If the Dropkick Murphys’ founding moment was a baby, by now – in Scotland at least – little Dropkick would be able to get married, buy a lottery ticket, and be just shy of having a pint at his own wedding (but we won’t tell if you don’t). The point is, seventeen years is a long time regardless of when you start and Boston’s finest are the gift that keep on giving. A week after dropping their eighth record ‘Signed and Sealed in Blood’, we had a chat with Mr. Ken Casey just before their Glasgow show.
“2012 for the Dropkick Murphys – it was an exciting year,” begins Ken. “Typically, with 2011 being an album year, the next year is usually slow – slower – but we were so enthusiastic to write new music. It had been a while since we were that eager to get going again. Normally it’s like ‘go, go, go’ and you need a little break then ‘go, go, go’ again, but this time we just decided to keep going! Oh, man! Some of the big festivals we played – Riot Festival, Chicago, getting to play with and do some songs with Bruce Springsteen at Fenway Park in Boston. We went to Australia… Those would probably be the three highlights!”
By this point, the album has been out for just over a week. How has he found the immediate response? “It’s been really good,” he says. “To the songs, I find that every time you release an album and go on tour – those first few weeks… It’s the same with me, when you buy an album you have to work, you don’t have all day to just listen to it, so it takes about three weeks in before people know all the words, that’s when you notice it. It seems to be a good reaction from the fans, and the songs that we’ve had out a while, whether it’s streaming or music videos, like ‘Rose Tattoo’ and ‘The Boys Are Back’ – those are already where the rest of the album will hopefully be in a few weeks, with the crowd reaction and stuff.
“The tour has been great. We started in Ireland two nights ago, then in Manchester, which we hadn’t played in a long time and then right into Glasgow, which is one of our favourite places to play.” Bet you say that at all the venues! “No, no! We really like it here. The people really treat us so nice here, it’s amazing.”
The record is completely without a concept, unlike its predecessor ‘Going Out In Style’ did the lack of a concept make a noticeable impact on recording? “Oh, yeah!” he laughs. “It just made it easy. I mean, I’m really proud of ‘Going Out In Style’ but it was like doing homework in some areas because it had the story, the lyrics, everything has to tie together. I think it made us better songwriters but this is just a case of ‘I’ve got a song!’, ‘Hey, it doesn’t have anything to do with that other song!’, ‘That’s great!’ So, I think that contributed to us having a lot more fun making this record.
“I think when you’re at that point, seven records in – not that you have to, but I think it’s better for the band to challenge themselves, and I think it’s good for the fans to see the band isn’t just playing safe. I’ve had a lot of bands that I loved growing up that I could just sense, as they got further in their career, that they were just making an album for the sake of making an album. I never want to be that guy, we never want to be a band that’s doing that and I think that’s a good way to show people that we’re taking the higher road.”
“Slow and steady climb, definitely,” adds Ken, touching on the band’s growth over the years. “The faster you come up – not always though – the faster you go down. We’ve been around 17 years, so we’ve put down roots in a lot of these cities and a lot of these fans that come to see us are people who have been seeing us the whole time. It’s amazing to come back to a town and I know the people.”
Speaking of the fan dedication, fans had tattooed the ‘Signed and Sealed in Blood’ album cover on them well before they’d so much as heard the record. “That is dedication, and that’s trust because – what if we’d put out a piece of shit album?” he laughs. “I mean it, the album artwork might look cool but fucking hell! I think our fans know that they can trust that we’re going to put our heart and soul into whatever we do. I think over eight records, we still talk to fans and they’re like ‘I like this record’ and ‘I like this record better’. I mean, I’m the same with bands I love – everybody has their own personal taste and the songs that hit them, but I can honestly say we’ve left it all on the table any time we’ve made a record. We’ve put the best foot forward that we could ever do, we’ve tried our hardest and put our heart and soul into it. That’s all you can do, that’s all you can try to shoot for.”
“I think the fans, especially in this type of music, they can swallow it easier if they grow with you,” he continues. “I think part of our fanbase growing is that the kid who was 21 when they first came to see us, 17 years later they’ll be in their late 30s and maybe have a 7 year old and bringing them to their first show. It’s everyone and everyone in between! It’s a very rare type of music that we do. For instance, when we play in Boston – my youngest child is 3 and my grandmother is 89 and we have them both there, there’s everybody in between. We could be Metallica or whoever who might not have that kind of atmosphere at our shows, so there’s a lot of room for growth in different directions. I think a lot of the fans feel like they’re in for the ride with us.
