Why would a kid in Vancouver, British Columbia, grow up to play Celtic-influenced punk rock?
“It’s my parents’ fault,” The Real McKenzies bandleader Paul McKenzie tells me over the phone. So I suppose the answer is: Why not?
Active since the ’90s, The Real McKenzies were an early adopter, alongside bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, of the Celtic punk movement innovated by the Pogues.
The McKenzies, however, take the Celtic punk sound a few steps further, performing in Scottish kilts with actual bagpipes, topped off, of course, with Ramones-style black leather jackets.
McKenzie is the only original member of a rotating lineup he says has, over the years, included up to 100 musicians.
Looking back, McKenzie says that in addition to his parents exposing him to folk music styles of the British Isles and popular Scottish crooners, Vancouver in the ’70s and ’80s was on the touring circuit of the great West Coast punk bands of the time.
Vancouver also had a record store, he recalls, that was heavily influenced by British punk.
“As the years went on, the punk-rock things went big,” McKenzie says. He says traditional Celtic music and punk rock are a natural fit. “It’s anti-establishment music,” he explains. “It’s rebel music, it’s fighting music.”
The Real McKenzies come to Eugene supporting last year’s Two Devils Will Talk, the band’s ninth studio album. There’s a seafaring theme on the record.
“I reside with them all in the deep,” McKenzie sings on “One-Man Voyage.” And McKenzie borrows from Stephen King when he sings, “We all float down here,” on the song “Float.”
There’s also “Northwest Passage,” an electrified take on Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers’ ode to the ill-fated Franklin Expedition’s attempt to find the Northwest Passage trade route in the mid-19th century. If you’re not familiar with the original, McKenzie urges you to seek it out.
The song starts with tight harmonies before exploding into propulsive rock ‘n’ roll. And with recent TV shows like AMC’s The Terror inspired by the Franklin Expedition, who knew 19th-century British maritime history was so on trend?
The rest of the album offers wailing bagpipes, crunchy power chords and McKenzie’s trademark bark, with the up-tempo, double-time feel of Celtic music accelerated to punk rock-level intensity. It’s all a little like Bad Religion meets the Scottish Highlands.
On the album’s back-half there’s the song “Fuck the Real McKenzies,” a tongue ‘n’ cheek comeback to music scenes of all sorts seeking some kind of poorly defined and elusive authenticity.
In a pub-rock-style singalong, the song says The Pogues did it all first, so fuck The Real McKenzies as well as a broad swath of other bands inspired by the sound, like the aforementioned Flogging Molly.
“We decided to write a song for us,” McKenzie says, “instead of complaining” about all the infighting. And anyway, what’s more punk rock — or Scottish, for that matter — than flipping the bird to the naysayers?
“All of the bands in that song are our friends,” McKenzie adds. “They understand.”
The Real McKenzies play with Eugene’s Black Delany and The Googins 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 4, at Whirled Pies; $16 adv., $20 door, all-ages.