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Loud and proud
Dropkick Murphys get their Irish out

BY SEAN RICHARDSON

It’s hard to believe it’s been only five years since Dropkick Murphys first emerged from the streets of Boston with their innovative brand of Irish punk rock. In that short time, the band have released two albums, 1997’s Do or Die and 1999’s The Gang’s All Here (on Rancid’s Epitaph-distributed Hellcat imprint), that have established them as the most popular group to rise out of the local punk underground since the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. What’s even more impressive is that they’ve done so despite line-up changes — original singer Mike McColgan left the band just as they were heading into the studio to record The Gang’s All Here, and founding guitarist Rick Barton (an old-school Boston punk who played with the Outlets in the early ’80s) did the same last spring.

The Dropkicks set a favorable precedent for dealing with adversity when they hired ex-Bruisers frontman Al Barr to replace McColgan and didn’t miss a beat. So when it came to replacing Barton, the group didn’t just go hire a new guitarist — they used the opportunity to recruit the full-blown Irish rock ensemble they’d always wanted, adding youngsters Marc Orrell (guitar), Ryan Foltz (mandolin), and Spicy McHaggis (bagpipes).

“It just all fell into place,” says Dropkicks bassist and singer Ken Casey when I meet up with him and the rest of the group’s old guard, Barr and drummer Matt Kelly, at Thornton’s Grill in the Fenway. (Guitarist James Lynch, who joined the group just before Barton left, rounds out the new seven-piece line-up.) “We never really put out the word that we were looking for these additional players, but obviously on the first two albums we had mandolin, tin whistle, bagpipes, and fiddle. We always wanted to keep it very limited on record, because we didn’t want to have all this extra instrumentation and not be able to duplicate it live. We always had thought, ‘Yeah, it would be nice to get these guys in the band, but where the hell do you find young guys into punk rock that are playing these instruments?’ ”

Mostly in the band’s own backyard, it turns out. Lynch, Orrell, and McHaggis are all local punks who came to the Dropkicks by word of mouth; Foltz, a Cleveland native and the oldest of the new guys at 23, jumped on stage when the band came to his town and hasn’t left yet. Casey explains, “Someone would say, ‘Hey, do you know this kid? He plays this instrument, he’s a fan of the band.’ We’d say, ‘Yeah, have him come down.’ ”

“All of a sudden I’m the oldest guy in the band,” says Barr ruefully.

The Dropkicks’ youth movement pays off big-time on their third disc, Sing Loud, Sing Proud! (Hellcat), which hits stores this Tuesday. (They’ll celebrate its release with a live performance Sunday night on the FNX Radio Network’s New England Product show, another one Tuesday afternoon at the Alewife/Fresh Pond Newbury Comics, and an all-ages St. Patrick’s Day blowout at Avalon with the Living End, Swingin’ Utters, Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards, and Reach the Sky.) Thanks to the new players, the group’s Celtic folk influence is more pronounced than ever, on the originals as well as on their customarily amped-up versions of the traditional Irish songs “The Rocky Road to Dublin” and “The Wild Rover.” They also pay tribute to the American folk tradition, giving an inspired reading of the labor protest song “Which Side Are You On?” and transforming “For Boston” (yes, the Boston College fight song) into a hardcore terrace anthem. And in a Dropkicks dream come true, they rounded up the original Irish punk hooligan, former Pogues singer Shane MacGowan, to sing on “Good Rats” and the vinyl-only version of “The Wild Rover.”

As one might expect, the band’s encounter with the legendarily wasted MacGowan was not without its volatile moments. “I had met Shane when we played the Guinness Fleadh festival with him,” says Casey. “I took all my old Pogues singles into his tent and asked him to sign them. He told me to piss off and called me a wanker. I threatened to knock the rest of his rotten teeth out of his head. So that was our first meeting. But he signed them later that day. Cait O’Riordan, who was in the Pogues and is married to Elvis Costello, was there because Elvis played. I had met her earlier, and she signed all the singles. Once Shane saw that Cait had signed them, he goes, ‘Give me those. If that bitch signed them, I’ll sign them.’ He’s a lovely guy.”

Despite their rocky first meeting, Casey tracked down MacGowan when the latter was on tour in the States last summer and arranged for the band to meet up with him in New York. “We hit it off really good in the studio. The stipulation was that we provide plenty of booze and other sources of entertainment. He had a whole entourage of dudes with him in the studio that were passed out all over the place. James and Matt partied with him, but I was the designated driver and bad guy that had to say when he had to do a verse over or something. So, basically, he’d do a verse, he’d be shitfaced, he wouldn’t have even sung one word right, and James and Matt would be like, ‘That’s a keeper, Shane! That’s terrific!’ They’d be in there hugging him, and I’d have to say, ‘How about one more time?’ So he didn’t know what to make of me, but he loved James and Matt, I’ll tell you that.”

