westmeath, one of the best studios in Ireland. You’d wake up in the morning in the middle of a field, the old farmers running around, guys who used to run with the IRA and sh-t, telling you stories. It’s just nuts! And then you had your own little pub, so when you’d be done recording or whatever, you’d go to this little briick building, and it had a little bar in it where you served yourself. It was on the honor system, so when you had to shuffle yourself a pint of Guinness you just put a little tick next to your name. You could get in that pub and get drunk and just go through this book that’d been sittin’ there for like five years, and see all the different people that had come there and ticked their names. Let’s see, Michael Jackson’s ticked off a couple pints of Guinness there. Trip out on that! Shane MacGowan’s ticked off several f—kin’ pages in the book. That was pretty cool (laughs).

About how long ago was it that you parted ways with your professional skateboarding career?
That’s another f—king confusing one. I really, like, just freaked out and one day just said, “F—k it, I’m moving to Chicago. I did that in the end of 1990. I moved to be a paramedic.

So are you still skateboarding?
I actually am. I’m suffering from a terrible shinner that I received probably six days ago skating with my son.