BY MEGAN KRUGER
In 2016, my father insisted I have an Irish band play at my wedding. I was marrying into a family that had roots in County Mayo and my future grandmother-in-law still spoke with an Irish brogue.
My father believed this gesture would pay great homage to the Irish family I was raised by and the one I was anxiously awaiting to join. But, I must admit, I was experiencing symptoms of Bridezilla-itis and was not sold on the idea. I had dreams of a rowdy wedding playlist with heavy bass so I could break it down in my white dress. I was reminded once again of the power of my father’s persistence, when I was asked to meet him for a beer at the Treehouse in Tremont, Ohio. The bar was packed body to body and generations of Irish Clevelanders were definitely “breaking it down.” Mary’s Lane, the local Irish-American rock band, shared pints of Guinness with fans all night as they played traditional Irish jigs and some songs of their own creation. My dad knew his idea would see life when my future husband and I were headbanging to Mary’s Lane’s rendition of “Zombie” by the Cranberries, (one of my all-time favorite songs to break it down to). Even though we couldn’t score Mary’s Lane for my big day (they were on tour in Ireland!), my father beamed with pride because the Irish band we hired ended up being the highlight of everyone’s time. My husband and mother-in-law held each other close as they danced to “The Voyage,” and my sister-in-law entertained our guests with years of Irish dancing talent.
My new-found love for Irish music was initiated that first night listening to Mary’s Lane in a crowded Irish pub. My fangirling did not stop there. In fact, Mary’s Lane 2018 released album, “Wild Unknown”, was my top played album on Spotify in 2018. So when I had the chance to sit down with the members of my favorite Irish band for an interview, I jumped at the opportunity. I needed to know what music they liked to break it down to; what songs they love to play live, and how they pull inspiration from the Rock n’ Roll Capital of the World, Cleveland, Ohio.
Weeks away from their annual St. Patrick’s Day performance at PJ McIntyre’s, I met the band during sound check after they loaded equipment in from a windy, cold Cleveland night. Playing at PJ’s is a sort of homecoming for the band, as Pat Campbell was one of the first pub owners to give them a stage and time slot to showcase their music. Members Pat Mulloy, Michael Crawley, Mark Whalen, Matt Sofranko, Tessa Thistlethwaite, and Brent Hopper make up the Irish band that is rooted in rock n’ roll. Nine to five gigs, hobbies and simply being Irish in Cleveland brought these musical nomads together 10 years ago. For born and raised Clevelanders, rock n’ roll was inevitably a theme of inspiration for the band, but the Irish community has been at the core of inspiration for the members who believe this town nurtured their sound to become what it is today. “We always see familiar faces in the crowd supporting us, the Cleveland Irish community is close knit and rallys around the ones they love”.
Some members of Mary’s Lane grew up listening to Irish music in the community they play their originals for today. They once belonged to the same fan bases that now follow their music and come out to see their shows. Vocalist and guitar player, Michael Crawley, as a kid loved going to see Alec DeGabriele of New Barleycorn, perform. Crawley considers DeGabriele to be the Godfather of Irish music here in Cleveland. As a child, he sat among generations of Irish Clevelanders, and hoped one day he’d be the guy on stage. The nurturing and supportive space for musicians that Irish Cleveland cultivates is what allows each member of Mary’s Lane to express themselves creatively with original songs and lyrics. Not only does each member contribute to the creation of lyrics, (most frequently around Pat Mulloy’s kitchen table) five out of the six members also have a set of pipes behind their strings. Because of this, Mary’s Lane has a unique approach to their gigs, each vocalist taking a turn at band leader.
For Mulloy, writing is the fuel behind his passion. He knew that in order to truly stand on their own two feet, the collaborative needed to produce and create their own storyline. And that’s exactly what their music does– tells a story. Not only does the audience get to sing along to stories of Irish heritage, but each member has used writing to pay homage to a phase in their life or a tale they experienced. Mulloy, who wrote and sings on the track “Smoke” likes to keep a mystery to the meaning of the song. Some fans have their theories and he loves allowing everyone to come to their own conclusions. Crawley’s “Box of Roses” was a tribute song to his father’s passing in 2009, when generations of family and friends gathered to celebrate a loved one’s life. “Last Gift”, is a creation by SoFranko, who wanted to address the somberness and anxiety we all feel when a loved one is sick or passing. He wrote the song when his grandmother was ill and wanted the anthem to be a tribute to life, something people could celebrate. SoFranko says the first time the band played “Last Gift” it was far too slow and depressing, so they sped it up and added some life to the tune because “no one wants to be depressed in an Irish pub”. Mulloy and SoFranko believe having so many talented writers in the band is what really pushes the lyrics forward. There is definitely a sense of healthy competition when creating original songs but at the end of the day songs that end up on their albums are piecemeal of sorts, pulling something from each member’s repertoire.
