“You’ve got to do the right thing even if other people around you aren’t doing the right thing. You just got to do your thing. Whether you like it or not, doing whatever you’re doing, it’s made you who you are, what you are, and what you will be. Don’t mess with that formula.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview & Photographs by Theo Constantinou
Humility is necessary in order to be great. It’s not about tucking your head down, or ignoring self-interest, but about grasping the interconnected experience of every action. People must make sacrifices not only to enjoy what they do, but to understand how their actions affect others. Many can only function within an incentive based system to judge their success at life as if there is a checklist for everyone to follow. Individuality nearly ceases to exist.
Matt Hensley is an integral part of Flogging Molly. He is not in a well-known band to easily access material joy, but because making music is the one thing he must do to feel satisfied. Skateboarding isn’t a way to prove that he is a man, but a way to find the inspiration needed to promote creativity in his life and music. Hensley is a legitimate hero because he makes mistakes and embraces them. For Matt, life must be created from one’s natural character; to be anyone other than himself would be criminal.
In your interview with Steve Olson, he said, “Against the grain, again and again… Following the path of one’s own thoughts… Setting a standard for others to follow .. Lead by example … Follow your own lead. Take a chance, then you’ll see … That the unknown isn’t that scary But you’ll never know, unless you try. There are no heroes, just ones that don’t accept fear as part of the equation…. Matt Hensley… an example of, ‘If the glove fits, wear it on your sleeve, just like your heart…’ … What are your thoughts about having heroes and having your own personal heroes and also not accepting fear in one’s life as part of the equation?
That’s pretty bold; he’s a good man. I’ve always had heroes in my life. For me, as a skateboarder, to have people that you’re looking up to helps to motivate you, keep you into doing what you’re doing. You’re enthused about something, or something that’s better than you are, and that’s a great vibe to have. You’re striving towards something, not to be better than the person that you like so much, but it gives you energy to be helpful. Create your own gig using the inspiration of someone else to make you get there. That’s what it was for me.
I don’t know how fearless I am. I have done my own thing, and I think at certain parts of my life I’ve made decisions that some people might have not, but I don’t do it so easy like I don’t care. I’m not scared to death all of the time, but I fear. I just try to have a vision of my life in my mind, and I’m going to make that happen one way or the other. I don’t know how much fear is a part of that equation, but the struggle, the ups and downs that life gives you in anything you want to do, it’s all the misery, and all the happiness all combined. It’s when you reach over that that you’ve reached a great spot.
Sacrificing everything. You can make the best decision in the world, and someone will suffer, some thing will suffer. Maybe not a person, but some part of your life will suffer. Because you’re giving your energy to something, something else will not have as much energy as it did. I have a lot of will power. I used to smoke cigarettes forever. I quit. I quit for eight years, when I owned the bar I smoked again, and then I quit again in a day. I have the energy to do shit like that. So when I joined this band from LA, and I’m from San Diego, everybody around me is like “That’s impossible, no one from San Diego can join a band from LA driving four, or five times a week, plus a brand new baby, and everything else.” Not to prove anyone wrong, but I believe in the music that we’re doing more than I believe that the freeway, and all the time it will take me, is going to stop me. I made a thing with my wife like, “I believe in this band, I believe in what I’m doing. It’s making no money right now, but it could. I promise you that no matter what happens, I’ll always come home. It could be five in the morning, but when you wake up you’ll wake up with me.” If I played at Molly Malone’s, and we were over at 2 AM, and hung out till 3 AM, I drove, and got home at 5:15 AM. I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I got really good at peeing in a cup, and one hand driving, and anything it takes to not stop.
To more of your serious point, there were definitely decisions that I’ve made with the band that I’m so motivated that I will blindly go. If I’m going to do something, I give myself to it.
I’ve got a big heart for people, and it’s like I expect things, and I would just get let down all of the fucking time. I asked my dad one time, and he just used that quote from Kazantzakis. Then he said, “You’ve got to do stuff for people because that’s who you are, because that’s how I raised you, it’s your pedigree.”
To follow the last question, one of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite writers, Nikos Kazantzakis is “I expect nothing. I fear no one. I am free.” What are your thoughts on this, especially not expecting anything from anyone and pushing your own perspective by always doing the right thing and never expecting anything in return?
