Photos by Cameron Flaisch
If this were a punk song, it would last two minutes, thirty-eight seconds and it’d start with a whiskey-driven arm wrestling match.
“Nostrovia!” Jeff Shaw raises his pint in a toast from his center-stage spot at Fado’s Irish Pub in Buckhead. To his left and his right are four other dudes in various styles of button-up and accompanying tie or vest. The audience echoes Shaw’s salute and these five page-boy topped performers crash into their next set with all the unbridled energy of a punk rock raucous in the midst of a swooning Irish saloon; meet The Muckers.
This Irish rock quintette consists of Shaw, 34, vocals/fiddle/mandolin; Brady Trulove, 35, guitar and vocals; Randall English, 25, bass; Steve Lingo, 52, drums; and Dave Long, 21, on accordion; making up a three-year-old Atlanta based band that is most certainly an eccentric ensemble for its local culture.
“The idea when I started this,” Shaw explains, “was to be a mix of Irish, gypsy, sea shanty, bluegrass, country…” trailing off because, most likely, there was another genre or two to fit in there. “Because of everybody’s backgrounds,” he continues, “you get this mishmash of styles. If it’s fun, we’ll play it. If it’s not fun, we’ll do our best to make it fun.” Aside from a modest underground Irish scene, the band considers themselves a little “weird for Atlanta,” but at the end of the day, Shaw says, “It’s nice to be the big fish in a small pond.”
The culmination of these five gents began with a classified connection interwoven in cyberspace…the infamous Craigslist. If you like pina coladas, you’ll love this (wink wink). Shaw’s ad in search of an accordion player for an Irish band led to Trulove’s ad seeking a beginner’s accordion. “Through craigslist, which I hardly ever use, that one day that I did decide to use it,” Trulove casts a glance toward Shaw, “I found that guy.”
“Serendipity,” Shaw smiles.
It was early 2015, that Shaw and Trulove first played a show together. The tunes they cranked out in the tiny space of Atlanta’s beloved Eddie’s Attic lended them the realization that this whole band forming thing just might work for them. After a brief rotation of drums and bassists, Lingo was also hand-picked from Craigslist in a “male seeking drummer” fashion, and English joined in on the third Muckers show as the third bassist, following a connection through friends. By way of the Atlanta Irish Music School, Trulove found Long and with that the pentad was in full form.
There seems a recurring significance in the number three, on this Thursday evening at the pub, as The Muckers reveal that their third anniversary is to be the very next day, February 9…and whiskey was had by all! Tullamore Dew, of course, as it may be safe to say that it is the “bread and butter” of booze for the majority of the band.
If this were the delivery of a punchline, it would involve “in tents” sexual content and it’d end with the hairtrigger bounce of a fiddler’s bow.
There is an Irish superstition that says if you change the name of a boat it will, in turn, change its luck. Whether they meant to or not, The Muckers have remained true to that superstition.
“We have not re-christened the ship, it’s always been The Muckers,” Shaw says. These guys are no strangers to the explanation of that name, “It sounds dirty, right?” Shaw grins, “It sounds like a punk rock name.” Which is one of the reasons it lasted the test of three-bands’ time. “There are one hundred different definitions of ‘mucker,’ but the reason we called ourselves The Muckers is, it literally just means ‘the friends.’ If you’re in Belfast [the capital of Northern Ireland] and I call you my mucker, that means you’re a good friend of mine.”
Irish influence for these fellas is braided into their lives in various ways. Shaw grew up in a family that played Irish music, and while he has dabbled in many genres, (brazilian and reggae to name a few), he has been playing Irish tunes for over a decade. It only took the influence of one band to reveal his path, “The moment I heard Flogging Molly, I knew my calling was Irish rock.” Trulove also found a great deal of impress and inspiration from Flogging Molly, “Growing up as a person who played punk rock and metal all through high school and college and up until a few years ago,” he asserts, “I changed my gears. I had such a hard time with it until I met Jeff.” Trulove is no stranger to the culture either; growing up he and his father would attend the Scottish Festival and Highland Games together.
Long hails from an Irish-American family, beginning his musicianship playing piano and taking up accordion as his interest in Irish music swelled. Lingo says he considers himself “Irish by marriage,” and bringing in a comedic flair, English grins and says, “Well, my last name is English, so this feels a bit imperialistic for me.”
These five friends confirm that they aren’t attempting to be authentically Irish. “We play some Slavic tunes, some Tom Waits, Deer Tick…,” Long explains, “We’re a mix, we’re a melting pot which I think is kind of cool.” Not to mention the occasional bar noise and their rowdy rock infusion on Irish trad (traditional Irish songs). Traditional folk tunes are hammered out on grungy guitar strings, drum beats throw punk-style punches, and the collective squall of five wailing voices swell and symphonize like the beauty and break of the sea.