The rest of the album was recorded at the Outpost in Stoughton, where a similar vibe prevailed. “I’m sure there are people that will argue with me,” Casey continues, “but Jim Siegel at the Outpost has done the best of everything around here within the last five years. It’s not fancy, but if you’re looking for good sound, you can’t beat it. Plus, if he can put up with us trashing his place and throwing keg parties in the studio . . . that’s all the background vocals that sound very loud and boisterous. They aren’t just quadruple takes — that’s actually a real live, extremely drunk, large crowd. Trashing Jim’s studio.”

After working with Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen on the first two Dropkicks discs, Casey produced this one himself. “Not that the other guys weren’t real involved too, it’s just that I was producing the other records basically with Lars. On the other hand, Lars taught me so much about the studio. And the other nice thing is, when you have a producer, they have to take the fall for anything wrong with the production. Basically, it’s just like taking the training wheels off for us.”

The Dropkicks’ working-class Boston blend of British oi!, East Coast hardcore, and Celtic folk music is as seamless as it’s ever been on Sing Loud: the band often rival their benefactors, Rancid, for anthemic catchiness, and they never shy away from a good story. Indeed, with their huge worldwide grassroots following and abundance of great hooks, it’s not hard to imagine their making a Bosstones-style commercial breakthrough. Still, this is punk rock, and the group aren’t here to push any big singles — though they are considering filming a video for either “The Wild Rover” or the brashly sentimental “Forever.”

“In Europe,” Casey explains, “the use of videos on independent punk TV shows is like 20 times greater than in the States, so we probably will do something because of that. We were talking about doing ‘Forever’ and using a bunch of old 8mm video of us, family stuff, mixed in with live footage. I’ve got this cool video — I was like two, and my grandfather’s got me out ice-skating. He pushes me and there’s all these other kids who are like 13 on the pond, and the first thing I do is — you can tell I’ve been watching the big bad Bruins a little too long — instead of trying to hit the puck with my little cutoff stick, I reach up and whack a guy in the face. Two-hander. I definitely agree with the thought that TV violence influences young kids.”

Like all Dropkick Murphys albums, Sing Loud gets serious when the band address issues like mortality, justice, and loyalty. But it ends on a light note with “The Spicy McHaggis Jig,” a tawdry account of the kilt-wearing piper’s proclivity for “chicks over four hundred pounds.” In the short time he’s been in the band, McHaggis seems to have become the life of the Dropkicks party. “It’s pretty fictitious,” says Casey of the song. “We just get a kick out of it. You look around the club — the doors are open, the first band’s playing, and he’s got his hand on some girl’s ass. They flock to him.”

“Always lighting a girl’s cigarette,” marvels Kelly.

“We rarely see him eat anything,” adds Barr. “Just drinking and smoking.”

“But not alcoholically, by the way,” Casey cautions. “Always in control and always able to perform his tasks.”

“It’s insane,” says Kelly. “On my birthday, we played a benefit in Amarillo, Texas. He literally had 23 pints of beer before going on stage. Then he got up there and performed impeccably.”

“It’s not like he has a thing for heavyset women,” says Casey by way of conclusion. “I’m not saying that he hasn’t been seen disappearing into dark corners with a few, though.”

Apparently McHaggis, who just celebrated his 19th birthday, is taking the joke in stride. But he’s not too happy about being credited with “bagpipes, excessive smoking, and underage drinking” in the liner notes to Sing Loud. “The Chicago cops that do the detail at this club we play are usually the strictest, roughest jerks,” says Casey. “They’re mean to the kids, they’re mean to us. Well, all the sudden we roll into town with Spicy and it happens that a bunch of these cops happen to be on the Gaelic pipe-and-drum team for the Chicago PD. So Spicy’s at the bar the whole time before the show getting shitfaced with all these Chicago cops. Little do they know that he’s 18, you know? And then we go ahead and put that on the back of the record. He’s irate that we might cramp his drinking in clubs across America.”

Dropkick Murphys perform this Sunday, February 4, at 9:30 p.m. on the FNX Radio Network’s New England Product show (101.7 FM in Boston, fnxradio.com worldwide) and this Tuesday, February 6, at 4 p.m. at the Alewife/Fresh Pond Newbury Comics. Call 491-7711.

