After twenty years, Dropkick Murphys remain bigger than ever, having sold over six million albums worldwide. The band continues to sell out venues around the world. They’ve played Boston’s Fenway Park and been personally invited to share the stage with everyone from Foo Fighters to Bruce Springsteen to Mumford & Sons. The Dropkick Murphys feature on this year’s Good Things Festival and Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles spoke to lead vocalist Al Barr about their long awaited return to Australia.
It is so cool that the Dropkick Murphys are returning to Australia for the Good Things Festival?
Yeah! We’re finally coming back, it has only been five years now. It is long overdue I think.
Do you enjoy playing the festivals more than the club shows?
I mean here’s the thing, someone was asking why was it that we had not been down in Australia for so long and that very question came up. We love playing the club shows and that’s where we cut our teeth which is where we live. When you are coming from so far away you want to reach as big an audience as possible. It is 50/50 coming to Australia, with a festival you are going to play to a lot of people that have never heard of you before and hopefully that is a good way of making lots of new fans. One of the club shows is going to be Adelaide.
How do you fit the whole Dropkick Murphys back catalogue in a festival style set?
We do the festival circuit in Europe every year and in the twenty years I have been with the band we have been doing the festivals for the last eighteen years. In Europe our festival presence has just grown, we may not sell a shit tonne of records in those countries but the festival will put us pretty high up in the roster because they know that whether people know us or not we kind of kill ourselves on stage, it’s like a big traffic accident, just look away! The festivals are fun to do in that sense.
What is it about Australian audiences that sets us apart from the rest of the world?
We started coming to Australia back in 1999, one thing that I noticed immediately was and I don’t think there is any coincidence when I say this, it is the same way when we played in Ireland this time the shows are a bit smaller than we usually do but there is a lot more heart and it is made up for in that sense I think three hundred Australians are worth a thousand anywhere else. I think that Australians, it has been my experience is that they have a lot of passion for the music and we feed off of that especially in the live setting which is what we are all about. It sets things up beautifully.
Is the album 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory the most emotional album the Dropkick Murphys have ever made?
I think when you are talking about a record and having a thread or a theme running through it I would say it is probably the most intense one we have had. There are moments on it where you find that intensity and that heart on the sleeve kind of thing. This album was more so and that was just reflective of what has been going on in what seems like the last ten years but probably has been longer. Now, it has really got intense the last few years with overdoses that it is common place. Now it’s not a matter of if we can stop the drugs, it’s can we put places like in California, I’m not sure what they are naming it, something like less harm, but if people are going to shoot intravenous drugs and if people can go in to these areas and do them and whether I agree with it or not, it’s another discussion, personally I don’t think that is going to help the problem then again how do you help and there isn’t one good answer. We have been to a lot of funerals of friends and family who have died as a direct result of fentanyl and heroin epidemic that is happening so we felt like it had to be talked about.
With the last record it all came together under the umbrella of what we were seeing happening in our community. We have always been a community driven band in terms of our politics, that is as political we have allowed ourselves to get. I’ve always believed myself that music is the one thing that really, as human beings, unites us. It is the only thing that people don’t stop and ask who you’re with, whether that’s a motorcycle club or a religion, you know what I mean! People are just having a good time and I think that is the beauty and the magic, the power of music. When it comes to this drug epidemic it is hard to look away, especially when it touches you, some of our family members have been killed by this stuff, it’s a crazy thing.
I really like the song You’ll Never Walk Alone, how important was it to add a song like that to the album?
Interestingly enough that was, with every record there’s always been that song that has set us off writing. Even though that is a cover that is the first thing we learnt for the record. We learnt a version of that song that we felt represented us and how much we love that song. Our take on it was a great hopeful song and the possibility of recovery from being out there strung out on drugs or alcohol. We brought that to Europe, in so many European communities that songs is either sung by the opposing team or their team, people want to know if it is because of the soccer! No it’s not!!
The acoustic version of Sandlot on the deluxe version is fantastic, is going acoustic a path the band is looking to venture down more often?
That was something we did for the record, we’ve done acoustic sets before and for years we have talked about doing an acoustic album. I don’t know if it will ever come to fruition but we’ve definitely done acoustic versions of our songs and other peoples songs. Occasionally we fuck up our own songs but it is fun to do. As we get older, the band have been together for twenty two years and I have been with the band for twenty of those years it is funny I look back on our career and it has been an amazing journey. Everything has been on that veracious side of us, we have all had kids and that softens you. It has been interesting to do acoustic songs and sometimes it is just really nice not to sound like a codger.
Where to next in the journey for Dropkick Murphys?
When the band first started I obviously wasn’t there on the first day, Ken our founding member started the band in 1996, Matt Kelly our drummer joined in 1997 and I joined in 1998. The three of us have almost been there from the beginning and the Dropkicks used to play with my band The Bruisers back in the day. I look back on all of that and we never set out to achieve anything. It was always thinking about doing a tour outside of New England, maybe we want to sell some records and see what happens. All of a sudden with the first record it just exploded.
I remember watching the punk scene in the early nineties, there wasn’t much going on, grunge was just standing in the way of the punk scene realising itself again. In the mid nineties, 1995-1996 there was this resurgence of punk and born out of that bands such as The Ducky Boys and The Trouble and this band the Dropkick Murphys. It was an amazing time to see all that happen and to see it all coming back was exciting. To become part of it was really cool to, we never set out to do anything and it rolled in from one experience to the next. The next thing is we’re playing with sports teams and songs ending up in Martin Scorsese films, all of a sudden we’re selling a platinum single and then we’ve got gold records… you look back and go when did all this happen.
None of it was anything we sat in the war room and put up on a map and say this is next, it all kind of happened and it has been wild. I don’t know what is next for us. We used to as a record recording band, the way you could gauge how things were going was looking at your record sales, nowadays that is out the window. The best way to get an idea is selling tickets and we are lucky enough to say that we do. We continue to grow in our live show and gets bigger which is nuts. I don’t know why but it is awesome! No complaints, just very grateful and lucky.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch the Dropkick Murphys on the following dates:
07 DEC – Good Things Festival – Flemington, Australi
08 DEC – Good Things Festival – Sydney, Australia
09 DEC – Good Things Festival – Brisbane, Australia
10 DEC – HQ Complex – Adelaide, Australia