Long time admirer of the Dropkick Murphys Still Burning managed to get a few words with drummer Matt Kelly just a couple of days before they fly out to the UK to play a few dates. The pair of them had plenty to say to each other it seems.
‘morning Matt…you’ve just done over 20 dates in the US which included many sell out gigs, how did the tour go?
Yeah I think almost all the gigs sold out, which is a tremendous feeling. It helped that we had two great bands, STRUNG OUT and LARRY & HIS FLASK, to work the crowd into a lather every night. We had a lot of fun on that tour, and it primed us for the Paddy’s Day (week?) gigs in Boston.
Then on April the 12th you kick off a UK and Ireland tour with a date at Barrowlands in Glasgow, I guess you be starting to look forward to that now?
Definitely. The crowds in the UK and Ireland are always really intense and energy is easily reciprocated between us and them– so it’s like the fans do the work fo ya! Plus, since we’ve been playing the UK since ’97, we’ve forged many friendships and met tons of quality people. I always enjoy heading over to a place where we’re separated by a common language!
Anyway, back to the beginning for any readers of this who have yet to discover the Dropkick Murphys… you formed way back in 1996, seems like you’ve done a lot since then! What was it like in the early days trying to get yourselves established?
I tell you what, I have to give the Boston punk scene some credit for a lot of that. In general, in the US at the time, the “street punk”/Oi!/whatever scene was really, really big. There were a bunch of great bands, and even for just a local gig, you’d have 400+ kids come out to support it. Looking back on it, it was a really magical time (trying not to sound sappy here).
What would happen is we’d book an out-of-town band like the WRETCHED ONES, the ANTI-HEROS, or if we were lucky the SWINGIN’ UTTERS, and they’d play to a packed house of maniacs. Of course they’d be pleased, and we’d trade 7″s, CD’s, etc., and then they’d in turn set up gigs for us in their areas (New Jersey, Atlanta, and San Francisco, respectively). We’d play out there, and having traded records, people would at least be familiar with us enough so that there’d at least be a buzz about the band.
This was all well before any of us knew how to turn on a computer, never mind go on the internet, so it was all real-deal networking, word of mouth, and lots and LOTS of phone calls. It just shows that YOU have to make things happen, don’t wait for them to happen to you.
Was it difficult to get gigs, recordings, etc? Was it the same for otherpunk/oi/ska bands at the time?
Well nobody was calling us, so again we had to do it for ourselves. That’s why we booked our own gigs, started our own record label (Flat Records, after Flat fanzine, a surf ‘zine [surfing in Boston???] that Ken did with a buddy of his), and all that. Money wasn’t a major problem; we were painters, laborers, printers, etc., and were a little older, so we had the capital to put into the band. There were a lot of other bands who had potential but didn’t take it seriously enough, so from an EFFORT perspective, the cream rises to the top and the trub sinks to the bottom. The bands that worked at it did alright, like the UNSEEN from Boston, the BOILS from Philadelphia, LOWER CLASS BRATS from Austin, etc., because they took a similar approach and toured incessantly and didn’t party *too* hard.
I know you used to practice in the basement of a barbershop back then, how did that come about and was the shop open for business when you actually practiced there and how long did it go on for?
Ha-ha, that’s right. Well, we needed a place to practice, and they let us AFTER hours… the noise coming out of that cellar must have been horrible… that was back when we butchered covers of the CLASH, STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, and even tried some GEN X stuff which never left the space. I think we practiced for about 4-5 months in there.
Settle the arguments… how did the name come about?
Haven’t heard any argument… but here goes: John “Dropkick” Murphy got his name from when he played (American) football in the early days of the sport where you couldn’t throw it forward, but had to kick it… he took to dropkicking it, and there you go. He was best known as a professional wrestler in the early to mid 1900s, and then was a boxing coach for a long time. He opened his house up to boxers who needed to dry out after, say, a weekend bender.
Eventually, he opened the place to any and all drunks and it sort of passed into local folklore. If you were caught drinking as a kid, you’d be threatened with, “we’re gonna throw you in Dropkick Murphys!!”
Can you explain the Irish connection? (please excuse my ignorance on this one, is there a large Irish contingent in Massachusetts/Boston?)
