After 11 years of drinking hard, playing hard, touring hard, East Tennessee’s Irish-punk mainstays Cutthroat Shamrock are taking a break, of sorts.
Or at least they’re scaling back. Which doesn’t mean they’re quitting, it just means that friends and fans would do well not to miss their now-less-frequent shows, like their upcoming gig at Scruffy City Hall on Friday, Jan. 3.
“This year, everyone wants to stretch their legs with side projects,” says singer/guitarist/mandolinist Derek. “We’ll still be playing regionally, maybe at some festivals. But this will be a ‘breather’ year. Some of the guys have been with no one else but this band for 11 years.”
He notes the band will also play its annual Saint Patrick’s Day gig, March 15 on Market Square.
The breather is well deserved, as 2013 was an especially busy one for the men of Shamrock. They put out their fourth album, a more tradition-minded effort entitled A Path Less Traveled, in July. And they hit the road with a new alacrity, taking an extended jaunt from the end of May through September, plus a regular roster of shows, both in and out of town, throughout the rest of the year.
It was a year of growth, musically speaking. With newer members Brad (banjo) and Marcus (guitar and vocals) settling into their roles with the six-piece, Derek says Cutthroat’s latest music reflects the deep bluegrass roots of those two players.
“With those guys in the band, the sound has gone so many different directions,” he says. “They’re really technical with their bluegrass backgrounds. Brad has an Earl Scruggs background, and Marcus comes out of gospel-bluegrass. It’s made for more of a home-like, East Tennessee feel. We’re really proud of the direction the music has taken.”
Of course, bluegrass and traditional mountain musics have always been part of Shamrock’s sound. The band got together in the early ‘00s when Derek and former member Ben heard hard-bitten Irish trad-rockers the Pogues for the first time. Hearing the Pogues inspired the two to explore their own Scots-Irish heritage, and to blend the Old-World sound of the British Isles—along with its American extensions in bluegrass and Appalachian folk—with the punk rock that had been the mainstay of their teens and early 20s.
Members Guido (upright bass), Suavo (drums), and Johnny (congas) fell in soon thereafter, and the band forged a galvanizing signature that melded punk energy and propulsion to the melodies and intricacies of traditional music. According to Derek, the fit was a natural one, even as the band evolved to incorporate more acoustic and bluegrass influences.
“To my way of thinking, punk—the speed of it—sort of comes out of bluegrass,” Derek says. “Bluegrass can be so fast, it has an edginess that’s just like punk. So it kind of meshes well.
“When we started trying to write stuff for the latest album, Brad would pick something on banjo, maybe from his childhood, and then we would take that and twist it around. It was surprising how easy it was to combine those influences.”
But if Shamrock’s forthcoming breather is well-earned, it will nonetheless be unhappily received by the band’s cadre of long-running fans. They’re a loyal, fervid bunch—the kind of group that should probably have its own nickname, Shamrockers or some such—and many of them have been following CS since the beginning.
“There are people from nine or 10 years ago that pop up at shows now, or who have been with us that long,” Derek says. “And they’ll request songs we haven’t played in eight or nine years. There are people who have been with us throughout. And it’s awesome. We’ve been very fortunate.”
Cutthroat Shamrock is scheduled to play Scruffy City Hall Jan. 3 at 10 p.m. with the Deadbeat Scoundrels, pending the Hall’s completion.