MASSACHUSETTS punk rock band Dropkick Murphys have become the biggest name in the Celtic punk rock scene. As their tour of Britain kicks off, we asked drummer Matt Kelly about the band and his Irish ancestry.
You’re back in Britain this March, why do you enjoy playing here?
Good friends, good crowds, good bands, friendly banter, real ale, pie’n’mash, a nice curry, record shops, and being able to read the street signs.
How do crowds over here compare to those in America?
I think they’re pretty similar in behaviour, but maybe a little less violent! I think we still have more of a ‘punks and skins’ sub cultural sort of following here than in the States, and the age range of said following is wider— so if we play a more obscure cover song, more people here are more likely to know it.
This year you’re spending St Patrick's Day in Dublin for the first time, what made you decide to do that?
Well we’ve never played in Dublin on St. Paddy’s Day; we’ve only done Boston and New York City before. In the Irish diaspora, Boston and New York are major cities, but we figured why not go to the source? The day is always an event at home in Boston, and we wanted to bring that party to the wellspring of the feast day. We figured it’d be fun.
Do you still have family connections in Ireland?
A cousin of mine, born in America, moved to Ireland decades ago, so if that counts, then yeah. Other than that, personally, I have third cousins I’ve met once. Other guys in the band have stronger family ties to Ireland than I do. I’m the fourth-generation of my family from Kilmichael, Cork Co, so as much as we Kellys give a nod to our past and heritage, we’re definitely very American.
How important is your Irish heritage in your music?
Well it’s obviously a huge source of inspiration. I’d say it’s intertwined with the musical aspect. Everybody has an immigration story and the struggles our ancestors went through that brought them to where they planted their roots in America. Family stories and Irish music have been passed down through generations, creating a sort of continuum, and that definitely had an effect on us, whether we knew it or not.
When you’re young you might not appreciate the culture or history you come from because you’re bombarded with so much outside stimuli. You get a little older and you learn to appreciate it. I think that’s sort of what happened with the guys in the band. Then of course exposure to stuff like the Pogues, who made it cool for younger people to like Irish music, albeit through a punk rock inspired prism.
Are there any up-and-coming bands that have caught your attention recently?
On our side of the pond: Boston Strangler; the Rival Mob; the Warlords, the Repos; Contingent; MFP; Sydney Ducks. On yours and on the continent: East End Badoes(the return!); Chris Pope; No Quarter; Violent Reaction; Lion’s Law; Foreseen; and the reformed Komintern Sect, who are a legendary French band, but I guess they’re upcoming because they’re playing again.
Are you currently working on new music?
Yeah, we’re actually writing a new album now. We’ve got a handful of stuff we’re really excited about. You never know, you might hear a new song at the gig.
What’s your favourite tour story from touring the UK?
When we did the Reading Festival in 2004, a great deal of zaniness took place.
First, off there was mud. Lots and lots of mud. The band before us was the Rasmus. We were setting up backstage, warming up, and all that (as we were slated to play after them), and noticed that clods of dirt and mud were being hurled siege-warfare style as the unwitting band attempted to play their set.
They attempted to power through for a little while, but they just left the stage in a huff halfway through their first song. The stage crew was trying to clean up while more debris flew onto the stage, and the atmosphere was a little… tense.
Now of course, we had to follow the hated Rasmus and play in front of an extremely riled-up crowd… So we ran out there and gave it our all… and luckily, it was more of a Dropkick Murphys' crowd, because I remember it going down really, really well.
Anyways, later on that day, 50 Cent and his entourage of thirty black Mercedes minivans got bottled off the stage. The crowd was baying for blood by that time, and wanted Green Day, not (as a friend called him) “12p”.
Why should people come see Dropkick Murphys live?
Well, our songs are written to be heard in a live setting. We play the songs, but the crowd is just as much part of the show: singing, feeding off our energy, and we in turn feed off theirs. From my perspective, there’s reciprocity of excitement that keeps everybody going for the hour and-a-half, and the band and crowd are left spent and exhausted by the end.
I think that in conjunction with that, any time we come through a given town, you’re going to hear a different set list. We write the lists deliberately different from the previous time through, so in a twenty-six song set you might hear maybe a few of the same songs but a whole slew of other stuff ranging from our earliest singles to unreleased, new songs, to covers songs you might never hear us do again.
Dropkick Murphy's tour from March 18 in Glasgow March 22 in Birmingham, details here