The Narrowbacks are a young Irish America band from the Bronx section of New York. The band have just released the their new single Shannon and a hard at work rehearsing for their upcoming spot opening for Dropkick Murphys at the Boston House of Blues during the Murphys upcoming St. Patrick’s run of gigs.
Can we start with a little background on the band – who’s in the band, how did the band get together and how would you describe your sound? And can you explain to non-New Yorkers what Narrowback means?
The Narrowbacks are a 6 piece Irish Folk Rock band -we are obviously heavily influenced by the music of the Dubliners, Pogues, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys; you can also hear a little bit of Bruce Springsteen mixed with 90’s and early 2000’s punk, pop-punk and from our rhythm section some Funk, Metal and Jam. Every member has a very different musical background and different musical taste outside of Irish music.
Barry and I (Seamus) started the band when were were still at Iona College. The byproduct of late night sing songs; Barry suggested formally starting a band and writing our own songs. We started recording demos in Barry’s house in New Rochelle and we even rehearsed early versions of the songs with his then roommate and future Narrowback, Chris Moran. Chris wouldn’t formally join the band until a few years later. We eventually recruited my brother Pat Keane on button accordion and Fionn McElligott on guitar; who we knew from playing gaelic football. We travelled as a 4 piece for the first few months, I was singing, Barry on Bass, Pat on accordion and Fionn on guitar until Fionn’s friend Anthony Chen joined the band on Bass and Barry moved to Banjo and Mandolin.
Chris Moran joined the band in June of 2011 and he was the final piece of the puzzle.
Since then we have gone from playing Sundays at Murty’s Publick House in Pearl River, to packed houses in Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers, supporting Black 47 on their farewell tour, supporting Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park to now opening for the Dropkick Murphys across from Fenway Park at the House of Blues Boston on the day before Saint Patrick’s Day! Not a bad run so far.
A Narrowbacks isn’t really a New York thing; at least I don’t think it is. It’s a derogatory term used for Irish Americans – sons and daughters of Irish immigrants who now have it easy in America and don’t sport the wide over worked backs of their parents. They don’t have wide backs from hard labor, they have narrow backs from an easy life and lack of hard physical work.
I understand the Narrowbacks are from the North Bronx and Pearl River. Any truth that you’re the offspring of yer man and woman from Black 47s “Living in America”? Seriously, with Black 47s retirement there is a huge hole in the NY Irish scene, are the Narrowbacks the band to fill that void?
We’re not literally the offspring of the couple in “Living in America” but we probably went to school or played football with their kids. That song was written about the Irish who lived in the Bainbridge section of the Bronx who married had kids and eventually moved to Pearl River (as heard in a later version of the song), just like us. My parents and Barry’s parents both came to the Bronx and we were both born there and lived there for a short while before moving across the Tappan Zee.
Now do I think we are capable of filling the void left by Black 47? No, Black 47 were a force that can not be and will not be replaced but that being said I think we can be the Black 47 of the new young Irish and American millenials, songs that tell the stories of the people we know and see with songs like ‘Lost Generation’ and “Paddy’s Field’ stories about neighborhoods changing, moving upstate to fulfill the American dream, new problems arising and things changing but also kind of staying the same. The void you’re talking about is also not as big as you may think, the Irish music scene here in New York is thriving at the moment. It’s a huge scene and an interborogh tour can be as fruitful as a tristate tour in terms of following, crowds and merch sales. There are bands from every part of New York from the Bronx to Brooklyn fighting and playing for their piece of the pie. After it all we get along like a big family and help eachother out, very passive aggressively of course – it wouldnt be an Irish relationship otherwise.
Obviously, the upcoming Dropkicks gig is a going to be a big show for you guys. How as a fairly new band did you get onto this much sought after spot? Any expectations about the gig?
We backed up Ken Casey at a charity gig he was being honored at a few years ago – he kept a CD and kept in touch. We kept in touch via text and email ever since and a few months ago he reached out and asked if we were free for the March gig….and of course with out hesitation we said we were.
So who is this Shannon that you sing about on your new single?
Barry wrote Shannon so I’ll let him answer this one.
Barry: Shannon’s a story I came up with one night while sitting in the 11th Street Bar in the East Village, a blend of some fiction and fact. I was living in the village at the time and spent most nights out at various watering holes where I became friends with a lot of the bartenders. The lyrics are kind of a composite of the stories told to me firsthand and my own observations and experiences, from the point of view of the habitué.
What’s next for the band? You’ve got your Paddy’s day shows coming up and after that any recording or touring (particularly outside of the tristate area)?
Well we’re playing through out New York and New Jersey this March, Boston on 3/16 then our own co-headling show with our friends Girsa at Webster Hall on Saint Patrick’s Day. This summer we’re playing festivals in Fairfield, CT, East Durham, NY and we will be hitting the midwest for the first time ever. So far all we have book for the tour is the Chicago Irish Festival on July 8th and 9th. We’re really looking forward to playing in Tossers country.