The Mucker catalogue consists of 70 to 80 songs, offering both traditional renditions and original touches. That number is currently climbing and the band admits that at least 40 of those songs are about drinking. They all laugh as they list the “three food groups” for Mucker subject matter; drinking, murder and heartache. Oh and, Shaw confirms that he has only ever written two love songs, one of which is affectionately dedicated to whiskey.
While a lot of the songs they currently play are remnants of Shaw’s past writings, everybody puts in. So, no matter the origin of idea or lyric, it becomes a Muckers song. Long describes the band as “musically curious,” attesting to an experimental collaborative process. English seconds that sentiment, “As far as the instrumentals go, there’s a decent bit of improvisation, I’d say.” With backgrounds spanning country, full trad Irish, old school punk rock and even a little jam band, one can only assume the depth of that melting pot; English even plays a clarinet in one song.
If this were a cover song “for no reason,” it’d be Tom Waits’ “Walk Away,” but it would include one hell of an accordion solo.
The Muckers’ self-titled album, released in fall 2016, features Mucker creations like “Eddie Conners,” where a slow, sentimental fiddle sings lamentations before breaking into a blood-rushing tempo that bellows the ballad of a Boston murder scene. Don’t be deterred by the subject, you will want to dance. With “Slow, Dark Waltz,” they begin the dance with the sultry step of a fiddle in anguish as the story of a deceitful damsel unfolds; also a delightful murder ballad for your listening pleasure. Shaw offers a little satire when he references the tune, “I’m a feminist and that’s why the woman murders the man in my song.”
In spring 2017, The Muckers also released a single, “Attack on the Heights,” and they anticipate a lot more song writing ahead. “We’re three years in at this point and a lot of it was just finding ourselves and figuring out what type of songs we like,” Trulove affirms. The next album, “One More Stout,” is going to reveal their first Mucker-written song from the ground up, “Day Drinking.” The album is currently being mastered and will be released on St. Patrick’s Day. There are, however, more projects in the making, “Even though we just recorded a second album,” Trulove asserts, “there’s still a lot of stuff on deck that we’re working on…at least half a dozen songs.”
When they’re not playing Thursday shows at Fado’s, The Muckers actually render themselves pretty well-travelled. In March of 2017, The Muckers were super-stoked to play Shamrock Fest in Washington D.C., where they shared a bill with one of their influences, Dropkick Murphys. They found themselves out in rural Tennessee, in October of that same year, playing the Tennessee Pirate Fest. “I’ve never been that soaked through in my life,” Shaw recalls the mayhem of the festival as remnants of Hurricane Irma blew through on the second day. Lingo proved himself full genius that trip when he revealed to the band that he’d packed a tent; however, for pretty obvious reasons, he didn’t want to unload his drums…The band recalls the true glory of the day; when Lingo opted to play a rain barrel, a gong and a trash can frame instead. “We all huddled under the tent,” Shaw remembers with a grin. “We played every set; we fulfilled every line of that contract.” Trulove adds, “It was kind of cool because we were working on new material that we’d never played live.” A show that began with the elements of frustration, ended with spontaneous solidarity.
Perhaps one of the band’s most memorable moments was actually right at home, in 2016 and 2017, at Atlanta’s own multi genre convention, DragonCon. The band agrees, unanimously, that the levels of adrenaline, energy, and enthusiasm they received from the Con crowd have gone unmatched. Afterall, there were Stormtroopers in the audience.
Next up for The Muckers is a little more travel. “In the spring, we’re going to do a southern tour through Florida and hop on the Flogging Molly cruise and spend a few days in the Caribbean,” Trulove says. “We’ll come back and close the tour out in Atlanta with one final show with some of our friends from the UK.” Then in the fall, it’s time for festivals; Pirate Fest, DragonCon, CONjuration, and the Stone Mountain Highland Games.
All along the way, The Muckers remain a brotherhood of support and encouragement, even as their fellow bandmate faces the perils of prostate cancer. The band has created “Muck Cancer” T-shirts to sell, in the name of awareness and research. “Steve is thankfully insured,” Shaw says, “so we didn’t need to do a big fundraiser for him, but this was our way of showing support and doing…something. Every penny is going to the American Cancer Society and the Prostate Cancer Research Institute.” The campaign will go through St. Patrick’s Day and shirts are available @culturepunkatl.com.
All the elements are there; the arm wrestling, the wailing Irish influence, the punk rock and the punchlines…even Tom Waits. As a night with The Muckers nears its end, they may tuck you in with “Drunken Lullabies,” but don’t expect rest; that Flogging Molly cover is anything but chill.
Across the golden glow of a lacquered wooden table, the laughter is incessant as these five Muckers catapult harmless mockery into the air; the jest raining down upon whomever is up next to receive the satirical scorn….all in good fun, they cap off their evening at Fado’s.
Earlier in the night, Shaw had smiled as he said, “We have so much fun, whether anyone is paying attention or not.” There is absolutely no doubt.