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Ken Casey of The Dropkick Murphys on Their New Record, 2nd St. Patrick’s Day Annual Livestream & More

Dropkick Murphys
Photo Credit: Ken Susi

The Dropkick Murphys are synonymous with Saint Patrick’s Day. They’re as vital to this Irish American high holy day as corned beef on rye, a pint of Guinness, a shot of Jameson and a bit of green in your wardrobe.

Their Saint Patrick’s Days shows in Boston have become the stuff of legend. “Shipping Up to Boston” became an anthem for everything Irish in America including being forever tied to the South Boston crime classic The Departed — the film which snagged Martin Scorsese for his first Best Director Oscar.

However, in 2020 things changed for the band — much like they did for the entire world. Within 48 hours of their Saint Patrick’s Day concert’s cancellation, the band scrambled to put a livestream together for fans. The band didn’t need to do this. They, like the rest of us, could’ve gathered supplies and locked themselves in our homes in order to keep safe during a bewildering and fearful time. Yet, the band opted to fire up the guitars and bagpipes and play one of the first livestreams during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, it was the first spot of relief since quarantine began as it allowed people to check out from the crushing stress of reality for a few hours. It also allowed literal generations of Dropkick fans (and non-Dropkick fans) across the world to put aside the crushing fear and worry and listen to some raucous pub anthems, some beautiful Irish standard covers and some good old punk rock.

Fast forward one year, and it’s Saint Patrick’s Day again … and we’re still in quarantine. However, there’s a ray of hope coming our way in form of vaccinations. And maybe it’s only fitting that we celebrate the light at the end of the tunnel with the first artists that gave us a glimmer of hope 365 days ago. Tonight’s livestream is a reminder that music — of any kind — can give you hope and it can help you heal. It’s good for the mind and soul.

And that’s the mission of The Dropkick Murphys in 2021 (if not every year). Recently, we caught up with the band’s frontman Ken Casey — arguably one of the coolest and beloved Irish Americans today (I will gladly debate anyone on this). The singer/boxing promoter/restauranteur spoke to us about the band’s new record Turn Up That Dial (due out April 30 on the band’s Born & Bred label) and how it was the band’s mission to deliver a record to that was fun and uplifting — for their fans and for their own mental health.  Having heard the record in advance I can easily say it’s classic Dropkick — an album full of big, loud and boisterous Celtic-influenced punk anthems (“Smash Shit Up,” “Middle Finger”) as well as a beautiful, tear-inducing ballad (“I Wish You Were Here”).

In this interview Ken Casey regales us with behind-the-scenes stories of the first livestream they did, the magic of their Fenway Park show, the wild world of boxing, the hustle of being an entrepreneur, his go-to quarantine record, and why it was vital for the band to create a record to help their audience put the harrows of 2020 in the rearview.

A number of the songs off Turn Up That Dial like “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding,” “Smash Shit Up,” and “Queen of Suffolk County” were heard on your livestream last Saint Patrick’s Day. However, you completed the album during quarantine. So did the pandemic change the direction of the record from what you originally intended?

Ken Casey: A little bit of both. The theme of the record was to be happy and upbeat. The last album [2017’s 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory] had to do with losing a lot of friends to opioid overdoses and it was kind of motivated by that issue. So obviously [we wanted] a natural swing back to [positivity] and that’s what happens with us a lot. We want to take it [thematically] and lyrically in the opposite direction of the last album. Combine that with just the horrible year that 2020 was. When we started the second half of the record we said, ‘Remember that idea we had about making this more uplifting tonight, let’s really try to do that.” I don’t think anyone’s going to want to have any songs that reminisce about 2020 too much. We all lived it. Regardless of what our intent was, I don’t think we would have written a song documenting 2020. We just wanted to change people’s mindset and change the tone, change the dial and just put a smile on faces though.

When you thought about really driving home that idea of uplifting people with this album did you think you owed that to the fans, like a doctor who has a “duty of care” or was it for yourselves because writing performing dark songs about a dark is probably not good for your mental health?

Ken Casey: That question, no matter what it is or when it is in the band’s history, we’re affected the same way the listener is. I feel like we’re one-in-the-same with them. I will feel what the listener feels and especially like you said, you’re playing it and you feel it more because you’re playing it every night and they’re only hearing it whenever they choose to listen to the  CD or come to one show.

Since looking back on this year, because obviously we were out of work, we decided that that record [is what we] should focus on.  And not that we were working on it 24/7 during 2020, but it gave us something to do which was a lifesaver, for me anyway, mentally. The whole project was lifting my spirits even before it came out.