While a lot of the band’s writing is influenced by an underdog mentality, something rooted in every Clevelander, Mulloy attributes a lot of the band’s sound progression to Brent Hopper. Hopper spiced things up when he joined the crew a few years ago. “Someone’s got to spike the punch bowl and Brent definitely stepped up our professionalism, he brings a dynamic to the band that allows us to really jam out in a new and different way”. The sound Mulloy describes is a versatile, uplifting, heartfelt rally cry for their fans.
When each member takes the mic, fans have the ability to relate to the stories and lyrics of many different vocalists and walks of life. Whalen, who brings the bang to the band’s sound believes the variety of musical talent is what really sets Mary’s Lane apart. It’s not every day you can witness live music and have five vocalists all carry their own. Not to mention a vocalist who can also play the banjo, electric/acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, or bagpipes! Things were really amplified for Whalen and the crew in 2017 when the band traveled to Ireland for their first international tour. All the band members were anxious about how their interpretation of Irish music would be received inside the music halls of County Mayo. Whalen says the band loves to open up to “Green and Red of Mayo” and as soon as he hears the bagpipes, he’s transported to another headspace, where all the anxiety fades away. When Whalen looked up from his drums to see body to body crowds in the Irish pubs of Achill Island, his passion for what Mary’s Lane had been working on for years was legitimized. During their Ireland tour, the band was invited to play at Matt Molloy’s Irish pub, owned by the grammy award winning singer from The Chieftains.
At Matt Molloy’s pub, laughter is the language and Mary’s Lane had the chance to play their songs and some traditional tunes to an audience that was singing along! Holding a real-life Grammy wasn’t too bad either!
While the pub performances in Ireland provided once in a lifetime memories for the band, one of their favorite performances happened right here in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2016, Mary’s Lane was named Best Band in Cleveland which came with the honor to play a few sets at Cleveland Public Hall. A venue that was played by the Beatles and other legends that fill the showcases of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Mulloy said before they opened up he was looking down at his shoes and thinking “wow, John Lennon once stood where I’m standing”.
When I asked each of the members how they got their start, I inquired whether or not their middle school self would think what they’re doing today is cool. Whalen who learned how to play the drums in a dingy old basement believes he’s still that same guy, just beating on stuff till it sounds good. Mulloy who played at his high school rock off still loves playing some of the songs he wrote when he was getting started. Crawley envisioned himself being the vocalist/bagpipe player/guitarist he is today. Thistlethwaite doesn’t think the shy and nervous middle schooler Tessa would recognize the women who bagpiped across Europe or rocks out with her fiddle on stage in front of rowdy crowds. The only answer that truly differed from the rest came when I asked SoFranko, what middle school Matt would think of his playing today, he responded, “No, not cool”.
Mary’s Lane is a local band with international recognition. I asked the members what should be the biggest takeaway from my interviews with them and Mulloy answered family. Family in the crowd, family on stage. “We treat the band like a family, through thick and thin, we stick with it”.
If you want to celebrate with one of Cleveland’s best Irish bands this St. Patrick’s Day you can catch them at one of their favorite community spots, PJ McIntyre’s in Kamms Corner.
Favorite song to play live?
- Zombie — Crawley & SoFranko
- Smoke — Whalen
- Rain On My Parade — Thistlethwaite
- Anything that incorporates guitar toys — Mulloy
Favorite song to play for yourself?
- Mr. Brightside — Whalen
- Everything that Glitters (Is Not Gold) — Crawley
- Smoke — SoFranko
- Anything sad or depressing — Thistlethwaite
Favorite St. Patrick’s Day Tradition?
- Going to St. Colman’s morning mass with the band — Crawley, SoFranko, Whalen, Thistlethwaite and Mulloy.