The Dropkick Murphys have been a mainstay in the punk rock community for nearly twenty years. The band has developed a fiercely devoted following through their energetic live shows, sing-a-long choruses, and unbreakable spirits. The Dropkicks made their mainstream introduction through the song "Shipping Out To Boston" which featured heavily in the Scorsese classic The Departed, and were able to parlay that success into years of sold out shows across Europe and North America. Scene Point Blank was able to catch up with drummer Matt Kelly before their Riot Fest gigs late this summer.
Scene Point Blank: Before we get to the interview proper: The last time you were at a Canadian festival you besmirched Montreal's beloved Canadians. On behalf of my fellow countrymen, I must say the worst Canadian insult I know: Shame on you! Shame on you and your band! How dare you make fun of one of our hockey teams, even if it is the French one! Also your singing of “We Are the Champions” to a Vancouver crowd was mean spirited and uncalled for! Shame, sir!
Matt Kelly: Oh man, I sure hope you're being ironic… because if not , I owe you a good solid wedgie and a shirting! [Laughs].
Scene Point Blank: Did you expect the stunt to get such a big response online?
Matt Kelly: I’m not sure how big a response it got. I still write with a quill and vellum parchment.
Scene Point Blank: Can we expect a similar lampoon of The Maple Leafs at Riot Fest?
Matt Kelly: Well that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?
Scene Point Blank: I know the band tends to take a week of so off between shows to be with their families. How do you balance playing in a touring band and trying to maintain a normal family life? What's the most difficult part?
Matt Kelly: Well that’s not typically true, although this month has a Riot Fest every weekend.
This summer we were gone for a total of almost two months. Now that was quite a stretch. I guess that since the majority of the band members (and some of the crew) have children, speaking for myself and observing the other guys, a couple daily phone calls and a Skype or FaceTime session or two help a lot. Before our six-week stretch in Europe and Scandinavia recently, I was afraid my infant son wasn’t going to remember me when I got home and that he wouldn’t “get” that it’s Dad talking to Mom in the computer. Luckily he totally got it and would attack the computer while my wife and I conversed. That sort of thing, seeing your loved ones’ faces along with hearing their voices, makes the downtime between soundcheck and the set and days off/travel days much easier to bear.
The most difficult part, as I sort of alluded to, is being away from our families for long stretches of time and the fear of missing milestones such as first steps, birthdays, or what have you. While we’re onstage, going over set lists, writing music, or sound checking, we’re engaged and doing what we love, but that down time in between can potentially be really tough.
Scene Point Blank: Has the revenue and broader appeal you've gained from licensing your music helped ease some of the pressure of touring so much?
Matt Kelly: Maybe a little bit, sure. As we’ve always said though, Dropkick Murphys is about the show, seeing the band live. , So we’re not going to go Steely Dan on our supporters and be a studio-only band anytime soon! [Laughs.]
Scene Point Blank: I've had the pleasure of seeing you play a few times and have my own ideas about this, but what's the demographic of a Dropkicks show look like to you?
Matt Kelly: I think punk crowds are the first types to get jaded over a band. So, depending on the city and the frequency with which we’ve played there, the makeup of the crowd will differ accordingly. In a place we don’t often hit, especially in Europe, it’s the “punks and skinheads” type of crowd; in a place we’ve played a lot, it’s a smattering of that old guard amidst a sea of crazy diehard Dropkicks supporters wearing their green t-shirts…and those couple people who only want to hear “I’m Shipping Up To Boston…”
"While we’re onstage, going over set lists, writing music, or sound checking, we’re engaged and doing what we love, but that down time in between can potentially be really tough."
Scene Point Blank: Do you think that exposure has changed the demographic of your shows? Has it gotten you new fans?
Matt Kelly: Of course it has. It would be foolish to think otherwise. Exposure and word-of-mouth are the way every band gets new fans.
Scene Point Blank: is there ever any pressure at this point to play the hits?
Matt Kelly: Nah. We play a different setlist every night and I think our crowd has grown to appreciate that they could hear anything from “Caps and Bottles” to “Burn” on any given night. We like to keep the setlist varied, with stuff from every “era” of the band, and usually play a few songs off the latest release— because they’re new and we’re excited to play them…or a random cover tune, which tends to be fun for us and sometimes leaving the crowd entertained but scratching their heads as to what song that was. The only pressure I think we might sense is when you have that one person at the barricade looking lost or bored until “Shipping…” comes on, then they go nuts. Hopefully that song is a “gateway drug” for them and they delve deeper into our catalog or check out the opening bands.
Scene Point Blank: Does that change in a festival setting? Are you conscious of who the crowd is?
Matt Kelly: Well if we’re playing a folk festival or something, we’ll probably write a setlist that has less of the aggressive, straight-forward songs in it, but we try to keep it indicative of what the band sounds like. I mean, you’re playing a festival so you want to showcase what you sound like to people who might not be familiar with you.
Scene Point Blank: At this point the Dropkick's sound is pretty well defined. Does that ever feel limiting when you're writing new music?
Matt Kelly: It really depends on your perspective. We have seven guys with five to six different instruments. Sure the sound is going to be limited, but a four-piece band with three instruments is going to be a hell of a lot more limited. With so many different instruments to choose from, our songs can take on a lot more different textures and moods than with just the guitar/bass/drums combo. Any band typically has a style. Look at big bands like Oasis or their ilk…you hear a song by them and you know it’s them by their style and the singers’ voices, know what I mean?
Scene Point Blank: Is that just the nature of being in a punk rock band?
Matt Kelly: I think it’s the nature of being in any sort of band. Ultimately, it’s your decision as to what you’re going to put on a record. I think that with varied-sounding songs like “Eurotrash,” “Walk Away,” and “Rose Tattoo” in our repertoire alongside “Barroom Hero,” “The Guantlet,” “The Warrior’s Code,” and “Captain Kelly’s Kitchen,” we don’t really think about our sound as limited or limiting.
Scene Point Blank: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I was 12 when I first heard your band on a Punk-O-Rama comp, and have really enjoyed following the bands success. To finish up: What's been your favourite moment with the band?
Matt Kelly: Thanks so much for the years of support, Graham! And stop making me feel old! [Laughs.]
My favorite moment with the band… hmmmm…There have been so many insane things we’ve had the honor and privilege to be part of, but I guess my favorite moment would be the second the band kicks in when we hit the stage…and everyone’s firing on all cylinders and everything is in working order. I live for that.
Scene Point Blank: Thanks again, is there anything you'd like to add?
Matt Kelly: Yeah, thanks so much for the interview and the interest in the band— enjoy the Riot Fest and all the great bands, and drink lots of water. Hydration, baby! Also, if interested, check out the band’s charity wing, the Claddagh Fund, at http://www.claddaghfund.org.