In the press release for the record, it’s mentioned that you wanted to pay tribute to the bands that influenced you. Did leaning into your influences help you guys out from mental health and spiritual uplift sense?

Ken Casey: We’ve always worn our influences on our sleeve and credited them. I think sometimes bands want to say we invented something new but clearly we didn’t (laughs). We love the bands that influenced us because it was life-changing. I will admit that like nowadays being a parent of three kids, having the band and having other jobs, I don’t get to listen to old punk like I used to — but I did a lot this year. You had that time to just literally put on headphones.

It might’ve been during a show or doing something half occupied with something else, but just turning up the volume so you couldn’t hear what was happening around you and closing your eyes for a second. Just literally imagining a concert you were at or we played, or times when I was young listening to these bands. Music is an escape, you know? This year it made us re-realize how important all those bands were to us. So it was nice to have the opportunity to turn it around and do a song that pays tribute to them.

Did you have a go-to record or band during quarantine?

Ken Casey: Yes, this year 2021 London Calling has definitely been my album. I always respected that album but it wasn’t my favorite Clash album. It was up there, but The Clash [self-titled record] was just more aggressive for me. London Calling for some reason [is my go-to record because] maybe it’s its diversity and my kids love that album. So I play in the car all the time so it’s playing all the time, you know? That was probably my go-to record in the pandemic.

On March 17th you have your second annual Saint Patrick’s Day stream. Can you talk about how this show will differ from last year’s show from a production standpoint?

Ken Casey: It’s not in the round because the setup is almost rectangular. Our set up is a video wall on all four sides and us facing in at each other. The typical setup for a stage, obviously, is you face out towards the crowd. But, there is no crowd, so why not face each other? The first stream last Saint Patrick’s Day was obviously, “Holy shit we have 48 hours from when we got shut down to when we got the stream up.” We were just happy we could get a stage to be and a camera to roll, you know? With the stream afterwards at Fenway, I felt like we tried to be unique with the drones and to use the infield. Our motto with the stream [became] let’s do stuff we wouldn’t ordinarily do as a band like playing on the grass instead of building a stage in Fenway. I feel like the mindset is let’s not give people the same thing that they would see in our normal show because if it’s not going to be a normal show, then why not make it different?

The last legit concert I saw before quarantine was when you were one of the headliners at Sea.Hear.Now in Asbury Park, New Jersey in September 2019. That was such a great show with perfect weather, the ocean rolling in, sand between your toes. Fast forward six months to March 2020 and you’re playing in a black box to no one. Then a few months later you’re playing in one of the most venerated ballparks in history — in front of no one. Now, you’re about to do another livestream with no audience. Talk about the headspace of playing to no crowd but keeping that same, legendary Dropkick Murphys energy flowing through each song?

Ken Casey: We literally were psyching ourselves up backstage during that first time. We have a responsibility. People are on the other side of the camera. We can’t see them but we have to lay it out there like we would at a normal show … and have to try even harder because what we think is enough probably isn’t. We don’t have that instant feedback from the audience that gives you the adrenaline that makes you take it to the next level. So that was a very conscious effort.

Ken Casey at Dropkick Murphy’s 2018 Saint Patrick’s Day Show in Boston. Photo Credit: Patrick Gilrane/Pop Break

The Fenway stream, it was an empty park, but trust me when I say we were fucking kids in a candy store to be on that grass and on that dirt. We did raise some money for charity on the first [livestream] like $60,000 and that was thrown together last minute. [The Fenway stream] was planned in advance and we raised $700,000 for charity for a greater cause. The charitable aspect motivated us and once again people were watching. But, man being on that field  I don’t care who you are, what you are … every time I’ve got to get on that field whether it was the Winter Classic alumni game where I scored a goal at Fenway, or being on the field, celebrating when they won the world series at home in 2013 just with my kids — those are the best memories. But every time I step on that field, it’s like the first time. If you have lost that magical feeling, when you step onto the field at Fenway Park, you need to go immediately to the hospital to check your pulse.

One thing I have always admired about you besides being a musician — you’re a Renaissance man. You have the boxing club, you have/had the restaurants some of which have closed this year due to COVID. Are you looking to dive back into both worlds post-pandemic? Or is there other stuff you want to pursue?

Ken Casey: Boxing is a tough sport. I feel like I do as good a job as you can do in Boston. I’m 51 now so I’m not going to bars or things like that. So with boxing it’s a good way for my age group to gather. There’s all ages at boxing, but in my own world, my own personal friends I say, “Hey, I’m doing the fights” and people are pumped. I get to see a lot of people and it’s just, just fun.

