Back in the mid-’90s, 17-year-old punk-rocker Nathen Maxwell was on the prowl for a new band after his angry, sloppy punk-rock band PBS had broken up. At the suggestion of his musician father, he snuck into the bar Molly Malone’s to watch a Celtic rock band called the Dave King Thing, which would eventually change its name to Flogging Molly.
Maxwell was blown away by the talent and passion of the musicians. “It was the real deal,” he recalls. “It just struck a chord in my heart.”
Maxwell continued to show up every Monday night to catch Flogging Molly. Despite having virtually no experience with Irish music, Maxwell wanted to be in this band. Surprised, King actually asked Maxwell to be their bass player after their original bassist quit.
“He never heard me play or anything,” Maxwell says. “We just hit it off. I started practicing my ass off.”
Shortly thereafter, the band changed its name and re-emerged with a heavier sound, but without losing either its rock or traditional Irish influence.
By the 2000s, Flogging Molly became a well-established, drawing Celtic-punk band, performing as many as 200 shows a year. While playing music for a living fulfilled a dream for Maxwell, he still had a desire to write music—which he did, but the only people that heard his songs were his bandmates after shows, when they’d gather and hang out backstage.
That changed in 2009, when Maxwell decided to take songs that he’d written over the past decade and record a solo album under the moniker Nathen Maxwell and the Original Bunny Gang. The band stops in San Jose for a free Daydream Nation concert at San Pedro Square Market headlined by the Phenomenauts on April 27.
“I’ve been a songwriter since before I joined Flogging Molly,” he says. “There are songs and stories that I need to get off my chest that don’t necessarily fit into the Flogging Molly vision. Instead of trying to force my songs into Flogging Molly, I realized, along with David King, whose advice was for me to do my own thing, that I should record an album.”
To help him do that, he called the best drummer he knew, his dad, who has played drums in bands his whole life. He is most known for his surf band in the ’90s called the Blue Hawaiians.
One thing Maxwell knew when recording was that he didn’t want to write a punk album. He’d already done that. Instead he came up with White Rabbit, a mellow, acoustic folk-rock album with a heavy reggae influence.
“Playing in Flogging Molly, I was really able to get that punk side of music out and get that off my chest. I did that for many, many years,” Maxwell says.
This was only a temporary sensation. “I started touring that record. What I realized from touring it is that I still have a hell of a lot of energy. I still am very much a punk-rocker. It’s difficult for to me to go up onstage and play a full set of mellow songs,” Maxwell says.
What was also temporary was the project remaining a solo venture. Touring gelled the foursome into a band. Maxwell even changed the name of the project to simply “The Bunny Gang.”
“It’s not just musicians playing my songs; it’s really evolved into a band,” Maxwell explains. “It’s completely democratic.”
Last year, the Bunny Gang went into the studio and recorded what will be their debut full-length album, which they plan to release sometime in late summer on Hardline Records. The songwriting is similar to White Rabbit, but Maxwell plays the electric guitar instead of the acoustic guitar. They have already released the song “Sirens in the City,” which sounds like early-’80s-era Clash, a far cry from the nonpunk White Rabbit.
“The new record is bigger, louder. The sounds are even further out, more eclectic. And it has more energy to it,” Maxwell says.
As the Bunny Gang has grown, Flogging Molly has required less of Maxwell’s time. Nowadays, Flogging Molly are playing roughly 50 shows a year, which is significantly fewer than when Maxwell recorded White Rabbit. This gives the Bunny Gang an opportunity to really become a touring band.
The Bunny Gang
Saturday, April 27; 6:30pm; free
San Pedro Square Market, San Jose