Infusing traditional Irish folk influences with the chaotic energy of punk rock, Dropkick Murphys have gained a loyal following over the past 14 years for writing music in their own unique way. Armed with an arsenal of instruments including bagpipes, whistles and accordions along with a spot on the upcoming No Sleep Til festival, drummer Matt Kelly took time out to talk writing, touring and what they have in store for Australian audiences.
G’day mate. To get the ball rolling, can you please tell us your name, role in Dropkick Murphys and favourite pastime while on tour?
Hi Jack, my name is Matt Kelly and I am the drummer. Fave pastime? Record hunting.
A little while back, it was announced that the band was writing material for a new studio album, which you plan to release in conjunction with your St Patrick’s Day tour next year. Can you give an update on how the new material is coming along?
That was all lies, Jack. No, but really, we’re in the studio putting down some final guitar ditties and close-miking cannon fire and nuclear explosions. Next up, we’re making Jeff swallow a microphone and we’re going to record him digesting a sandwich, and then play it at 10 times the normal speed, and use it as a backwards message on the vinyl version. Well, we’ve recorded so many songs that came out so well that we can’t decide what to leave off the record. Yeah, we’re really frigging psyched about this record, it sounds big, the guitars sound amazing, and there are some awesome songs on it. We hope the punters agree!
And seeing as you will be reaching Australian shores very soon to play the No Sleep Til festival in December, can Australian fans expect to hear some new songs from you guys?
Quite possibly, my friend. We actually played a one-off gig a couple of weeks ago and opened the encore with an unheard tune from the upcoming album, and it got the best reaction of the night.
What bands on the No Sleep Til festival line-up are you looking forward to sharing the stage with?
Yeah, I’m pretty psyched to see lesser-known bands like the Shitrippers and some of the other true hardcore punk bands on the bill.
How would you describe the band’s song writing process? Is it a matter of consciously trying to balance the Irish folk music influences with the punk rock influences or does it occur more naturally?
Nah, there’s no real conscious effort to blend the styles. We used to have songs like "A Few Good Men" or "The Gauntlet" that were two separate styles, but after years of playing and (hopefully) getting better at what we do, things just ended up occurring naturally. Songs like "The State of Massachusetts" or "Famous For Nothing", both of which are punk rock songs which wouldn’t be the same or as good without the traditional instruments in there. As far as song writing goes, one of the guys will just write a riff, a melody, a vocal line, or bring the skeleton of a song to the table. We then just each interpret it in our own styles, make sure it gels together, and just try to make the best song possible.
Will you be trying anything dramatically different for the new studio album?
Yeah, half the band has taken great influence from Hungarian Wolf Metal and the other guys have really gotten Paraguayan shepherding music, so obviously there’s a lot of blood involved.
In the past, you’ve collaborated with members of Celtic folk punks The Pogues and Irish folk legend Ronnie Drew from The Dubliners. Do you have any guest musicians lined up for the next album? Or perhaps a wish list of collaborators?
Well, that would ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it?!
You released the CD/DVD Live on Lansdowne earlier in the year, which captured one of your legendary St Patrick’s Day performances. Can Australian fans take this as a reasonable indication of what to expect at your upcoming shows?
Yeah, but we won’t be dressed as snappily. Also, we made a conscious effort to put songs on it that either weren’t included on the first live album or weren’t written yet, so if you go and buy both albums, you’re gonna get completely different songs…aside from "Forever", but they’re two completely different versions. More bang for your buck, y’know?
How come it’s taken nearly nine years between Live on Lansdowne and your last live album, Live on St Patrick’s Day?
To warrant a whole new live album, we had to write some new tunes! We just figured we had all these other new songs and everybody knows that hearing a band in the live setting is the best… so give ’em a listen to how the stuff sounds when you’re at the gig.
In the past, you’ve been very open about your opinions on a range of subjects, from contributing to the Rock Against Bush compilations to more recently throwing your support behind blue collar workers in Boston’s healthcare industry. Therefore, do you intentionally try to influence your fans’ awareness and opinions on issues you feel strongly about?
Yeah, we’re pretty sketched out about those in power, including the current regime. Do we try to influence our fans’ awareness of certain subjects? Maybe. Being in a band, you usually broach subjects you’re passionate about in your lyrics. Do we try to influence their opinions? No. If you need your favourite band, TV commentator, or athlete to tell you how to think, you’re a sad case. If you’re interested in what we say, then get edumacated and make up your OWN mind.
