It's not every day you'll see a trio of Ukrainians from Nebraska in an Irish punk sextet. But there's a stout rebellious spirit in the music that fits the Killigans' blue-collar background, as well as a heartfelt DIY spirit that's nothing if not authentic.
"We're not an indie rock band and don't have any intention of pouring those feelings out. We're manly men," offers Chris Nebesniak, explaining their songs' similarity to traditional Irish themes. "It's more of the overall message of working hard, and getting shot down on this or that, and going to the bar to drink it off."
The band formed in Lincoln out of a trio called Settle for Less that Chris had with his younger brother Pat and teenage friend/lead vocalist Brad Hoffman. They'd grown tired of hardcore, and forming a Celtic-punk band was not only a natural progression but still novel at the time. Nine years and four studio albums later they're still going strong, balancing family, day jobs and the simple love of making music.
"We work for a living and struggle like everyone else," says the guitarist. "That's what we know and that's what we write about."
Nebesniak has known Hoffman since grade school, and they began playing music together in high school. Hoffman's slightly gruff vocals are key to the band's sound, a combination of Bad Religion's Greg Graffin and Flogging Molly's Dave King.
Hoffman is also a solid lyricist, whether he's singing an ode to his liquor store or rallying the troops in "Martyrs of the Lower Middle Class."
"Until you're a fan of the band and sit and listen to one of his songs, [the lyrics] might get glazed over and you won't realize this guy really has a good story to tell," says Nebesniak.
The band's first two studio albums — 2006's Brown Bottle Hymnal and 2007's One Step Ahead of Hell — leaned toward the traditional Irish-folk side. But with 2010's Honor, they brought out more of the punk spirit that had previously been missing.
It's an anthemic album, with songs running the gamut from the racing polka-punk of "Captains of Industry" (which has echoes of "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen") to the rockabilly-tinged "Self Deprecated."
"We thought let's make it a little more sing-songy," says Nebesniak. "We had played with bands like the Briggs and the Street Dogs, and saw how much more involved we could have the audience be in our songs. So we wrote some songs that people could sing with us and maybe have more of a united feel."
Last year, the Killigans released Another Round for the Strong of Heart, which finds the band settling into its sound and continuing to refine its lyrics. "His haggard face shows just like a brand / But his eyes they're cold and bright like the January sun," sings Hoffman in "Salt of the Earth." All in all, it's the band's best-executed effort to date.
"It's great making music with family and friends and it really helps you keep in touch with the innocence and attitude of your younger days," says Nebesniak, recalling the band's modest beginning while driving home after seeing a concert in Omaha. "We were, like, why don't we just start a band. So we did, and I guess we never quit."