As Elvis is to Memphis and the Beatles are to Liverpool, the Dropkick Murphys are to Boston, Massachusetts. Need proof? Check out The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s 2007 Academy Award winning Beantown mobster film, which prominently features the Celtic-influenced punk band’s ode to their hometown, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”
To fans of the group — which will hit Scout Bar on Saturday, November 15 — since 1998’s full-length debut Do or Die, and even for those who had never heard of the Dropkick Murphys before seeing the gritty cop-versus-gangster flick, there is no doubting that the band is as much a Boston institution as Fenway Park’s Green Monster.
The song, boosted by the film’s Academy Award run, catapulted the blue-collar band up the iTunes chart, and their following album, The Meanest of Times, to the Billboard Top 20 upon its release in September 2007. The group still can’t believe its luck, multi-instrumentalist Tim Brennan said, and is still humbled by how freaking awesome it was to be namedropped by Scorsese when he talked to the press post statue-win at the biggest awards show on the planet.
“It was cool to have it in the movie,” Brennan says, ‘but then Martin Scorsese mentioned the name of the band and said that `well-known songwriter and founding member of the Band` Robbie Robertson gave him the record. It was like, ‘Wait. Martin Scorsese had a copy of our record and Robbie Robertson gave it to him? Like, are you kidding me?’ We’re just a bunch of normal dudes.”
The success story of one of the most distinctive sounds in punk began more than a decade before that, when a group of friends got together and decided to incorporate their Irish heritage into the music they loved. The Dropkick Murphys are now famous for their tireless touring as much as their bagpipes and accordion blasts and rapid-fire three-chord riffage. But Brennan says the tales of the common everyman told in their music are what most resonate with listeners.
“I like to think that the subject matter is what keeps us tied to our fan base,” says Brennan, a Dropkicks member since 2003. “We just write about things that a lot of people could relate to. We just try to write about experiences and the hardships of life.”
It’s a testament to the Dropkicks that they have maintained high quality throughout the group’s career, with each successive album — eight in all — better than the last, and each incrementally selling more units. That despite numerous lineup changes over the past 13 years, including the departure of lead singer Mike McColgan — who left the band to become a Boston firefighter, replaced by current singer Al Barr; original guitarist Rick Barton, replaced by Marc Orrell; mandolin player Ryan Folz, replaced by Brennan; and finally, Orrell, who left the group in January. Brennan, who has since assumed Orrell’s duties, says the band’s changing lineup has enabled them to develop a fuller, more diverse sound over time.
“I’ve always thought of the Dropkicks as more of a whole than other bands where one songwriter is spotlighted,” says Brennan. “By not doing that we’ve been able to have the fans satisfied as long as the Dropkicks keep on going. That’s why it might not be such a big deal for us.”
The septet’s most accomplished record to date, The Meanest of Times, one of their best, perfectly melds the punk and Irish worlds previously explored. Whereas early records such as Do or Die or Sing Loud, Sing Proud would often feature a straight-forward punk song followed by a traditional Irish tune, the Dropkicks sound is now a mash-up that’s distinctively their own. Their tales of beer-swilling characters and darker coming-of-age themes set in working-class Boston, backed by a blistering guitar and bagpipe beat, make for an album with lasting appeal.
“I think the band has spent a lot of time dialing in on combining rock songs and Irish songs,” Brennan says. “On the last couple of records, The Warriors Code and The Meanest of Times, writing them became a lot easier. I think that comes from a good place as far as combining all of our influences. Whereas before we had punk songs and then Irish songs, now we have punk songs with banjos on `them`.”
A sonic template in place, the Dropkick Murphys earn the right to make a living at music the tough way. On the punk circuit, the group is widely considered to be one of the hardest-touring acts going, spending countless days away from home, including several runs on the Vans Warped Tour over the last decade.
Not surprising, for a band that’s endured more than a decade of rigorous touring, family features heavily on many of their records.
“Four of the guys are married, three of them have kids,” Brennan says. “Whenever we play in Boston, that’s as family-oriented event as a Dropkick Murphys show can get. If you go backstage, there are kids running around, grandparents and stuff like that. We need the support around us, especially a band like us where we can’t tour for a bit and then come off the road.”
While the band’s message-driven tales might be part of who they are, Brennan insists that the band is not politically minded, merely an act that strives to keep in touch with the common fan. He brushes aside any link between the latest tour and the national election, tying the scheduling instead to that quintessential Boston preoccupation, baseball.
“The only coincidence is that the Red Sox season is over, and it’s time to get back to work,” Brennan says. •
Serene drinks himself under the table legs first as he prepares to meet Scruffy, the bagpipe player for the world renown Dropkick Murphys. Find out more about bagpipes than you'll ever expect to hear without putting on a kilt yourself and having at it. See what item of Road Booty Scruffy chooses to torture the rest of his band with on the tour bus and learn what deceased celebrities missed last St. Patty's Day for March's Death Race 2008. Also: Serene introduces a new segment "Sounds Unheard" where ala Maxim, he reviews albums he hasn't heard a note of. And enjoy Serene's tribute to French chanteuse Edith Piaf which proves without a ghostly doubt that you CAN have your cake and Edith too. Don't even ask me what that means.
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