I met with Ken Casey, founding member and bass player from the Dropkick Murphys, at an Irish bakery in the Adams Corner section of Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston. The band just recently played their annual St. Patrick's Day block of six sold out shows at the Avalon Ballroom, as well as shows in New York, Providence, RI, and Monson, MD. DKM also just returned from a tour of the U.K. and Ireland. The boys from Boston have been busy to say the least! If the nonstop touring wasn't enough, the band just released Singles Collection II in March and is putting the finishing touches on The Warriors Code, due out in June.
I asked Ken about the tour and the St Patrick's Day shows:
Ken Casey: The last few years we've done England, Ireland, and Scotland right leading up to the St. Patrick's Day shows. Which is good; it's a good warm up. I mean the shows over there are great. I shouldn't say it's a warm up, but in a sense when we play Boston we do six nights, so we do six different shows. So we literally try to learn every song we have, that we ever played. When you're on tour for a month like that, you're in the swing of things. You come into the six shows in a row totally ready. So it's pretty cool. On the other hand it's a little insane. The day we got home (from Ireland) we played Providence and then we started the six nights.
Being There: You must have been still jet lagged when you were playing
KC: We're used to that travel-wise. Touring you never have that many days off. Playing your home town you have to cater to your family and friends. Making sure they're all taken care of. It's not just like playing a show. That's the easy part. Making sure everybody's happy, has their tickets, backstage passes, parking spots. Our drummer Matt took the cake this year. We're backstage and he gets a call from his aunt. He's on the phone, he says "Oh hi Aunt Mary...Oh you're outside...No I don't know where you can park...No your friend can't bring a handgun into the show...He's licensed to carry? No you can't." It's stressful to play your hometown but it's also the best place to play too because there once was a time when our family and friends, for me in particular, didn't endorse what I was doing, certainly didn't come to see the band. So it's cool that it's come full circle.
BT: On your website it says you guys started out playing in a basement of a barbershop.
KC: It was just a joke, a hobby. I was married, living with my father-in-law so me and my wife could save money, and I said I think I'm going to quit my job and do the band full time, and they said "What!!" But it started to get to that point were it was infringing on all of our work and it was either like burn bridges or kind of take a leap of faith and go do it.
BT: Well it's worked out good so far, you've seen most of the world a few times over.
KC: I used to send a postcard home if I went outside of Rt. 128 (a highway just outside of Boston) for chrissakes. Now I've got to see the world. There was definitely a few years in there where, and this is the difference with a lot of bands that aren't eighteen year old kids with no responsibilities, a lot of the guys in the band were married and had kids. There was a fine line between a good opportunity and actual reality of life, paying the bills. It took a while but it eventually paid off. My family was actually pretty supportive, but there was that scratching the head period.
BT: Being from Boston myself I could relate to the Irish influences in your music as well as the rock and punk. On the Singles Collection II you seem to really reach back with songs from AC/DC, Creedence, The Misfits, and Cock Sparrer for example.
KC: We've always tried to wear our influences on our sleeve, and one of the main goals of the band was to break down barriers, whether it was doing a hardcore song or an AC/DC cover. Our shows when we started were all-ages punk shows, and here we are playing to thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen-year-old kids singing songs about organized labor and traditional Irish songs. We were singing about stuff they technically shouldn't even have known about. My goal was: we'll educate the younger people and then eventually maybe the older people will catch on. It took a while; eventually the word got out. I was always hoping it would be something a father and a son could do together.
This idea of different generations going to a rock show has come to fruition for the Dropkick Murphys. I took my teenage sons to one of the St Patrick's Day shows last year and was amazed at the age differential; there were seven and eight year old kids there with their parents. This year I was lucky enough to get backstage at one of the shows (thanks Ken), and there were grandparents, mothers, fathers, and grandchildren.
Ken gives us an example:
KC: I had, at one of the St. Patrick's Day shows---and this is within my family but it's an example---my three year old daughter, my wife, my mother, and my eighty two year old grandmother all on the stage together, which is four generations of the women in my life together, which was very cool.
BT: I used to make compilation tapes when I was younger to play in the car, and the track list would go from the Clash to the Clancy Brothers to the Ramones to the Chieftains. Is that how it was for you?
KC: I got introduced to punk rock by someone making me a compilation cassette, a kid I used to play baseball with down at Kelly Field when I was probably thirteen or fourteen years old. Immediately, it was aggressive and that's what I liked. The Irish end of the music at that early an age I was totally immersed in and knew about, but more from my family and friends.
Not like my music but as music of the culture I was raised in. Then the Pogues came along. I got into the Pogues around '84/'85 and that's when I was like, "Wait a minute; this music is for my generation." That's when the two styles merged for me. So by the time I was in my late teens I would have been listening to a broad spectrum of music like that.
BT: The Pogues definitely put a new spin on traditional Irish music.
KC: Oh yeah, it wasn't even that they were playing punk rock; they were giving it the punk rock attitude. I always say when we're compared to the Pogues it's like they're a traditional band with a punk rock attitude and we're a punk rock band bringing in traditional elements.
BT: In Boston your music is like preaching to the choir: songs about organized labor, Irish songs played as punk rock. But the music is popular across the country and the world.
KC: Well for instance in southern California there's a huge Mexican portion of fans that just like the fact that we're respecting our roots and some of the songs talk about the struggles of the Irish in Boston generations ago that they can relate to now, either their parents or them. Or you go to a place like Japan and they're crazy about anything that's not Japanese! They know Irish music; they know American music like the back of your hand. In Europe, in the UK, in Ireland, a lot of the labor stuff, people are very passionate about. Otherwise they're just passionate about the fact that we're passionate about what we're singing about, instead of just singing about trivial stuff. Maybe they can't identify with it but they like the fact that it means something to us.
