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Nathen Maxwell trades Celtic punk for his first musical love

While it's not quite on a par with the apocryphal "drummer's last words" ("Hey guys, I wrote a song!"), a bass player's decision to step into the spotlight can still be cause for concern. Happily, Flogging Molly bassist Nathen Maxwell's solo album, White Rabbit, is no disaster — in part because he doesn't attempt to mimic the Celtic punk that's kept him in fedoras these past 13 years.

While Maxwell describes Flogging Molly frontman Dave King as "an inspiration to work with and grow with," his own music takes its cues from the reggae favored by all self-respecting California punks.

"My natural writing style is not the same as his, but I have tried," says Maxwell. "You know, I did write and sing a couple songs on Flogging Molly records. But the most natural, organic music that flows out of me is a different sound."

White Rabbit finds Maxwell singing and playing guitar, bass and melodica — he's a big August Pablo fan — in a considerably more concise style than standard-issue trustafarian meanderings.

The Southern California native, who sports a Bob Marley tattoo on his arm, says Jamaican music was widely revered where he grew up: "The punks listened to reggae, the gangstas were into reggae. Even the jocks, back then, were into it."

A drummer's son, Maxwell initially set out to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Actually, he wouldn't give me a drum set. He said, 'I need you to have hand/foot separation before you're worthy of getting a drum set.' So I'd basically just sit there in high school and practice with my hands and my feet."

But not for long.

"I dropped out of high school and got kicked out of my mother's house," recalls Maxwell. "But I was very focused on wanting to become a musician, and my father said, 'OK, I'll let you come and live with me and try to give you some pointers and guidelines.'"

Maxwell managed to get kicked out of his dad's house as well, but not before the elder Maxwell introduced him to a band called the Dave King Thing, which would soon change its name to Flogging Molly.

"I got hooked and went to see them play every Monday night," says Maxwell, who'd switched over to bass and started a punk band called PBS ("or Political Bullshit, as we liked to call ourselves").

Maxwell became friends with King and at 17 was invited to join the band.

It was only after the group started touring nationally that the young bassist discovered King's celebrity past as vocalist in Motorhead guitarist Eddie Clarke's Fastway.

"When we first started touring, the most diehard fans were Fastway fans, who'd be bringing records in for him to sign," Maxwell recalls. Now, he says, the group's audience has grown incredibly diverse, as has its frontman's songwriting: "He's very poetic and very prolific with his lyrics. One of his songs might contain twice the amount of lyrics as one of my songs, if not more.

"He sings faster, and we play faster as well," says Maxwell of the band he has no intention of leaving. "When you come to a Flogging Molly show, if you can't move, dance and have fun, then, you know, you might wanna figure something out."

bill@csindy.com

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