Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys Feels a Responsibility to Sing About Unions
In what has become a yearly tradition, the Dropkick Murphys make their way through town just before St. Patrick's Day. Their date in town is usually near to the dates of the Flogging Molly Dallas stop and to the North Texas Irish Festival. No one can ever claim that Metroplex residents wait until March 17th to raise a pint to the Saint that helped so many of our ancestors in the fifth century.
An American St.Patrick's celebration isn't complete without a few tunes from Boston's Dropkick Murphys added to the playlist. The 17 year-old band's newest album, Signed and Sealed in Blood has garnered the group's second highest Billboard chart debut at number nine. It's safe to say the band, and their place in our spring celebrations, is secure for some time to come.
With their show rolling into town tonight at the House of Blues, we talked to Ken Casey, the lone original member remaining and the head Murphy in-charge of this group of rough and tumble folk-punks. We talked about the new album, his passion for worker's unions and, of course, the Red Sox.
How did the writing for the record come along?
When you catch that wind where the songs are coming quick, you better sit down and start writing them down before they're gone. That's what happened for me. In the past, I've had little bursts like that but I've been on tour or in a situation where I really couldn't run with it. Luckily, it was one of those time when it coincided with a time when we were ready to record. After the last record [Going Out in Style] which was a concept album, we felt very free, just like kids making our first record. That's not to say the last album was a bad experience, its just that concept albums are tougher roads, so because of that, there was a new energy and excitement when it came time to do this album.
It's not a concept album, but there's still plenty of stories being told on the record.
We always try to take a storytelling approach when it comes to our songs. So the individual songs, especially one like "The Season's Upon Us" didn't need to be any bigger or more complicated than it already was going to be. I think we do really well in the span of the four minute that a song allows us. Again, it was nice to have that be the task again, and not the pressure of making every song go together in a strict sense. Some songs came along naturally, and some just didn't fall into place. Every song can't be a nice, tidy little story, but this album has some good ones, especially "Rose Tattoo," "Jimmy Collins' Wake".
So many of your songs, whether they be happy or sad, come off as sing-along songs. How purposeful is that when you're writing?
I think with any the of grass roots music, whether it's country or folk music, the audience wants to join together and sing and raise a fist or a glass to even the saddest song. We write our songs for people to feel something and to feel moved in that way.
In the past, you and other members of the band, have been very supportive of various worker's unions. Do you see things improving for them, or are the unions in trouble?
The times are changing in the job-force and when the economy is bad, people get fearful and maybe a little short-sighted instead of thinking of the greater good or the group of workers as a whole, or the "everyman." You see people everywhere wondering how to "get what's theirs". That thinking, in my opinion, can cause a never-ending cycle instead of fixing the problem and making sure that all workers everywhere get the fair pay and benefits they should have coming to them. Unions are often seen as villians, and if you look at what happened in Wisconsin in 2011, the rich people in-control successfully pitted the workers against each other. The union workers were making $4 an hour more than the non-union workers were, and instead of the non-union members asking, "How do I get that extra $4?", they were saying, "I can do the same job as the union guys for $4 less per hour." It's tough for unions now, but bands like ours, who speak-out through our lyrics, try to point out a side of the story that many people aren't getting to hear on the news or reading in the papers. Maybe we can open an eye or two, because I think we have a responsibility to sing about the topics that are important to us.
On March 15th, you'll headline the TD Garden for your Irish Festival. How cool would it have been to play the original Boston Garden?
Oh, man. If I could go back through a time warp and make that happen, it would be incredible and a dream come true. We've got to play [Home of Major League Baseball team Boston Red Sox] Fenway Park before, so to do this now, is just great for us.
The Red Sox have been more of a soap opera than a baseball team in the past couple of years. What are your thoughts on the new manager (and former Red Sox pitching coach), John Farrell?
I like John, because he's been around the team for years, but I don't know that he's the quick fix we all want up here. I don't think we'll languish near the bottom or in pain like we did last year, though. I like what they've done with getting rid of a lot of the big money players, too. I'd rather see a bunch of dirt daubers form the minors than a bunch of ungrateful guys with big contracts.
Thinking back to the band's beginning 17 years ago, was the type of success the band has achieved even a thought in your mind?
Oh, no! This wasn't even a blip on the radar. Our goals were so low. But that's the nice thing about having low goals; everything above them is great in comparison. Our dream in the beginning was to headline The Rathskeller, the old punk club in Boston. Everything's been gravy since.