The Celt punk veterans in Dropkick Murphys have been going strong for 20 years, and today they're releasing their ninth studio album '11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory'! In the weeks before the album release I had a nice little chat with vocalist Al Barr and guitarist Tim Brennan in London.
But, before I could ask a single question, the guys gave a unison "Aaaaahhhh" when they heard that I was Norwegian. "Norway!" Al sighs dreamily. "We were in Tromsø not long ago. And then we went to a place where... we took a lot of ferries to get there, and if you mix Hawaii and Switzerland... I mean, it was the most beautiful place we've ever seen. We were gonna move on the next day and we were like 'but... uuuh... can we just stay here? We could send for our families'".
But the tour had to continue, and since then, they've barely stopped to catch their breaths. The one break they had was spent recording the new album, and the title explains itself. It's 11 short stories - in true traditional folk spirit, of hope and glory, with pain, grief, sorrow and humour all included in the mix.
"It's about the beauty of life" Al feels, "about the journey through the beautiful and the horrific. You have to experience pain to be able to enjoy happiness".
The album comes across as a bit more serious then the previous ones, where there have often been drinking songs, love songs, fights, benevolent teasing and pure party anthems, albeit with sometimes serious lyrics. On '11 Short Stories' on the other hand, it's drugs and drugs' consequences that are the main subject.
The band recorded the album in El Paso, Texas, which is another change for the band. Most of the discography has been recorded in their hometown of Boston. This allowed for an album with another direction than people might expect, and some events in the lives of songwriter Al and vocalist Ken Casey also drove the lyrics in a different direction than earlier. This, however, was not their original intention, Tim explains: "We just couldn't avoid it this time".
The inspiration for the albumet comes from events like the Boston bombings in 2013, but also, and perhaps particularly, from the enormous and under-reported opium crisis happening in the States right now. The issue is especially desperate in the New England area where the band is from. "It's a relatively small cluster of states compared to the rest of the US, but the death rates and the number of ODs that increase every single day are astronomical", Al says. The whole thing is by many considered an epidemic, and the band have personally felt the consequences of this through loss of family, friends and acquaintances. In 2009, Ken Casey founded The Claddagh Fund, a charity which works to fight this, and which has programs for rehabilitation of alcohol and drug addiction. This has allowed the band and fans to help victims and those left behind both financially and physically.
On the album, there's also a cover of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', and for a lot of people it might come as a surprise that this is not at all sports related. The Dropkicks are after all the band who've made songs about their hockey team Boston Bruins, who wrote a song for baseball team Red Sox which legend has it helped them win the league that year, and who have had music videos set in the boxing ring. But for once, 'You'll Never Walk Alone' is a song completely without any sports references. "That one's also related to the drug crisis", Tim says. "It's more about hope than anything else. The idea of including it comes from when one of us had to attend yet another funeral, and the song was played there. We realized it was particularly important in such a setting".
He says that they originally tried to make it a piano ballad or a Gerry & The Pacemaker type song, but halfway into the project they realized they were going about it the wrong way. The result has become a pub like sing-along punk song in true Dropkick Murphys style. It might not be the most funeral friendly version, but it's definitely a song that feels as hope, strength, and a message of light at the end of the tunnel. And, equally important, of fellowship and community.
The band still try and assure us that they, having previously been "adopted" by both Red Sox and Boston Bruins, are not trying to buy shares in the football world - the world's biggest sport. "We're not trying to cosy up to any particular clubs or to take the song away from them" Al point out, "We just think it's a fantastic song with a fantastic message".
"In America, where football [soccer] isn't as big, people react to other things than the sports link. My dad still doesnt understand why on earth we were determined to cover a Jerry Lewis song", Tim grins and mimics the Jerry Lewis version, in America known as the theme of a TV show, complete with a thick New Jersey accent.
"I heard it for the first time in Sound of Music when I was six", Al remembers, "So it's an old song... Like we found out the hard way when we tried to secure the rights to cover it" he chuckles and Tim nods. "We should start just covering public domain stuff. 'Happy Birthday', 'Three Blind Mice'..." The guys laugh at the thought.
After 20 years together, the band members know eachother extremely well, but don't really feel like it's been that long. Al admits that it shocked him a bit when someone reminded him that they were headed for their third decade as a band. "I was like 'Can we just call it 20+ instead??' he laughs, and says it's not at all hard to keep the interest and passion for the band going after such a long time. "It's how it is, living on this earth" he says with a shrug. "You wake up in the morning, put your shoes on and go out into the world, and everything that we see and experience of good and bad shapes and inspires us. But, that being said... This is our ninth album. We're twenty years into our career... it was pretty frightening starting this album. When we went into the desert to record it, it felt like were were heading through a dark mine where we had no idea what was waiting at the other end. So when Tim shouted 'Hey, I think we've got some gold here!', we all started hammering on the rock, and it turned out we'd struck musical gold. I know everyone says this, but this is definitely our best album ever".
Being able to say that about your ninth studio album, twenty years into a band career isn't something a lot of people get to experience, and the band is looking forward to heading out on the road to see if the fans agree.
(This interview was first posted at Musikknyheter.no in January 2017.)