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Interview: Dropkick Murphys

Dropkick Murphys will be joining us this June for Bunbury Music Festival! This Celtic infused Punk Band infuses traditional Irish instruments with power chords and intense drum beats that make me want to do a shot of Jameson and chase it with Guinness, while singing along to fun upbeat songs like “Barroom Hero” and “Kiss me, I’m #!@’faced”–wishing every day was St. Patrick’s Day. But there is more to these 6 guys from the Boston area than meets the eye. Going strong for over 20 years now, not only are they dedicated to put on a blistering live show night in and night out, but to serious social issues affecting the world we live in. Their latest studio album 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory is a great representation of this, bring attention to the opiate epidemic that has stricken this country and the song “4/15/13” was written as a tribute to the lives lost in the Boston Marathon bombing that happened on that date.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, the band teamed up with Bruce Springsteen to re-record “Rose Tattoo,” which was released on the EP Rose Tattoo: For Boston Charity. All proceeds were donated to charities that were related to the Boston attack.

The band has also extended their hand and music in support of US troops and their families. In 2005, USMC Sgt. Andrew K. Farrar, Jr was killed while searching for insurgents during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The band recorded a two song EP titled Fields of Athenry in memory of the USMC Sargent. In a similar nod of respect and support, the band performed at the memorial service of U.S. Army Major Michael Donahue, a Whitman, MA native who was killed in Afghanistan, and a huge Dropkick Murphys fan.

The Claddagh Fund, is the Dropkick Murphys’ charity which was founded in 2009. The website describes their mission as “Understanding the power of their position to harness the passion and generosity of their fans, the Claddagh Fund was created to raise funds for and broaden our impact on worthy, underfunded non-profits that support the most vulnerable individuals in our communities.”
Aside from being a fun band to listen to and see live, they’re very passionate about their beliefs and helping their fellow human beings.

I was given the opportunity to ask some questions ahead of their Bunbury visit, and Matt Kelly, Dropkick’s drummer was gracious enough to answer them.

Being a Huge Dropkick Murphy’s fan, and a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, the first question I must ask is what was it like recording “Rose Tattoo” with him?
Well first off, it was an honor that he agreed to do it, the single went to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, so that’s amazing. These days, with the internet and ProTools, players don’t actually have to BE in the same studio to record on the same song. I believe we were in Australia when Bruce put his vocals on the recording, while he was in New Jersey or New York. Now luckily, we had the pleasure of having him play a few songs with us in Boston at the House of Blues, which was a dream come true for some of our band’s more die-hard Springsteen fanboys. He was an absolute gent, and looked like he was genuinely having a blast up there with us. Definitely a moment that will live in the hearts of the band forever.

Touring appears to be the backbone to your success, but you also have 9 studio albums, multiple EPS, compilations, and live albums. What kind of thoughts go into the creative process?
Yeah, touring and the “performance” is the main attraction for any band worth its salt, I agree. As far as song writing and the creative process, we always want to push the envelope while retaining the “Dropkick Murphys sound.” I think that even from the first album, we’ve done that. What it comes down to is trying to write songs that we ourselves would like to hear.

Being on the road a lot must make it difficult to write and record. Do you set aside time every so often to go into the studio or is your process more spontaneous and organic?
Sometimes, little ideas come to mind while on tour, or when we’re at home… some of it is spontaneous, and sometimes we’re consciously writing something. So I think it’s bit of both. When a lot of ideas accumulate, we’ll get down the practice space and we’ll each get our ideas out in the open. Then we’ll map out what we have for ideas, be they lyrical, musical, or melody-based (a vocal melody), and take it from there. It’s not an exact science and never has been. However, for the last three albums, when we’re ready for him, we’ll bring in our esteemed producer Ted Hutt, and show him the bunch of songs we have. From there with his help we’ll craft them and have the vast majority of them ready to record.

