We had a chat to Dropkick Murphys singer Al Barr about their new record, touring and their hometown.
With a four-date Dropkick Murphys UK tour just around the corner we caught up with lead-singer Al Barr to talk about their latest record 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory and what inspired them to write it.
Dropkick Murphys are a born and bred Boston-based celtic punk rock band. their live shows are nothing short of epic and audience participation is mandatory. With their new record, the band’s nineth studio album, the six-piece take on drug issues in their hometown, traditional tunes and even a tribute to their hometown. Dropkick Murphys play Glastonbury this weekend before heading to Nottingham, Dunfermline, Liverpool and Bournemouth next week.
Just this week they’ve released the video for the band’s latest single Until The Next Time featuring a Tony Hoffer mix of the track. Read the full interview below.
So how are you doing? What’s the weather like over there?
It’s pretty hot, partly cloudy if you really want the details. I’m on my way back from rehearsal right now. We’re leaving tomorrow for the European tour and I haven’t packed yet so we threw a quick last minute rehearsal together this morning and now I’m on my way home.
You guys released a new album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, earlier this year. How’s it been playing the material live?
It’s been going well, you know. I don’t think anybody buys music anymore is my theory. If you look at the streaming, it has been streamed a lot and people are liking it. I come from the old school of when you were into something you bought it. So I don’t really understand the algorithm, the millennials and such, so I probably seem to come across as a bit of a dinosaur but that’s the way I am.
But you know, I always feel like it takes about a year to a year and a half before people really start to digest a new record. So you come through, you play the new stuff and people will listen to it and be open to it, but as far as singing along and all that stuff that seems to happen after it’s been out for a little while. And that’s normal.
So what inspired you for the new album, and what does it mean to you?
The album title is 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory. With every Dropkick Murphys record our music is inspired by the happiness and the sorrow in life. You’re gonna get your pain and your glory. Right now in this country there is an opioid epidemic going on, the number of overdoses and deaths is just staggering. Just last year alone 53,000 Americans died from opioid overdose. I live in the state of New Hampshire which borders Massachusetts and we have 1.3 million people in our state, yet we have 12% higher per-capita overdoses than California. So if you think about the fact that LA county has 15 million people and my state only has 1.3 million and yet we are 12% higher than the entire state of California it kind of puts it into perspective.
Basically you have kids that get hooked on painkillers that are prescribed to them by doctors and then once the prescription runs out there’s no discussion with the doctor about a possible addiction that may happen during the course of taking this medicine. So when the kid starts to go through the withdrawal, he or she doesn’t really know what’s happening to them, they just know that they feel terrible. And here comes their friend with a bag of hillbilly heroin, or actual heroin. They’ll come with a bag of heroin which is less than $20 now and they tell hem “oh it does the same thing”. Unfortunately they’re cutting it with this thing called fentanyl now where literally the equivalent of 3 grains of salt of this stuff will kill you, and that is just killing people left and right. Anyway, so the band has been to a lot of wasted funerals as a result of this epidemic. So a lot of the things we’re singing about on this album, we’re addressing what’s going on right now with that.
And then you get your glory on there as well, you get your typical Dropkick Murphys old traditional song like I Had A Hat and then there’s the songs exploring the pain of addiction. But it all has the theme of redemption. And then a song like Dead End Kids (Rebels With A Cause) blaming the disease or the illness of being addicted to drugs and alcohol versus blaming the people that end up becoming the victim of that addiction.
So many people fall through the cracks because we as human beings just tend to judge the book by the cover and just go “oh they’re useless, aren’t they?” and it’s like, at some point they might have been useful and they could be useful again. We just have to figure out how to treat this problem.
Talk us through the process of writing a Dropkick Murphys song with all its layers.
It all happens differently. There’s no set pattern on how we write songs. I mean, one of us could come up with music, Ken an I usually write most of the lyrics ourselves but over the course of the last ten years we had the exact same line-up so with the writing process we pretty much know where everybody’s strengths are. When it comes to the writing we like to sit behind those a little bit if you will. Unless one of who comes up with lyrics has a melody in mind and then you start to get your rhythm from that melody. But there’s really no “do his, then that”. There’s no recipe for this really. It can happen in many different ways.
The song “4.15.13” on the new record was probably very hard to write with your close connection to Boston. Did you feel a responsibility to write about the events? And how did you go about putting what happened into a song?