According to your website, Dropkick Murphys recently made history with the pro-union “Tomorrow’s Industry” video by becoming `the first national recording artists in the United States to adopt a labour organising cause as the main theme of a rock music video’. How important was this achievement for the band?
It’s definitely a milestone. We’re just surprised we’re the first band to do something like that.
You state that much of your success has come down to old-fashioned hard work and extensive touring. Do you think it’s still the case these days for new bands given the exposure music on the internet and blogs can generate?
It’s a different world. POTENTIAL exposure is WAY easier for bands now with the internet, but the market is probably a thousand times more over saturated than it was when we got started. Every niche genre has a trillion bands, and then you have to take into account the instant gratification and information at one’s fingertips that the World Wide Web provides; you have 10 million kids who are totally jaded before they reach the age of 12. I think it’s a double-edged sword, and the wrong blade is doing the cutting. For a while, the net was a great tool for bands, but I think since so many bands use it, it ends up being just as tough to stay afloat as it was without the internet. Funny how things come full circle.
Having been together as a band for 14 years, what do you think of the current punk scene today?
Just like back when we started, there are hundreds and hundreds of bands, but the cream rises to the top. The trends have changed but the kids stay the same. It’s just as unhealthy and healthy as it was in ’96, but for the most part not to my liking. Speaking of jaded, huh?? *laughs* oh well…
And given the time you’ve been together, coupled with the recent success of songs including “I’m Shipping Up To Boston’’ – which has even been featured in a popular Australian football ad campaign- have you noticed changes to the demographic of fans that come to Dropkick Murphys shows?
Well, originally our fan base was skinheads and punks, a smattering of hardcore kids, and a few random regular guys. That was the core for about 8-10 years, but as more people got into the band, the regular kids began to outnumber the original supporters. Some of the originals stopped coming to gigs due to getting out of our style, getting out of going to gigs, or not liking the new fans and just sticking to listening to our albums. What I find funny is when people…sometimes even in New England… think of or refer to us as a new band and think "I’m Shipping…" is the be-all end-all of what we sound like. That just shows that with all the internet exposure, etc., there really still is an underground music scene. Just like 20 years ago, if you digged deep enough you’d know about all these underground bands, now you still have to do the same but the difference is the info is at your fingertips, not down your local record shop, bar, or town square.
Aside from your music, do you think your strong Celtic background and values have attracted fans?
I think a bit. What we do is different in the fact that you don’t have too many bands who incorporate pride in their background/ancestry/neighbourhood into their music and lyrics. I think there are millions of people out there who can identify with that and not just people of Irish descent. I think maybe those people find parallels in their own backgrounds and family history, traditional values, customs, and even foods…I know, it’s a stretch.
Who are some bands you’ve been enjoying lately that we should be listening to?
Superyob, The Tampoffs, Rival Mob, Tommy And The Terrors, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, T.H.U.G, The Rifles, The Corps, A.V.O, Marching Orders and Plan Of Attack. A few Aussie bands in there, look ’em up!
What were the benefits of creating your own label, Born and Bred Records?
Completely being able to oversee our destiny as a band and having the main office in the Northeast of the U.S.
What do Dropkick Murphys have planned for 2011?
A hell of a lot of touring, maybe hitting places we’ve never been like South America if we’re lucky!!
Any parting word of advice?
Yeah, think for yourself. Voice your opinion. Don’t be ashamed if it isn’t the same as everybody else’s. The worst thing that could happen is you could be wrong.
Thanks a lot for the interview, Jack. We’ll see you around fella.
Thanks for your time Matt.
Dropkick Murphys will play the No Sleep Til festivals on the following dates:
No Sleep Til Auckland
Friday 10 December
No Sleep Til Perth
Sunday 12 December
No Sleep Til Adelaide
Wednesday 15 December
Adelaide Entertainment Centre
No Sleep Til Melbourne
Friday 17 December
No Sleep Til Sydney
Saturday 18 December
Entertainment Quarter, Hordern Pavilion and Surrounds
No Sleep Til Brisbane
Sunday 19 December
RNA Showgrounds Brisbane