I’ve read your latest album “11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory” was influenced by your charity “The Claddagh Fund” and with the band’s frustrations over the opiate epidemic in our country. The Cincinnati, OH area has a huge opiate epidemic. Any advice or encouragement you can give anyone reading this who may be struggling with this disease?
Well, the first thing is to treat the addiction like a disease and not as criminal behavior… It took me a long, long time to do that personally. Often times, the people hooked on opiates and opioids that were prescribed to them by doctors for pain relief. The drugs are so addictive that just following the directions and finishing one’s prescription can lead to addiction. Doctors are prescribing these pain killers with little to no consideration of the patients’ predispositions towards addictive behavior, and the doctors get kickbacks from the companies who make the products. Everyone in the band, and pretty much everyone I know has been touched by this crisis, whether directly or indirectly.

You know that it’s pretty sketchy when the same pharmaceutical giants who make the drug also make the “cure” for it. It’s all very sinister. As far as advice goes, when you hear the clichés about addiction recovery, try to read into them: take it a day at a time: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and recovery is a long process. As many tragedies as I’ve seen involving opiates, I’ve seen many, many successes. It CAN be done, and you CAN do it. I’m no expert or authority on the issues of addiction and recovery, but I’ve seen people change their lives around, so know that it can be done.

11 Short Stories of Pain and Gloryappears to be very passionate and close to the heart for you. How emotional of a record was this make?
Well yeah as we just talked about, the opiate crisis has been a big influence on the lyrical content of the album and one of the choices of cover, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is dedicated to those going through the hell of addiction. Especially at the time, we’d seen a lot of people NOT making it, and succumbing to addiction, but the song was a song of hope to those attempting to make changes in their lives. Also, “Rebels With A Cause” and “Paying My Way” were dedicated to the same.

The other really big deal was the song “4-15-13.” Ever since the Boston Marathon bombing, we knew that we wanted to write a song to try and honor the victims and our fair city. What we DIDN’T want to do was to make the song (1) a slow, sappy ballad playing on people’s grief, or (2) a hard, aggressive number playing on people’s anger and fear. So when we put together the song, both musically and lyrically, it ended up being more about the everyman and their way of dealing with the fallout. “We’re all just people trying to get along, we’re all just people trying to make our way, we’re all just people…. trying to make it through another day…” It’s a touchy subject, as people lost their lives and limbs from the cowardly act, so knee-jerk lyrics or cheap emotional triggers were out, and dignity and respect were what we wanted to convey in that song.

Yeah so it was definitely emotional… It sortof kept bringing us back to that horrible day. I mean, my wife works just around the corner from ground zero, and I couldn’t get in touch with her for half an hour after we saw it on TV (we were in Santa Cruz, CA at the time and three hours behind, so we woke up to the news).

What’s a day in the life on tour with The Dropkick Murphys now that you have families, and have been doing this 20+ years?
Well with playing a 90-minute set each night, there are a lot fewer beers being quaffed these days, I’ll tell you that! The day usually involves going over songs for the setlist that particular night, hanging out with our crew guys (the best in the business) and getting sounds for our instruments, sometimes recording bits of song ideas, and finding record and coffee shops. Then, depending on what time zone we’re in, it’s FaceTime or Skype with our families.

For me, around two hours before we play, I get changed into stage gear, basically athletic-grade polo shirts, shorts, and sneakers, then stretch and hit the drum practice pads until changeover. During the last half-hour before we play, we’ll go over that night’s setlist and song segues, and then it’s go-time.

Post set, some guys get to bed as soon as they can, some go hang out with friends, and some will hang out with our crew and maybe grab a beer after.

Nothing fancy, but we get to play music every night to an appreciative crowd, so we consider ourselves very fortunate.

Is there anything new we can expect from you at Bunbury this year?
Well that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Every band has the “prankster” on the road. Who is he?
Ken, our bassist and band leader. It can be anything from annoying to downright hilarious! Blasting unsuspecting victims with confetti cannons, etc.

Check out Dropkick Murphys supporting their latest release 11 Stories of Pain and Glory, and many of their classic hits on Sunday, June 3rdat Bunbury Music Festival!

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