It’s hard to believe it’s been only five years since Dropkick Murphys first emerged from the streets of Boston with their innovative brand of Irish punk rock. In that short time, the band have released two albums, 1997’s Do or Die and 1999’s The Gang’s All Here (on Rancid’s Epitaph-distributed Hellcat imprint), that have established them as the most popular group to rise out of the local punk underground since the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. What’s even more impressive is that they’ve done so despite line-up changes — original singer Mike McColgan left the band just as they were heading into the studio to record The Gang’s All Here, and founding guitarist Rick Barton (an old-school Boston punk who played with the Outlets in the early ’80s) did the same last spring.

The Dropkicks set a favorable precedent for dealing with adversity when they hired ex-Bruisers frontman Al Barr to replace McColgan and didn’t miss a beat. So when it came to replacing Barton, the group didn’t just go hire a new guitarist — they used the opportunity to recruit the full-blown Irish rock ensemble they’d always wanted, adding youngsters Marc Orrell (guitar), Ryan Foltz (mandolin), and Spicy McHaggis (bagpipes).

“It just all fell into place,” says Dropkicks bassist and singer Ken Casey when I meet up with him and the rest of the group’s old guard, Barr and drummer Matt Kelly, at Thornton’s Grill in the Fenway. (Guitarist James Lynch, who joined the group just before Barton left, rounds out the new seven-piece line-up.) “We never really put out the word that we were looking for these additional players, but obviously on the first two albums we had mandolin, tin whistle, bagpipes, and fiddle. We always wanted to keep it very limited on record, because we didn’t want to have all this extra instrumentation and not be able to duplicate it live. We always had thought, ‘Yeah, it would be nice to get these guys in the band, but where the hell do you find young guys into punk rock that are playing these instruments?’ ”

Mostly in the band’s own backyard, it turns out. Lynch, Orrell, and McHaggis are all local punks who came to the Dropkicks by word of mouth; Foltz, a Cleveland native and the oldest of the new guys at 23, jumped on stage when the band came to his town and hasn’t left yet. Casey explains, “Someone would say, ‘Hey, do you know this kid? He plays this instrument, he’s a fan of the band.’ We’d say, ‘Yeah, have him come down.’ ”

“All of a sudden I’m the oldest guy in the band,” says Barr ruefully.

The Dropkicks’ youth movement pays off big-time on their third disc, Sing Loud, Sing Proud! (Hellcat), which hits stores this Tuesday. (They’ll celebrate its release with a live performance Sunday night on the FNX Radio Network’s New England Product show, another one Tuesday afternoon at the Alewife/Fresh Pond Newbury Comics, and an all-ages St. Patrick’s Day blowout at Avalon with the Living End, Swingin’ Utters, Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards, and Reach the Sky.) Thanks to the new players, the group’s Celtic folk influence is more pronounced than ever, on the originals as well as on their customarily amped-up versions of the traditional Irish songs “The Rocky Road to Dublin” and “The Wild Rover.” They also pay tribute to the American folk tradition, giving an inspired reading of the labor protest song “Which Side Are You On?” and transforming “For Boston” (yes, the Boston College fight song) into a hardcore terrace anthem. And in a Dropkicks dream come true, they rounded up the original Irish punk hooligan, former Pogues singer Shane MacGowan, to sing on “Good Rats” and the vinyl-only version of “The Wild Rover.”

As one might expect, the band’s encounter with the legendarily wasted MacGowan was not without its volatile moments. “I had met Shane when we played the Guinness Fleadh festival with him,” says Casey. “I took all my old Pogues singles into his tent and asked him to sign them. He told me to piss off and called me a wanker. I threatened to knock the rest of his rotten teeth out of his head. So that was our first meeting. But he signed them later that day. Cait O’Riordan, who was in the Pogues and is married to Elvis Costello, was there because Elvis played. I had met her earlier, and she signed all the singles. Once Shane saw that Cait had signed them, he goes, ‘Give me those. If that bitch signed them, I’ll sign them.’ He’s a lovely guy.”

Despite their rocky first meeting, Casey tracked down MacGowan when the latter was on tour in the States last summer and arranged for the band to meet up with him in New York. “We hit it off really good in the studio. The stipulation was that we provide plenty of booze and other sources of entertainment. He had a whole entourage of dudes with him in the studio that were passed out all over the place. James and Matt partied with him, but I was the designated driver and bad guy that had to say when he had to do a verse over or something. So, basically, he’d do a verse, he’d be shitfaced, he wouldn’t have even sung one word right, and James and Matt would be like, ‘That’s a keeper, Shane! That’s terrific!’ They’d be in there hugging him, and I’d have to say, ‘How about one more time?’ So he didn’t know what to make of me, but he loved James and Matt, I’ll tell you that.”

