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Dropkick Murphys interview, November 2016

I spoke Tim Brennan, guitarist with Dropkick Murphys to talk about their new album – 11 short stories of pain & glory.

You’ve got a new album coming out in January, “11 short stories of pain & glory”.  It’s the first album you’ve recorded outside Boston.  What made you decide to change things like that?

Well, the idea wasn’t to go to Texas necessarily, but to go outside of town, just so we could have both feet firmly planted in the recording world, because as nice as Boston is, you sleep in your own bed at night and stuff, you’re still at home so when six o’clock starts rolling around, and someones doing a guitar track, one of the guys will be looking at his watch wondering if they can make it home for dinner tonight, and when we’re in the middle of the desert in Texas, that wasn’t an option and all there was to do is work. So the idea was to get down there and just focus 100%.  If we wanted to go somewhere it was a thirty minute trip each way, so you had to plan it ahead and you’d go there, come back and carry on working.  I think while it was a shorter period of recording than usual, it was more streamlined because we were working all day every day, so I think there was more time to put thought into stuff like different guitar rhythms, or trying different things.  There’s a song which has a drum loop on it which we never would have done normally. Because we were just constantly in it there was a lot of time and room for experimentation, so I think we were able to spread our wings a bit.

It must have been quite hard after two decades of making music to create a new album that still has the characteristic Dropkick Murphys sound, but without constantly remaking the same album.

Yeah that is difficult, especially when you get pinned into a genre like Celtic Punk or whatever, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the last couple of years of pushing the boundaries a little bit of what we’re supposed to sound like, especially musically and song wise we were really able to push ourselves so we weren’t just making Shipping up to Boston 2.  The end result I think everybody was very pleased with.  There’s some different sounding stuff but yet it retains the core elements of the Dropkick Murphys.

You’ve got this beer drinking, party feel to the music, but the lyrics are actually covering a lot more deeper subjects – 4-15-13 for example covers the Boston bombing.

Yeah it’s like.  We enjoy the play between triumphant sounding music and lyrics that are not necessarily introspective, but deeper I guess.  It’s like “Dancing in the dark”, the music to Dancing in the dark is goofy, there’s no two ways about that, but when you listen to the lyrics, you’re like “oh my god, this is one of the most heart-wrenching songs I’ve ever heard in my life”. So that weird balance between the music and lyrics was something that we were willing to explore a bit more on this one.
It’s funny, there’s a song – I don’t know who it’s by, some wierd Irish punk song called Drink and fight, something like that, and everybody for a long time, back when Napster was around and stuff, if you looked up Dropkick Murphys, this song would come up even though it wasn’t a Dropkick Murphys song.  That’s what people thought of the band, so there’s a stigma that comes with being considered a Celtic Punk band, but like I said, especially on this album I think we did a good job of pushing the boundaries lyrically, maybe making the songs a little bit.. there’s still the element of having a good time while we’re still here, but also delving into some heavier topics.

The Boston bombing must have felt very personal to you because it’s your home town.

Absolutely.  We were on tour when it happenned.  We were in the US, but we were in California, so as far away as we could be without leaving the country, and we felt so helpless, and you want to go home and be with your family and stuff, and I think our initial reaction was to pack up and go home, but then we realised these are the times when people turn to music the most.  Our home town was  just rocked by this fucking tragedy, we need music as much as anyone else, and playing our music helps us get through those kind of things, so we stayed out and continued to play.  We got home shortly after and were able to do some benefit shows, but that was a tough thing for the city.

I imagine it must have been a hard subject to write a song about, to get the right tone. It could have easily ended up full of anger or sadness.

Yeah and I think that lyrically on that one Al and Ken did such a great job, the angle that they came at it from, and also you don’t want to disrespect anyones feelings over it, it just needs to be the right time and the right song.  I’m sure there were a couple of different drafts of the lyrics, going through different emotions.

There’s a cover version on the album – “You’ll never walk alone”.  Where did that choice come from?