Apparently Boston has the highest concentration of Irish and people of Irish ancestry anywhere outside of Ireland. It’s just ingrained in the area. Most of the guys grew up listening to or involuntarily hearing the music at parties, family gatherings, wakes, etc., having uncles tell us we were descended from kings (not holding my breath on that crown!), etc. If you’re from the area it’s a given that it’s just the way it is. It has been since the late ‘1800s.
It’s obviously less-concentrated in Town now due to suburban sprawl and/or people not being able to afford buying homes in the neighborhoods they grew up in (South Boston comes to mind), but it is definitely still there. There’s a fierce pride that I guess has to be seen or lived immersed in to understand.
And are your St Patrick’s shows still amongst your (and your fans) favourites?
Favorite and slightly-dreaded for us: seven gigs in six days with interviews and friends and family trying to get you to come out and party 24/7 the whole time. We put on a 1 1/2 hour set, about 27-30 songs, and between that, being home, and the aforementioned shenanigans, it’s pretty exhausting. But then you meet kids who have traveled from places like Norway, Japan, Mexico, Australia, and it definitely gives you a shot in the arm! It’s such an honor to have people coming from far and wide to see us.
There’s no questioning your passion to the causes you believe in anyway, you also support the working classes in a couple of your songs, covered no less than The Workers Song. What inspired those beliefs and indeed the song itself?
Funny, a lot of people didn’t know that that was a cover. It’s a bit different than the original to say the least (butchery!), ha-ha. As far as inspiration, most of the dudes in the band were either in a union or had parents and grandparents who were, too. There needs to be somebody watching the watchers, and that’s about the gist of it.
You even campaigned against President Bush at the time did you not? What are your thoughts on Obama getting the latest gig?
Not quite. We were on a compilation called “Rock Against Bush”. We don’t normally get involved with politics, and have friends of every shade of the political spectrum. However, after the gross overreaching of the Patriot Act combined with the Military Commissions Act, and the power grab by the Executive Branch, we figured, why not? He’s destroying the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.
As far as Obama goes, same meat/different gravy. Unfortunately he let them extend the Patriot Act, etc., didn’t change or repeal the Military Commissions Act, and rang up a $1Trillion deficit in around one year’s time, among other things.
Big Oil and Tobacco backed their horse (Republicans) and the Media and the entities that run it backed theirs (Democrats). Screw ’em all.
One of the your most touching stories is covered by the song, Last Letter Home. Want to tell us how that came about?
That was gut-wrenching. There was a fan of the band, Sgt. Andrew Farrar, who was stationed in Afghanistan. He was to come home to his wife and two children and (if memory serves) retire from the active duty. A week before he left, on his birthday, he was killed in the line of duty.
He had written a lot of letters home, and being a fan of the band, he said that if anything happened to him he wanted our rendition of “The Fields Of Athenry” played at his funeral. His wife and parents got in touch with us, and we took it from there. We did attend his funeral and Josh played the pipes as the procession walked in and out. We didn’t personally know Sgt. Farrar, but hearing his family members speak on the pulpit was truly saddening.
Onto the Boston Red Sox, do they still run out to the sound of the Dropkicks? Do you go to games when you have time off?
At the time I’m talking to you, they’ve only played two games so far. Typically their closing pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon, uses “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” as his intro music. Additionally –again I’m not sure if this is still happening as I haven’t been to a game yet –they play “Tessie” at the end of winning games.
You’ve shared a stage (and songs) with many notable artists over the years, who’ve been your favourites?
As far as bands we TOUR with, we always get on extremely well with the gents from SICK OF IT ALL and THE BOUNCING SOULS. As far as collaborations, we’ve had Shane MacGowan from the POGUES, the late Ronny Drew of the DUBLINERS, Colin McFaul from COCK SPARRER, and others. I think all the aforementioned are favorites.
On a personal note I’m always pleased to hear some bagpipes within your songs, it just an eerie but fking brilliant instrument isn’t it?
Oh yeah, as subtle as a cat getting caught in a vacuum cleaner! No but seriously, love ’em!
You seem to have a massive following these days, you played to over 10,000 people in Rhode Island last year did you not?
