DKM and SLC: Dropkick Murphys Return
By Carly Fullmer
Has it been awhile since you've seen Dropkick Murphys bust out the bagpipes and get their Irish "oi" on? Well, you aren't alone. Dropkick Murphys haven't played a live show in Salt Lake City since Warped Tour 1999. Why the four-year hiatus? Ken Casey, the Murhpys' guitarist and vocalist, has given two very different answers to that very burning question. In an unpublished interview in 2001 with Brien Kleib, a New Yorker who writes for Maximum Ripoff, Ken said, "In Salt Lake City, we had a falling-out with the crowd, so to speak. It's a weird straight-edge scene out there; they're known for attacking bands, which is kind of a weird thing. I think it's because they're such an isolated city, they don't have anyone to have a rivalry with. Like Boston and New York, etc. So the only outsiders they ever see are bands, and they fight them." However, in 2003, Ken changed his tune and told SLUG that, "They [Hellcat] turned it into a straight-edge kid vs. Dropkick Murphys thing, which I don't think it was ... it got blown out of proportion."
With a new album on Hellcat Records, Blackout, waiting at the gate, a new man behind the bagpipes, and a newfound emphasis on punk rock, the Dropkick Murphys are ready to conquer Salt Lake City for the first time in four years. Accordion player and guitarist Marc Orrell and Ken Casey are more than proud of their newest work, more than excited to hit the road as a main attraction at the Warped Tour, and more than happy to fill us in and clear things up about the SLC Warped incident of 1999.
SLUG: First of all, I just have to tell you that my 53-year-old mother is a big fan of yours. Usually, as moms go, they hear your music and it's, "Turn it down! What is this crap?" but she came in one day and said, "What is this you're listening to? Are those bagpipes?" She's been a fan ever since. I made her a mix CD for Christmas with a few Dropkick tunes on it and she loved it.
M.O: That's awesome, usually it's the other way around, usually the parents get the kids into music, so that's awesome.
SLUG: The new album. Congratulations, it's a keeper.
M.O: Thank you, thank you very much. I'm psyched about it.
SLUG: It seems a little more in the folk vein than some of your past albums, what with the storylines behind the songs and such.
M.O: I think this record is a little more punk rock, and it's got the folk too, like you were saying. It's just a wide mix because everyone in the band listens to everything from Boston hardcore to Johnny Cash. He's a huge influence on us.
SLUG: Is it just me, or is Al [Barr, lead vocals] singing less and less and Ken is singing more?
M.O: Well it's not like we mapped it out or anything. Kenny has been wanting to sing more and more, and it's like half-and-half, people like the switching-off and the variety. It's like The Clash, with Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.
SLUG: So do you sing back up mostly or do you sing lead too?
M.O: Oh no, I don't sing lead. You don't want to hear my disastrous voice.
SLUG: You're more of a scream-along-in-the-back kind of guy, which is so very Dropkick, the chorus in the back.
M.O: Yeah yeah, I'm one of those guys that's just kind of rockin' out in the back
SLUG: The lineup for Dropkick is always changing. New lead singers, new pipers. Have you been there from the beginning, or what has been your involvement?
M.O: I joined the band three years ago, and I was already a big fan of the Dropkicks. I remember going to see them at the espresso bar in Worcester. Thirty kids would be there, it was when they were a wee, small band. I've kind of always been with them.
SLUG: That's so cool to first be a fan and then be a
member--that must be amazing.
M.O: Yeah, I used to be watching them at bars, and now I'm going on Australian and European tours with them. It's crazy.
SLUG: Oh yeah, how was Australia? I've always wanted to go there.
M.O: Oh, it's amazing. Al was like, "I'm not leaving. I'm going to become an Australian citizen."
SLUG: That would be great! The Dropkick Murphys are now an Australian-Irish punk band. I bet you are getting to go so many places that you wouldn't have without Dropkick.
M.O: Oh, pssssshhh. I would still be at Blockbuster Video if it weren't for Dropkick Murphys. Actually, no I wouldn't, I probably would've been fired and living on the streets. I had to skip work to go to the audition, and I ended up getting fired for skipping too many days. I dropped out of high school and joined the band when I was 17.
SLUG: So your role in the band exactly is...
M.O: Guitar, accordion and vocals.
SLUG: How long have you been playing the accordion?
M.O: That was pretty much my foot in the door with the band. When I was trying out, I overheard Ken say, "It would be cool if we could get an accordion player to play something." And I was like, "I've got an accordion at my house!" And Ken took a double-take and said, "Well, can you play anything?" And I lied and said, "Sure, sure I can play it!"
