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Interview with Dropkick Murphys



Dropkick Murphys

An Interview with Al Barr


By:  Nina Mccarthy, Music Journalist


The Dropkick Murphys are an American  Celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1996. January 6, 2017 marked the release of their ninth album,

11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory,

which was inspired in part by the opiate epidemic ravaging the country, in particular Boston and New England.

I had the privilege of discussing the new album with Al Barr, who shares lead vocals with Ken Casey, right before its release.



BRR:  Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me this morning.


AB:  No worries at all.  How are you this morning?  Everything good?


BRR:  Pretty good but I'm not a morning person so I had to get up and have some coffee quick.


AB:  Then I assume you don't have children. My wife and I are with 13, 8, and 4 so we are morning people by default.


BRR:  Mine is 20 so I'm done with that.  So, Dropkick Murphys started in 1996 just as a group of friends wanting to play some music for fun.  How did that turn into what you are today and what was your big break?


AB:  The band started in 1996 and it was a completely different set of circumstances then.  Kenny (Ken Casey) is the founder of the band and only original member actually left.  Although the drummer and myself have, well, over 19 years with Matt our drummer and over 18 years with myself.  But as far as the first inception with the band, Kenny is the only one left.  As he tells it, he was working as a bartender at Symphony Hall and there was a friend that he worked with there that had a band and he basically dared and bet Kenny to put a band together in 3 weeks and open for his band.  He bet him like $50 that he wouldn't be able to do it.  Ken, who never shied away from a challenge put a band together and learned to play bass for the event and 20 years later Kenny still hasn't received that $50.  It turned into something much different than what was originally intended.


BRR:  Thats funny!  Yeah, when I mentioned that I was going to interview you, my punk friends said, “You mean Al from The Bruisers?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

AB:  My old band, The Bruisers, used to play with the first version of the Dropkicks. You have to understand that when I joined the band 18 ½ years ago, the band had been outside of Boston on tour a couple of times and released their first record and the original singer left the band very shortly either before or right after it came out.  So, I was the one who was touring to support that record and the first record I was on, The Gang's All Here.  But my band, The Bruisers used to headline over the Dropkicks.  It was funny.  Then all of a sudden they had what I always wanted with The Bruisers, dedicated members that were willing to do whatever it took to get to that point of where you could contend to try to make a go of it.  Ten years and 17 lineup changes later with The Bruisers had just shown me that combination wasn't an easy one to come by.  I had come back from a European tour with The Bruisers and had come to the conclusion that we had just rounded the 10 year mark and I said to my wife, I can't do this anymore.  I can't come back from another 6 week tour, not that there was money in it, but seeing no future in it.  My wife and I wanted to have children anyway and I didn't see it was going anywhere.  Then at the same time, my phone rang and it was someone from Epitaph’s sister label in Europe, and this woman said to call Kenny because Dropkicks had to drop off a business tour because everyone got sick.  Anyway, that's when I found out Mike left the band.  Kenny asked a week later if I would come down and just sing so they could hear my voice on some of these new songs that they had written.  They were having a devil of a time finding a replacement for Mike and they all liked my voice, they said.  So, I went down in a very informal tryout.  It wasn't in my mind that I was going to be in the band and I don't really think it was in their mind either.  I went into the practice space and I sang half of a verse of one their new songs and they kind of stopped and wanted to talk so I left the room thinking, “That didn't go so well.”  The next thing I know they said they really liked my voice and wanted to see if I wanted to move forward with them.  I decided pretty much then and there that was what I wanted to do and I've never looked back  and that was about 18 ½ years ago.   Seven days later I was in the studio singing what turned out to be the first single that I do with the band, “Curse of a Fallen Soul.”


BRR:  Great!  I'm glad you tried out!  Can you tell me a little about the Claddagh Foundation?


AB:  Well, the band has always stood behind causes that we feel are important.  Whenever a fan or a friend has approached us about getting behind something that we believe in, we have always been a conduit for bring people to shows and making them aware of causes.  I hesitate to use “star power” and stupid things like that because we don't consider ourselves stars, but lending what little fame the band has to a cause.  We saw what would happen; our fans would be so generous and they would get behind these things. I think as we saw our career get more successful, and we always were the kind of band who has given back, but I think Kenny had the foresight to see that there was an opportunity to push a charitable arm there.  There is always a need for charity, so why not have, as you will, a tip jar on the stage always.  We are always taking in money so we needed to establish a charitable organization because you just can't say, “We have this money...wink, wink, over here.”  It has to be above board, obviously.  There are charities in Boston that the Claddagh Fund helps out whether its Veteran men and women returning from the front line that have been wounded, or whether it's abuse and neglect programs.  We give the money we raise to these programs locally in Boston and New England.  Our primary focus right now is the opioid and heroin crisis in New England and trying to combat that as much as we can by raising money and awareness and giving money to housess that support recovery from opioid addiction.  


