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Interview: Tony Duggins of the Tossers

By Matt Wood in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 7, 2007 8:00PM

tduggs.jpgFor the record: Tony Duggins knows people may think of his band as just another imitator to the Pogues' crown. Not surprisingly, Duggins also doesn't care. "They're my heroes, you know," he says. "We get compared to them a lot, and that's cool by me. But no one's ever come up and said, 'Dude, fuck you — you ripped off the Pogues.' I'm sure they're thinking it, though.

"Hell, I'd probably say the same thing."

In the past 14 years of existence, the Tossers have certainly paid their dues. From their South Side Irish roots, the band has built from basement shows and VFW halls in the south 'burbs to gigs at the Fireside Bowl and Metro. The band is essentially the Chicago precursor to the more well-known Irish-rock bands like Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. In spite of this, Duggins says they still get slagged off as johnny-come-latelys to the Celt-punk scene.

"Yeah, we get that too," Duggins says, checking in from the road. The band is currently touring in support of the Reverend Horton Heat, and will play a two-night stand Thursday and Friday at the Metro. "I'm sure someone told Metallica they were a bunch of Motorhead ripoffs, you know?"

Signed to Victory Records since March of '05, the Tossers continue their assault on all things sober and sacred, and will perform at New York's Roseland Ballroom on St. Patty's Day with the Pogues themselves.

More from Tony after the jump ...

Chicagoist: How did the upcoming Pogues show come about?

Tony Duggins: Becca [fiddle player for the Tossers] emailed Spider, their whistle player. We'd been asking them for a while, and he said sure, how about Paddy's Day in New York. We said "fuck yeah!"

C: You guys had been on tour with Spider before, back in '05, right?

TD: Yeah, about two years ago. It was a small tour, we went to the east coast, but it was a fuckin' blast. Aaron [Tony's brother and Tossers tin-whistle player] just started talkin' to 'em — Aaron talks to everyone, you know. And in correspondence between the two of 'em he said hey, do you want to the hit road, and we said "sure."

We did that tour with Spider and [the setup] was like Spider was the lead singer and we just played all Pogues songs and he was the singer for the tour. We were just his band. But we did two sets a night, we did a Tossers set, and then Spider came out, and we did a Pogues set.

Then on St. Pat's night [that year] we did four sets. An all-ages show and a 21 and over show. I got so hammered I fell of the fuckin' stage, no shit. It's on tape somewhere.

C: The Illinois Entertainer put out a list a few months ago listing the top 25 local albums of the past ten years. Were you surprised you guys were on it?

TD: Yeah, we were up there with R. Kelly and really huge shit. You know, Kanye and all them dudes. And then we were on there, and I couldn't fuckin' believe it. I was blown away — totally honored. It was way cool. And I couldn't believe it was for [2000 Thick Records relase] Long Dim Road. They were raving about how good it was, and I was psyched to hear something like that. I don't know what people think of us, we just do what we do because we like it.

C: It seems like where other punk bands will get back together when they're older, and it just doesn't have the same kind of magic or energy, the type of things you are doing means the Tossers could be playing until you guys are all 70.

TD: Well, it's old music. That's the beauty of it. That's what I like about it. We'll never change, because we love what we've been doing. The bands I like are Motorhead and the Ramones, shit like that. That's the same attitude I've got. We'll never change because we love it.

C: You guys were on the Jimmy Kimmel show last year for St. Pat's — any plans for that this year?

TD: You know, they were talking about the Kimmel thing again — they were talking about pitching us for a couple things. We're not doing it on Patty's Day, though. God, I fuckin' hope not. Jimmy Kimmel is cool as hell, and all those guys are great, but having to fly from New York to L.A. isn't the best thing to do on St. Pat's Day. Not that I'm complaining or anything. But then, [remember] we woke up and did the Mancow show that morning too. And that was at 5 a.m.

C: The new record comes out on March 20. Previous records like Purgatory and Long Dim Road have had a kind of theme to them, all about struggle and death. Does the new disc have the same feel?

tosser.jpgTD: Really, it's got less of a theme than any of the other records. It's a bunch of songs put together that are just about people that are in real bad places. It doesn't run like a storyline or something like that. If there is one, the theme is recognizing that your life has to change.

We've got [new songs] like "Never Enough," plainly just a drinkin' song. "Never enough booze to put up on the table." Then there's "Pub and Culture," kind of an anti-drinking song. It's about macho attitudes and the confusion of taking your life in a a healthy direction.

C: It seems like most of your newer work has slowed down a bit, but your live sets still keep most of the uptempo punk-rock tunes in there.

TD: Yeah, most of the live set is all the fast stuff. So much so sometimes I get winded, I can't breathe. You know, we'll still do "Aye Sir" and "Altercations" and "Buckets of Beer" and all that shit. From [each] record we've been trying to play two or three songs — but from the new one we've been playing less. The record ain't even out yet, so what's the fuckin' point? But on a night we rotate two or three different spots. I hate seeing a band and it's only all their new shit.

C: Even with all the drunken punk tunes, some of your work has a romantic streak to it. Has anyone ever come up to you and told you that they got married to your music, or anything like that?

TD: Oh, yeah, me and Becca played at someone's wedding. [off, to the band] We played at Maura's wedding, too, right? An old friend of ours. I hear that all the time though — some guy in Rhode Island got married to "Late," from The Valley of the Shadow of Death. I mean, we [even] played at a graduation party once.... That was like 13 years ago. I remember I passed out in their hot tub.

The Tossers play the Metro on Thursday the 8th (21+) and Friday the 9th (all ages). Agony will be released through Victory Records on March 20.

Interview by Karl Klockars.