I’ve grown tired of the absolute bullshit you got to deal with when you get to the top level. When you’re trying to get your guy a fight and you need to cooperate with the big guys like Eddie Hearn, who does DAZN and SkySports. It’s a tough business but I like it on the small level. So I think Murphy’s Boxing coming out of this is going to try to pull it back a little and just concentrate on the local fights and not try to necessarily make world champions because we got one and that got stolen by a promoter who runs the mob in Ireland. [Laughs] I could write a book just on the boxing stuff.

As far as the restaurants go we lost one and have one in hibernation and three others that have gritted it out and have started to do a little better now that people are getting a little bit of hope. McGreevy’s was sad to see close, but, to be honest with you we had a great run. It was like home base for the band.

We have this taco concept called Yellow Door Taqueria and I love that concept. I think our goal is to open a few more of those and put our efforts towards that. That stuff interests me. Like the entrepreneurial side of starting the band. We’re literally pushing the rock up a hill — standing outside of other shows, giving out flyers and really working to promote. I think that’s my true niche in life that I like to be an entrepreneur and a self-promoter. The restaurant stuff and boxing kind of recharge my battery in that way. The band, much to its credit, runs like clockwork now because people who work for us are friends who have been with us for, at the minimum a decade.

It’s just trust and it’s just so easy now. All I have to do is play the music and I kind of miss the business. It’s like “Wait, wait can we have a catastrophe?” [Laughs]. It’s a blessing that it’s so easy and that, and when I say that, it’s a tip-of-the-cap to the fine work for us.



I feel like  anyone who’s got Irish blood coursing through their veins, myself included, always has this feeling of “Everything’s going too good … shouldn’t there be a problem that needs to be solved?”

Ken Casey: Yeah it’s like everything is going great right now let me join a sport that is notoriously shady and fucked up. [Laughs].

How does it feel to be synonymous not only with a holiday, but with an entire month — becoming a staple in homes and playlists of so many people whether they’re Irish for a day or Irish from the day they’re born. You saw the videos and photos on social media of people watching that livestream with their kids — literal generations of people are fans of you guys.

Ken Casey: It’s a nice feeling. I think that sprung from the hometown Boston stand we did in Boston during Saint Patrick’s Day. People would travel to it and then people who couldn’t make it say that’s my goal [to see them in Boston]. If you’re a Dropkick fan, you come to Boston. I think the live stream actually really went a long way to cementing that because finally people felt like “I’ve been wanting to see them on St. Patrick’s day forever, and although it sucks that we’re all locked down, and at least I [get to see them on St. Patrick’s Day].

We all love all those posts that people put with their kids. We’ve probably gained a whole new generation [of fans] and we’ll put it that probably gained 10 more years of a job because maybe the next generation will come up listening to us. We did decide that going forward when this is all over, we’re gonna make it a point to live stream St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll pick one of those Boston shows  — hopefully with people there — and make sure it’s a live stream for the world.

As to the part of the question where you guys are like such a staple for the month of March, is it, is it weird? Like you said, you were the guy hustling in front of other shows and you’re playing small clubs throughout the years, touring your ass all around the world. And now everyone’s just like Dropkick Murphys is the go-to band for March. 

Ken Casey: Oh, the whole experience has been surreal. Keep in mind 25 years ago the band started on a $30 bet. I had never had a band before. A kid, I worked with this kid bartending who said ‘My band has a show in three weeks and you’re always talking about starting a band; I dare you to open for us. ‘And when you say to me, I dare you it’s like “whoa” (laughs) and he bet me 30 bucks (laughs). So every little bit of success on the way is surreal. The one thing about us is we’ve been on this slow, steady incline for 25 years. So it’s not like that thing where a band wakes up one day and yesterday they were nobody and then today they have a massive following. It’s just been like building blocks of touring and gaining new fan base and a wider fan base. So I think it’s, it’ll always feel surreal, but the way that our career’s trajectory has made it seem as normal as it could.

Final question. Once everything is reopened. We’re safe and vaccinated and we’ve got the all clear sign, what’s the one thing you want to do — besides tour.

Ken Casey: Probably go to a show! To be honest with you I didn’t go to many shows before this because I was touring so much. If you’ve been touring for 150 shows a year when you get home the last thing you want to do is go into a music venue and stand on the other side.  That’s the one downside of music sometimes it ruins other music is because you’re doing it too much. But following that perspective of the potential of how and when they’re going to open venues at 50% capacity here — I don’t care if it’s masked and seated just to go out and see him music, like that would be amazing.

Catch Ken Casey with The Dropkick Murphys perform their second Saint Patrick’s LiveStream ‘Saint Patrick’s Day Still Locked Down’ on Wednesday March 17, 2020 via DKMStream.com


Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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