With a horrific event like that and especially it being the words, it’s happened in Boston and we’re a Boston-based band so we wanted to be really careful, we didn’t go into this album going “Oh we have to write a song about the marathon bombing”. That wasn’t on the agenda. It was something that happened.
Someone had an idea and started working on it. It wasn’t something that we even saw come to fruition because it is such a touchy subject obviously. We needed to have enough time going by, we didn’t want to be looked at like we were trying to in any way disrespect the event by looking like we were trying to capitalise. We wanted to make sure that the lyrics and the music were something that wasn’t going to offend anybody. We went through that a little more delicately than we would other songs.
We all remember, we were on tour when that event happened; we were in Santa Cruz, California. I remember I had just come out of a doctor’s appointment and I had about 30 missed calls and about 50 text messages. And I said “Oh shit, what’s happened now?” because I knew that couldn’t be good. And then the TV was on in the waiting room and I could see the marathon and people lying all over the road. The first response was, we wanted to go home because we were worried about our own families but then when we realised people need music more than ever right now and so we decided to stay.
We did put a shirt on sale almost immediately to raise money for the victims of the bombing and within probably less than two weeks we had raised almost half a million dollars thanks to our fans worldwide. What was nice about that we were able to turn around that money a lot quicker than the One Fund that was created by the city of Boston, which we were also a small part of. But that has a lot more red tape involved. And all the victims ended up getting money from that event but because of all the red tape it ended up taking longer. But with what we were doing was such a smaller scale so we were able to get a little bit of money to people’s hands a little quicker.
When I say all that, we’re not patting ourselves on the back for that at all. That is all our fans. That right there is why I’m leaving my wife and kids tomorrow to go on tour. Because these people around the world – we have the most incredible fans, the most giving fans. And really it makes me think good things about the future and stay hopeful for the future. There’s all the news focusing on all this evil shit out there, it’s nice when you go on tour seeing that there’s so many people doing good things.
My wife always says there needs to be a good news channel, not one with just flowers and trees, but one that talks about like that young kid that came up with some kind of device that can help clean the ocean. You know, things like that we got to have hope. There’s so much hopelessness when you turn on the idiot box, we’re just being drained constantly with hopelessness. We need to turn that around.
It’s like when you’re having a shitty day and someone just says Good Morning to you or acknowledges you somehow, that can change your whole day. That little exchange sometimes can change something. I think people can do a lot more good than they give themselves credit for. And I think we need to just start looking at as human beings and start taking all the labels away because the labels that we put on each other are the things that makes us put our fellow men into boxes.
Boston and its surrounding cities have quite a strong bond within their communities, do you feel when you go on tour you carry that with you and spread amongst your fans?
Oh yeah, I mean yeah we’re a Boston-based, New England band but the values that we have, the people that come to see us, they share those values. That translates. It’s that relationship that we have and evidence of that relationship is plain to see when you see us on stage at our shows because that audience participation, if you didn’t have that it’s not a Dropkick Murphys show.
You guys have been going for two decades now, how do you feel you have evolved as a band?
Oh boy! From the inception of this band to where we are now so much has happened. We never had a plan, we never had the “by the time we’ve been going for this long we want to achieve this”, we never thought we were going to have a nearly double-platinum selling single, and a gold record. We never thought we’re going to have our songs in television shows and films. We never thought we would have any of those things. But it happened and, wow, it’s amazing and I’m so grateful, we’re all so grateful that they did. We’ve just been kind of doing what we do, making records and trying to do the best we can. We’re human beings, so we have shitty days, you can ask my wife about those. But we do what we do and we’re going to continue to do that until the people that like us don’t want to hear from us anymore. Which could be tomorrow, you never know.
With your UK dates coming up, what do you like about playing for British audiences?
We really haven’t been to the UK much lately, we did our St Paddy’s European tour in February where we only played London. I know there were a lot of people on social media complaining about that so we’re coming in and we’re doing Glastonbury and then we’re doing four club shows as well. The Living End are on those four shows and I’m really excited see our friends.
It’s gonna be awesome to share the stage with those guy again because the first time we toured together was in ’99 on the Warped tour and we became great friends then and we continued when we were in Australia and we get to see them and we’re looking forward to doing shows with them.
The UK audiences, the people understand, they get us if you will. They know what to expect and we have a very loyal fan base in the UK and we’re very grateful for that.
Grab Dropkick Murphys tickets for their forthcoming shows in Dunfermline, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Dublin through Ticketmaster.co.uk.