Special Issues » Saint Patrick’s Day Issue

In For A Penny: In for the long haul

Savannah’s Celtic punks celebrate St. Paddy’s

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AS AN Irish Celtic folk punk band, it’s In For A Penny’s duty to make every day feel like St. Paddy’s Day. Now that the official holiday is here, the Savannah-based group is set with a full schedule and a new EP, "Sometimes It’s Better To Not.’

With guitarist Jeremy Riddle plugging in and cranking up, vocalist Sean McNally trading in his mandolin for the bouzouki (a Greek instrument with a sound similar to a mandolin but with a lower pitch), and the always-energetic drums of Henny “Da Butcha,” In For A Penny’s electrified a vibrant sound that’s putting them at the forefront of modern Celtic punk.

We chatted with McNally before the big holiday weekend.

What’s the story behind the title ‘Sometimes It’s Better To Not?’

The title is an inside joke. Our drummer Henny says a lot of things that we find hilarious. They don’t mean anything to anybody else, but we’re constantly saying them. Very few people actually know the circumstances of the title’s origin...but it’s also some really sound advice.

What was the recording process like for this particular release?

The recording process was a happy accident. Our buddy Justin has a studio set up in his garage on Tybee. As usual, things were really slow during the winter... I said, “[Henny], you’ve got your kit set up at Justin’s, lets jam some of the new stuff I’ve been working on.”

We did and it turned out cool. Justin set up mics and hit record while we were jamming and Jeremy had a few days off, so he came out and we basically finished the four songs in the studio and recorded the majority of it in two nights. I was headed off to St. Croix to work for a few months, so it turned out pretty cool that we could get it mostly done before I left. The guys went back in and recorded backing vocals and some additional guitar tracks after I left. My son Bryce recorded one of the bass tracks and sent it to us so that he could still be part of it.

I reached out to a couple of piper friends of mine to see if they could play on the track “Your Claddagh Heart” at the last minute. Johnny Piper from the New York based Celt-punk band Alternative Ulster jumped at it and did a great job. Thanks to Al Gore for inventing the internet so that we could do this from all over the place.

How does Irish tradition influence your lyricism and arrangements?

I love Irish music and Irish punk stuff, so it’s what I play and what I write. The previous releases have been a bit lighter in their tone, but the stuff on this one was stuff I had written when I was sitting and thinking. Not a single song about whiskey, which is really weird for us.

“‘Fore The Devil” is a different take on the Irish saying, “May you be in Heaven a half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

“Dancing with the Stars” is my tongue-in-cheek commentary on all of the protests recently. So many people want to post stuff on Facebook and act outraged, but then it’s like...“Oh, wait, Dancing with the Stars is on!” And it all kinda fades away until the next time.

“Broken” is hopefully an encouragement to people that it’s okay to be broken. We all are and you’re not alone.

“Your Claddagh Heart” I wrote for my wife after she lovingly reminded me that I’ve written a lot of songs about whiskey and dedicated songs to friends, but have never written her a song...so I did and it turned out pretty darn good.

What’s a typical St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah like for a working Irish punk band?

St. Patrick’s Day is like a marathon wearing a backpack full of cinderblocks! It’s the one time of the year we don’t have to look for work—we were booked solid three months ago. Since the festival is only two days this year, we’re taking it easier and only playing seven times in three days...it’s exhausting, but we love it. Anybody want to come help us lug gear? We have had a beach wagon that we load up like The Beverly Hillbillies and drag down the sidewalk to get from gig to gig. My voice will be shot halfway through Saturday and our livers will hurt for weeks after. Good times.

How do you feel your sound’s evolved since the beginning?

In the beginning we were a folk band with a punk edge. I played mandolin and Jeremy played acoustic guitar. Within the last year, I started playing bouzouki, and I don’t even take the mandolin anymore. Jeremy is playing a lot more electric, so we’ve got a heavier, fuller sound. A lot of times we don’t have a bass player, so it’s just drums, guitar and bouzouki and the sound is still huge, because of the way we arrange the songs.

So many Irish punk bands just take traditional songs, play them twice as fast and call it a day—that’s why there’s only few that stand out. Our backgrounds are so diverse—Henny grew up playing drums in church, Jeremy has reggae and metal influence, Matt Price, who has been playing bass with us on this one and live for the past few months, is an amazing guitar player who just grabbed the bass. I’m really the only one who knows Irish punk bands, so we don’t sound like any of them.

We’ve never had a band practice in the entire time we’ve been doing this. I think this sounds more like what we’ve always known we could do...and it has bagpipes... c’mon! We’re jacked about St Paddy’s and want everyone to come get rowdy with us. You may not have been Irish when you walked in, but you will be by the time you leave!

CS

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