The pluck of the Irish
Whiskey and Stitches' music combines traditional Celtic heritage with distinctly American sensibilities
Locals Mike McCarrick and James Wilson can remember hearing traditional Irish folk music—the Chieftains and the Clancy Brothers, just to name a few—being played in their homes since they were infants.
Not surprisingly, this exerted a profound influence on their own musical tastes.
“It was something that naturally drew us together,” said McCarrick, who plays guitar and sings in Whiskey and Stitches. Wilson plays mandolin and the whistle in the band.
Their influences, naturally, grew broader as they matured. Even with family from Ireland, they had both been born and raised in California, which gave them a vastly different experience than that of their relatives. That distinction is something they wanted their Celtic-indie-punk band to reflect, McCarrick said.
Originally, the pair played in a more traditional Irish band, the BlackEyed Dempseys, but felt limited by its singularity of sound.
When they left to start Whiskey and Stitches, however, they weren’t entirely sure what it even meant to bring their American selves to Irish music.
“I can identify with my grandfather’s stories, [but] I am still detached enough from it that I didn’t really own the whole thing,” McCarrick said. “I wanted to add my own experiences to it growing up here.”
And so they experimented by adding traditional American music—bluegrass and Americana, for instance. But they soon realized that they need to allow the punk rock and post-punk sounds from their teenage years find a place in the mix, too.
“We’re fans of Sonic Youth. We grew up in the ’80s. We all had a lot of exposure to stuff like the Cure, the Smiths, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones [and] the Subhumans,” McCarrick said.
The more diverse and the heavier they let their music become, the more natural it sounded. As they added additional bandmates—Steve Mooreweathers on accordion and piano, Jay Raney on drums, Kurt Jourdan on bass, and Joy Stern on guitar—they also allowed everyone else’s ideas a place at the table.
“All of us listen to such different music that we knew we were going to evolve based on what [our] influences were,” McCarrick said.
The other band members all contrasted with McCarrick and Wilson in one major way—they didn’t grow up exposed to traditional Irish folk music.
“That’s kind of why I asked them to join the band. I wanted someone with totally fresh ears and ideas to be able to blend all that stuff together,” McCarrick said.
Stern’s tastes are probably the furthest from traditional Irish music. She comes to the band from a shoegaze and indie-rock background, bringing atmospheric-guitar soundscapes to the Irish-punk, something McCarrick was excited about.
Now, as a whole, the band takes all the competing elements of punk, shoegaze and bluegrass and mashes it together into what sounds predominantly like an Irish-inspired punk band not unlike the Pogues or Flogging Molly—yet even those bands have a smaller scope of sounds than Whiskey and Stitches.
The band, for instance, often closes its set with “Parting Glass,” a sorrowful traditional Irish tune, a sort of last-drink-at-the-end-of-the-night folk ballad—but then, midway through, it turns it into a big, extended blast of Sonic Youth-like feedback that sometimes lasts as long as eight minutes.
“I like messing with people’s heads,” McCarrick said.
Still, even these noise jams have a natural cohesion within the mix. Punk rock, Irish folk and Americana music are all simple, honest, working-class styles—they just come from different times and different places.
“There’s a common thread that runs through all those types of music,” McCarrick said.