Kevin Norris

Interview: Tobin Bawinkel of Flatfoot 56

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Tobin Bawinkel, lead singer of the Chicago-based Celtic punk band, Flatfoot 56, discusses the band’s latest album, “Black Thorn,” the departure of a founding member, and the evolution of the scene during the bands 10 year history. 2010 marks the bands 10th anniversary. What has it been like being in a band for a decade?

Tobin Bawinkel: [Laughs] It’s been a long road. Doing anything for 10 years is really a trying thing. But it’s definitely been a blast. I’ve learned a ton through being in the band. I think you really start to understand what it means to put up with other people. I think you get a good grasp of what it takes to sacrifice to do what you love. After 10 years you look back at what you might have passed up to do it, you go to ask yourself the question “was it worth it?” And honestly, hands down, I’d say absolutely. It’s just been a blast.

SCMT: How do you feel the music scene has changed since the creation of your band to now?

Tobin: Honestly I think you see the music scene even flow. You see kids get into punk rock and then all of a sudden the next day there indie college kids or there into metal of they kind of go off into something completely different. Then there’s kids who stick with it and will always be with it. I think the scene in general, punk rock, will always be there. It’s been there for almost 40 years now, there will always be elements of it, but it’s kind of does even flow. I’ve seen a lot of growth within the Celtic punk scene.

SCMT: Do you feel it has at all altered the way you guys function as a band?

Tobin: As far as our sound is concerned, we started in 200 just playing straight up punk rock, maybe a little poppier than we are now because we were younger high school kids. But your influences do change over the years. It has influenced us but at the same time punk rock bands are usually pretty steady. There’s not really a thriving scene though, where you can jump right in off the bat and just survive financially. After 10 years were trying to still make half of what the economy level is. So it’s not for the money [laughs].

SCMT: The band recently had a member depart in bagpipe and mandolin player Josh Robieson, what was it like playing the last show with him after being band members for nearly a decade?

Tobin: It was hard. We are all very supportive of Josh; we all love him to death. He kind of came to the point in his life where it was really hard for him to leave but in order for him to play music he’d have to be away from his new wife and that was a big issue for him. He always struggled from being away from his family but when you add a wife to that it becomes unbearable. We had been noticing he was kind of struggling the last year with being on the road so much, so when he came to us and told us he was kind of struggling with it we understood, because if you’re not friends first you should not be in a band together. It really is a sacrifice, and you have to make sacrifices for other members in the band before you become a solid unit. I think that in order to play well you have to be close; you have to be good friends. It really was hard to see him go, but he left on good terms. He did say he would be available if we wanted him to fill in for anybody in the future.

SCMT: So do you have already someone lined up to replace him?

Tobin: Yes, we have two new guys. The new pipper [Eric McMahon] is an old roadie of ours; he’s been with us since the beginning. He actually grew up with Josh and Josh taught him bagpipes when they were growing up. He’s well equipped for touring and playing. Then we have an old friend Brandon Good who is an amazing mandolin player, who’s been able to pull it off really well.

SCMT: Your new album, “Black Thorn,” comes out on St. Patty’s day, what can one expect from it?

Tobin: You could definitely expect Flatfoot to hit it hard just like we always have. A lot of people who have laid their ears on it early have all said it’s a lot more mature. The content and the sound is a lot more advanced and mature. Johnny Rio, who produced it, did a really good job pull out our gifts and playing with it a lot. He’s an amazing producer. We are very excited about it coming out because it’s something we’re proud of. It’s the next step for Flatfoot and I think it’s a good step.

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