Interview: The Tossers


by pr!

Few of today’s youth with Irish blood know much of what the Irish have been thru. In battles with just about everyone in the region, they to this day are still dealing with the British, and that’s not even getting into the years of famine Ireland experienced after potato crop failures (a blow so detrimental it cut Ireland’s population by a quarter). What’s so special about Irish (and traditional Irish-American) families is the relatively close bond with music. Traditional Celtic music branched into Irish and Scottish flavors, but all carry similarities. With instruments like the fiddle, flute, bagpipes, harp’s, mandolin’s and more, even mainstream music has carried little in distinction or resemblance to this type of folk. This all changed with the rise of acts like The Pogues, whose lyrics wrapped around a variety of subjects such as drinking, women and politics. Insert this into the mix of the American youth music scene and you’re bound to start producing bands whose influence and inspiration with punk and folk go hand in hand. The 90’s saw the beginnings of bands like The Real McKenzie’s, Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly and The Tossers, a Chicago act whose sound was far from traditional or extreme. I first came across them with their dynamic “Long Dim Road” release, an album with very poetic influences and excellent forms of cultural therapy. This album is excellent for so many reasons. It’s lyrics go from songs about drinking to questioning police brutality (bringing up the 1997 beating of Jeremiah Mearday by the Chicago police) and then to harsh words on the problems in Ireland. Fast forward three years to the latest recordings by The Tossers, which are Tony Duggins, vocalist and mandolin master, bassist and accordionist Dan Shawbass, Aaron Duggins on tin whistle, guitarist Mike Pawula, Clay Hansen on banjo, drummer bones and fiddleist Becca Manthe, which is entitled “Purgatory”, off of Thick Records.

It’s been a while since I’ve resided behind the keyboard, so an interview with The Tossers was a skeptical thought at best. Yet, after constant spinning of their new record, I knew what had to be done. Find Tony. Talk to him. Preferably when he’s sober. This evening was like any of the others. It’s 7 o’clock on a Saturday night, and Tony’s getting ready for tomorrow’s bus trip, touring with the Subhumans. Along with the barrage of questions, I decided to challenge his Irish knowledge with randomly inserted questions, hoping to put him on the spot, as he looks like the sort of guy whose quick to point out his stance.

But appearances can be deceiving. With professional bands starting younger and younger, it’s hard to gauge any bands age these days. Lets start fresh. How old are you, Tony?
“I am 28. ‘I’m going to be 29 in a couple of weeks; May 15th”, Tony sighs.

Ah, I know that sigh. Like unwanted hair in awkward places of the body, the ‘age sigh’ starts around your 25th birthday. Then, it increases ever so slightly each year until it becomes a gasp, and then your old. Old and wheezing. All right, I’m not sure where I’m going with that.

Judging by what I’ve learned from VH1’s Behind the Music, musicians are always playing instruments young. VH1 will play some clip of Tommy Lee at three years old playing a kids drum set, shit like that. What was the age that you got into music? “Oh man, immeasurable”, says Tony. Were you the three-year-old kid with a drum set? “Completely!” Tony laughs.
“Pots and pans with spoons and shit. I played Joan Jett a lot, that’s my first memory that I can think of. Remember that song, where she goes “owww!”.. ‘I love Rock ‘N Roll’. It was on the radio, and I sang the “oww!” part and my mom came running in to kill whatever the fuck she thought had just hurt me.”

Sounds like a protective mother. Joan Jett is pretty scary (making a joke). Tony laughs, “no she actually thought I got hurt”, not getting my joke. While his mother played a major roll in the protection, did the parental units influence Tony?
“Yeah,” says Tony. “My parents and grandparents. My parents, they were tolerant of it. I mean, they pushed me that way too, after they saw how much I was into it. And now they’re very supportive, more then anyone.”

My parents pushed me into piano, which, unfortunately at the time, had little heroes. Sure, there was classic’s like Beethoven and current artists like Elton John, but come on, what 12 year old boy inspires to be either of those guys? And what would his friends think? I believe, had a close friend or non-parent relative encouraged me, I would have stuck to the piano. Instead, I chose skateboarding and music. Was there a particular relative that encouraged you?
“Yeah, my uncle Brace”, explained Tony. “Brace Holland, he had the Ted Nugent and the Kiss records, all the bad shit, the shit that my grandma wouldn’t even let me listen to. And a lot of my family plays musical instruments, actually.”