Well that’s an exception to the norm. That was with the BOSSTONES supporting us and at the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA League baseball)’s stadium… so it was sort of an “event” as opposed to it just being a gig. Fun as hell for such a large venue. The whole field was a huge ‘festival’ style general admission area, so quite the good atmosphere!
Any other countries where the DKs following might surprise us?
Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada… We have pretty intense gigs in those places.
Do you prefer playing to massive crowds or something much smaller and more intimate?
There’s definitely something to be said for playing to several thousand people at once. It can be amazing. That being said though, I much prefer playing to a small packed house. The energy between the crowd and the band is palpable, and you can actually SEE the whites of peoples’ eyes. I suppose it’s mostly due to the fact that when I go see bands, it’s in small bars and maybe a club now and then. Better atmosphere, and easier to grabba beer.
On that note are there any artists from the US that we (UK!) people should be listening to as well? Maybe those that haven’t had the worldwide coverage that you maybe think they deserve?
As far as US bands to look out for: THE TAMPOFFS, THE CARBONAS, TOMMY AND THE TERRORS, JOE COFFEE, THE BROADSIDERS, ALTERNATIVE ACTION (actually from Vancouver, Canada), THE REVILERS, BATTLE RUINS, BRASSIC, hmmm, the list could go on all day…
Onto recordings now, your latest album Live on Lansdowne is an absolute cracker, what has been your favourite album from the DKs over the years?
Hey thanks! Fave albums, that’s a tough one. I suppose the first LP, “Do Or Die” because it was all so new to us in our naïveté, and whereas I cringe at some of the drumming moments and other stuff on it, it’s a very “time-and-place” thing for me. Also, the last studio LP, “The Meanest Of Times”, because it was such a breeze to write the songs, and it has an aggression that “The Warrior’s Code” was heading towards but “Blackout” was maybe missing.
On a personal note you are a bit like Stiff Little Fingers to me, that you are one of the few bands who can take a live recording and it’d be up there with anything you’ve produced in the studio?
Thank you. That’s an unwarranted comparison as far as my humble opinion goes, but thank you. I love “‘Hanx” and the “St. Patrix” live albums; they give me goosebumps just as much if not more so than “Inflammable Material” or “Go For It”. I don’t know what else to say really!
Ever shared a stage with SLF, or would you want to?
We actually did a tour with them here in the States a few years back.
What songs are your personal favourites to play, with reasons if possible? And the most popular with the US crowds?
I always love “Wheel of Misfortune” just because I think it encompasses what we’re about in a nutshell: good lyrics, melody, light and dark sounds, and aggression. I also dig most cover tunes we do. It’s sort of an ode to the bands that influenced us.
As far as the most popular with the US crowd, I think the newer fans really dig songs like “Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced”, of course “I’m Shipping Up To Boston”, and maybe “The Spicy McHaggis Jig”. The old guard always dig “Curse Of A Fallen Soul”, “The Gauntlet”, or “The Worker’s Song”.
The last time I saw you was in Aberdeen when you played with the Mad Caddies, I don’t suppose you remember the gig at all?
You know, I usually have a penchant for remembering gigs and even remember the bands we’d have played with… but for the life of me I CANNOT remember the ONE time we played Aberdeen! Early senility? Gas from the stove getting to my head? Home brew gone bad poisoning my brain? You decide.
One song you introduced me to that night was the absolutely spine tingling Foggy Dew by Sinead O’Connor. Have you ever shared a stage with Sinead, and why did you choose that song?
Never played with ol’ Sinead. Why’d we choose that song as an intro? For the very reason you mentioned above. Gets ya every time!
I think that’s almost everything covered, is there anything you’d like to add for readers of Flares n Seagulls?
Your five desert island tracks?
In no particular order:
1. “We’re Coming Back”- COCK SPARRER
2. “Poolhall Richard”- THE FACES
3. “Sympathy For the Devil”- THE ROLLING STONES
4. “Sally Cinnamon”- THE STONE ROSES
5. “What’s Next To The Moon?”- AC/DC
And finally… your favourite flavour of crisps?
Beef & Onion.
Thanks a million Matt, and I’ll look forward to seeing you on the twelfth! Still Burning
Dropkick Murphys play Barrowlands, Glasgow on the 12th of April along with Face to Face and Spunge.