The Dropkick Murphys literally emerged from underground to surround themselves with a strong following and it's little wonder. From Boston, the Celtic punk group has a sound that's novel, but chock full of pure talent. They've been making the rounds, touring in support of their latest effort, "Blackout" (Hellcat Records), with the lineup of Al Barr, lead vocals, Ken Casey, lead vocals and bass, Matt Kelly, vocals, drums and bodhran, James Lynch, vocals and guitar, Marc Orrell, vocals, guitar and accordion, Ryan Foltz, mandolin, tin whistle and dulcimer and Scruffy Wallace, bagpipes.
I had an opportunity to speak with Marc Orrell. He joined the band around three years ago, but could still clue me in about DKM's humble beginnings.
"They started out as just friends and they started out playing in the basement of a barbershop. They never wanted to escalate anywhere really, but they played a show and it clicked for them. So they just started getting bigger, bigger and bigger and all of a sudden, it was awesome, they just kept working and working and here they are- here we are," says Orrell.
"I grew up around here, I saw them play all the time around here," Orrell tells me of how he got involved with the group. "My friend's band used to play with them, it was James Lynch's band, the guitar player. They played shows and got rid of the guitar player, a guy named Scott James, and then they were like, 'Do you know any guitar players?' James (Lynch) called up me and that's pretty much how I got the job.
"I used to be in a band that covered the Dropkick Murphys, weird, you know," Orrell laughs.
DPK's name has several different meanings, all of them intriguing.
"The Dropkick Murphy will come and get you if you don't go to sleep tonight," offers Orrell. "It's a rehab center, I think it's in Connecticut. I think it was the guy who used to come around late at night for all the drunks, like if you were too drunk to drive home, he would come and get you and put you in this hole that you couldn't get out until you were sober enough, I don't know. There's a bunch a story, it's also a boxer, a bunch of things, a rehab center in Connecticut, grandparents used to scare kids with it."
"But why did you guys decide to play Irish punk?" I ask.
"We always had that in our background, our grandparents used to play it," replies Orrell. "My grandparents are Irish, so is the majority of the band. It was always around and you always hated it when you were kids, it was grandparent music, but then it clicked. Also Boston has an Irish ethnic background. Ken used to write about his family listening to Irish music and it escalated from there.
"The accordion was my foot in the door for the band." Orrell continues, "I was trying out for them and Kevin was like, 'I wish we could get an accordion.' I had an accordion at my house, but I had no clue how to play it. I went, 'Sure, of course I can.' I went home that day and I had to learn how to play the accordion. It was actually my friend's, he just left it over my house. I was like, 'All right, we're in this thing now.' He ended up giving me the accordion. I had been doing all these tours with the accordion and I still hadn't told him I took it at all. When I did, he was like, 'Keep it.'"
Surprised to learn that Orrell hadn't been forced to learn accordion as a kid, like some musicians I know, I ask him about when he first got into music.
"I started playing rock when I was 12 or 13, I'm 20 now, so that's seven years. I played drums first, then I moved to bass and then I went to guitar," says Orrell.
"Did you switch from drums because your parents hated the noise?" I query.
Orrell chuckles, "My mom had her own embroidery business in the basement, those machines were so loud, I could just play. She liked it too, she said, 'I like it when you play the drums.'
"I was 17 when I joined the band. I had quit high school and I was working at Blockbuster video. That's when I got the call from James," Orrell adds. "I do the band full time now. I used to work at Stop 'N' Shop (a grocery store) and a T-shirt place a long time ago."
Music is still on Orrell's mind even when he's away from DKM.
"Usually just playing music with my friends down in the basement," he says of his hobbies. "We'll get shit-faced and fucking jam in my basement. It's cool. I have my own place now. I'm going to start teaching guitar lessons to the kids around here in my basement, I've got a nice basement."
I return to focusing on DKM as a whole, asking how they write their material.
"This last record, we were in the practice phase for a while. This is the first album we ever all of us ever wrote anything together," Orrell tells me. "It was kind of rickety at first. We had been playing together for so long, we knew how to play together, but it was kind of weird writing things. But eventually there was this one point where things just started popping; things just started happening. It's just been like that ever since. We were just figuring it out. We pretty much just jam until we find something that sounds cool. We bring a 30 rack of beer down there and something just pops out."
If you read the J-card notes on "Blackout," you will discover that the lyrics to "Gonna be a Blackout Tonight" were written by folk legend Woody Guthrie. His daughter Nora offered DKM use of some of Guthrie's lyrics because her son is a fan.
"So they called up Ken and Ken went there and looked at all the papers. He had to put on special gloves and he was handling them and they said, 'Sir, can you just please calm down?' He's saying, 'I'm trying to hold them as best as I can.' It's like 60-year-old paper. But we picked a couple of tunes that seemed to fit us. We just put some music to it. Hopefully he's not rolling over in his grave and hopefully Nora answers our phone calls back," says Orrell.
With his home base on the East Coast, I am interesting in hearing Orrell's take on the music scene.
"The punk seems to be getting bigger, even on MTV. I was just watching MTV and I was like, 'Whoa, wow, look at all these big bands popping up,'" Orrell notes. "But it's cool because a band like Good Charlotte, who are totally nice guys, the music's all right. They're totally cool guys, they took Roger Miret and the Disasters on tour, a little small band that's just starting out and that's cool. Those guys are cool because they wear other band's T-shirts.
"I'm not really a fan of the New Found Glory stuff, but that's their thing. Everything gets pretty much filtered down from their influences. The Sex Pistols influenced Green Day, Green Day influenced New Found Glory. Do you see the pattern? It keeps getting watered down. But that's their thing, let the kids have their fun." Orrell goes on, "I guess it's just the way we write stuff that makes us different from the big pop/punk scene, but I don't know."
Orrell comments that he's looking forward to meeting NFG on the Warped Tour, "It's just like one big punk rock summer camp, a giant circus. It's going to be fun."
Since I write for an Internet publication, I feel like I should ask Orrell what he does on the computer.
"I'm not a big computer person. I'm computer illiterate. I have a screen name that my girlfriend answers all my e-mails from. My screen name actually has Internet-hater in it. I'm like, 'How the fuck do you turn this thing on?' And I'm like touching the screen like it's a touchscreen or something. I'm not a big computer person," Orrell isn't even into video games, "I'm not a big video game fan, probably because of my friend when I was younger. He would always hog the Nintendo. What's more fun than watching your friend play Nintendo? Oh, this is fun. That could be why I'm so against computers and video games."
DKM has a full slate-- they're planning to go back to Australia in January, as well as touring with the Sex Pistols.
"That's going to be amazing. We played with them before. I thought they were going to be pricks, they were nice guys, just normal dudes," Orrell says of the Sex Pistols.
The group is also going to try to do some writing and recording while on tour.
"Al was saying the other day, 'Songs pop in and out of my head all the time and I always lose them.' What the hell, why not do it on the Warped Tour on the bus?" laughs Orrell.
It occurs to me that to Orrell with his Boston accent I might be the one who has the real accent during our conversation and we share a chuckle.
Then Orrell musters up his strongest Boston twang for his parting words, "We'll see you on the Warped Tour."
Don't miss this eclectic blend that even your parents might like, find out when Dropkick Murphys are coming to your town at www.dropkickmurphys.com