It’s not tit for tat, is it? You just do it because of who you are, and if someone repays it, then that’s who they are, but if not everything, it is still fine because you’re still who you are. There were times in my life, Flogging Molly specifically, that I met really good musicians, these people that made a really big difference in my life, and they turned out to be bastards. It upset me. It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s just the fact that it happened like that is a bummer. One guy specifically kind of wrecked it for me ‘cause I grew up liking certain kinds of music, and doing stuff that this guy was a key part of, but he turns out to be a clown. It’s like ‘Man you screwed up my childhood,” but he didn’t. Even if he is a clown, he gave me inspiration to do all this cool stuff, so respect. But since that incident, if there is somebody that makes a big difference to me, I kind of don’t get too close for that reason. I don’t want it to be that. I’m happier letting this guy influence me musically, or whatever.
I feel about people the same way. It sucks because I want to love people, bring them closer, get to know individuals, but it’s better to just keep it at bay.
It depends. You get a vibe pretty quickly with some people. You got to interview Jason the other day, and he’s a sweet operating dude so you know almost immediately that it’s not going to be a terrible nightmare hanging out with him; it’s going to be sweet.
I can’t expect anything . Specifically I let these dudes come live with me for a few weeks. They ended up moving to Los Angeles and never offered to give me any rent like they said they would. I tried calling them to let them know I was traveling out west and they were just dodging me. That’s the kind of shit where it just burns.
I’ve contemplated what you’re talking about, I’ve said it in different ways. You’ve got to do the right thing even if other people around you aren’t doing the right thing. You just got to do your thing. Whether you like it or not, doing whatever you’re doing, it’s made you who you are, what you are, and what you will be. Don’t mess with that formula. I get around people who do some dodgy shit sometimes, but these bastards have to live their life at both ends. I’m not afraid to get down to that sort of activity, just the simple fact of it, I guess, but there’s a side of me that just refuses to allow it. That will wreck who I am, just the respect for my wife, and everything else. But there’s a part of me that sometimes gets pissed at these guys that can pull it off, and not have that weird feeling. I walk around the earth try to do the best I can, and not do shit like that. It’s the price you pay. I also made a deal with my lady, and it’s like I’m going to go on the road, I’m going to be a musician. It’s no secret that in a band you have the opportunities to do stuff, all that kind of wacky shit will go down, but I won’t do that. I won’t do that to her while she’s here with my son, I’m not going to do that to her on the road, it’s simple. If there’s such a thing as the devil, he’s probably come into my life a couple of times, and tried to make me break, gave it every bit of effort possible, and I would not break.
That’s great to hear, man. I run into a lot of crowds that think it’s cool to say the exact opposite of what you said. I hope some of them will read this interview and go “Hell yea, that’s a grown ass man.”
When Dante passed out of Purgatory, it was said, ” In the age of decrepitude, you look back over your life with gratitude, and forward to death as a return home.” Do you look back at your life with gratitude and how so? Also, do you see your eventual death as a return home and what do you hope people will say about you after you are gone?
I look back in all kinds of gratitude. I can’t even believe how lucky I am. I’ve lived most of my life without too many jobs that haven’t meant anything. I’ve been a skateboarder and musician since I was thirteen. I don’t want it to be over, but I’m just stoked I get to meet people all the time that have gone through gnarly things and they come to our shows. They’ve shaken my hand, they cry on my shoulders. I’ve met parents of kids who’ve been killed in Iraq, all around the world, but live, musically speaking, vicariously through Flogging Molly. Just that alone has made me so stoked that this band has done something so that we create that vibe. It’s stopped me in my tracks so many times where I’m crying out of happiness and sadness at the same time for someone. There is a gratitude at the fact that even though it’s Irish drinking music, I feel like we’ve changed a lot of people’s lives for the better. At the last American tour, a bunch of Marines came. Their friend who was a SEAL Team 6 member, the same crew that took out Bin Laden, had been killed in a helicopter crash. In his will, he said that if he passed away, that he wanted one of our songs to be played at his funeral. They came to our show, they showed me the picture, I hugged everybody, and I started crying. It’s actually a famous photograph that went on CNN and all of those different places. It’s this chocolate lab underneath this coffin, and that picture was taken while they were playing our music. I was so taken away when someone said it to me. We dedicated that night and the song to him.
I emailed them, and said we would love to do some more shows for those people that are all on the line. It puts me in this weird mindset because I didn’t agree with that war, and Flogging Molly, we were totally against that. But as soon as it happened, your mind as a musician becomes sympathetic not to the war, but to the people who have to fight. We talked to the USO, and they wanted us to play. Were going to fly to Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan. They didn’t want us to do that. They wanted us to fly to Cuba, to Guantanamo Bay. That’s not what the front line is about, that’s why a bunch of people disrespected the shit out of their missions. Then I talked to these guys because of that incident, and they’re going to get it so we can play for real to people that need to be played for. I’m sad and stoked all at the same time.
