Features, Print December 10, 2018

The Stubby Shillelaghs: Growth, Depth and The Great War

by Dan England

On a recent Friday night, Ryan Knaub, a founding member of the Stubby Shillelaghs , drank in Patrick’s Irish Pub – where it all started – wearing a shirt proclaiming his love for the death metal band Amon Amarth.

The Stubbies are unabashed metal fans. They played Iron Maiden one year at My Favorite Bands, Greeley’s festival of bands that pay tribute to favorites. And yet the Stubby Shillelaghs made their living playing the kind of fun, folky music every Tuesday (and other nights) you’d expect to hear in a venue called Patrick’s Irish Pub. But when you hear Knaub, the band’s bass player, talk about the latest Stubby project, it sounds as if he’s playing for the band on his T-shirt, not the folky Shillelaghs.

After all, on the new EP, The Great War, the band covers classic tunes that detail the horrors of war, with a special focus on World War I. Knaub got the idea for the record from a popular podcast, Hardcore History, by Dan Carlin, a show that details “the extremes of human existence,” Knaub said.

The band broke up in 2015, burnt out on playing three times a week, including every week at Patrick’s. Six months later, the three founding friends, Knaub, Andy Mithun and Shaughnessy McDaniel, decided they missed the music, the whiskey and each other and got back together in early 2016. This project is the first since the band reunited, and the Stubbies couldn’t be happier with the result – partly because Knaub now has a recording studio in his home and Mithun, who lives in Salt Lake City, has a similar set-up.

“We tried to up the quality of our recordings,” Knaub said. “We’ve paid for them at a pro studio before, and our recent results were less than what we wanted. This was really liberating, actually.”

This project was Knaub’s idea, and he acted as the producer of this record as well as the bass player. He acknowledges that it’s much different than what fans are used to hearing. Even the music has a much sadder tone, though fans will still recognize the instrumentation and the Stubbies’ folk sound.

“Normally we are partying and having a great time,” Knaub said. “This is a remorseful, violent and almost depressing release. But war is a piece of shit, and I don’t want anyone to endure it again.”

The project comes on the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, and that makes it appropriate, Mithun said. And while you may not think a party band was capable of such deep music, part of the reason Mithun and the other band members were excited to record the EP was to prove that the Stubbies were more than just a band that danced in kilts and chugged whiskey to folk songs in a pub. “As an artist, it is exciting to get out of your comfort zone and grow,” Mithun said. “It is also great to show another side of ourselves.”

Knaub’s passion for the project rubbed off on the rest of them. “It was a privilege to help Ryan see the project through,” Mithun said. “He made us all very excited to record The Great War.”

The band will play at the Moxi Theater on Saturday, December 15 performing The Great War in its entirety in addition to more familiar, fun songs. But you shouldn’t expect to see the Stubbies play many gigs in Greeley any longer. The band’s moved on to larger festivals and now believes in quality, not quantity, and is much choosier about where to play. Patrick’s was wonderful, Knaub said, and so is Greeley, but the band is determined to avoid the burnout that split them apart the last time.

Still true to their folk-y, metal t-shirt-wearing roots, the “new Stubbies” are keenly aware of the power music has to break friends apart, keep them together and to rouse emotions deeper than those of drunken pub shenanigans. “Folk music can jerk a tear far more than brutal metal music,” Knaub says, and therein lies the Shillelaghs new depth of power: purpose.