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Young Dubliners go for it

L.A.'s favorite ex-pats stumble their way to success



Keith Roberts swears he can blame his entire career on the Irish gift of gab. The singer for kinetic L.A. Celt-rock combo The Young Dubliners talked his way into America back in 1988 when — armed with a degree from University College Dublin — he arrived with the express purpose of becoming a reporter.

"I wanted to get into television journalism, so I interned at PBS for a year," recalls the raspy-throated frontman, whose band's new ninth indie salvo, appropriately titled 9, dropped this week.

Happily for Celtic punk fans, those media aspirations changed, as his contributions to shows went unacknowledged in the credits.

Roberts was familiar with the old adage that you can accomplish anything you want to in this world, if you're willing to let someone else take the credit. And he didn't like it. So he switched to driving an airport Super Shuttle. Affable to a fault, he regularly chatted up his customers.

"I met this director and his set designer, who said 'You know, we need PAs to help with these shoots, and it pays 100 bucks a day.' And that sounded great to me," he recalls. "So I did that, rose up the ranks a little bit, and I ended up set-directing a little movie called Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

How did all this lead to him forming the Young Dubs around the same time? Hold on, Roberts sighs. He's getting to that. Initially, the crew wasn't union, but a week into production, the unions picketed. And given its bloodsucking script, most of Buffy was shot at night.

"So I had to go union," he recalls. "And all of a sudden, I was making unbelievable money, because of the night shoots. And with that money, I ended up buying a pub in Santa Monica with another guy. It was called Fair City Dublin, and we played every Saturday night. And our opening act was [future Flogging Molly anchor] Dave King!"

By 1994, Roberts' band was signed to Scotti Brothers for its debut EP Rocky Road, which surprised the vocalist by getting radio airplay.

"And still, at that point, all I thought was, 'I'm a bar owner that also has a band,'" says Roberts, spinning his yarn with typical Irish verve. "But we got a national profile right away, and after that, I had to make a decision, to go on the road or stay with the bar. I ended up picking the road, and we sold the bar."

Today, The Young Dubliners have such a devout following that it schedules annual overseas tours, where roughly 75 fans accompany the group across Ireland. (This year's is the last week of March.) Fans and band stay at the same hotels, sightseeing by day and partying with Roberts and company at night.

"We're actually starting to make a name for ourselves over there," marvels Roberts, anticipating the reaction to 9. With memorable anthems like "Rain," "Say Anything" and "We the Mighty," the momentum should continue.

So when The Young Dubliners get old, will they need to change their name to something less, well, youthful-sounding? Roberts guffaws. "What are ya talking about, 'What happens THEN?' That's going on right now!"

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