The Chicago White Sox aren't the only icons to come out of the city's South Side. For 15 years, the rambunctious Irish revelers known as the Tossers
have seen their popularity grow, winning new fans with every joyous and boisterous live performance of their unique Celtic sound...and with every new album. The latest of which is called, ironically enough, Agony
According to guitarist Mike Pawula, the title doesn't reflect an overall theme of pain or depression. "[Singer/mandolin player] Tony Duggins just came up with it out of the blue," he recalls. "We were just looking for a good album title. It wasn't necessarily one overriding theme, or one song that seemed to speak for the entire album. We were asking each other, 'what do you think we should call it?' Tony just threw our 'Agony,' and everyone basically said, 'That works'."
If there was any agony involved in the recording of their new album, it's in choosing what songs to put on the release...and what to leave off. "When we went in, we thought there'd be a chance we'd come out with some extra songs," Pawula says. "But as they progressed during the recording, and we listened to final mix, it became too difficult to cut any of them. In the end, we recorded 17 songs, and they're all on the album."
The recording itself went fairly smoothly, since practically all of the material was played live during the Tossers' non-stop touring schedule. "We got off our last tour in the middle of October, and our first date in the studio was end of October," Pawula notes. "It was rather easy to just go and record, since we had already been rehearsing and playing all of the new songs for a good year. "As far as our playing on the record is concerned, there aren't a lost of surprises because we all know our roles in the band," he continues. "It's important to play all of our songs live because, bottom line, we consider ourselves to be a live band. Yet when we work on a record, everybody has their own little corner of the painting to do, and there are times when we get a little surprised by the finished product." The bottom line of Agony: Pawula confidently states, "This is a major step forward as far as lyric writing and song construction. Comparing it in context to the last record, this is clearly a good next step."
Agony is the latest step in a long and fruitful journey for The Tossers, whose members were largely born and raised in an Irish Catholic enclave on Chicago's South Side. It was the perfect environment for the creation of their distinct blend of Celtic folk songs and punk rock fury. The band's name, whose roots can be traced back to Shakespeare, can means a variety of things- - commode, drunk, or the currency of Britain rejected when the Irish established their independence in the 1920's.
Whatever the definition, there's no debating the heartfelt authenticity of their music. Using traditional instrumentation comprised of mandolin, fiddle, tin whistle and banjo, and beefed up with guitar and drums, The Tossers play with a furious edge that teeters between rage and raucousness. Favorite sons of the Windy City scene, the Tossers possess an unparalleled work ethic, playing "anywhere, anytime, for anybody, with anybody," as banjo player Clay Hansen declares. It wasn't long before they graduated from the pubs and taverns of Chicago's South Side to concert stages with the likes of Shane McGowan, Dropkick Murphys and Stiff Little Fingers.
Yet an enduring work ethic and a desire to keep the music passionate and untarnished by commercial compromise has kept The Tossers' creative spirit pure. "I don't know if we ever had the illusion that we could make a zillion dollars doing the music we love," Pawula concludes. "We always wanted a career where we could keep making records and carve a comfortable career for ourselves. To be able to continue doing that is what keeps us going." That's The Tossers' kind of Agony.