Interview with The Tossers vocalist Tony Duggins | By Hutch | Photo by Dustin Smith
Tony Duggins, vocalist of The Tossers, answers the phone while his five-year-old son tugs at him. “We’re playing ‘Peppa Pig’ and watching ‘Charlie Brown,’” he says. His son repeatedly asks him when he’ll be done talking. Duggins allays him, “Soon.” In the meantime, he discusses his band’s eighth studio album, beaming with pride. “My daughter gets home from school at 3 p.m.; she is 7,” he notes. Not wanting to compete for his attention, we immediately delve into the arduous process that manifested Smash the Windows, released via Victory Records on March 3.
Despite being on Victory, Chicago’s dominating hardcore label, The Tossers are an Irish folk band. Sure, skins and punks are drawn to the infectious, rowdy tones and melodies that pair so well with stouts, ambers, and whiskey, but The Tossers have spent two decades adhering to tradition and show a real aptitude for vivid storytelling. Smash the Windows bursts forward as the fruit of dedicated labor.
“It was lot of work, we put a lot into it. It’s epic, just a massive piece of work, but we got everything in it that we wanted,” Duggins assures. “This has a lot more songs, a lot more music. We spent a lot more time on the instrumentation, a lot more time on the subject matter. I got more personal with the lyrics. We had to keep an ear open for good traditional sounds. We always stay in the structure of traditional Irish jigs, reels, aires—their musical timing and melodies. But we speed it up with contemporary time changes. It’s well-rounded. It’s a classic without feeling old and dusty.”
The Tossers recently introduced new violinist Emily Ruth Constantinou into the fold. Duggins refers to the adjustment as “a piece of cake. She took to it right away,” he says, “fit in really well. She’s a great person and a really good friend.” On the tin whistle is Duggins’ brother Aaron. Denying any familial tension, Duggins claims working together is “easy. We grew up together, so we are of the same mindset. It’s nice instead of having egos clashing.” As far as the rest of the group, Duggins insist it’s always a smooth, collaborative songwriting process. “We finish each other’s sentences,” he adds.
Lyrically, Smash the Windows is a departure from the band’s darker earlier work. “I’ve been laying low,” Duggins explains. “I’m lucky. I have taken time off to be a dad. I just love them. I want to be with them as much time as I possibly can. They are a miracle.” He notes, “I’ve written ‘My Love’—partly about my wife as well—but mostly, about my kids.”
Admitting to the absence of stark and solemn introspective tunes about anxiety and failure on the new album, Duggins continues, “I try not to be as self-indulgent. I try to comment on the world around me, Irish-American culture and heritage. That’s what they’ll be growing into. I try not to glorify any selfish behavior. They have entirely changed my life, and it is reflected in the music. I’m not coming from a place of depression anymore. You can hear it in the last two albums and in the new one.”
The record opens with “Erin Go Bragh,” which Duggins says “is a powerful way to start. It’s about immigration, being proud of what the Irish have accomplished in this country, while remaining true to their roots.” Given our current climate, the slope of pride to discrimination can be slippery, but Duggins says, “You just straight-up teach your kids not to be prejudiced. Lead by example. In this political landscape, it’s more important than ever. You relate to how people might feel in different situations. Like, I have never been a refuge, but I can bet it sucks.”
Smash the Windows is rife with amazing songs: the haunting “Resurrection Mary,” the whimsical “Drinking All the Day”—echoing the old “Drinking in the Day”—the weepy “1969,” and the raucous “Humors of Chicago.” The Tossers even do a version of “Danny Boy,” a catchy tune named “The Town Where I Was Born.” Smash the Windows is a journey of instrumentation and lyrics that evoke solemn memories and exciting moments.
Despair not: even with all the positivity and hope, there are still some classic drinking tunes. Duggins confirms, “This is Irish-American folk music; of course I’ll still write about drinking. That will always be there.”
As far as the title track, it’s not a rallying cry for revolution or violence. “My wife said, ‘Your crowd just wants to hear about songs about drinking and fighting,’” Duggins shares. “The title is taken from an old an Irish song. It’s an old tune, and that’s the main melody. We wrote lyrics and more music around it. It’s just fun. I didn’t want to glorify the barbarian stereotype. I try to be conscious. But hell, we just have fun with it. It ain’t hurting nobody.”