Learning to Listen: ACRN sits down with George and Gary Schwindt, formerly of Flogging Molly

By Taylor Linzinmeir, Staff Writer
[Photo creds Columbus Underground]

It’s 7 a.m. in George Schwindt’s Los Angeles home at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. He’s already awake. The former drummer of Celtic-punk band Flogging Molly no longer abides by a touring schedule, seeing a different city and culture every day. Instead, he is beholden to the schedule of his 8 and 6-year-old kids. If they’re awake, he’s awake. If they’re hungry, he’s making breakfast.

He’ll spend the rest of his day getting caught up with his schoolwork. He has two days to do about 40% of the statistics module coursework for his Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) program.

When the coronavirus hit the globe, and essentially wiped-out live music, his gigs playing drums for The Man in Black —a Johnny Cash tribute band —and others were postponed. He was going to have to find something else to do for a while.

“I’m of the opinion it’s not in human nature to work in a factory or go to a coal mine and do the same thing every day until you drop dead,” George said. “Since there weren’t any live shows due to the pandemic, and because I’ve always wanted to pursue an advanced degree, this was my opportunity.”

His EMBA will not only help him pass the time while he waits for live venues to open back up, but it will also help him with his business. Along with being a rock-star, George has owned his own music publishing company for 20 years, 26F Music Publishing.

“There are two primary types of intellectual property that drive the whole [music] industry; the copyright in the composition and the copyright in the sound recording,” George said.

While a record label generally operates under the aegis of the sound recording, a publisher manages the domain of the composition itself. Among other things, this includes making sure the song is copyrighted and taking care of licensing for film and television. Essentially, a publisher makes sure their clients get paid when people or films use their songs, while simultaneously trying to get their clients’ pieces used more.

The name of his music publishing company, 26F, was his father’s number when he raced Yamaha motorcycles out of his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. His father died from a racing accident in 1972 when George was nine years old. His mother, suddenly a widow with four kids, encouraged her children to play music as an outlet for their grief, according to a Yamaha Entertainment Group of America interview with George.

He took piano lessons from age nine until 12, when his mom finally let him switch to drums. That’s when he got his first drum set. He would listen to records and play what he heard.

When he joined Flogging Molly in 1997, he put the skill of quickly learning to play what he heard to good use by finding a new style of drumming for himself and the band’s music. Flogging Molly features a lot of instruments that are traditionally featured in Irish folk, such as fiddles and accordions. The percussion in Irish folk music traditionally comes from a single-headed drum called the bodhrán. George learned to duplicate the sounds of the traditional drum on his own kit’s floor toms and drum rims.

George and the five other musicians played every Monday night at Molly Malone’s, a pub in Los Angeles. They got their name, Flogging Molly, from appearing there so often. Those shows were cramped, with drunken fans often underfoot as George played. By the end of his tenure with Flogging Molly, he was traveling all over the world, playing major festivals and high-profile tours with anywhere from 5,000 to 500,000 people in the crowd.

By his side through it all was his manager —and younger brother— Gary.

While George was playing the drums after his father’s death, Gary played the trumpet as an homage to his father who also once played. But honestly, Gary had a lot more fun playing sports than he did in the band.

He and George both went to Ohio State University. They majored in Marketing and Music, respectively, and joined the same fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha. After college, and with the little money he had saved from working as a manager in General Electric distribution centers in New Orleans and Houston, Gary moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to take a gamble as a music manager for a new band —Flogging Molly. He managed them for well over a decade, even touring with them in the early days to play the trumpet on a few songs —albeit a little reluctantly. He also helped his younger sister, Geri, set up a gluten-free bakery, Cherbourg, in the Columbus suburb of Bexley.

“As the middle child, I’ve always wanted to please,” Gary said. “I’ve never had my own career aspirations. At some point, I should figure out what I want to do with my life. I love managing because I like figuring out someone else’s dreams and helping them get there.”

No matter what he decides on, he plans to continue to live a vigorous life. With two of his most promising young acts in Europe, he’ll soon be moving to London, England, with his wife, 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter to start his next adventure. But if the coronavirus continues canceling concerts for much longer, he’ll have to figure out his next career move sooner than he thought.

“Business is over if [the pandemic] doesn’t end soon,” Gary said. “If [home-concerts are] where this business goes, it’s not for me anymore. Going to the concerts is the amazing part of it, and if that goes away, I’m going to say ‘Check, please.’”

One festival in Avenches, a former Roman settlement in Switzerland called Aventicum, provided his brother George and his former bandmates the opportunity to play songs such as “Drunken Lullabies” and “Punch Drunk Grinning Soul” in a coliseum from the Roman Empire —George even walked through a gladiator tunnel to get onto the stage.

“[Performing] is hard to describe,” George said. “You want to get the wall to come down between the listener and the musician. You want people to feel what you’re feeling. You want them to have an intellectual, emotional and physical response.”

While he’s been learning how to be a better musician and business owner, he also teaches his children. His 8-year-old son understands copyright law. He makes sure his children listen to different types of music every day, from jazz to Punjabi hip-hop. He has taken them to see many concerts, including The Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure and Paul McCartney.

“I want them to understand that their ears are a sense that shouldn’t necessarily be attached to their eyes,” George said. “I want my kids to learn how to listen.”

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