Interview: Dropkick Murphys

bill bodkin speaks James Lynch of the Dropkick Murphys …

Words by Bill Bodkin | Photos by Maxwell Barna

Whiskey-fueled choruses, fists pumping in the air and the sweet sounds of the bagpipe mixed with 100 mph guitar riffs — just another night at the office for the Dropkick Murphys.

The Boston-based, Celtic-inspired punk band has been delivering a sound that is both furious and melodic, sarcastic yet sincere, a music for the everyman — if that everyman likes to get a little drunk now and then for more than a decade. They’re a proud band — wearing their Irish heritage and their Boston residency on their sleeves along with their countless tattoos. This pride is intrinsically entwined in their music, in their branding, in their soul. They’ve always remained “those guys from Boston” who love the Sox and drop their R’s. They maintain their humble, just one of the guys attitude even though one of their songs was the theme to a Best Picture-winning film and their song “Tessie” has become staples at Boston Red Sox games in the same way Sinatra’s “New York, New York” is a staple with the Yankees. And that kind of pride, that type of honesty, has made them a band that’s near and dear to their fans the world over.

Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin sat down with Dropkick guitarist James Lynch. Over a bottle of Budweiser, the two spoke about the band’s new album, their new festival and their love of Boston.

Photo: Kerry Brett

Pop-Break: The big news for the band is that you’ve just announced the first ever Shamrock-N-Roll Festival [a touring festival that will feature Dropkick, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and other Boston-area bands]. What was the inspiration behind forming this festival?

James Lynch: This genre of music, there’s plenty of different bands kinda doing a similar thing these days and we’ve been hearing all the time, ‘Why don’t you guys and Flogging Molly play together? Why don’t you and Street Dogs play together?’ It always sounded like a bit of an overload, but you put that into a festival environment and you can do things. Take that old-school-Irish-fest kinda tradition and pump it up a little bit with this new wave of Irish-American rock bands.

PB: You guys are all from Boston and you’re going to be playing the “Cathedral of Boston” — Fenway Park — for dates on the Shamrock-N-Roll Festival’s schedule? How does it feel going into playing the biggest and most celebrated landmark in Boston?

JL: It’s awesome. We were lucky enough to be involved with the Sox in ’04 and ’07. We spent a lot of time in the park, a lot more than most people would get to. And I’m always very conscious of the fact there’s people out there that would give their fucking left arm to be out there. [Every time I’m there,] I’m constantly filling my pockets with dirt. On this trip, the first pair of pants I pulled out, the pocket was stilled filled with that red Fenway dirt from the last time we were there. Every time we get to do something like that in the city, it’s unbelievable.

Photo: Michael Ivins

PB: Speaking of your connection with Boston, we’re a New Jersey-based site and musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi wear their Jersey pride on their sleeves much like you guys do with Boston. What is it about this city that makes you do this? You could just be lik,e ‘We’re Dropkick Murphys and we play punk rock’ and keep Boston out of it.

JL: I think it’s the attitude of the town. It’s the same way, even if you’re not the biggest baseball fan in the world, you always have to know if the Sox won tonight. It’s just one of those things it’s where the band comes from it, it’s what’s the bands all about just wrapped up into the lifestyle and songs. It’s just one of those places. We want to be like, ‘This is our music and this where we’re from.’ It probably started when we just going to L.A. and New York and we were the Boston band … it just stuck.

PB: Let’s talk about your new album Going Out In Style. When I read the liner notes, it said this was a concept album. Can you explain the concept and why you decided to go this route?

The character Cornelius Larkin is actually kind of a composite of stories about my grandfather and Ken’s grandfather. It wasn’t our intention when we started the album to do something like that. Over the course of the writing process, we saw a common thread. Well, there’s always a common thread in our albums — we just wanted to try something different. We got Michael Patrick McDonald [Boston-based author of All Souls: A Family Story From Southie and Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up From Under] to help flesh out the story and everything. We’re well aware that there’s only so much we can do with what we got so we try and take it and do something different with it. This was just another attempt to do something fresh and interesting.

PB: Bruce Springsteen was a guest vocalist on the album [on the track “Peg O’ My Heart”]. How did you guys get him on there?

His son’s a fan of the band and we met him a few years ago at Roseland in New York. He came down with his kid to see the show and we developed a relationship with him. And when it came time to record the album, it was a matter of ‘it can’t hurt to ask.’ He was more than happy to do it, he was great about it and we sent him the music. He came out to play with us this Saint Patrick’s Day. He’s just an awesome, awesome guy. He does not have to do any of this stuff for us and he’s been totally cool about it. We can’t thank him enough.

PB: A few friends who are Boston College alumns wanted to know what was the inspiration behind covering their fight song, “For Boston.” Did someone from BC give you the idea or …

JL: Nah, none of us went to college. [laughs] It was just like we were talking about. It was just getting up to the city out there.

