Dropkick Murphys are one of the great punk bands of our time.
Their raucous take on the Irish and traditional folk flavoured take on the form has seen them become one of the big bands on the scene with their guttural anthems and rising live shows.
They do nothing off the wall – thatâs not the point but what they do they do to perfection. They have collided the sound and fury of Oi! and street punk with the Pogues spunky take on Irish folk with their own Boston, USA perspective on Irish roots. Boston is, perhaps, the biggest of the eastern seaboard Irish cities in the USA and Irish music was as much part of the Dropkick heritage at it would have been back in the homeland.
The other key folk music that feeds into them is British punk rock- the tough, electric folk of the late seventies/early eighties. They were particularity enamored by the street punk and Oi! music and started as a fierce sounding Oi! band before adding the Irish flavours.
Over the course of several albums they have honed their sound down to perfection and have incorporated blue collar politics, street dog tales, broken romance, late night barroom melancholia and even a wistfulness into their sound that is still big on the raucous anthems that have seen the band into the top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic.
The key to the Dropkick Murphys is their great song writing skill and their rough arsed vocals that sound like a million nights away from home, a million nights of shouting Guinness and whisky tales in smokey bars. Their songs are stained with the nicotine of live and there is an honesty and truthfulness about the band and their blend of styles is performed with a breath taking brilliance.
January sees the release of their new album, a switch back to the collection of anthems ofter the near concept album of their last release to a more direct approach.
âSigned and Sealed in Blood’ is released on January 7th and if it’s a return to their direct songs writing roots it still sees them getting the balance right with an ear for taking street anthems into the top 20. These days Dropkick Murphys are in the heartland of the American mainstream without ruining heir music and getting the right kind of respect from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, who understands the band’s music as the kind of street yearnings that he is still so great at writing and there isÂ also do a UK tour.
But first there is their xmas single, âThe Season Is Upon Usâ which is Christmas Dropkick Murphys style with their family and friends featuring heavily in this seasonal gem, it heart-warmingly depicts the lyrical thread of the song and pokes fun at each and every familyâs dysfunctional elements coming together during the festive period. Hereâs hoping yours arenât quite as dysfunctional as this!
The Dropkicksâ music is universal stuff. Songs for the common man, about common things, that come together with such fury and infectious melody that everyone within earshot is struck straight. Dropkick Murphys, as much as any of the ‘punk’ or ‘blue collar’ labels they’ve earned, are fantastic songwriters. They are on the same quest as their beloved Woody Guthrie or their buddy Bruce Springsteen: how to get that big truth to come out the other end of the speakers in a way people all over the world will feel in their bones.
LTW spoke to Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey…
The new album comes out a mere twelve months after the last one- the band is red hot right now!
Well we are getting older, getting wiser and we have figured out how to write songs quicker. We had taken quite a break in writing before, with a four year break before getting started again. After writing an album and touring usually we usually take a break but this time we just carried on writing when we were on tour, we were getting ideas going and it all seemed really natural…
Was there any kind of pressure to repeat the success of the last album, which was a big breakthrough for you?
Not for us. It’s not the world that we operate in. We are not career orientated like. we have a core fan base who appreciate the heart and soul of what we put into what we are doing. On this record it’s the same kind of thing. The song writing on this album was different, we took the necessary step of being different, the last album was a sort of concept album with a story line that tied the songs together. this time the songs are not connected and we brought in different people to work with us like James Brown who had engineered the Foo Fighters album because he had experience in getting a big rock sound. He is a big time mixer guy and he had worked with the White Stripes so knew how to get the balance right. Also he’s a Boston guy and he knew all about us and he knew how to keep the excitement in the record but also make it sound good on the radio and Joe Chiccarelli mixed it.
You have worked hard to get the tough sound so crucial to classic punk style of the recordâ¦
We were flagging up the album and James said he would like to mix it and we said great! He was the one kind of mixer guy that we wanted to work with. He knew about the band and his attitude was that you got this band who have been around for 16 years and they have their own sound but they want to make it better. He had a resect for what we were doing so we handed the record over to him but he worked with us, a lot of those guys give the record back to you the way they think it should sound but I went to LA and sat with him and told him what I wanted from the sound and that was important.
The band is renowned for its street anthems which you wrote on the road this time
We wrote the songs together in the past, this time it was on the road, in sound checks and then rehearsals. As it comes together I will write the lyrics and vocal melodies over the songs. Everyone has a batch of stuff they got going that they bring to the rehearsal space. When we got the songs we looked at each other and said we got a bunch of shit lets rehearse!
Do you write all the time? You are on the road a lot!
When I am on the road keep, I my book with me and get ideas and write them down, sometimes I will write a verse and then come back in four months later and write another verse. On Rose Tattoo on the new album, I wrote that in two days, a lot of time it depends on time. When I am at home I’m busy with the kids, I’ve got no time to pick up the pen but on the road I got more time to finish the songs off, there’s a lot of different factors…
I don’t think there’s a general to the record, no theme- everything is in there from my outlook on life and aspects of everything we do…
Does it make a big difference releasing on your own label
It’s good to back there now, doing our own thing after three records on a big label. This is kind of how we started out and it’s how we want to do it. We did get offers at some point from other big labels but we never showed any interest. It doesn’t make sense for us because we tend to have our own world to market to, we know what we want and how to do it…
What is the state of the punk nation now?
Punk rock is very much in the eye of beholder, for sure kids doing DIY basement shows won’t consider us a punk rock band anymore and that’s up to them. But we still have the DIY spirit in the way we operate and the music we play and the attitude and the spirit is it at one with the audience. Generally how we operate the business and how we treat people is in the ethics of punk rock. We want to keep the punk rock code, it’s how we view life and the world….
How do you make such a great connection with a worldwide audience?
I think the universal themes that we sing about connect with people. In these days of the internet these themes are popular in all places. We travel to a lot of places where we go to for the first time ever and a lot of the kids are there to see you know what you are about already because of the internet. It’s strange for a band that built itself up from 100 people to 1500 people from hard touring. It’s pockets of of popularity all over the world.
We are doing well in some places. 15 years ago punk broke out pretty big with Rancid, Green Day and Offspring and that made a big difference.
The big media ignore us but there are a lot more platforms with youtube, Facebook and myspace- a million channels for people to get there stuff from. In is some ways it’s harder to keep your popularity because bands come and go quickly.
Has punk rock changed since you started?
It’s changed a hell of a lot. I don’t think I even know what it is any more. It’s more in the attitude these days. Sometimes I wish things would go back to the way it used to be in the old days! But nothing stays the same.