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1916 is now


With an excited kerrang, Rochester Celtic rockers 1916 dives headlong into its show. The mechanics that go into the wielding of its collective instruments is blinding; all arms are in a windmill-blur.

Since 2010, 1916 – Billy Herring, guitar and lead vocals; Ryan Hurley, upright bass; Steve LaDue, drums; and John Kane, mandolin – has served this city a heaping dose of Celtic punk, or is it the other way around? With four albums to its credit, the band leaves a crater wherever it plays. Adding to the band’s wallop and crush is the galloping dog-house bass, which adds a unique psychobilly element to the group’s Celtic punk cocktail.
Rochester rockers 1916 color outside the Celtic lines. - PROVIDED PHOTO
  • Rochester rockers 1916 color outside the Celtic lines.
1916 feels free to color outside the lines compared to contemporaries like Flogging Molly or The Dropkick Murphys, who adhere to the confines of a stricter framework. With 1916, you hear a mash-up that sounds somewhere between The Pogues and Social Distortion. And, of course, there’s the speed. These cats rock steady at an accelerated clip.

1916 stopped by CITY to discuss Celtic influences mixed with psychobilly, the freedom it brings, and the versatility of whiskey. An edited transcript follows.

CITY: What’s the history behind the name 1916?

Billy Herring: 1916 is the year of the Easter uprising in Ireland. The short answer is, it’s 1776 for Ireland.

What’s the history behind the band 1916?

Herring: We started playing together acoustically in pubs like Johnny’s. We started playing electric with more people for a bigger sound in 2010. We played almost all traditional Irish songs acoustically. But we did B-sides.

There were songs that other bands played around Rochester that we didn’t want to play – songs that had been played over and over and over again. And we wanted to be a little different. So we went electric.

Our album “A Drop of the Pure” had two original songs in there. We came from original backgrounds, so we knew how to write music.

Whose bright idea was it to add the psychobilly element?
Rochester rockers 1916 color outside the Celtic lines. - PROVIDED PHOTO
  • Rochester rockers 1916 color outside the Celtic lines.

Steve Ladue:
I think it happened organically.

Herring: It was a conscious decision. Psychobilly has its roots in southern rock, obviously, which has its roots in Celtic music, but as a distant cousin.

What sets 1916 apart from other Rochester bands?

Herring: We’ve got Ryan Hurley.

Ryan Hurley: I’ll take it. I’m not doing a lot of the writing, but I am playing all of the bass.

Herring: There’s a flavor that 1916 has that is very Rochester, that nobody else has. It’s working class. There’s a certain poetry that’s happened to our city, for good or for ill, that resonates in the music.

I wish I could give you a straight answer. Nationally, you’ve got bands like The Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly; they’re both in the same genre but have two very distinct sounds.

I think you’re a little more free to explore and bastardize than those groups. You can get as Celtic as you want, or not.

Steve LaDue: Yeah. There’s a strength in the songwriting, there’s a strength in what we do, which fills it out where we don’t need seven members in the band.

When it all comes together, you don’t feel like you’re missing something. Even without the traditional instruments, you have a very full sound, and when you add them in it’s just incredible.

There’s also a contagious aspect to your gang vocals; people can immediately sing with or over you.

Herring: It’s great. It just kind of happens. People come to the gigs and start singing along right away.

How have you been received on the road away from the safety of a hometown crowd?

Herring: Very well, actually. But I wouldn’t say “safety.” One of the hardest cities we play in is Rochester.

Why, do you suppose?

Herring: Fuck, you tell me. It’s a tough city.

Hurley: Part of the problem is there are so many musicians in Rochester. Every night of the week, you can see a different band. It’s hard to get out and see other bands when I’m beat from playing out with my own band.

Herring: I’m guilty of it, too, as much as I complain about slim crowds in Rochester, I’m usually at home watching TV more often than out there watching other bands.

How important is whiskey to 1916 as a salute, a libation, an excuse for the band?

Herring: Whiskey has a lot of personalities in Irish music. Somebody dies, you have a glass of whiskey. You’re having a great day with a group of friends, you have a glass of whiskey. And whiskey is good as a metaphor for life.

You’ve been labeled “whiskey punk.” Is that accurate?

Herring: Whiskey punk. That’s our genre. We’ve been that ever since we first heard it – at least in my head.

Have you toured Ireland yet?

Herring: We toured Ireland in 2016 to celebrate 1916’s 100th anniversary.

Were you nervous doing their music in front of them?

I would preface it with, “Look, we’re an American band that plays music to get American people interested in Irish history.” And that’s it.