Lots of people dying, I’m not too happy about it. It’s going to happen to all of us, it’s an inevitable situation, but it’s a weird subject for me. When my mom passed away, it rattled my whole cage, my dad almost died right after, but then he made it through. Good people, good friends of mine pass away. It happens a lot lately. It makes me think all the time now. I’ll just try to keep on trucking, do the best I can, and hopefully when that day comes, people will come to my funeral.
In this weird way, I’ve also lost a lot of people in my life, and there’s a sense of urgency now, especially since I jumped off and started doing this, just doing it, no plan, just going.
A Gift from Mark Gonzalez to Matt
After my ex-girl left me, I kept listening to Laura over and over again … I know it is a song about real loss, I assume death. But I still felt as if that individual and our relationship died. It was truly the first catalyst that led me to consuming myself in Paradigm. The lyrics, “Cause I know, yes I know Everything there is to know Cause I lost everything I had. You see I, I could have danced on the sun, But my world came undone. There’s no need for tears Cause there’s no need to cry. The love that you leave Will never be left behind This pain in my head comes straight from my heart No woman alive could touch who you were So bye, bye Laura There’s no one could take your place.” I know you are married with a child, but can you tell me your thoughts on love lost or lost love and how these losses impact our lives either for positive or negative forces and why they are so consuming, whether that be death of a good friend or lover or the end of a relationship either with a close friend or lover?
I didn’t have that sense of urgency until a little bit older than you. When I went to furniture making school, I did it with urgency. Not manic, but I’m not going to go to this class, and dick around, I want to learn for real. I only have like forty more years to create and work. It takes time to get good at anything. It takes energy, and you have to focus on that. There’s only so much juice that you’ve got. There was a point where I had a bar, I had a clothing company, had a fulltime band, kid, married, everything. I had so much shit going on. That bar wrecked me and pretty much wrecked a big part of my life. As much as I liked decorating it, making it be a certain way, and loved playing music in it, it was so much pressure and stress. My personality wasn’t good for it. People can sense from a mile away that you’re not being yourself, and people that suck in this world will take advantage of that. Those two things happen to me all the time. When I bought that bar, I went through a real deep depression. I lost like forty-five pounds, my wedding gear was too big for me, I was crying for no reason. I was to a point in my life where I was like, I have all this great stuff, but I feel so empty inside. I went to see some help, got some medication, but it was a long process. The depression started going away, but the drugs had a numbing effect to my soul which sucked also. I wasn’t depressed anymore, but I wasn’t there either. I had left the band for a little while. I rejoined, and my spirits rose a lot by then. I was meant to play music, these are people I love, my brothers and sisters. I started to get out of that funk, but the bar still had its cling on me. I was in Chicago, woke up one day, and my arm was in pain. I could barely move my hand. This is the hand that plays the accordion, this is the hand that plays music, provides clothes for my son and my wife, everything, this is what makes me smile, and I could barely move. I called the rock doctor, some guy who deals with the bands. He doesn’t know me from shit, and he’s like, “I’ll tell you what, if you don’t change what you’re doing, in one day you’ll be dead. There is nobody your age that should have shingles, that’s stress.” I called somebody on the phone ten minutes after that conversation, and said, “I got to sell the bar,” and I did. I lost so much money that I don’t have, but it was the best thing that I ever did. I got my life back. I was much happier now, and I come to the situation way more appreciative than I did before. Right after is when I started going to wood school, crazy school, it’s on! I’m about to buy a welder, go crazy with that. I’m going to continue to do the things I already do with my family, my focus on my son, my wife, and playing the music. You’ve got to concentrate if you want to bring shit to the next level, which I’m trying to do. It’s a little manic out there.
Even when I sold it, the situation went bad. The people wanted to hold onto my name, so I’d still be a kind of spokesperson for it. Then they started doing things that I didn’t like. Don’t use my name then do this stuff that’s bad. You want a certain vibe for your magazine. If all of a sudden you change the recipe by a hundred degrees, the whole thing you’re doing has changed. The jukebox was set, all this music collected by me only, and that was important to me. They took it out. Britney Spears, the whole nine yards, they play it, have it blasted through the bar with all the skateboards and punk rock photographs. I’m like you’re killing people with that. It didn’t go well, and I lost even more money ‘cause they weren’t going to pay me. Then it became a black hole for me where I wouldn’t even go in anymore. I’d spent the night in there all the time. I’d be sad, pass out in my own bar, and then I’d wake up and work again. On the tour it was the one place I wouldn’t go, and it started pissing me off that there was some place that was that uncomfortable. I’d been going there for so long, people probably just tripped out. People who work there want to know what my problem is, or whatever. It’s a lot of baggage. One day after tour I got home, and just went ‘Fuck, I’m going to go over to the bar,’ and that’s what I did. Had a couple pints, it was fine, so, I’m over it.
