Erin Go Bragh
By Paul Rogers
“We’re just a hard working band; we don’t really have delusions of grandeur,” says Dropkick Murphys bassist/vocalist Ken Casey. “We’re very content with where we are now—we can earn a living and tour around the world, but it’s still small enough that we can talk to our fans.”
For all Casey’s modesty, Dropkick Murphys is a pretty big deal these days—big enough to headline not only Pomona’s Fox Theater on Friday, but also to top the bill at Orange County’s The Hootenanny festival the following day. And big enough to have its last two albums of cultured Celtic punk—2007’s The Meanest of Times and Going Out in Style, released in March—both hit the Billboard top 20.
Not only do Dropkick Murphys ooze blue collar work ethic, but its lyrics, which are steeped in the Irish-American immigrant experience, document that ethic. So, ironically, it has hit the heights by keeping its feet firmly on the ground.
When Dropkick Murphys formed in south Boston in 1995, its combination of punk rock vitriol and Celtic melody and romanticism was a stylistic slap in the face that soon had it signed to Hellcat Records, for whom it released five albums. The band has survived and thrived by exploring every nuance of Celtic punk possibility.
“Even though we’re not re-writing the book or anything, I think we set out with a pretty broad brush to work with in the sense that we’re combining elements of classic late ’70s punk with the Celtic instrumentation and melody,” says Casey, the band’s only remaining original member. “Right from the beginning we stretched it as far as writing traditional-style ballads all the way to very fast American hardcore style songs . . . we have a lot of different instruments to work with; we have a lot of different sounds and styles and tempos.”
Indeed, though the Murphys started out as a four-piece punk outfit, today it’s seven-strong and employ decidedly un-punk instruments like bagpipes, tin whistle, accordion and even bouzouki. On Going Out in Style the group added yet another element by weaving the album’s songs together with a lyrical theme: the story of a struggling immigrant who, though fictitious, is an amalgam of true stories about band members’ friends and families. One review called this “concept album” approach “a risk the band needed to take.”
“We didn’t feel like we were taking a risk,” says Casey. “We always just kind of follow our gut and it just felt right . . . [It] just seemed exciting to us, and when we get excited we don’t feel the risk, we feel excited and positive. And I really don’t feel like anything in the band’s history that we were excited about and felt in our heart ever really backfired on us.”
“[Going Out in Style is] about the character who’s lived a completely full life and done everything he can do, from coming to a new country to raising a family, grandchildren, fighting in a war, and seeing his family striving to prosper.”
Best-selling author and band friend Michael Patrick MacDonald (All Souls, Easter Rising) fleshed-out Casey’s outline for the album’s narrative and developed its central character, Cornelius Larkin. In fact MacDonald, himself from an Irish neighborhood of south Boston, so identified with the idea that he has expanded it into a short story, which should be available later this summer.
If all this sounds rather specific to the Irish-American community, Casey says that his band’s sound and stories have resonated much further afield—SoCal included.
“When you think about how we started out building a fanbase when we were a 4-piece, before we had a lot of the guys playing the instrumentation now, we really built that base as a punk rock band. And Southern California is just such a historical hotbed of punk rock.”
“I also think, especially in the early days for us, the Mexican-American population could identify with our music greatly, because a lot of them were first generation and it’s kind of similar themes and stories about coming to a country and assimilating, and trying to make your place and provide a living for your family.”
Dropkick Murhpys with The Tossers, She’s A Keeper and The Parkington Sisters at The Fox Theater, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona (877) 283-6976; www.foxpomona.com. Fri, July 1. 9PM. $29.50 advance, $32 at the door.