I immediately picture something only television could provide me with; the whole family sitting on the porch, washboard player and all. You guys ever jam together?
“Yeah, when I go visit by Grandpa, me and my brother sit around and play,” says Tony. “My grandpa plays the banjo, and my grandma plays, well, she don’t play with us. She just kinda lets the boys do their thing, you know? She’s just as content at making dinner and shit, you know how that goes. Old folks are that way,” Tony laughs.

First songs are crucial. That song that you learned your first riff of is the piece you use to ‘test’ the newest Fender over at Guitar World. What was the first song you learned how to play?
“The first song I knew I could play?” repeats Tony. “Hmm. I think the first song that I knew I matched it, that I had figured out, I know, was Sex Pistols. It was… (starts making vocal guitar lines in an effort to remember the name), um, “No point in asking you’ll get no reply”, what’s the name of that song? “Pretty vacant”, that’s it. No for real, I want down and grabbed my parents, put on the record and played right there with it to show them the progress I’d made. I was about 12-13 at the time.”

Ahh, the Sex Pistols. Ever so influent to the American youth. And that’s about the education level of those riffs anyways… if a 12 year old can play it…
Tony laughs, “Totally. But they brought the thunder. It’s the three chord songs that brings the heavy emotion, for lack of a better term. “

How about ‘Bring the meat to the table’?
Tony laughs, “totally!”

I just made that up.

As a teenager for me, it was all about music. If you weren’t into the coolest, most badass sound, then you my friend, were a poser. It sounds like you were into more underground music when you were 12-13 than other kids.
Tony: “I could have been 14, but yeah, I have to think I was 12 or so when I learned guitar. I was the same as any kid; I had the heavy metal tendencies. Well, same as any boy I guess, they always love that shit. I was into Metallica, Megadeth. And that was underground to us. I remember in fourth grade, when I saw Twisted Sister, that was the coolest shit I’d ever seen, and it got heavier and cooler from there. Black Sabbath, AC/DC, just the rock, and then I got into Megadeth and shit.”

Dave Mustaine has since quit playing in Megadeth, and the band has disbanded, due to an accident that left his arm and hand unusable for guitar purposes. Do you still listen to Megadeth?
“Nah, they aren’t,” says Tony, “or weren’t, nearly as cool as they used to be.

Finally, the first Irish question. I decided to start off with what I thought would be a relatively easy question. What year did St. Patrick die? “Fucking beats me,” laughs Tony. Maybe it was too hard of a question. I totally wouldn’t have known it was the year 461. It sounds weird because it’s a three-digit number.
“Huh? That’s the answer? He was kicking around a long time ago, no doubt about that,” he says.

Do you think the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a bit lost, at least here in America? K-Mart puts on a big spread of clovers and little Irish men?
“Yeah,” he agrees, “but if you want to get offended, it’s mainly about the kids that go out and get shitfaced, and then start fights and shit.”

Not to mention with green beer in their systems.
“Exactly, and that’s completely uncalled for.” says Tony. “The only way people get offended is because it’s celebrated different in Ireland. It really is a holiday there, because that was the day, supposedly, that they were converted, the Catholics and shit. But fuck that shit, man. Being an American, I wouldn’t want to live that way, with the church having an iron fist over everything. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland. Shit, it wasn’t ten years ago that fucking divorce was legalized. Who wants to live under a regime like that? It’s bad news over there.”

It’s not exactly like Ireland hasn’t had problems with other people occupying them, not to mention the whole British thing.
“That stunted their whole growth; they haven’t been able to see past that in such a long time,” explains Tony. “And you gotta look, Gallic is a Germanic language, it’s Middle Eastern and all that shit, that’s where the language stems from, and it’s never stopped following them, especially by the English. They have always been fucking with them wherever they went.”

The oppression in Ireland has existed for quite some time. Do you think there is a solution in Ireland’s future? I mean, has the British been there so long that it’s impossible to pull out?
“Yeah, I think it’s possible for them to pull out. I think I’ll see it in my lifetime,” Tony says, pausing for a moment. “I’d like to think, at least. It’s like a wasteland, if you’ve ever been there. But now, even the English places are shitty. The big jobs, the factories and shit, they all moved away after the economy busted out. And machines have replaced everything that’s still there. People don’t work like they used to. Your lucky if you can get a job selling Fruit of the Looms…. which even their plant closed down, so yeah, it’s just really bad over there right now.”

That paints a pretty dreary picture of a country in economic shambles; so you think the English are getting sick of being there anyways?
“Completely,” agrees Tony, “but they feel loyal to the loyalists, and that they can’t just back out, which is actually true because they would be at each others throat if there was no set plan, no way to work everything out. Subsidation, housing, government shit that exists everywhere. But I think they’ll be leaving soon because both sides are talking a lot more. The IRA ain’t blowing shit up anymore, especially after the 9-11 thing.”

