Music Q&A: Young Dubliners’ Keith Roberts
Although it’s heavily influenced by Irish music, the rock band Young Dubliners is more than an Irish band.
In fact, most of the members — Bob Boulding, guitar and vocals; Dave Ingraham, percussion; Chas Waltz, violin, keyboard, harp, mandolin and vocals; Brendan Holmes, bass and vocals — aren’t even Irish. The only Irishman is vocalist and acoustical guitarist Keith Roberts.
Born in Dublin, Roberts moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s to be a journalist. (More on that later.) Instead, he bought a bar in 1992 in Santa Monica, Calif., providing a venue for the Young Dubliners to play. When Young Dubliners was noticed by a label, it went from house band to professional, prompting Roberts to sell the bar.
The Young Dubliners has been worked hard ever since.
On March 4, the band released its ninth album, titled “Nine,” and will perform numerous tracks off that new album along with a slew of other songs during its all-ages show Saturday, March 8, at Mesa Theater and Lounge, 538 Main St.
Doors open at 8 p.m. The Tankerays are the opening act. Tickets cost $13 in advance or $16 the day of the show.
In a phone interview, Roberts talked about the band’s new album, what it is like for the Young Dubliners to perform in March — hello? St. Patrick’s Day — and why the band loves Grand Junction.
Melinda Mawdsley: Thanks for your time. I first saw you guys years ago in Steamboat Springs, so I know how much fun you have on stage. Talk about the Celtic influence and how much of it there is during a show.
Keith Roberts: In the early days, we had this weird, almost two-bands-traveling-down-the-road parallel. One was a rock band that got songs on the radio without Celtic music. The other was the Irish band doing covers no one else had done on songs people heard as acoustic, folk ballads to that point. We got our sounds together, even the original stuff we wrote (now) has much more of a Celtic feel. You start writing for yourself and find your fans appreciate that more and your band has far more relevance. We did a cover album a few years ago, “With All Due Respect — The Irish Sessions,” so in the middle of a live show there is a whole section we do this session. It’s our signature sound. It’s a more flowing show and makes more sense than maybe the early years when you saw us.
Mawdsley: It is March. How sought after is the Young Dubliners this month?
Roberts: We book it way in advance, and a lot of it is repeat visits. It’s always a funny thing when I get a call about a week before Paddy’s Day to play, and I ask, “Are you talking about 2018?” It’s always been the mad week. Then, it became a mad month.
Mawdsley: What do the Young Dubliners do on St. Patrick’s Day?
Roberts: In Ireland, this is a holy day. He’s our patron saint, so you went to mass then they threw this horrible parade. Over here, they turned it into a hell of a mess up….But it’s worked to our advantage big time. The only routine we have is to do shows, and it’s madness. I spend many an 18th of March in a hotel room in a complete coma recovering from the past few days. It’s pretty much a work day, and we can’t party like everyone else.
Mawdsley: I see you’re off to Ireland at the end of March. What’s it like for the Young Dubliners to play in Ireland?
Roberts: Ireland is small enough to where you tend to not play big venues, but we started to bring 100 Americans with us who follow us around on the tour, so every night you got all the Irish fans mixing in with the American fans who know every word to every song you’ve ever done. That means the gigs are legendary. Each group inspires the other. The Irish get all worked up because how dare the Americans know the words better than the Irish do.
Mawdsley: I was excited to talk to you to hear that Irish accent. I wasn’t sure if I’d understand you, but your accent isn’t terribly thick. Do you pick that back up the moment you land in Dublin?
Roberts: The people joke that I do sound like I’ve been here a while. To the Irish person, I definitely have an American twang. When I go home you have to “put the rubbish out” not the garbage. There are cultural adjustments you make. The minute we get there, it will come back very quickly because you are talking to your mates you grew up with. I’ll come back with an stronger accent. One of our crew guys tends to pick up the accent.
Mawdsley: Are people surprised to learn everyone in the band isn’t from Ireland?
Roberts: The band started in L.A. with the Irish members meeting up with the American members. Everyone who knows the band knows we are a hybrid of the two, which is exactly why we sound the way we do — the rock element blending with traditional Irish music or English rock. Obviously, with the name, you’ll get people who show up surprised, but that’s one of the things you get.
Mawdsley: Before I forget, I have to ask about you moving to the U.S. to be a journalist. Is that true?
Roberts: Here was the thing. I had a degree from the University of Dublin in politics and sociology. I loved TV journalism and thought I wanted to be an underground reporter like, dare I say, Christiane Amanpour, and actually get out there. My sister was in L.A. and I knew that’s where the big TV was. When I came out here (in 1988) I worked for PBS for about a year as an intern, but the music bug was in me so bad. The more I saw how difficult it was to break into that business, and loved going to the bar with a guitar and people seemed to enjoy it, I moved away from journalism.
Mawdsley: Tell me about the new album “Nine” that came out on March 4.
Roberts: The new one is great for us because it was the first we did with Kickstarter. We’ve always been on major labels, but the last few years we definitely wanted to try it on our own and see what the difference is. It took a long time because we were working on the road and didn’t have an influx of money from a label, but the fans came through big time and funded the whole thing. We released it (early) to the fans who helped pay for it but knew we wanted to release it to the public in March. We’re doing like six of the 10 songs live at shows and like to go the places that are special. I know people think I’m bull-(expletive), but Grand Junction is special because it’s one of the first places I heard my songs on the radio. It’s fun to be able to play when you’ve got something exciting to bring. We just played in Boise (March 1), and that’s another town we’ve gone to for many years. A friend told me it was one of the best shows he’s seen in the 20 years he’s seen our shows. We love to play. It’s the 90 minutes a day we work our asses off, so all your energy is stacked up for that. We’re sounding better because we’re older and wiser. Now, you just got to hope the rest of you keeps up how you want it to. We’re not going out to pasture just yet.