BRR:  That's great that you guys do that!    It seems to affect everyone these days in one way or another.


AB:  I live in New Hampshire and we boast as the #1 spot for heroin overdoses in the country.  When you think about the fact that we have 1,3000,000 people, that's staggering!  As Kenny said, he's probably been to about 50 funerals in the last 3 years and I've been to my share of funerals.  I lost my brother in law about 3 years ago to this and one of my oldest friends to just addiction.  It's rampant in this country.  I just heard a number like 52,000 or 53,000 people overdosed in this country in the past year.  That's crazy!  That is a war right there.  That should really resonate and people should really think about that.  When you talk about that many death, and I'm not saying attention should not be paid, but when you talk about one gun death or a shooting here and there and you look at the media attention that is poured into that and you think about what the motives are for paying attention to that and then when you hear about the overdoses and you don't see the same media attention, it makes you really wonder who is behind this, who has the money, and who is saying this is important and this isn't important.  It seems to me that Big Pharma right now are the biggest drug dealers in this country.  It's like they are going after these street dealers and people who are smoking pot and meanwhile, these freaking execs that own pharmaceutical companies that are literally responsible for killing thousands of kids are sitting on their yachts eating and cashing checks as they step over the bodies of our children.  It's disgusting!


BRR:  It is.  I recently watched a documentary about this very thing.  It's so true about Big Pharma.  It's crazy!


AB:  It is crazy and it's not being talked about, by the media anyway, so we are just trying to bring more attention to it.  It's an epidemic.


BRR:  Absolutely.  Now you guys pretty much went into isolation near El Paso, TX to record the most recent album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory.  Why did you do that and how was it beneficial?


AB:  We felt like we did every record so far in the Boston area, so when you do that and we all live locally, we are going to be in the studio for the day and then we go home at night.  So, there is kind of this interruption in the creative flow that you create during the day in the studio.  That's not to say that everyday in the studio is this creative banquet, but you are trying to establish that atmosphere.  When you have constant interruptions of what songs are getting in and what songs are leaving and what so and so has to do today, we just thought that if we all go somewhere that is 1,000 miles away from our homes and stuff, we're there and not leaving.  Obviously we are going to stop to eat and sleep, but it's almost like we have created this world or cocoon that we are working in and we are not stepping out of that ever, so we're all together.  I think doing this experience, it really lends itself to the creativity that came out when we were doing this record.  To be 20 years into a career with your band and still feel like we do about this record, I mean I feel this is our best record, everybody says that about their new record, but I really feel like we are continuing to grow and I think we're still relevant.  So to be where we are in our career, to even be able to use the word career, we're very grateful.


BRR:  Yes, I had an advanced listen and I think it was the best yet!  I think the name 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is perfect because it flows like little short stories.  Each song is a story of its own so it's perfect!


AB:  Thank you.


BRR:  Now “Paying My Way”*  has already been released.  What has been the response?

*(written about doing what you have to do in order to be a good person)


AB:  So far, “Blood”, “You'll Never Walk Alone” and “Paying My Way” have all been released and so far have really been embraced by the fans. It has been amazing.  With “You'll Never Walk Alone”, you'll get over to Europe and people that are hard dedicated to their football club, European soccer, you're going to get some mixed reviews of that song but we kind of expected that.  But, so far it has been astounding.  People are loving it, so we are excited.


BRR:  What prompted you to cover “You'll Never Walk Alone”?*

*(Rodgers and Hammerstein song made famous by Gerry and The Pacemakers)


AB:  Again, that is going to the opioid crisis.  Coming out of another funeral and hearing that song, knowing that song, and loving that song already, but hearing it in that moment and those words on a different level...so yeah, that was the inspiration behind that.


BRR:  The song “4-15-13” is about the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Not only was it the band's hometown but I understand you guys also spent a lot of time visiting victims in the hospital.