That doesn’t surprise me. With all the anger against terrorists, I don’t think that the IRA could afford to talk tough, because the US would have to come down on them as well. But didn’t the IRA cease-fire back in the 90’s?
“Yeah they did,” says Tony, “but they came right back the next day. They called a cease-fire so they could go to London and have Good Friday and sit down and talk, but of course, they’re all babies and can’t agree on shit. So you had politicians walking out of the room, acting like fucking children. Next day, they went right fucking back. A bunch of hard headed fucking assholes. It’s their way or the fucking highway and they just want to blow shit up. Both parties are extremists. To get them both to sit down at once is a monkey’s tea party (!!!) Your lucky if you can get them to sit down next to each other, let alone agree on anything without going at each other’s throats. I hope things change for them, for my friends that live over there. But it’s none of my fucking business… I have no real business talking about them. I’ve never lived there, but…” he trails off. Aside from all the problems in Ireland, would you consider moving there?
“Sure, I would, if I could get a job.” Tony sighs. “Would I want to? No, not now, not the way it is over there.”

The Tossers claim Chicago as their home; hell, they even wrote a song about it on the new album. Where did you grow up? Have you always been in Chicago?
“Not always,” explains Tony. “Well, pretty much. I grew up in Illinois, in Shelbyville, about an hour outside of Chicago, but my parents moved around so much it would be pointless to list and boring to read.”

As a youngster, did you listen to Irish music? Could you have brought a tape of traditional Irish music into school? I know if I had brought a tape of anything relating to folk, my Slayer-listening buddies would have laughed incessantly.
Tony: “No, I wasn’t. I probably got into it around 17-18. My parents listened to it, but I hadn’t listened to it on my own ’till the Pogues. I was, well, I should have been in high school then but I was kicked out.”

Kicked out huh?
“Disciplinary problems,” he laughs. “I wasn’t a violent kid, but I got caught smoking cigarettes in school. After a certain number of times, they booted my ass.”

Over smokes?
“Yeah. No bullshit.”

You could have probably sued the tobacco company for that. I could see that type of lawsuit holding up in today’s court system.

The Tossers were formed back in 1992. Was that your first band?
“No, no way,” Tony says. “Actually, we had an Irish band before that, and some of the members went into the Tossers. It was me, the guitar player, the original guitar player Brian Dwyer and Bones, our drummer.”


What was the original name of the band?
“Well, we started with two names: ‘The Goners’ (laughs) I know, not much of a stretch, and we thought that was pretty stupid, so we went with ‘The Kevin O’ Conner Band’ named after the lead singer at the time. We did a lot of festivals and shit.”

That’s quite a name. Personally, I don’t care for bands named after the singer. What’s Kevin O Conner doing now?
“He’s fucking…,” Tony pauses, “He’s a paramedic. And kind of an alcoholic. He’s married to a woman I know, and him and her were off and on… He can be really nice, but can also be rather imposing but otherwise, he’s a really good friend, but I haven’t seen him much.”

Okay, so I learned something on your website: The Tossers were named after the phrase ‘Tossers’, named after then-worthless British coins, or something like that, right?
“I forget the years,” Tony laughs. “I’m good at things but not dates. It was after the 1916 revolution, where Britain gave the southern part of Ireland their independence, and the British coins became worthless. It means a whole lot of things now.”

Time for trivia. Presidential terms in America are four years. How long is a presidential term in Ireland?
“I think it’s five years. I’m pretty damn sure of that, actually,” Tony states. “I know it’s five.”

It’s seven.
“Oh is it? Ah well,” he laughs, amused by his incorrect answer. “I’m thinking of the last president…” (Rambles off)

Here’s a good one. Kissing the Blarney Stone will confer which talent?
“I don’t know, virility?” Tony asks.

Nope. Gift of the gab.
“No shit!”

Pretty fucking amazing, eh? So how important (aside from personal and religious beliefs) is Irish to Tossers? Is there a fine line between inspired and encompassing? Is it better to be that Irish band, the Tossers, or The Tossers?
“Well, honestly,” Tony explains, “the first thing I’ve got to say is that the religious beliefs have no place at all in The Tossers, and they never have, and that’s something we’ve never talked about, know what I mean? Never. As a matter of fact, I’ve written a few lines in songs to obscure that fact so people wouldn’t know which side we’re on.”