At home right now, in America in general but especially in New England, there is a real heavy drug problem going on, heroin based opioid sort of thing.  Ken our bass player and one of our lead singers had just gone to the 20th fucking funeral of someone who had overdosed and he got in the car and the Gerry and the Pacemakers version of “You’ll never walk alone” came on and I think he saw it as this could be a sort of hopeful album for people who are going through hard times and there’s light at the end of the tunnel, which is what we’re about.  Irish music in general has so much sadness to it but at the end there’s hope, and that’s sort of what that song is all about.  I think seeing all these people dying around us, friends of ours, that spoke to us and the whole idea of almost saying to somebody “If you think you have to suffer silently through this you don’t – there are people who can help”, and just getting that message out.

That also fits in with the charity you founded, the Claddagh fund.  How hands on are the band with that?

Very hands on.  We do a lot of stuff as far as donating money.  We found that when we were asked to play charity events, we had fans coming to us and asking what they could do to help.  We established the Claddagh fund to essentially be a conduit, to get money to veterans, people who are in recovery and all sorts of stuff.  We’ve always been a band that’s wanted to use whatever notoriety we have for good, and we felt that was the best way to channel that in a good direction.

I imagine working with recovering addicts you must see a lot of sadness, but also some real positives coming out of it.

Absolutely.  When you see someone who’s been helped it’s a great thing.  There’s a lot of money donating then we also do shows to raise funds, we go into hospital and visit sick children and play for them.  We do anything we can.  If someone has something that’s close to us, that affects us in some way and then say these guys could benefit from a visit from you, then we’re all about it.

There’s a hospital right by where I live, called the Franciscan childrens hospital.  They work with little kids with cancer and stuff like that, but they also have a program for teenagers who are suicidal or deal with depression, stuff like that, and we got to go and hang with them.  I’ve never felt like I’ve identified with a group of people more than I did with them.  I mean what music lover doesn’t remember being a fairly bummed out teen, being like this blows but this music is getting me through it.  Getting to connect with people like that was personally touching for me having gone through similar stuff.

Early next year you’ve got a European tour including a date at London’s Brixton academy.  It looks like a fairly busy tour – do you generally tend to do long tours?

Now that the guys have kids, the kids are getting older, we won’t go away for too long at a time, but we’re one of those bands that has to be consistently out there doing it, so we do tour a significant amount, so now we’re about to put out an album we’ll hit it pretty hard.

I believe the support is Skinny Lister – a great live band.

Yeah they are great.  Slapshot from Boston will be with us too.

Your live shows are really fun and high energy with the fans having a great time.

The problem is you start to look for the guy who isn’t having fun and you focus on him for the entire night wondering what’s so bad, what can I do for you buddy, but you’ve got to put that out of your mind.  I had a like 8 year old girl completely tank a set for me one night.  Her dad was a big fan and brought her.  Maybe she was interested, maybe she wasnt, but because of her age and them being at the front we brought them up on the side of the stage because it was not safe for them to be there.  The dad was going crazy the whole time, but she wasn’t and no matter what I did, I couldnt get a reaction from her.  At the end the guys were saying “Great show”, and I was like, an 8 year old ruined my night on stage right over here.

I imagine the downside of touring is being in a tourbus or crappy hotel rooms, never getting to relax completely like you do at home.

Yeah it’s definitely a different sort of thing.  It’s something you gotta get used to and it’s certainly not for everybody.  You’ve just got to hit a point where you know what you have to do to make yourself as comfortable as possible.  If you’re having one of those trips where it’s the dead of winter and you’re up and haven’t seen the sun in about a week and a half then you need to have some way to get through it. Put ona  movie or whatever.  It certainly beats ditch digging though.

I imagine things like the internet have made touring very different to when you first started.

Yeah, having cellphones that work over here too and not having to use payphones.  There was a time when we knew where all the payphones near venues were in every city in the UK, so it’s a lot easier to keep in touch these days.  It’s still remarkably difficult for me to leave home, when I’m turning round to say goodby to my dog, it’s remarkably difficult, even though I’m going to do something that I love doing, but the act of physically walking out of the door is hard.

Thank you very much for your time.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.
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