New album 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is out on January 6th via Born & Bred Records.
20 years old and on to their ninth album, Celtic punk originators Dropkick Murphys have certainly paid their dues. Never ones to shy away from a fuzzed guitar, a big statement, or a huge chorus, they’re due to release their newest album 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory in a couple of days.
We spoke to Dropkick Murphys’ drummer Matt Kelly about covering classic tracks, the danger of drugs whether legal or illegal, and the election of Donald Trump.
Overblown: You recorded your new album in Texas. This is the first time you’ve recorded outside of Boston. Did that give you more freedom to experiment on this new album? Without Boston looking over your shoulder as it were?
Matt Kelly: Haha, well there was no pressure of “Boston looking over our shoulder”, and there never is. We’re beholden to our supporters and to ourselves— any musical experimentation comes guilt-free… I think by this point we have a wide enough range of stylistic variance that we can push in scores of different directions while still staying true to who we are as a band.
Anyways, the fact that we were living on-site at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX (in the middle of frigging NOWHERE), helped us concentrate on the task at hand, which was to record the nineteen or twenty songs that we had. We worked for about thirteen to fifteen hours a day for about three weeks, so we got a lot done and really immersed ourselves in the album, with few distractions or interruptions. So yeah this meant utilizing the insane vintage equipment at the studio such as the mellotron and various killer vintage guitars and amplifiers. I mean, we created a drum loop for the song “Paying My Way”! That’s a first for us!
O: You recently released a cover of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, a track that many people hold dear. Was it intimidating to approach a song with such an important heritage? Or are you used to doing that at this stage?
MK: When we first tried to tackle that song and knowing the chorus pretty well, we figured, “OK, let’s do this”. However, when first getting the chords down we didn’t like the key it was in, transposing it to other keys was extremely difficult. It isn’t your typical 1-4-5 song. There are a lot of chord changes and MAN! Wrapping our heads around and learning how to sing the lead vocal line was no easy feat! It took a lot of practice and repetition. With a song like YNWA, you don’t want to half-ass it. We’re aware of how well-known it is and how much it means to a lot of people— and we wanted to give it the proper treatment and the respect it deserves… if that makes any sense.
O: Your work with The Claddagh Fund, the charity you set up in 2009 to support addiction recovery, and your dismay at the opiate epidemic in America is a big influence on this album. What more do you think can be done to tackle the issue?
MK: There isn’t one easy answer. However, I believe that a large part of the responsibility falls on the incestuous relationship between Big Pharma and doctors. Oxycontin, oxycodone, and their derivatives are given out like candy and it’s incredibly irresponsible to give out such addictive drugs without 1. knowing the patient’s penchant for drug abuse, 2. the severity of the patient’s pain, or 3. revealing or offering alternative pain killers (such as cannaboid-based medicine). A friend’s wife had an early-term failed pregnancy (I guess it didn’t go beyond egg sack)… and they gave her pain medication she hadn’t asked for… it was Oxycodone! She said she’d had cramping but nothing Tylenol couldn’t handle.
On the state level. As much as I am not a fan of the Fed’s interference in people’s lives, I applaud our governor (Charlie Baker) for enacting legislation to regulate opiate/opiod prescription abuse. Prescriptions on these drugs can get out-of-hand. I have a relative who was on 140 Oxys a month, and would rip through them in about a week, then get more when she ran out. This sort of irresponsible prescribing has to be quelled. Absolutely ridiculous on so many levels.
I think it also begins at home. And yeah, easier said than done, but… Good relationships between parents and children with an open dialogue between both is a great starting point. Talking to your kids about drug and alcohol and raising them in a home where they don’t need to resort to escapist behavior, and living by example are good ways. Don’t make alcohol a taboo subject. As a kid, my parents didn’t “sneak” beer or wine, but enjoyed them regularly. When I got to be around fifteen or so, they’d offer me a beer at home with the rationale that “we’d rather you try a beer with us in a relaxed environment than going off with your friends and getting wasted by the train tracks”, etc. Of course being a kid, (whether I realized it or not)I wanted to rebel against them… so I said, “No thanks!”.
Now I’m not saying spark up a doobie or use illicit/hard drugs with your kids, but don’t be afraid to talk about them about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
It seemed to work for me, as I’ve never used any drugs but alcohol, caffeine, and the occasional (tobacco)pipe, but of course again there’s really no easy answer.
O: You also raise money for childrens’ and veterans’ organisations and visited the families of victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Does your position in the community as a force that can do some tangible good inspire you to keep the band going after twenty years in the game?
MK: It doesn’t inspire us to keep the band going, as much has it is something we feel obliged to do because the band’s in the fortunate position to do it.
O: It seems to me that you are a socially conscious band. What do you think of the election of Donald Trump?
MK: I don’t know. I didn’t vote for him or Mrs. Clinton. We’ll see. I was surprised to read that he’d won. If he can help get rid of the NDAA and all that sort of draconian garbage that was secreted in and perpetuated by Bush and Obama, then I’ll be optimistic. However, I’m sure he’s more than likely just as big a scumbag as the rest of them, if not bigger.
I’m hoping that there’s a silver lining of having Mr. Trump in the White House. Hopefully the American war machine that the Democrats have approved of or silently tolerated because “their guy” was POTUS will be under careful scrutiny now because it isn’t their ‘team’ on top. Drone strikes, endless war in the Middle East, the Standing Rock debacle, where is the outcry?
O: For me, new track ‘Blood’ is about persevering through times of hardship no matter what. Could you tell us what inspired the song?
MK: It’s about what we as a band went through in the beginning and how tough it was to even get a gig in Boston…. the authorities were not exactly pleased with us and we were unofficially ‘banned’ from Boston. It’s also about the fact that no matter what, you’re going to get 110% from us every night, and it’s in part due to how much we appreciate our supporters and are eternally grateful to them.
O: I was born and raised in Cork in Ireland. Have you received your Irish ancestry? Do you know where in Ireland your families are from?
MK: My ancestors hail from the village of Kilmichael, County Cork. Years ago, I visited some third and more-distant cousins (Kellys and O’Kellys) who still live there. I also stopped into the church where my great-great grandfather was baptized and the schoolhouse where he was taught. Also, I have a cousin, Paul, a beekeeper, who lives there with his family. Though born in America, he moved there decades ago.
O: In the past, you’ve played metal festivals Hellfest and Wacken. How were you received by these metal audiences?
MK: Oddly enough, we do really well at those fests. It might be because people are hearing all this heavy, skull-crushing metal all day long… and then we come on with anthemic punk rock and folk songs. Maybe we’re a breath of fresh air? Maybe people are too hammered to know the difference? Who knows? I *DO* know that they’re a lot of fun to play, and the people-watching both around the grounds and backstage is amazing.
O: When are you coming to Ireland?
MK: Late 2017 if things go the way we’re currently planning.
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