The Dropkick Murphys

An interview with drummer Matt Kelly
by Joshua Miller
August 2013

Dropkick Murphys live at Summerfest 2013 - photo by Peter Murphy

Dropkick Murphys live at Summerfest 2013
photo by Peter Murphy

“For Boston.” These are the words prominently displayed on the front of t-shirts created and sold by Irish-punk rockers the Dropkick Murphys as part of their efforts to help raise money for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Donations from these shirts went to Claddagh Fund, a charity started by founding band member Ken Casey. They also supplemented those donations through benefit shows at Boston’s House of Blues and Boston Garden, where they sold their new EP “Rose Tattoo: For Boston Charity.” On the EP, Bruce Springsteen joins the band for a re-recording of their song, “Rose Tattoo.” According to Rolling Stone, the band raised over $300,000 in total donations. Earlier this year the band released their eighth studio album “Signed and Sealed in Blood,” a title that could be applied to the band’s pride and loyalty towards their home city and staying true to its ideals. Prior to his band’s headlining slot at Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration Thursday, Aug. 29,  drummer Matt Kelly took a few moments to answer some questions over e-mail about helping their city, finding plenty of inspiration for “Signed,” as well as his connection to Harleys and memories of playing Milwaukee.

Maximum Ink: On “Signed and Sealed in Blood” there are some atypical story songs like, “The Season’s Upon Us” (which describes a dysfunctional family at Christmas). How does the songwriting on it, in general, compare with past albums?

Matt Kelly: Well, it was a refreshing and relaxing change from the challenge of making “Going Out In Style”, which was a concept album. As fun as that was (and it was a blast, don’t get me wrong!!), “SSIB” was a bit more free-form and written more off-the-cuff, much like a lot of the songs on our first album, “Do Or Die”. Songs came together quickly, and in some instances, with less effort than on some past records. 

We’re psyched about it, and since debuting some of the songs live six months before it even came out, our supporters have really dug it, too. The response to the new stuff really blew us away, and the fact that people went out of their ways to familiarize themselves with new stuff via Youtube videos, etc., really surprised us. We’d come through a city and you’d see people singing along to the new stuff that wasn’t even officially released yet. Pretty damn cool!

MI: The band’s Irish-punk sound is going strong after all these years. What about that sound mixture keeps it fresh and exciting for you?

MK: Well luckily, our approach covers a lot of stylistic ground. Since the beginning, we’ve had fast, hardcore punk songs, ballads, street-punk/Oi! type stuff, rock and roll songs, and full-on acoustic type tunes, so we have and have had a lot of ground to cover and avenues to explore musically without painting ourselves into a corner. Also, over the years, adding unorthodox instruments like bagpipes, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, etc., makes it easier to add a different texture to songs that the typical guitar/drum paradigm can’t capture. So the sky’s really the limit with the music. 

MI: The album is one of the quickest ones the band’s released. What was the biggest influence in putting the album together quickly?

MK: Well, I guess with “GOIS”, the “pump” was still “primed”, and the creative juices were still flowing in the camp. Ideas came together quickly, and it was write ‘em, rehearse ‘em, and then record ‘em. We figured, let’s go full-bore and do it, considering the ideas were coming fast and hard. Lo and behold, we were in the midst of writing an album. 

MI: How does the music the band/you listen to nowadays compare with when you joined the band?

MK: I’ve gone back and gotten into the bands that influenced those bands. Dig a bit deeper, and there’s weird stuff like soul, funk, jazz, ‘70s glam rock, etc., that influence a lot of ‘80s punk, oi!, hardcore, etc., that I’ve always loved. While doing today’s interviews, we’ve been listening to Alice Cooper’s “Love It To Death”, Slade’s “Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue”, and the 1970 Trojan Records sampler “Club Reggae”, along with Komintern Sect’s “Dernier Combat” and Noi!se’s “Rising Tide”. 

I guess it’s not just crushing thug rock and blinding-fast hardcore punk these days. I might throw on some Hampton Hawes Trio or Mott The Hoople to soften the blow of Plan of Attack and Camera Silens.

MI: The band recently donated a large amount of money with the help of Bruce Springsteen to help the Boston bombing victims. What was it like getting to share Boston pride in that way, and any new developments with those efforts? Any particularly special moments for you?

MK: It was really nice to be able to actually use the band’s popularity for something constructive. It didn’t take a lot of effort on our parts; our supporters bought hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of t-shirts and went to our fundraiser at the House of Blues in Boston and the big benefit at the Boston Garden that we participated in. The real respect goes to the people all over the world who bought the t-shirts and helped out the shell-shocked people of Boston. Our hats off to them! 

MI: What’s your favorite Harley memory/connection to Harley motorcycles? Favorite memory of late, playing or visiting Milwaukee?

MK: My Godfather, my Uncle, Norman Lucier, was an owner avid rider of Harley Davidson. He was a U.S. Marine, a Ranger, and a true viking. He rode his Harley straight to Valhalla via the tree Yggdrasil on January 1, 2008. Rest In Power, Uncle Norman. 

As far as Milwaukee goes, we’ve had ties and great friends here since early 1997 when we played with local Milwaukee and Madison bands The Service and Brass Tacks. Milwaukee is one of our favorite places to play in the U.S. as we feel welcome here and the gigs are always a blast!!!

The Dropkick Murphys headline the BMO Harris Pavilion at Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration at the Suummerfest Grounds, Aug 29 at 9pm. The anniversary celebration goes from Aug 29 - Sept 1.

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