Massachusetts band Dropkick Murphys formed back in 1996, and they are no strangers to the Celtic punk rock scene after all these years. Current members of the band are Ken Casey, Matt Kelly, Al Barr, James Lynch, Tim Brennan, Josh “Scruffy” Wallace and Jeff DaRosa. I recently sat down with drummer Matt Kelly to discuss the origins an evolution of the band, that we all know and love.
Debra Heather (DH): I have to ask, how did you guys originally come up with the name Dropkick Murphys?
Matt Kelly (MK): John “Dropkick” Murphy was a football player, pro wrestler, and boxing coach, who in his later years opened a notorious and primitive detox clinic for booze bags of every social and economic stripe. Early methods of combating the DT’s were strapping a fellow down to the bed and giving him horse tranquilizers. The stories of this joint became infamous and passed into local legend and folklore. Parents would warn kids, “Don’t let me catch you drinking again, or we’re gonna throw you in Dropkick Murphy’s place!” A few years back we met a fellow who was checked into Mr. Murphy’s clinic (on a farm in Central Mass at the time), and the story of his time there inspired the song “The Sunshine Highway,” which was the road littered with broken booze bottles that led to Dropkick’s clinic.
DH: What are some major influential bands that have had a positive impact on you as musicians?
MK: There are so many, as there are seven guys in the band with so many influences. However, I’ll just make a list off the top of my head: AC/DC, the Pogues, Stiff Little Fingers, the Clash, the Ramones, the Dubliners, Swingin’ Utters, the Who, Rolling Stones, original ’77 US and UK punk bands, early Oi! bands, early Boston and California Hardcore bands, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, classic rock in general, Christy Moore, Wolfetones, etc…
DH: How has your music evolved since you began playing music together?
MK: Well, we started as a four-piece street punk band that utilized friends’ talents with bagpipes, whistles, and other instruments to enhance our studio recordings. Early songs like “Barroom Hero” had bagpipes on them, but our friends who played weren’t interested in throwing their lives away, getting in a van, and touring the country with a bunch of vagrants. So we were a four-piece until 1999 when James joined on second guitar; this allowed us to write more complex parts without sounding “hollow.” Soon after we added a bagpiper and a multi-instrumentalist who played whistle, mandolin, etc. Our third LP, “Sing Loud, Sing Proud” reflects the “evolution”(for lack of a better term). Later the list of instruments grew, with an accordion, mandola, bouzouki, and banjo coming into the mix. As the guys joined the band, and with us knowing that we could now pull off live what we do in the studio, we felt more free to push boundaries and add a lot more texture to our songs. So from a four-piece we eventually grew to a seven-piece, and the music has grown with it. I guess, also, we’ve been doing this for eighteen years now so after a while you get better at your instruments and eventually learn how to write a song or two. Practice makes perfect… better!
DH: Out of all of the places in the world the Dropkick Murphys have traveled to and performed what are some of your favorite places and venues to play? Favorite song to play live?
MK: We just got back from three festivals in Norway, and I tell you what: we were in Tromsø which we were told is a 2-hour flight from the North Pole! The crowd was amazing, but we all were blown away while doing “The Wild Rover.” When Al gave the crowd the mic for “…no nay never, no more!…,” the sheer volume of the crowd singing was deafening!!! We all looked at each other in absolute amazement and surprise. The rest of the set was just as intense; I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. So in short, Tromsø might be a new favorite place to play! For venues, Ancienne Belgique in Brussels is great, Brixton Academy in London, Metropolis in MTL is fantastic (not blowing smoke, the crowds there are always savage!), and le Zenith in Paris was one of my favorite gigs and venues of all time for us. As far as favorite songs, I’ve always loved playing “Wheel of Misfortune” and “the Warrior’s Code.” A new favorite is “Out On the Town.”
DH: You guys put on, without a doubt one of the most kick ass show’s I’ve ever seen. Heavy Montreal is just around the corner, are there any bands in specific that you’re looking forward to performing alongside?
MK: Wow, thanks very much… well it probably had a lot to do with the reciprocity of energy from the crowd. Sometimes it’s just too easy because the crowd gets us so pumped! For Heavy MTL, we’re lucky because we’re friends with or fans of at least half the bands on it! Great day for us!
DH: What’s in store in the near future for you guys? Is a new album in the works? Speaking of albums, if you could invite any one musician to contribute to your next album, which one would you choose?
MK: We’re planning on recording a new album next spring, and we’ve started writing for it on this past European tour. Besides that, we have this Eastern Canada run, the Riot Fests in September, plus another US run or two before embarking on our first tour of… well, I can’t say yet but we’ll be treading new ground in November. If we could invite any musician to contribute on our next one… that’s pretty hard. Maybe Malcolm Young. He’s one of my personal heroes and AC/DC is a firm favorite of Dropkick Murphys. Either he or Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers, who is another huge influence on the band.
DH: Can you tell me about your music making process and where your inspiration comes from when writing music?
MK: Well with seven guys, you have fellows with different strengths. Some guys are great with lyrics, some with riffs, some with vocal melodies, some with arrangements, etc. So there are a few different ways we write songs. Sometimes it’s a guy with an acoustic guitar and a guy singing, sometimes it’s bashing it out nice and loud with bass, drums, and guitar. Sometimes we build chords around a vocal melody… it really varies from song to song. Inspiration can be current events, Boston and world history, injustice, civic and cultural pride, you name it.
DH: Any last words for Montreal Rampage readers?
MK: Yeah, for those of you who know, thanks for your years of support! For those who don’t, come check us out!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” -Bob Marley
The Dropkick Murphys appear at Heavy Montreal at Parc Jean Drapeau on August 9 at the Molson Canadian Stage from 4:45-5:30 p.m.