Of all the punk bands touring today, few are as authentic, driven, and unlikely to give a fuck as the Dropkick Murphys. Proudly hailing from their hometown of Boston, the band became famous throughout their hometown for their raucous combination of hardcore punk and traditional Irish music, especially for their takes on traditional Irish anthems that could blast the head off of every snake in the Emerald Isle.
After the release of their 2005 album Warriors Code and its lead single and Departed soundtrack staple “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”, the Murphys found popularity across the country and the world.
While huge success, spots at Warped Tour and various Riot Fests, and several best selling albums followed, the Murphys never really lost sight of their roots, both in hardcore punk and their Celtic heritage. Their 2011 album, Going Out in Style, was an ode to the struggles of Irish-American immigrants, specifically the band’s own ancestors, and it’s sequel, Signed and Sealed in Blood, showed that even 20 years after forming, the Murphys still lived by the punk dogma of playing it loud without a care.
While they’ve been on a huge string of tours, we found time to chat with drummer Matt Kelly about the rigors of touring, the band’s Celtic influences, pinning their lead singer down when he’s had a few, and everything else that makes punk rock– and the Murphys– a force to be reckoned with.
You guys are right in the middle of touring the Americas. How’s it been so far?
Well, it’s more like we’re “between tours”. We played two Sundays ago at Riot Fest in Toronto, and just this past Sunday at the Chicago one. Next Sunday we play the Denver Riot Fest and then we start our tour the next day. That particular festival is always great because there’s such an eclectic mix of bands on it, even I get excited— and I hate everything. Yesterday we got to play with the Bouncing Souls and Naked Raygun, among others. It was a blast.
“Signed and Sealed in Blood” came out around a year and a half ago, and features some of your rockingest numbers to date. Can we expect the same style from the next one?
Well thanks very much! That’s appreciated. We had a great time writing and recording the album— and we’ve recently started chucking ideas around for another one. Style-wise, we’ll see what we come up with. You’ll know it’s us, but as with every record, it’ll be anything but a carbon-copy of the last one.
Before “Signed and Sealed in Blood” came the concept-album “Going out in Style”, which is based around the life of a fictional Irish-American immigrant. I wanted to ask; how much of that album is based off of the experiences of the band’s ancestors?
I’d say that a good percent of the subject matter comes from James [Lynch]’s grandfather’s early life story, and another chunk from other people in the band’s ancestors’ experiences— the rest hangs on the old adage, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!”
Speaking of ancestors, I know that Ken’s grandfather was a union worker, and workers rights are the subject of quite a few Dropkick Murphys songs. Is Ken’s grandfather the inspiration for that?
Yup. The title song, “Boys On the Docks”, the title track of our first CD EP, was about John Kelley (Ken’s grandfather). A lot of us come from union backgrounds, so yeah it definitely is an inspiration.
The original Dropkick Murphy was a wrestler who later opened a sanatorium. What are the band’s favourite wrestlers?
I know for a fact that Tim [Brennan]’s favorite is the Ultimate Warrior. Mine would be either Coco Beware or Ricky Steamboat. I think Al [Barr]’s is the Polish Hammer, Ivan Putski, and Ken’s might be Moondog Spot or Moondog Rex— though I forget which.
You guys have mentioned Stiff Little Fingers being an influence. Can you explain the prominence of that band in Celtic punk?
I’m not really sure. When I think of Celtic Punk I think of bands trying to sound like the Pogues. However, the fact that SLF is originally from Belfast and also an amazing band basically makes them the Clash of the Emerald Isle— highly influential to anybody looking to Ireland, North or the Republic, for musical inspiration.
I heard that J. Geils was one of Ken’s first concerts. Aside from celtic and punk music, what are some other tunes or artists the band enjoys?
With seven guys in the band, there’s quite a wide variety of tastes covered. I dig jazz, Japanese and French Oi!, ’60s soul, AC/DC (a firm favourite with Dropkick Murphys), and a bunch of other underground bands that nobody else likes. We like anything from Tom Waits to Sheer Terror to the Secret Affair to the Jackson Five to Blitz to Dr. Dre to the Nervous Eaters to Oasis to Rudi to Pegboy.
You folks have been a band for around 18 years now. What are some of your most memorable moments on the road, ever?
Jeezo-man! Yeah I guess it’s been that long. Wow! Memorable moments… we were in Hamburg on a day off and three of our crew guys got chased by a cabbie after one of them vomited in his cab. He called the cops and they almost got pinched in the hotel bar— and then upon hearing he was “at large”, one of the boys ran so far from the hotel that he got lost and had to, ironically, get a cab back to us, hours later!
Another time at a hotel bar–see a pattern forming here?– in London, we were up late having drinks with Shane MacGowan (who apparently just doesn’t sleep) and co., and by this time Al was “in his cups”, shirtless and screaming, “who’s got beef?! WHO’S GOT BEEF?!” smashing wine and beer bottles on tables, and then screaming, “I don’t care about my voice in the morning!”. I was pretty toasty by then myself, but I knew we had to get the man to a bed. We coaxed him into his room with promises of booze and food, which we didn’t have–but he passed out immediately so all was well.
I think the first BIG moment that sticks out in my mind was during our tour supporting the Bosstones in the winter of 1997 in Europe. We typically got a respectable audience response every night, but it was pretty much “Hi, we’re the opening band”. We were more than grateful and happy to be there but we weren’t lighting the place on fire every night. Then we got to the Garage in London, which, if I remember correctly, was the last gig of the tour, and as soon as our intro started, the place just exploded with energy. The crowd was just amazing, and it made living in a van for a month in the European winter totally worth it. The buzz I remember getting off that was unlike anything else before or after; it was just amazing and a highlight of the first couple years of the band’s existence.
A lot of bands go through a few names before they settle on one they like. What’s the worst name that anyone in the band has ever played under, ever?
You decide: the Snots or Hatchetface.
Finally: What’s next?
Tour, tour, tour, and write a new album!
The Dropkick Murphys will be tearing down and rebuilding the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver on September 29th and 30th. Tickets are still available for the second show here.