Twelve years and a couple of new members after their initial bagpiped, punk rocked introduction to the world, Chicago’s Flatfoot 56 are still around, and the years have been mighty kind to these Scally capped punks.
Flatfoot 56 have ridden the carousel of record labels, landing most recently on the solid indie Paper + Plastick, turned out four records that have ranged from pretty good to “Holy Shit this is good,” all the while putting in the amount of work that only a blue collar band can get used to.
Their latest effort, the stellar Toil, brings out plenty of their raucous Celtic punk that fans have come to expect, but also shade in the sound with darker elements and some hints of folk. And Street Dogs bassist Johnny Rioux returns once again to the producer’s chair with this one.
Singer/guitarist Tobin Bawininkel spoke recently about the new record.
Innocent Words: The first thing I noticed about this record is that the songs seem a bit different than Black Thorn and Jungle of the Midwest Sea. Was that a conscious decision?
Tobin Bawininkel: Yes! After years of always hearing the same records come out from the same bands with very little change, it was our desire to both grow and challenge ourselves to step out of our box. None of us ever like it when we buy a record and it sounds no different than that band’s previous few records. If we are not growing or pushing the envelope, then we become stale. It gets boring and we don’t want to be that!
IW: Were there any specific personal events that inspired some of these songs?
Bawininkel: Many of these songs cover experiences where we watched friends of ours take total nose dives back into addictions that they had worked so hard to get out of. There is nothing more frustrating than to be wholeheartedly rooting for someone that you love and then watch as they crumble under temptation and fall. A bunch of the tunes cover what we wanted to say to them during those times.
IW: Can you talk a little bit about the song “The Rich, The Strong and The Poor”?
Bawininkel: This song tells the story of three different characters who all find themselves chasing different things. One man lives his life searching for riches and prosperity. The second is chasing physical strength and revenge. He kind of has this idea that if he just proves to the world how tough he is then he will achieve what he is looking for. The third character is the poor man who is obviously seeking basic life needs and happiness. All of these positions serve to remind that even though we have three very different characters exemplified here, all three are very much in the same position in that happiness hasn’t been found in chasing these various desires. There is something more which is hopeful for some and frustrating for others.
IW: What made you turn to Johnny [Rioux] to produce this one?
Bawininkel: We have always loved how Johnny hears parts and challenges us to think outside of our box. He does a good job of allowing us to be ourselves while pushing us to take chances. We were also heading into the studio for the first time with Brandon [Good, Mandolin] and Eric [McMahon, Bagpiper], and we wanted to make sure we could fit things together the right way. Johnny’s experience with us was an asset to this recording experience.
IW: Was it easier to communicate this time around, as you had already worked together?
Bawininkel: Oh yeah. We all got much closer and were able to work more freely than we had during Black Thorn. We trusted that the end result was going to be good.
IW: How did you connect with the folks at Paper + Plastick?
Bawininkel: A few summers ago we had played with Less Than Jake at SummerFest in Milwaukee. Vinnie [Fiorello, Less Than Jake’s drummer] saw us at the festival and was impressed. When he found out that we were looking for a label to put our next record out, he offered us a chance.
Bawininkel: Well, we have two new members who joined right before the release of Black Thorn. Since then we have been growing together and musically in huge ways. We now use two guitars in almost every song, and we developed our singing to utilize the voices that we have now. We started to get creative with the newest talents we realized we had. I think it’s paid off.
IW: You guys have been at this for more than 10 years now. Do you ever have those days when you think it might be nice not to be in a band anymore?
Bawininkel: [Laughs] All the time! And then we ask ourselves, what would we do if we weren’t able to play shows and see all of our friends we have made on the road? That thought has helped on those days when we are tired.
IW: What’s next for you guys?
Bawininkel: Touring and more touring. We have been really excited to see how well things have been going for us overseas, and we are anxious to get back and continue growing in places like Russia and Europe where the crowds keep growing.
IW: Cool. Anything else?
Bawininkel: Make sure to keep an eye out for some really awesome creative releases through Paper + Plastick! This label is amazing at getting out of the box. We are excited about what’s to come!
To read a CD review of Flatfoot 56’s Toil click here