The rest of the album was recorded at the Outpost in Stoughton, where a similar vibe prevailed. “I’m sure there are people that will argue with me,” Casey continues, “but Jim Siegel at the Outpost has done the best of everything around here within the last five years. It’s not fancy, but if you’re looking for good sound, you can’t beat it. Plus, if he can put up with us trashing his place and throwing keg parties in the studio . . . that’s all the background vocals that sound very loud and boisterous. They aren’t just quadruple takes — that’s actually a real live, extremely drunk, large crowd. Trashing Jim’s studio.”

After working with Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen on the first two Dropkicks discs, Casey produced this one himself. “Not that the other guys weren’t real involved too, it’s just that I was producing the other records basically with Lars. On the other hand, Lars taught me so much about the studio. And the other nice thing is, when you have a producer, they have to take the fall for anything wrong with the production. Basically, it’s just like taking the training wheels off for us.”

The Dropkicks’ working-class Boston blend of British oi!, East Coast hardcore, and Celtic folk music is as seamless as it’s ever been on Sing Loud: the band often rival their benefactors, Rancid, for anthemic catchiness, and they never shy away from a good story. Indeed, with their huge worldwide grassroots following and abundance of great hooks, it’s not hard to imagine their making a Bosstones-style commercial breakthrough. Still, this is punk rock, and the group aren’t here to push any big singles — though they are considering filming a video for either “The Wild Rover” or the brashly sentimental “Forever.”

“In Europe,” Casey explains, “the use of videos on independent punk TV shows is like 20 times greater than in the States, so we probably will do something because of that. We were talking about doing ‘Forever’ and using a bunch of old 8mm video of us, family stuff, mixed in with live footage. I’ve got this cool video — I was like two, and my grandfather’s got me out ice-skating. He pushes me and there’s all these other kids who are like 13 on the pond, and the first thing I do is — you can tell I’ve been watching the big bad Bruins a little too long — instead of trying to hit the puck with my little cutoff stick, I reach up and whack a guy in the face. Two-hander. I definitely agree with the thought that TV violence influences young kids.”

Like all Dropkick Murphys albums, Sing Loud gets serious when the band address issues like mortality, justice, and loyalty. But it ends on a light note with “The Spicy McHaggis Jig,” a tawdry account of the kilt-wearing piper’s proclivity for “chicks over four hundred pounds.” In the short time he’s been in the band, McHaggis seems to have become the life of the Dropkicks party. “It’s pretty fictitious,” says Casey of the song. “We just get a kick out of it. You look around the club — the doors are open, the first band’s playing, and he’s got his hand on some girl’s ass. They flock to him.”

“Always lighting a girl’s cigarette,” marvels Kelly.

“We rarely see him eat anything,” adds Barr. “Just drinking and smoking.”

“But not alcoholically, by the way,” Casey cautions. “Always in control and always able to perform his tasks.”

“It’s insane,” says Kelly. “On my birthday, we played a benefit in Amarillo, Texas. He literally had 23 pints of beer before going on stage. Then he got up there and performed impeccably.”

“It’s not like he has a thing for heavyset women,” says Casey by way of conclusion. “I’m not saying that he hasn’t been seen disappearing into dark corners with a few, though.”

Apparently McHaggis, who just celebrated his 19th birthday, is taking the joke in stride. But he’s not too happy about being credited with “bagpipes, excessive smoking, and underage drinking” in the liner notes to Sing Loud. “The Chicago cops that do the detail at this club we play are usually the strictest, roughest jerks,” says Casey. “They’re mean to the kids, they’re mean to us. Well, all the sudden we roll into town with Spicy and it happens that a bunch of these cops happen to be on the Gaelic pipe-and-drum team for the Chicago PD. So Spicy’s at the bar the whole time before the show getting shitfaced with all these Chicago cops. Little do they know that he’s 18, you know? And then we go ahead and put that on the back of the record. He’s irate that we might cramp his drinking in clubs across America.”

Dropkick Murphys perform this Sunday, February 4, at 9:30 p.m. on the FNX Radio Network’s New England Product show (101.7 FM in Boston, fnxradio.com worldwide) and this Tuesday, February 6, at 4 p.m. at the Alewife/Fresh Pond Newbury Comics. Call 491-7711.