Thanks for disclosing that, although I think that most people would accept your stance no matter which side you spoke about. You ever run into someone who is against what you’re saying?
Tony: “No, not at all. If anything, I talk to a lot of Irish-Americans who support what we’re saying. But yeah, we stay away from the religious part of that, but as far as Irish-ness, as far as culture, yeah, there’s a bit of it. A lot of it, I guess. When we write, we tend to stick to traditional culture and stereotype. Everyone has a certain method to it. It might stay like this for a while, and it might not. I don’t want to lyrically be chained to any certain ideal or anything.”

Coffin ships are a pretty familiar term to anyone familiar with history. Who traveled on ‘coffin ships’?
“Well,” Tony states, “I would have to say, the Irish did. Refugees from the famine.”

That’s correct. Poor bastards. It’s probably what led them to the drink. What’s is it with the Irish and alcohol, anyways? Sometimes it seems like we should all be insulted, but then so many Irish openly embrace it.
Tony: “I think a lot of Irish people just don’t like to admit that a good portion of their family are alcoholics. Also, you get people in a poor economy, and they tend to turn to alcohol. A lot has changed in the last seven to eight years because of the boom with the Internet. That brought a lot of money to the country, since they manufacture computers and shit. A lot of stuff gets sent over there because they pay lower wages. Alcoholism is deceiving. Culture likes to present that the Irish are the worst of the alcoholics, but that’s totally wrong. I’d speculate that the Russians are worse,” he laughs, “and Germany, for sure, but Irish can’t be close to the worst, but they’ve gone thru so many years of oppression and repression that I can see why they’d turn to drinking and singing about drinking.”

Speaking of drinking, The Pogues were formed in what year?
“I’d like to think… 1983?” asked Tony, which was close.

It’s 1982. And speaking of the Pogues, what are your thoughts on the ‘other’ Irish acts, like the Real McKenzie’s, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphy’s, bands like those?
“Real McKenzie’s are great,” Tony says, enthusiastically. “Flogging Molly are the best musicians I’ve ever played with, and Dropkick Murphy’s? Those guys are just cool. We just went on the road with Flogging Molly, and those guys are the best.”

I saw that band at a shithole dive back in the day, in front of about 15 people, and to see them play at the Warped Tour in front of ten thousand kids is way cool.
“I believe it,” exclaims Tony. “That’s cool. Their musicianship is excellent. I tell you what man, we played a show in Pittsburgh, and afterwards, we mentioned that we know a bar down the road. So we went down there with the bass player, the accordion player and the mandolin player, and we sat and played at the bar the whole night. Totally fucking amazing. We didn’t play originals, just jigs and reels all night. I think I sang a few songs. It’s funny, they wanted to hire us. They thought we were a band! They offered us a grand to come back. We went ballistic. They let the bar stay open all night. We were so fucked up they locked me and the drummer in the back of the U-Haul that night, and we were beating the shit out of the inside the next day. They didn’t remember they put us in there, you know? It was a great fucking time, and I saw them play afterwards and they were 1000% better then I remember.”

You think the music scene is benefiting nowadays, with the Internet and all? It seems like kids are more into the music scene and making it more sophisticated.
“I don’t know if I’d say sophisticated,” sighs Tony. “We’re making the best music we can and I really, honestly think the people should listen to it, but we’re no big fucking deal. We’re not a Nirvana.”

You’re not Good Charlotte.
“Oh man, no,” he laughs. “No we’re not Good Charlotte. We’re the furthest from Good Charlotte we could possibly be.”

Speaking of new music; are you into the new sound? Listen to what’s on the radio?
“Lately, I… Hmm,” Tony pauses, trying to answer. “No, I’m not. Not lately. I’m so old now. I liked Tilt, they were a big band a few years ago. Tribe 8, they were really fucking good. I don’t know.”

Let’s talk about politics. Before we get to current events, who did you vote for in the last election?
“In the last election?” he asks. “With Bush and Gore? I voted for Nader (laughs). A lot of people said that was a waste of a fucking vote, but I really believed it. I really thought that a wasted vote was voting for something I didn’t believe in. I wanted to vote for Nader, but I was leaning towards Gore because I knew Nader didn’t have a fucking chance in hell, but again, didn’t want to vote for something I didn’t believe in. If he came up, I’d vote for him again. And it’s not like my vote makes a fucking difference anyways!” Tony jokes.

