Tell Me About That Album: Westwinds by The Real McKenzies

Like The Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, Vancouver, Canada's Real McKenzies combine their love of traditional Celtic music with the blazing tempos and sing-along melodies of punk rock. Their latest album Westwinds is the most accomplished of their 20 year career and brings the band to El Corazon on May 18th for their first U.S. tour in seven years. We caught up with frontman Paul McKenzie on the eve of their departure, and we chatted about their latest album, the downside of wearing a kilt on stage and the band's two decades together.

You have some new band members on Westwinds. Does that change the songwriting process at all? It's been a revolving door over the past 20 years. People get families and jobs and can't put up with the drudgery any longer. But there's always someone else to take their place. For example, we had a bagpiper jump out of the van in Milan and we replaced him with a piper from Spain. I'm in Toronto now and we're about to start another tour and we were informed that our bass player from Richmond, Virginia and our bagpiper from Tunisia, Spain, might not make it over the border because their papers are not in order. But we shall prevail. Never say die!

I imagine you must have gained some wisdom about these kinds of things over the past 20 years of touring. Wisdom shmisdom. You've got to have a thousand fucking horseshoes up your ass.

I was struck by how well the traditional Celtic songs fit in on Westwinds. How did you arrive at recording those songs in particular? During our last recording session, which was in Nanton, Alberta, which is not far from Montana, we recorded two albums worth of stuff. And the key to that was there were no distractions. It's such a small town that we had nowhere to go. We bought our beer and hung out at the studio.

But was there any thinking about the song selection and which ones would fit nicely next to your originals? The Scottish cultural well is so deep with story and tunes and laments I could release an album every week for the rest of my life and still not get through one one-hundredth of it. There's so much to choose from. "Hallowe'en" was written by Robert Burns back in the mid-1700s. The Massacre of Glencoe was something that happened back around the same time. It's a matter of picking and choosing when it comes to the traditionals.

It does seem like Celtic music lends itself to punk rock surprisingly well. Rebel music is rebel music is rebel music. It doesn't matter how old it is, it's punk. If it was written in the 1600s, it's still punk. Punk is just a label that was pinned on rebel music by Malcolm McLaren to sell his fashion. It's actually rebel music and it's been around since as long as there was something to rebel against. We're just the ambassadors of that. And we're proud to be marching under that banner.

Is it at all surprising to see how big the Celtic punk movement has become? Bands like The Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly play really big venues. It doesn't surprise me in the least. America has 300 million of you guys. What kind of a fraction listens to Celtic music? Let's say one three-hundredth of that population. That's a million people -- and that's a platinum record.

How did you decide on calling the album Westwinds and putting a ship on the cover? We're from Vancouver, so it's a wind from the west that blows from the Pacific. In terms of the sailing ship, I've been a sailor ever since I was about four years old, and the one thing that I don't like about touring and being so involved with music is that it cuts into my sailing time. I've had to sell my boats and my motorcycles just to keep this balloon afloat. But it's a small price to pay considering what the benefits are.

What are the origins of "Song for Mike"? I assume it's an ode to Fat Mike from NOFX who owns your label? We love Fat Mike and we love Fat Wreck Chords and we appreciate everything they've done for us. We had a little bit of time leftover, and on that song, there was a rule that anybody that was on that song recording it had no more than 10 minutes to get their shit together and perform it. And it came out exceptionally well considering that rule.

Is a kilt the ideal touring garment since it breathes? Definitely not! There's nothing worse than playing a sweaty show in a heavy wool kilt. It gets manky beyond belief, especially in the summertime and it has to be serviced quite often. It's not the garment itself it's what it represents.

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