For the past twenty years, Vancouver’s The Real McKenzies have been an unstoppable touring machine, captivating audiences around the globe with their uncompromising concoction of punk rock, folk songs and traditional Celtic singalongs. The Inertia recently caught up with frontman, Paul McKenzie, as his road-hardened crew of traveling minstrels prepared for their first tour of the United States in over five years in support their latest record¸Westwinds. Be sure to catch the band on the road this summer as they tear up a city near you. Tour dates can be found here.
Walk me through your songwriting and recording process for Westwinds. How long did it take from start to finish? How was the process different from previous releases?
Westwinds took about one month to record. We did it at Crabapple Downs Studios in Nanton, Alberta. We had little or no distractions as we would have in a big city. I do believe that this made a difference in terms of concentration on the recording because there was literally nothing else to do.
How do you manage your seemingly endless roster of rotating band members? It’s got to be tough acclimating to new musicians all the time.
It is tough, but what else is a band to do when someone actually has the unmitigated audacity to want a real life, sheesh. Instead of cancelling out on tours or recording, we choose to find another replacement member.
Who is one musician from another band you would recruit to record your next album with if given the chance? Why?
Any members I would want to hire are already dead, but if I had to choose one it would Iggy Pop, because I know he would do a god job singing like me so I could play the sax and accordion instead.
I hate to bring up the subject given how ubiquitous the comparisons have become, but as a pioneer of the Celtic rock genre, how does it feel to watch bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly achieve such overwhelming success these days? I mean, the Murphys are selling out Fenway Park. Is that type of success something your band ever aspired to achieve?
Of course, it’s just that it hasn’t happened for us like that yet. Perhaps it is because we are Canadian and it is difficult and expensive to tour the U.S. with Homeland Security and all of the red tape at the border. The American government is doing a fine job protecting Americans and American artists from the likes of us.
I once read a statement in which you said that if there is any deeper ideology in your band then it is to stop racism. Given this admirable position of social acceptance, what do you make of the recent news that Tom Gabel from former labelmate, Against Me!, has chosen to come out as transgender?
Well, I will still drink beers and cavort with him and his buddies and I wouldn’t hold him “Against ME” if he likes boys. It just means there are more girls for us Real McKenzies. Good on ya, Tom. We do NOT discriminate.
What are a few “must haves” on your tour rider?
Cold kosher dill pickles, strong white cheddar cheese, stoned wheat thin crackers, sardines, onions and hot mustard.
If Fat Wreck Chords were to host a beer chugging competition, who would win? You? Fat Mike? Someone unsuspecting that we don’t know about?
Hey come on now, everybody knows that Fat Mike don’t like beers. He likes cocktails with ice and all that. What I can say is that I can put away quite a lot of beer without even trying, so if I really put my mind to it I do believe it would be an interesting outcome. We will see about all of this at Punk Rock Bowling [and Music Festival, being held in Las Vegas from May 25th through May 27th].
How engaged are you politically? What do you make of Obama and Romney going into the upcoming U.S. presidential election?
I am engaged politically in my personal environment. I have not been in America for quite some time as I have been having a good time hanging around in Europe. Sorry.
What’s the best show you ever attended as an audience member?
Alice Cooper with The MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges back in’74. It changed my life and NOW look what has happened.
Looking back on the past 20 years, what advice would you give to your younger self if you were starting the band all over again?
Do not do this…Stay home, finish school, eat your greens and never look anyone directly in the eyes unless you mean business.
Last question: Sex, drugs or rock and roll?
Sex…YES. Drugs…YES (if it is beers and good scotch – alcohol is a drug too you know). Rock and roll…my record speaks for itself. Thanks for the interview and hope to see you all soon.