Good points. That’s kind of my view, which I admit is terrible and defeating to have, but it never, never comes down to a single vote. So why should mine count? And yes, if everyone thought that (many do) there would be no voting. I realize this. But it’s not like our voices have counted lately *ahem*war protests*ahem*. Thoughts on the war we just had? Where were you standing before it began?
Tony sighs, “The war man. It was a pretty big deal, but it’s going to be obliterated from the history books because it was so short. Where was my position before it started? I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t like it at all. I really thought it was a bad fucking idea. In hindsight, I think, you know, if Bush would have came out and said, “Hey, we didn’t want to deal with these people before because we didn’t have any interest in the country, but now, we need the oil because the Oil reserves in Venezuela got taken over” it would have been better. We lost a lot of oil from that. If he had just been honest, but no, he said a bunch of bullshit. This guy [Saddam] is a fucking tyrant, and its not like there are bunch of worse leaders than him. He’s got weapons of mass destruction, which we have yet to find. They’ve been fucking with him for over ten years, trying to take him down. The only reason we pulled out of the first war was because we went in there and slaughtered everyone. That’s why you see all this coverage on TV now on how good they are, on how they are not blowing up the water supplies, not blowing up residential areas, not fucking with the resources and only hitting military targets. That’s why they’re telling us that now, because last time they just fucked everything up and it was a public relations smear. It would have been way better for Bush to come out and say, “We didn’t have any reason to fuck with him until now, so now that we need the oil we’re going to free the people of Iraq. It wasn’t in our interests before, but now we need it, and we’ll make sure to install a government that will work hand in hand with us”. You know what I mean? They are all scumbags. They are fucking rich and they love their filthy money and their marble elevators. Okay, I’m done.”

It makes the people being fucked in Africa wish that they were living on top of oil.
“Exactly. Exactly!” Tony shouts.

Is that his blood-alcohol level talking? I can tell this is pretty important to him.
He continues, “And we jilted the American people into thinking that they did this to us, that there was a relationship with the Afghani people and the terrorists, and a relationship with the Iraqi people and terrorists.”

Bill Maher said a great line, (I attempt to quote it, this is probably not the exact phrase) ‘”Well, we’ve learned one thing from this war on terrorism. White people can’t tell Arab’s apart”‘ Tony laughs hard, “No shit!”

So you are a green party voter, eh?
“Well, I voted for Nader but I don’t know much about the green party per say,” Tony says, disavowing any allegiance. “I’ve gotten pamphlets and read about it. I don’t follow it though, but the way the party goes, I can see how I’d go along with it.”

Understood. I don’t think anyone needs to be 100% any party – that’s what some of the hardliners are missing. More trivia! What was the IRB stand for?
“International Republican Brotherhood,” Tony quickly says.

Wrong! Irish Republican Brotherhood.
Tony laughs, “Ah, I’m sorry, I fucked that up. You knew I know that. They were what the IRA became. In 1916 they changed.”

No problem (traitor!). What city was Bram Stoker born in?
“The Dracula guy? Probably Dublin,” he says, completely guessing the correct answer.

Which infamous cruise liner was built in the Irish shipyard Harland & Wolff?

Yes! What alcohol is needed for Irish coffee?

Right on. Speaking of whiskey, what’s good about Chicago anyways? If I visited, what would be the one thing you would recommend doing over everything else?
“Hmm.” He ponders. “Not much. Walk out to the waterfront and steal a canoe.”

What’s the worst thing about Chicago?
“Getting murdered,” he coldly states. “Or getting beat up. Otherwise, it’s pretty nice.”

Murdered? What’s up with that? I live in Southern California, gang capitol of the world and home of riots galore.
“It depends what neighborhood you’re in. Certain populations of race’s live in separate area’s.”

What time is last call in Chicago?
“2 o clock. There’s a place that’s open till 4am. Homberto’s is open 23 hours, and you can probably party all night there. Course, I don’t speak the language,” he laughs.

So, did you watch the movie Chicago?
“Oh, no,” says Tony, laughing at the thought of the movie. “I’m not a big Richard Gere fan, or anyone else in that fucking movie.”

Final Irish trivia question. Ready? What was the most popular name given to boys born in the Rep. of Ireland during 1999?
“Oh god, I don’t know. Can I pick three?”

Sure. “Liam?” Nope. “Shane?” Nope.
“Pat?” Nope. “Conner”.
“Conner? I got a friend named Conner,” Tony says, honoring his friend by getting his name in print.

All right, that’s pretty much it. Got some final thoughts?
“Nothing man. Really, thanks for the interview,” he says, also mentioning that “We’re going on tour with Subhumans and The Enemies.”

Do you plan on touring to California?

“Fuck yeah. We’ve been out a few times, and we hope to be back soon.”

And there you go. Their new album, “Purgatory” is out now on Thick Records. Their website is If you’re into any of the other Irish bands and have yet to lend an ear towards the Tossers, I would recommend doing so. After all, you read thru this long ass interview. What are you, some sort of scanger?