BT: I started hearing some of your songs on local radio around the time you were doing the St. Patrick's Shows. How has radio been to you over the years?
KC: We don't play the radio game, like selling your soul for them to play you and doing that on a national level. WBCN came to us on our second record The Gangs All Here and said, "We want to play a song." We always had a good relationship with them; they did it not because they were being paid by our record company, and that shit goes on. What happened on our last record is BCN played it so much, and they're one of the biggest radio stations in the country, other stations started saying, "What the hell is going on here?" It helped get the word out and we ended up getting adds to probably fifteen stations across the country. We don't play that game, like radio, what can we do for you? Sending them presents, you know, kissing their asses. It's just not worth it to me.
BT: I saw the track listing online for The Warriors Code and you have two of my favorite songs on there, "The Green Fields of France" and "The Auld Triangle."
KC We did "Green Fields of France" very traditional, like piano, my cousin Laura played the cello on it. We have the [tin] whistle, bagpipes, minimal drums, real ballad style. Al sings the whole thing by himself. "Auld Triangle," we defiantly turned that one on its ear. You'll be surprised at the difference in that song, the time signature and everything's changed. It's more a rock and roll take on it.
BT: When did you guys get to write the album; it seems like you've been touring so much lately?
KC: We had some of the songs written as we were going on tour, a few of them, and then this fall the majority of it was written. We were busy with Red Sox stuff and a little touring so whenever we weren't on the road we were in the practice space writing the songs. It came together really quick; the songs are shorter, quicker, catchier, like less bull. Not that there was bullshit on the last album but it just seemed like the songs for some reason were getting longer and longer as you added the extra instrumentation and tried to incorporate more. It just seemed like it was almost getting away from us. These songs all came together quick; it was kind of refreshing in that way. To be back to songs where it's like: Hey that song's only two minutes and fifteen seconds, does it need another part? No fuck it, its fine the way it is.
BT: For the songwriting chores, is it a band thing or does someone come up with an idea and the rest of you just dive in?
KC: Usually I select the traditional songs, just 'cause I've had a list this long (sticks out his arm) of what I wanted to try in my mind. Some I know are going to translate and others it's like, "Lets give this a whirl." It either works or it doesn't. I used to write the majority of the lyrics and then for the last album everything pretty much was like every one together in the practice space. This album it's back a little more to me bringing a lot more stuff to the band. When you have seven guys in the band and you're trying to be democratic, or like let's do it all together, it gets a little crazy. Its still very much a team thing, if a song's close, we're finishing it off together. There's no guy coming in with an acoustic and the lyrics and saying this is how it goes start to finish. There's input on some degree from everybody.
Ken is as passionate about the Boston sports scene as he is about his music, and who wouldn't be after the run of Super Bowl championships the New England Patriots have had, and especially the dramatic World Series win for the Red Sox. During the season the Red Sox asked the Dropkick Murphys to redo a song called "Tessie" that Sox fans used to sing to distract opposing players back in 1903.
KC: In 1986 my friend's father did the detail at Fenway and I was at every game against the Angels, I got arrested at game six against the Angels. In game seven, me and my buddy were ready to storm the field and his father knew what we'd be up to after Roger Clemens won game seven, so he grabbed us and locked us in a souvenir stand. We were on tour last year and I was trying to cancel shows and book flights home for games and all this crazy stuff. We held up a show in Tallahassee, Florida; we wouldn't take the stage until the game was over. The club owners said, "Listen you shouldn't tour during baseball season if you want to watch baseball." We said, "Listen buddy its game seven (of the '03 series against the Yankees)." We had to go right on stage after (Aaron) Boone hit that homerun; it was brutal. We played three songs and I was like the kid in A Christmas Story. I started swearing uncontrollably. The crowd all knew; they wouldn't even make eye contact with us during the show.
BT: Is "Tessie" going to be on the Fever Pitch soundtrack?
KC: "Tessie" is on the Fever Pitch soundtrack, and it's also a bonus track on our new record. Not that Boston needs to hear it again but we wanted to get it out for all over the world. We also got permission from WEEI (the AM station that carries the Red Sox play by play) to put the Joe Castiglione's call of the last out. Before the song starts it kind of cross fades into it. You know what, I don't listen to a lot of our own music, but I put that on and listen to it all the time. We recorded the song before they won the World Series, this new version of it, with that call, kind of cements it as: That was the year. I'm really into having it on there.
BT: So you have a couple of weeks off and then you're off on the Warped Tour?
KC: We have some college shows and then we're on the Warped Tour June 15th to August 15th, then we go off to Europe for two weeks after that, so we don't really get back until September 1st. I've already got that knot in my stomach; it's like in August when you're a kid and you knew you had to go back to school. The Warped Tour is great because you get to hit so many different places, Montana and places like that, that are tough to do on your own. If the Warped Tour gets five thousand people in Montana, they're literally pulling from all over the state and maybe a couple states over. If you do a club in Montana it's hard, so it's good to be able to hit all those places. It's good for the young kids and there's always a new generation of kids coming too. For the hard-core fan base, they don't want to see us there; they'll be waiting for us to do a club tour so we will do something like that in the fall.
Look for The Warriors Code out in stores June 21 and Singles Collection II in stores now. There's more information and Warped Tour dates on www.dropkickmurphys.com.
Casey Comes Clean
By Stephen Gill