The hardcore punk/Celtic folk band Dropkick Murphys formed in Southie in 1995. With their famous songs such as "I’m Shipping Up To Boston," "Tessie," and "The State of Massachusetts," the band has been spreading their blended sound of traditional Irish folk rock and punk rock, which is known as Celtic punk, by doing non-stop touring all over the world. The band is also well-known for their patronage of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins. Their St. Patrick’s Day weekend shows in Boston sell out almost every year. Of course, they are having seven shows in Boston this coming March. Blast had a chance to ask Matt Kelly, drummer of the band.
BLAST: You have a huge following in Boston. What’s your favorite place to go when you are there?
MATT KELLY: Well, I like to be in my house (Laughs). But probably I like TC’s Lounge, which is a bar on Haviland Street. I mean, it depends. But you know, I like to go to In Your Ear Records in Harvard Square to dive in and check out some records. It depends on what you are looking for. Are you talking about hanging out?
BLAST: Yes, just your favorite place in general. If you like to be in your house, that’s totally fine!
MK: Yeah, but you know, it’s always nice…[my] wife and I have a nice walk…and grab some subs and sodas at a hot dog stand. And it’s also nice to be around historical stuff because you never do that when you are a grown-up; you never check out historical stuff.
BLAST: Historical stuff?
MK: Yeah, you know. It’s like going to Boston Common and walking around the area or even walking around Charlestown and the USS Constitution. Just stuff like that. It’s pretty cool. Other than that, I go to see hockey, old hardcore shows, various bars, houses and venues like that.
BLAST: So you are pretty much everywhere.
MK: Oh yeah, all over the place.
BLAST: Why did you choose to focus on Landsdowne Street in Boston for your live record?
MK: The actual album was recorded over seven nights at the House of Blues which is on Landsdowne Street. That was the stuff we recorded. You’re in the same place seven nights in a row, so instead of having to break down and reset up in different towns…or venues, the ideal thing is to record in the same place, contrary to fact that we have to move recording equipment with the band, which would be very extremely inconvenient. So yeah, you play in one place for seven days and hopefully you can get some good versions of the songs, which I think we did on the new record.
BLAST: Yes, I think so.
MK: (Laughs) I hope a lot of people agree with us, you know.
BLAST: Do you love to play to Boston crowds? And why?
MK: Oh, of course. It’s where we are from. We have been doing this since 1996 in places like The Rathskeller and other venues. We also played in some weird places like…[the] Theater District…But the funny thing is that when we play St. Patrick’s Day gigs, a lot of people come from out of town or other countries. We met people from Sweden, Finland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, all over the U.S. and Canada. They are coming to our gigs on St. Patrick’s Day. People get to see us far way from home. And we have friends and family who are on the guest list. So we probably have 200 family members and friends backstage at the show, too. We are on tour everywhere, so it’s nice to be…at home once a year for family and friends — everybody. It’s just amazing to have such a loyal following and people who even want to come and fly over here. I have friends coming from England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Belgium. There are actual friends that I know, and then there are people that we don’t know who are coming from somewhere else. It’s amazing. It’s an honor for us to have that kind of loyalty and fan base.
BLAST: What’s your favorite song to perform?
MK: Well, I like to play all of them. But my favorite would be "Wheel of Misfortune" from "The Gang’s All Here" record. It’s kind of a slow sweeping tune. We play it during a gig and it’s a resting. It’s a rest for the crowd. It’s not all fast, energetic or brutal. It’s a slow burner…As far as songwriting, I wrote that song. Besides that, there is actually an opening track of the new albumâ€¦.a song called "Famous For Nothing". We open up with that a lot. It’s just like, *Peew!* It’s very fast and a song about hanging out in a park and getting into trouble. It’s a cool, kind of urban teenage troublemaker track.
BLAST: "A cool urban teenage troublemaker track"?
MK: Yeah, that’s right (laughs). It’s about a grown-up being a little cute. So that’s another good one. I love to play all of the songs. They are the songs that you created and people really wanna hear. It’s really cool. We play all the songs and see the reactions we get back from people.
BLAST: How was it playing with Aerosmith last year?
MK: Yeah, it was very cool. I’ll tell you what, the band, even their crew and their management treated us so well. You’d never think that the band with that popularity or who have played for so long would be so nice to us, a smaller band. They were great to us. Yeah, they don’t need us. They could have been complete jerks to us and it wouldn’t have caused any hammer or backlash but they were so nice to us. They gave us a whole backstage area and a big guest list. My father came and my uncle did too. My uncle saw them in a small bar in the early 70s. It was just amazing for that to have come full circle. They were like, "Yay!" because his nephew’s band was opening up for Aerosmith and this was the great joint at the Tweeter Center or whatever it was called these days. So it was really cool, and again, they treated us like gold. And they put a lot to the show too. I thought it was funny that some of the Aerosmith fans’ faces (laughs), I looked at their faces when we were playing and the Aerosmith fans were like, "What the hell is this?"