AB:  Well, we did benefits.  We did our own benefit and we were part of the benefit that was done at the Boston Garden.  We were on tour when it happened, so our way of lending support at that time was by putting a “For Boston” t-shirt on sale and again, the outpouring of support from our fans was unprecedented.  We raised almost $400,000 in less than a week of putting that shirt on sale.  The t-shirt company that was making the shirts for us had to call in people to work 24 hour shifts because the worldwide orders were just pouring in and they couldn't keep up.  At that point we weren't thinking that in the future we were going to write a song about it. I just think having that experience and seeing the extreme generosity of our fans, that again, I think was the inspiration behind the writing of the song.  The song isn't so much about the Boston Marathon Bombing, although it is about that, but it's not singing about this happened and that happened, it's more about the energy and outpouring of love that came in the wake of the horrific event of that day. I think that is the angle we wanted to take in doing that song, because again, that is a very recent and tragic event and you wonder if people are going to be ready to hear a song about something like that because there are obviously thousands of people that were there that day or that were personally touched in some way by that event, so we have to be extremely sensitive to that.


BRR:  I think it could be part of the healing process also.


AB:  Yes, we obviously hope that that is one of the things that comes about when people hear it, but again, you never know how people are going to process things.


BRR:  You have a full schedule St. Patrick's Day weekend in Boston.  Are you ready for that?


AB:  This is our 18th year of doing those concerts, so yeah, we are always ready for that.  We always know where we are going to be that week and we have always traditionally toured into those shows so it's not like we are suddenly jumping off a cot and jumping into it.  We will be a well oiled machine when we come into Boston.  We leave January 8th for Europe and we are there for about 2 ½ weeks then come back from that.  I think we are off for 5 or 6 days and we are back on the road in the US, touring right into St. Patrick's Day.  I already know where I am going to be in August.  This is going to be a busy year for the Dropkicks.


BRR:  That's great.  I know the fans are probably going to be ready too!


AB:  We hope!


BRR:  I love how you encourage the singing along when you playing live.  I think that is what makes the show so fun.


AB:  That's exactly it.  When people talk to others that are into us but haven't seen us, I know that our fans are like, “You've got to see them!”  I would say that too.  You're not getting an honest full picture of what this band is about unless you see it live and that IS because of the audience and because of how rabid the crowds are.  It's amazing how everyone is with the singing along and all of it.


BRR:  Exactly!  I've seen you before in the past, but I also saw you recently at Vets Rock at Mohegan Sun.  It was an interesting show because it seemed like a lot of people hadn't seen you.


AB:  Oh definitely.  Whenever we play those things we expect to be not so well known.  But it seemed like people dug us, so that was cool.


BRR:  I thought it was interesting because you saw the people who were singing along and the rest of the crowd who was probably there for Godsmack or the other bands or whatever.


AB:  I think inevitably the people at these events aren't there so much for the music anyway.  They are there for what the event is about.  I think there is a small amount of people from any of the crowds, whether it's the Godsmack crowd or the Dropkick crowd, that are there for the music.  I do know that there were some fans of ours that came but also some of our fans that say, “I know they aren't going to be playing the full set.” so they don't bother.  I'd rather have people there that are there for the reason we are there, which is to honor the Vets and not to have some ego fest onstage.  We are just there to help promote that event.


BRR:  Which leads me to my next question, you guys did a lot of covers that day….What made you decide to do that?


AB:  Again, as you said, we are not going to be playing to our usual standard audience, so why not make it a fun event?  Instead of standing onstage in front of 75-85% of people who maybe aren't aware of the band and play a bunch of songs that no one is going to really relate to, because they are there for the event, let's play some rock songs that people know and we can kind of come together on those terms.


BRR:  Right, rock Dropkick style!


AB:  That seemed to work because I saw a lot of people appreciate our nonsense 70s rock that we were doing.  (laughing)


Vets Rock 2016


BRR:  That's all the questions I have.  Again, I appreciate your time, Al.  I do have to say that I think “Rebels With a Cause”*  is probably my favorite song on that album.

*(written about kids who are given up on and left behind by a system that has written them off as hopeless)


AB:  That's great.  I'm happy to hear that.


BRR:  It was hard to pick a favorite because there were so many but that one seemed to definitely catch my attention.  “Blood”*  is also very catchy.

*(the story of the band’s 20-year career, and the mutual respect and dedication the band and its fans have for one another)


AB:  Well, that's cool and that's the thing about listening to a record, as we are all music fans too, and my favorites always change too as I listen to a record.  I'll start loving this song and then a song I may not have paid much attention to will end up becoming a favorite.  That's again how when an artist or band makes a record, those are the chapters of a record that you are listening to.  That's why it is so important to buy the whole piece of music and not just songs because you are taking stories out of context.  Anyway, thank you for the interview and I hope you have a great Christmas.


BRR:  Thank you.  You too and I look forward to seeing you guys play in March when I'll be “shipping up to Boston!”



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