I’m trying to simplify all this craziness into one thing in my mind, target my focus. Making furniture and doing stuff like that would be part of it, but I’m not going to open a water park tomorrow, or start a fucking 7-11 anytime soon. I need to focus on what I’m doing: the art, the music, keeping the dream alive. Whatever happens is going to happen, but with focus, and not all of this craziness, and over the top stress in my life, I can be calmer.
Clockwise from left to right – Elvis Costello, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Hurricane Higgins
Artwork by Jason Adams
It’s the idea of a solitary focus in life, whether that be skateboarding, recording, furniture, and just dedicating yourself to that. It’s like you said, when you start playing all those different instruments, you’re not going to become a master at all of those things, right?
You’re going to be okay at a lot of things, and nothing wrong with that. In a couple categories, I try to be better than okay just because, as a professional musician, I have to be. That’s part of my nature. The pedal steel guitar I went into with fun in my mind. I wasn’t thinking I was going to take over the world with steel pedal guitar craziness. I played a lot of banjo. Maybe twice a year I’ll bring the banjo on tour with me, and play it every day for like five hours a day, and then the rest of the tour, I just play the fucking accordions. I kind of go back and forward with that. At some point, it’s just getting used to so many things that you’re just barely okay at all, and not really focused enough to bring shit to the next level. If you’re trying to create anything that will change this world, or change someone’s life for real, then you’ve got to be better than just okay at something. I wouldn’t be in this band, my life wouldn’t have turned out this way if I hadn’t tried to be the best skateboarder I could possibly be. In my mind, being in music and skateboarding is pretty similar, the one kind of runs the other for my life.
It isn’t as simple as what form, it’s just love. We’re talking about love, you’re talking about being in love and the loss of love. In all these different ways, you’re approaching the same thing. You’re talking about when you truly love a woman, or anything, a fucking friend, man, anything which you give everything to. Something freeing about that is so genius, it gives your world sense. For whatever reason, if somebody passes away, or someone breaks up with you, or you lose a best friend, or anything, it’s the loss of that, and these scenarios, for better or worse, as we go through life, that mold us. You can’t control that shit, it just pushes you in different ways. All you can do is try to focus on the happiness that you had while you had it. I can only speak about the death of my own mother when she passed away, but it still affects me. I still think about it every day, and I probably will like all people on this earth who’ve lost their parents. It happens to everybody in the world, and will continue to do it, but it’s just a weird thing that I can’t ever get over. Now when I think about it, I’m sad, but I’m more able to think about cool shit. I’m looking at it like some sweet woman took care of my business and that situation still molds me in certain ways. I think some of the things we talked about earlier that she brought to my personality. I think we’re talking about just one moment.
I can’t specifically remember which of your video parts it was ,but I remember specifically you doing a lipslide on a bench with a pair of Dr. Martens on … My question for you is this … All Doc Martens used to be made in England and were hand made by the Griggs family since 1901, but like every other company in the world, they’re trying to cut production costs. They now outsource their standard shoes and boots to either China or Thailand. That to me is completely bullshit and has lost the allure of what made Dr. Marten’s great. It is really sad to me when companies quit producing in their countries of origin just to make more money … What are you thoughts, not only about the Dr. Marten outsourcing but that idea in general, to make something of less quality for your customer just to make more money off of them?
They didn’t make them in England for ten years, then there’s a special brand that is once again made in England. It’s better quality than the Chinese one, but still not made like the original ones, but at least it’s made in England. There’s an American company called Florsheim, and they make a high-end shoe called the Imperial. It’s badass, it’s all leather, everything, and they’re expensive. Like fifteen years ago they were $325 to get a pair of shoes That’s high end, at least in my life, but I run them because they last forever. For me, they only fall out because I was too lazy to get them re-soled. Then, all of a sudden they outsourced all of their stuff and the one shoe that made them the real deal, the Imperial, now it’s made somewhere else, and it’s good, but it’s not great. It’s just upsetting. What do you do? England is known for that high quality stuff, like tailors in the sixties on Savile Row. They still have Saville Row, they still make great stuff, but it’s irritating how stuff is so outsourced. What made them great, the reason that we even go to them, they take that piece of magic, and fuck it around. Either just close your doors, call it a day, and live in legend for the rest of humanity, or you can screw it all up. This shirt I’m wearing right now, it’s made by Filson. I love this company. Ten years ago we were touring in Oregon, or Seattle, and the headquarters are in Seattle. You can go to the shop and check it out. I found this shirt. I bought three of them at a $155 each, and I didn’t give a shit, I knew it was built well. My wife is driven nuts by this, she’s like “will you wear anything other than that?” Not really, this is my gig. I found this thing, and I don’t want to mess with it. A few years ago they outsourced it. It was made in Mexico, and it was all itchy now, it was made of different juice. I struggled with it, even had weird conversations on the phone with people that worked there, but enough people complained, and now they remake them.