SLUG: I bet you wailed on "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
M.O: I had no idea how to play the accordion. I went home that day and learned how to play.
SLUG: Well, that's motivation for you. If only our mothers would've told us, "If you practice your accordion, you can be a member of your favorite band some day!"
M.O: Yeah, I learned really quickly with that as a prospect.
SLUG: So what can you tell me about the title track, "Blackout?" It's an excellent song.
M.O: Well, it was originally a Woodie Guthrie poem. His daughter Nora Guthrie contacted us because her son was into the band. And he said to his mom, "It would be cool if this band did one of granddad's songs." So, she contacted us and Ken had to go down to the archives, put on these rubber gloves, and handle all the originals. And they were totally yelling at Ken cause he was being too rough with them. They were like, "Can you please calm down with the papers!" And he was like, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" It was cool.
SLUG: So was it just lyrics, or was it put to music originally?
M.O: No, no, it never had any music to it, it was just one of thousands of his archives.
SLUG: How are you enjoying your recent success? Didn't you just break some ticket-sales record?
M.O: Yeah, it was like the most tickets sold at the Avalon on St. Patrick's Day. It was like over 8,000 tickets sold in four days. And the only band that did that before was The Ramones, and that was only like 5,000 or something.
SLUG: How can you even handle being in the same category as The Ramones?
M.O: It's crazy, it's really fuckin' unbelievable.
SLUG: So how do you feel about other Celtic punk bands out there? Like Flogging Molly, The Real McKenzies, etc.
M.O: Well, I think they're doing really well. They're going to be blowing up pretty soon. They're doing some shows with the Sex Pistols, so that should be huge. I grew up listening to The Pogues and The Real Mckenzies. It's amazing to be a part of a band like the Dropkick Murphys, with that kind of background.
And that is where Marc Orrell's expertise ends, because he was not a member of DKM during the SLC catastrophe. He did say, however, that it is all "water under the bridge" with SLC and that he's excited to finally play here. Cut to Ken Casey, Dropkick extraordinaire, member from the beginning, and someone who can recount the scenario the last time DKM visited SLC.
SLUG: Can you describe what happened the last time you played here?
K.C: Well, basically, from what I gather, there were a bunch of kids there flipping us off in the crowd. 'Cause they thought we were sellouts for playing the Warped Tour, I guess. And then, basically, there was a little altercation afterwards that got blown way out of proportion, partially by our record label. I actually talked to one of the kids after the whole thing happened. And out of that, it grew from people talking.
SLUG: Yes, people do love controversy. So the fact that you didn't play here for four years, was that your record label's choice, your choice, or what?
K.C: No, our record label would never tell us where we can and can't play. But as we were trying to plan the next show to go back there, we basically had the police calling and telling us, "You can't play here." Blah, blah, blah. The show was getting canceled, and it was back and forth until the last minute and then it ended up not happening. And basically, after all that crap, we didn't even want to deal with it. But we're excited to come back. As it is with a lot of things, people got involved who weren't involved and blew things out of proportion and then things like this happen, where no one even wants to book the band, and next thing you know, it's four years and we haven't been back to a town. But hopefully that will make the show that much better cause we haven't been there in four years.
SLUG: Well, I think that's exactly what's going to happen. I think you'll find tons of people who are so excited to finally see you guys. So is this the show that's breaking the four-year absence, because it's the Warped Tour and it's easier to book, and it's not like you're an isolated band coming through and doing your own show or what?
K.C: Well, it's not like we've been touring all through the country for two years and just not playing Salt Lake. We haven't been to the West Coast in about two years, either. After that club show was canceled, I think it was only one tour where we said that we won't bother going back. But with the Warped Tour, we're part of a package. So hopefully, it'll be easier for a promoter to see that people actually do like the band there. And maybe there are people that hate the band, but we're just passing through to play music, and you can't fight every town you go to--it's too much of a headache.
SLUG: Very true. Well, we're excited to have you, so we'll see you at the Warped Tour. SLC has missed you. And congratulations on the new album.
K.C: Well thank you, we'll see you there.
So there you have it. Be at your favorite record store on June 10 to pick up the new album, Blackout. Be at the Warped Tour on June 21 if you want to see some kick-ass Celtic punk rock. If you just want to kick some ass, do us all a favor and go to the Motocross and pick a fight there instead.