“The reaction I’ve got in Boston when they hear we’re doing Boston Gardens, it was the same when we were doing Fenway Park – we actually did two nights in a row, so if you combine them then those two would actually be bigger than the Garden – but people are proud. They’re like, “Why the fuck are you playing?!” It’s actually not the last show of the tour – the very next night we play a 400 capacity venue, you know, just to keep it real as they say! We wanted to do something that’s also special in the other direction. We’ll go from 18,000 to 400, so it’s cool.”
As the conversation takes place, the uproar surrounding HMV is at its peak as it’s been around 24 hours since they announced they were going into administration. As a musician and music fan alike, what are his views on the seeming demise of physical music – outlets or formats – in exchange for digital? “We’re kind of a hold out in some senses. Like, if you do the ratio – I’m sure someone said in America, it’s just now gone to 52% digital versus 48% hard CDs. But I think our ratio is still 60/40 because I think our fans more want to have the vinyl or the CD. If there’s nowhere to go get them, what are you going to do?
“When I love a record you can count me twice for it because I buy it once online so I have it on my computer so I can’t lose it and then I buy it once in the store somewhere, when I don’t have my computer and I’m like “Man, I want to hear that record!” Then, that’ll get scratched and I’ll lose it or whatever. I think eventually, yeah, things like Spotify and all those streaming networks, they’re going to eventually kill sales. They are tracking it so musicians are allegedly being paid, but I don’t know how that works. So, we’re just grateful that we’re one of those bands that actually has a live following too and that we can potentially be able to make a living and travel and tour.
“You know, if CD sales go away – I mean, we never got in it to be rich but I’m certainly not going to travel the world for six months of the year away from my family if I’m not going to be able to pay the bills when I get home! I think it’s bad for music, but I think it’s good in other ways because it lets a lot more artists be heard too. You can get your music out there quicker.
“When we started, you’d record a song or a couple of songs, press a seven inch single or vinyl, by the time it got in and we made the covers… We were doing it all ourselves, taking out ads in punk rock magazines, getting a few reviews and people would mail order and then we’d mail it to them and it would take fucking months just to get someone a single! Now people are just pffft and the music’s out there right away.
“It’s interesting because this is the only band I’ve ever been in and the road we’ve travelled is the road we travelled and I wouldn’t change a thing, but if I had to do it again… Would I want to be back in the practice space pressing vinyls? No, I’d be saying ‘This is great, we can put this online!’ So, I guess it’s all relative to your experience.”
With the potential diminishment of physical music, many feel the full essence that comes with albums – from the artwork to the contained booklet – could be lost. “I think if physical sales completely go away, they’ll have to – and you’re starting to see a little bit of it now – they’ll have to come up with a way to digitally download a book or something. For us, we get just as much into making the artwork as we do into making the songs.
“If you grew up buying records and CDs, it’s the whole package. I’ve heard things where people say they won’t even release records anymore because they’ll do say six songs, then six months later do another six songs and they just change the whole delivery system of how people consume music.
“To us, even when an album isn’t a concept album, there is an ebb and flow. Oftentimes, song nine on a CD of ours might be great, it might be a favourite of mines as song nine, but I wouldn’t want it to be song three on a six song EP. There’s a lot of variables. Some bands don’t give a shit, but it affects us and the way we think about things. I hope we’re still around long enough to deal with having to worry about things like that!
“I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been around is that we appreciate that and watched a lot of bands – you know, it’s like anything, whether you’re a fighter, an athlete, whatever; you let down your guard, you take shit for granted and there’s someone else who always wants your space. With music, we feel like we’ve always got to be sharp and hang on to the fortune and position we have or someone else will quickly fill that void.”
What better way is there to end this chat than a message to Dropkick Murphys fans? “You know, in my opinion we have the best fans in the world. Every single one of them just seems to be someone that I just want to have a conversation with and shake their hand. They’re down to earth people, just like us. I guess bands probably tend to attract fans that are similar to them as people, I guess, maybe! I’m glad we do.
“People say ‘Do you ever get sick of talking to the fans? Do they bother you?’ I’m like – One, I’m grateful that they give me a job. Two – They just seem to be good regular people that we want to shoot the shit with. So, thank you for 17 years of support!”
Looks like the next step for little Dropkick is adulthood and, I guess, some beer and partying. Then again, the Murphys have thrived for years through creating music perfect for a pint and a dance, so it seems he’s a been a bit ahead of the curve.