The suits I wear in Flogging Molly are all handmade suits from LA. All custom three-button, crazy pockets everywhere. After you go there ,you just don’t go anywhere besides that. People are all like, “That’s crazy, dude.” I’m not crazy. I’m in a suit more than I’m not in a suit, playing music with people. It’s my gig, plus you can buy some piece of shit suit for $120, and you’re going to look like it. You’re not going to give it to your kid, it will be dead in six months. I like old cars, they’re built well, they’re built like a tank.
Flogging Molly Simpson’s Appearance
The INNES, the logo is a swallow. A direct quote from the INNES site states that, “The swallow is a noble bird, with a rich history. It is a symbol of honor, faith, love and hope. To sailors in olden days, it represented everything from luck to loyalty. It served as a reminder of family, friendship and honor.” Can you speak to me more about your thoughts of loyalty, friendship and honor specific to your own life and how important it is to be loyal to the people you truly love and care about?
I think we touched a lot on it, that’s why we use this symbol. Our Scottish crest said to be trustworthy. Innes is a Scottish clan’s name, and that’s what the phrase underneath it is. That’s badass to have the whole undercarriage of this company start from being trustworthy. Sounds pretty good to me, it’s a good rock to build from. The meaning of the swallow and all that seems like reoccurring solidness to work from. I believe that at least I do try to live my life with a high degree of honor and loyalty with anything. Personally, I think that heart for a heart it’s given to me just as much as it’s taken from me. You get a lot more in the end from having those characteristics than you do from just being what you want when you want all of the time.
I wanted to hear your thoughts on a passage from the Bhagavad Gita … “Death is as sure for that which is born, as birth is for that which is dead. Therefore grieve not for what is inevitable.” Do you agree that we all have to deal with this inevitable at some point and to take a portion of a question I asked someone else … Isn’t the importance of life, death. Lao-tse, from Tao Teh King, said “All things are in process, rising and returning. Plants come to blossom, but only to return to root. Returning to the root is like seeking tranquility. Seeking tranquility is like moving toward destiny. To move toward destiny is like eternity. To know eternity is enlightenment and not to recognize eternity brings disorder and evil. Knowing eternity makes one comprehensive; comprehension makes one broadminded; breadth of vision brings nobility; nobility is like heaven. The heavenly is like Tao. Tao is Eternal. The decay of the body is not to be feared.” To even further that same idea, Kurzweil said, “Death gives meaning to our lives. It gives importance and value to time. Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it.” Everything has a beginning and an end, people throughout history have sought out eternal life (Gulgamesh, Hitler, Indiana Jones) but isn’t the idea of life and our true purpose to live a full life, leave some type of legacy, then ….. die?
Here’s what I would say with that. I think that as much as no one wants it, I think there is a reason. I think that being alive, as great as it is, there is also a lot of struggling, a lot of sadness. Things press people every day, shit that you would never comprehend. People across the world suffer more than we can ever think about, they don’t even have these conversations. It would be a weird ethical, mind-bending experiment to stay alive forever. Sounds good, I would kind of like to make a lot of fucking furniture in the next life, but there is some part of me that thinks that’s going against nature,and the flow of the world. As much as I had fun all this time, if I had a chance to do it, I don’t know that I would. I wasn’t as smart as I am now. I wouldn’t want to go back and learn these lessons again, all the painful fucking ones. I would have to own a bar again, I will not do that. Would you just keep it trucking? That’s not my play, or your play. There is a feeling that we have as much time as we’re going to get, and I’m going to do the best I can with that time. I did a bunch of stupid shit I wish I hadn’t done, but it took a lot of those stupid things to learn lessons so you don’t relearn them. I like where I’m at right now; somehow I feel wiser than I did ten years ago, twenty years ago. When I was 21 I was too busy getting drunk and having it be about having the best time ever. I almost want to go back in time. I was going to art school, but I should have been going to school after art school and sucking every bit of knowledge I could possibly get. Even now when I have time off, I go to different schools like furniture making school. Tomorrow morning I’m going to go take my son to his school and when I’m done, I’m going to work on my car, and hopefully learn how to do something different. Just keep trucking.