Dropkick Murphys Discuss Boston Marathon Bombing Relief Efforts, Rocking With Bruce Springsteen + More
After the Dropkick Murphys released their debut, ‘Do or Die,’ in 1998, their live show earned them the reputation as violent bruisers — a rap that took the band nearly a decade to erase. Despite the fear they caused, the Boston group earned a leg up on fellow Celtic-punk acts like Flogging Molly, and they did so thanks to a stronger dedication to punk, the core of their sound. Fifteen years later, those roots still show, no matter how many times the Dropkicks have bleached their metaphorical hair. As the septet tours in support of their eighth studio album, ‘Signed and Sealed in Blood,’ percussionist Matt Kelly spoke with Diffuser.fm about the April Boston Marathon attack, playing with the Boss and the joys of not getting recognized.
When Dropkick Murphys first broke out in the late ’90s, the band had a reputation for rough live shows. Now in 2013, you’re collaborating with Bruce Springsteen. That points to a dramatic ride over the past 15 years. Has the mentality of the project shifted, or are you the same band with more people taking notice?
From day one, we wanted to play the music that we play. I think it started as rudimentary songs, and as it has gone along, you get different ideas and different ways of writing and just expand on the repertoire. We’ve had some people change in the band, but we’ve always been about giving 100 percent onstage, and what we stand for, we’ve always stood for. You don’t want to make the same record twice, and you expand on every aspect of your sound, whether it be oi!-inspired punk or Irish-traditional-influenced up-beat stuff. Or it’s a ballad, and you just expand on the ballads. Make better songs and make a better variety in everything.
Coming from playing to 150 people to playing with Bruce Springsteen, it’s overshot any of our wildest dreams. [Bassist and singer] Ken [Casey] would say his dream was the Rathskeller in Boston, a small club that holds 250 people that is now sadly gone, but that was the first big goal. The from there, it’s like, “Let’s go on tour; let’s organize a tour.” It wasn’t like we ever said, “One day, we want to play Fenway Park. That just wasn’t on the radar. But after a while, you go on, and you realize, “Let’s just go for it.” But to have done some of this stuff, it has been a long strange trip.
From an outsiders point of view, you’re seen as Boston’s band, which must be really rewarding for you guys. Do you feel any responsibility to keep producing at a level that lives up to that? Has the way you’re treated around town dramatically changed?
I keep a pretty low profile and don’t really get recognized, which I am quite happy for. I enjoy my privacy, and it’s a lucky luxury being the drummer and in the back. I guess you could say we are like mascots of the city because we are all from around here. I grew up about 40 miles west of here, but I’ve lived here for 20-odd years. But yeah, there is a responsibility to yourself, to put out something good that you can be proud of. At the end of the day, you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror. But music is so subjective, and you really can’t go out there and try to pander to fans. You’ve seen so many bands do that and you are just like, “‘C’mon, man.” It’s cheap.
This year has obviously been bittersweet. You released ‘Signed and Sealed in Blood,’ and you’re doing amazing things like Bonnaroo and Coachella, but then there was the Boston Marathon bombing. Lives were lost, and the city was in a scary situation for days. Detail your work with the Boston relief efforts and how you balance that with all of these positive things that are happening with the band.
Well, the day it happened we were in Santa Cruz, California, playing at the Catalyst, and when we heard, we knew we had to do something. But you don’t immediately know what you can do to help out. The idea of making a t-shirt was proposed, and within two days these “For Boston” shirts were made, and all of the proceeds went to the the Claddagh Fund, which is a charity that the band set up, with the money going to the victims and the victims families as needed. And the response for the gesture, it was an outpouring of support. It was absolutely amazing, the amount of money we were able to raise from the t-shirt alone.
Then immediately when we got back from tour, we did a benefit at the House of Blues and sold more shirts there, plus they were able to waive all the fees associated with playing the club, so the victims would get more money. And then we were fortunate enough to have Bruce Springsteen play with us on a version of a song called ‘Rose Tattoo,’ and we put a single out with that and a couple other songs on iTunes, and iTunes waived the fees so every cent associated with those purchases went to the victims and their families. And we have a makeup date for Albuquerque, because on the date of that originally scheduled show, we flew home to do the Boston Strong benefit, which was at the Boston Garden and was just a huge, amazing benefit. We rubbed elbows with a lot of groups that we typically wouldn’t, but it was certainly interesting. It was a great thing to be a part of and really helped the people affected by the tragedy. So yeah, a lot of stuff going on in the last couple months.
When you are promoting an album, that obviously takes a backseat to this, but has it been hard to maintain your focus with showcasing these new songs?
You just do what you got to do. You want to do what is right and use the power and the popularity of the band to help people. It’s just a small part of what we have done as a band, and you don’t really think about it — you just do it. Just go about your business and maybe think about it 10 years down the road, maybe go see a shrink or something.
This marked the first year of the Boston Calling festival, and some were surprised Dropkick Murphys weren’t on the bill. Was there a conflict, or did you not get approached?
It’s all over-saturation. The city has been so good to us, and we do so much here that you don’t want to wear out your welcome. We did a bunch of shows in March around St. Patrick’s Day and two charity events. We feel it runs close to being over-saturated.
It’s a tough balance. What’s next for you guys? You’ve been touring for about six months — will you continue until the end of the year?
Well, [multi-instrumentalist] Jeff DeRosa is having a baby, so we’ll take a little time off for that. But yeah, between now and then, we’ll be doing some stuff through the summer. We’re going to Alaska for the first time, which I am looking forward to. I think that will make it 48 or 49 states now. Summer Fest will be awesome. We are pretty much off a week, on a week all summer, which our families like. We have some more stuff in the fall that isn’t announced yet, and then a little more around Christmas. But we are already gearing up for next year, the Ides of March and St. Patrick’s Day. It’s always full-steam. We’ve been going pretty hard since last year. But, we’re getting to do some cool stuff, playing some cool festivals. And hopefully we’ll start to write some new stuff, to keep ourselves interested. Nothing incredibly life changing planned, really. Except for Jeff DeRosa.