BLAST: No way! Really?
MK: Yeah, they were looking at us like, "What is this band? What?" Maybe for people who had never heard of us, "What is this garbage?" you know? So it was pretty funny to see but, I don’t know, excellent. It was a great experience.
BLAST: I believe that ZZ TOP was supposed to be the opening act, but for the Boston show, you guys were the opening act.
MK: I was reading the Internet forums and a lot of people talked about that ZZ TOP wasn’t able to play at the gig. Well, I would like to see them too (laughs) but hey, what can you do? You know. But Aerosmith specifically asked us to do it and we were more than happy to.
BLAST: What inspired your idea to write music for Woody Guthrie’s poem "I’m Shipping Up To Boston"?
MK: We were actually approached by his daughter, Nora Guthrie, because she had his unpublished lyrics. It was so funny because people have been trying to get those lyrics so hard for years and years and years! Bruce Springsteen did but I’m sure hundreds of other people have been trying to get those unpublished lyrics. They wanna get permission to use them, but Nora’s son is a fan of us, so she contacted us. We were like, ‘Are you kidding? Wow, okay!’ So for the song “I’m Shipping Up To Boston" and another song "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight," those are Woody’s unpublished lyrics. And for "Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight," a title song of the album "Blackout," we thought that was a really cool theme that during the World War II, there was a blackout in London and they really had to shut the windows and turn the lights off so the Germans couldn’t see the cities below where they were trying to bomb.
For "I’m Shipping Up To Boston," there are only four lines in the song so it was like, a lyrical fragment, but at the same time, we were like, ‘Hey, he wrote about Boston. That’s pretty cool.’ So we were just like, ‘Go ahead!’ and asked her, ‘Can we use these lyrics?’ and she was like, ‘Sure!’ Music was already written I think maybe a year before that? It was like, you know, you always have a little diddies you are working on, like little bits and pieces of the song, but then we were like, ‘Hey, those lyrics go to the song pretty well!’ And we did the early version of it, which appears on the compilation. I actually forget the name of the compilation. And we were recording songs for "The Warrior’s Code" album, and later on the song was picked up by Martin Scorsese and the people doing "The Departed". Those two songs are Woody Guthrie’s lyrics and others are ours. We are the punk band inspired by folk music. Of course, Woody Guthrie is a famous folk singer. It was just like, ‘Wow, they’re asking us out. Of course we are glad to look through those kinds of lyrics. How amazing, you know? Again, it was such a huge honor.’
BLAST: How do you connect with your audience in other countries?
MK: Luckily, when we are in the German-speaking countries, our singer Al’s first language is German, so that’s easy. I can just get him to talk and say something in German to the audience. And they always seem to like it. And in most of the countries in the south or maybe Japan, people at least know a little bit of English and sometimes we know a little bit of their languages so it helps to have the greetings in their languages and say hello to the audience. Well, there is sometimes a language barrier, but a lot of places in Europe where we have been playing, English is taught to the students from their early ages so people technically speak enough English. So in the places like that, that’s not a problem.
BLAST: What do you hope to do within the next ten years?
MK: I would like us to play in South America. We have never played in South America or Central America. Really would like to get to Brazil, Argentina, Chile or stuff like that. I would love to get there. And we have been trying to do it several times, but it’s always falling through. That’s a big one for me. And I think some of the guys want to play in Rome. We have never played in Rome. We have played in Italy a few times but never in Rome. We wanna play in places like that or maybe in Florence. And maybe someday we will open up our own studio so we can record other bands and ourselves. Basically we want to get a place where we can practice, record, record other bands, and even have practice spaces for the bands. And maybe we even have a T-shirt press there so we can do our own T-shirts. I personally wanna see more of the world and maybe take some college courses because I never went to anything after high school and I have to educate myself a little bit more.
MK: I’m the one, in the band, not very well-educated, so it would be nice to maybe bump that up a little bit and get some knowledge and wisdom.
BLAST: College seems hard but it should be fun.
MK: Oh, I know. Actually my wife is a lawyer and I know all about it from a second-hand perspective. I’ve seen the struggles and I can understand, but I would like to try it myself.
Dropkick Murphys will be playing at the House of Blues in Boston for March 12-17.