Killigans' steady work continues with latest album

Story and photos by Nicole Konen, NewsNetNebraska

“They’s a rowdy bunch of buggers from the start” goes a song from the Killigans’ self-titled first album from 2005. That’s what I found when I traveled to Fuse Recording off of West O Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. Five of the six members of the band were already performing sound checks for their fifth album set to be released this fall.

Their previous albums have been labelled paddy punk, Irish punk and folk punk. In a 2007 Lincoln Journal Star article, the Killigans’ bassist, Trevor Nebesniak, said they prefer the genre “blue collar” music. Whatever people call it, the band has retained its sound of simple chords, history-inspired lyrics and an overlay of traditional Irish instruments such as mandolins, accordions and bagpipes. The Killigans have maintained their music through marriages, children, fallouts with previous band members, and now the making of their newest album.

Killigans’ genesis

The Killigans were formed from an amalgam of previous bands. Brothers Chris and Pat Nebesniak, along with Brad Hoffman, were in the band Settle For Less before they decided to go in a new direction by forming the Killigans in 2004. Later, Greg Butcher, fresh from law school, was tacked on as a guitarist and backup vocalist. Ben Swift was originally added on as a temporary drummer but  has remained with the band. Trevor, the oldest of the Nebesniak brothers, was added because he could play bass and as the band jokes, “because he had a van.”

According to Chris Nebesniak, they’ve all settled down somewhat, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing–they each have wives and careers and between the six members there are 11 kids. “The time you take in the band for practice shows and travel takes time away from family and work,” said Greg.

Time management isn’t the only challenge facing the band. Physical ailments have also taken their toll. Chris said most of the band members are starting to lose their hearing from the loud music they play. Trevor said he has back problems from moving music equipment constantly.

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Set to finish next album with signature drive and character

The Killigans appear to leave their problems at the door when working in the studio. When I arrived I was happily greeted by Greg Butcher and Chris Nebesniak. Beyond lighthearted teasing between the band members, when they played, they conveyed a focus that never led them far off track. For all of the Killigans’ loud music and lyrics about booze swilling, the band members are humble and hesitant to talk about their ambitions. One of the first questions Chris asked me was, “So… why did you want to do a story on us?”

Greg Butcher, 29, taught himself guitar in eighth grade. He’s inspired by punk bands like Rancid and NOFX.

The hallways and rooms of the studio were filled with guitars and drum kits – even the restrooms were stacked with instrument cases – and the band was crammed in a tiny wood-floored control room with a couch, mixing console, microphones and all the band’s instruments. I stood in the door frame trying not to get in anyone’s way. I set the voice recorder down and let them play one of their warm-up tunes.
The single they played, “Hit The Deck,” has a driving melody and biting lyrics: “We’re comin’ in, hit the deck, a grip upon your neck, as a comfort tells us when to breathe” went one line. The song sounds like something you’d hear in a movie about pirates staging a mutiny, only sped up and played by punk musicians.

Brad Hoffman, a founding member of the Killigans, learned guitar at age 20. He’s now also the lead singer of the band.

Secret to longevity

When asked how they’ve stayed together for eight plus years, Pat Nebesniak chimed in with one of his only answers of the interview: “Love.”
Ben Swift had a more sincere answer: “It just happened to work out that we can hang out with each other and play music… and make good music.”
Not ones to be straight-faced for too long, Greg Butcher said, “We just haven’t gotten any better offers yet.”
One of the band’s biggest challenges is balancing practice with their jobs and families. Chris Nebesniak said it’s also one of the reasons they’re more grounded than other bands because none of them are bouncing between part-time jobs. Hoffman said they don’t take things too seriously because they aren’t career musicians yet and don’t have big egos when it comes to their music.

Looking ahead

Even though the Killigans release an album about once every two years, the band has had some major accomplishments. Chris said they have fans on every continent and at least one person in every European nation has their album (even if it’s a pirated one). The band agrees that a crowning achievement was having their music featured in a major motion picture. Chris said one day he got a call from Universal Studios asking about one of their instrumental pieces. “I kind of thought it was a joke at first,” he said, “It snowballed from there.” The negotiations ended with the song “Lessons From the Empty Glass” featured in Ridley Scott’s 2010 film “Robin Hood” starring Russell Crowe.

One intangible accomplishment the Killigans have earned is a reputation as one of the best attended live acts in Lincoln and a solid act on the national scene. The Killigans have played in such major cities as Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas City and Chicago and have opened for acts like Flogging Molly. At this point they’ve started to get more requests than they have time for. A university in Austria asked them to play for St.Patrick’s Day and recently they were also asked to open for Jack’s Mannequin in Florida. The band declined both offers because they were already committed to gigs in Lincoln.

Trevor Nebesniak, 42, playing bass for “Tales of Brigands and Bravery” set list.

When asked where the Killigans would be in five years, Brad Hoffman deadpanned, “Dead.”
Ben Swift answered more sincerely, “We put an album out about every two years so we should have two more albums out,”
Greg Butcher said, “Some of our kids might be old enough to actually replace some of us.”