PB: “Shipping Up To Boston” is a song that might be one of your most famous — it was in The Departed. I used it at my wedding …

JL: Oh, that’s awesome!

PB: [laughs] Thanks, man. But like I was saying, it’s a song that’s so popular. I’m sure people request it all the time. Do you ever get tired of playing it?

JL: No, I think it’s a really good representation of what the band does. And if there had to be a song that became that song, I think it’s a good one. I think it showcases everything unique about the band. As long as people want to hear it, I’ll be happy to play it. [laughs]

PB: Going back to the record, you said you guys we were well aware you have “very limited stuff.” So when the concept come about, did it bring anything different out in you guys musically or lyrically?

JL: I don’t know, the whole writing process this time around was different. This time, was the first time, since Lars [Frederiksen of Rancid] produced the first two albums, that we’ve worked with a producer in this capacity. And it’s the first time with this lineup that we’ve worked with a producer. The whole writing process was different long before the character [came up] and it was really very exciting. [After it was done,] we felt like we could do 10 more albums.

It was like, ‘This is the day we’re going to start writing the album and this is the day we have to have it done by.’ We just got in there and started going. We’ve never just started cold like that. It was great — we totally immersed ourselves in it. Hours and hours and hours a day that’s all we did. The idea of the character just came up during the process and taking shape unintentionally.

PB: Your sound is heavily influenced by Celtic music and we’re seeing this sound more and more these days. What do you think it is about Celtic music and punk rock that creates such a great musical marriage?

JL: ‘Cause it’s essentially the same thing just played on different instruments. Simple songs, same three chords, tell a story — it’s the people’s music. Just one’s a little bit louder and faster than the other one.

PB: Ten years ago, the Celtic punk sound was basically you guys and Flogging Molly. Today there seems to be so many more bands performing this style. What’s your personal opinion on why its become so popular?

JL: There wasn’t as many bands out there flying the flag. There’s more bands doing it in different ways with more options. I think it’s just so simple, big choruses, it’s so easy to grab onto. The more it gets out, the more I think people will get into it.

PB: I looked at your touring schedule, and it’s very intense. You play an aggressive, high-energy style of music. How do you keep that energy up every night?

JL: It’s just what we do. There’s no choice but to give it everything you’ve got every single night. We’re very, very lucky to be where we’re at. And it’s only because we give it 110 percent every night. The older we get, people have go to do different things to maintain. I personally don’t [laughs], which is probably why I have a hard time every night. You know, don’t give yourself the option of doing anything but all that you can give.

PB: You have your own label, Born & Bred, that’s part of the Warner Bros. family. How did you guys land this label?

JL: The imprint is part of an independent label group and it’s a way for small labels to get better distribution through Warner. We created the label for the sole purpose of releasing Dropkick Murphy records — not accepting demos or putting out records. It’s just we’re big enough of a circus that we need an entire for ourselves. It was just another way for us to maintain control. Less people to answer to.

PB: You’re your own bosses now. Do you feel there’s more pressure on you guys because the bucks stop with just you guys — that there’s no label to fall back on?

JL: Nah, I think the band has always been of the opinion of that if we go out there and we fall on our asses there’s no one else to blame. We think we know what’s best for us. A West Coast label doesn’t know what to do … like when the Red Sox thing came up. We had to fight to be able to do that, because they didn’t see it as being anything profitable. But, New Englanders are not going to say no to the Red Sox about anything. Ya know? So like I said, we know what’s best for us and we’re going to accept the good or the bad that comes with it.

PB: Since released new record, how’s the response been?

JL: Great. We’ve been all over the world already, and they’ve been digging the songs. It’s always great to see people interested in the new material. We’re really proud of it. We feel like we’ve got a new beginning and we want to put a new album out as soon as possible.

PB: A new beginning? Can you expound on that?

JL: Well, Jeff’s [vocal and Celtic instrumentalist Jeff DeRosa] in the band now. It was shot in the arm in terms of the writing process. He’s constantly, constantly writing. Like I said working with Ted Hutt [who produced Going Out In Style] was a huge thing — we’ve found a really good partner. It took on a different shape, it became a different thing [creating the album]. It doesn’t feel as daunting of a task anymore. It’s not, ‘Oh we’ve got to come up with another album — how are we going to do this different again?’ Now it’s more like, ‘Give us a chance to do this again.’

PB: Outside of festival, what can we expect from the band in 2011?

JL: Just touring, touring, touring right now. Now that the album’s out, we’re staying busy. We’re not going to have as much time between albums this time. Like I said, we’re going to get to that as possible. But right now, we’ve got a little traveling ahead of us.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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