WGBH’s Edgar Herwick goes behind the scenes for an interview with Dropkick Murphys bassist Ken Casey. Check out the transcript below and our Front Row footage of the Dropkick Murphys live at the House of Blues!
EDGAR B. HERWICK III, INTERVIEWER:
With you I want to talk a little about the early years. Like the super early years. Like the barbershop years.
KEN CASEY: I forget most of that, but ok.
HERWICK: Do you really not think about that?
CASEY: It’s been a long time. You know what I mean? We’re coming up on 18 years, so there are a lot of memories. I’ll forget it and then someone will bring something up and it will all come right back. We started in a barbershop in Quincy. My friend Karen Kelly owned the barbershop and we got our haircut there and we were talking about starting a band.
HERWICK: How did you get your hair cut back then? Do you remember?
CASEY: The same exact way I get it cut now. It’s funny. It was just me and my mother growing up, and she was actually a hairdresser and she cut hair out of the house. So I would always get my haircut from her the same, but she wasn’t a barber, so she’d be using scissors and it would take like an hour. And finally when I was out of the house when I was like 19, you know living on my own, I went to a barber for the first time. I’m like, “You can do in ten minutes what it takes my mother an hour?!” Of course my mother would have me prisoner, so that’s when she could grill me forever with all of the questions I didn’t want to have to answer. But I digress.
Actually, the real start of the band…One of the many jobs I was working at the time was at night when I would bartend at Symphony Hall. I was working construction, going to UMass, bartending at Symphony Hall. And if you got full time on a bar there, you never left. No one ever left until they died. I literally got my spot because someone died and I would work there for 50 years. I was going to school to be a special education high school teacher and the great thing about that job was you got summers off, obviously because you’re a teacher. But you also got summers off because they go to Tanglewood. So a lot of the people that worked there were teachers and would work the two jobs, then have the summer off. So anyway, this kid that worked there had a band and he was like, “You’re always talking about starting a band! My band has a show in three weeks. I dare you to open for us.” I like a good challenge so I put together the band on three weeks notice, really with no aspirations more than just fulfilling this bet and doing it for laughs. I had never played an instrument before and I wrote two originals in the meantime. Learned four covers and then we played them. We did it twice.
HERWICK: What were the covers? Do you remember?
CASEY: A couple of Clash songs. A Social Distortion song and I can’t remember what the other was. That’s a good question. I’ll have to dig that up somewhere. Allegedly, there’s video of it somewhere, but I’ve never seen it. I think the whole beauty of the band was that we never really had aspirations. People were always like, “How did you make it? Did you send out demos and 8×10 photos?” And we’re like, “What?!” Our motivation and our goals were always, once we actually became a band, bands that I liked, open—and I’m talking way underground bands like the Swingin’ Utters from California who I loved at the time. We got to open for them at the Rat. And I was like, pffft. I don’t need to do anything else in music. The Business from England, oh, we opened for them! The Anti-Heros from Atlanta, We opened for them. My dreams have all been reached! We went forward to play with Springsteen and all of that stuff, whoa! That was never on the agenda. But I think that was always what attracted people to the band. We weren’t really trying to do anything. It was just living in the moment, you know?
HERWICK: It’s interesting because you’re saying you didn’t play anything. You didn’t play any instrument. Yet you have a friend who says you were always talking about staring a band or playing in a band.
CASEY: Well, I was around the music scene. I was booking shows at the Rat and I was involved.
HERWICK: Why did it take you so long to pick up an instrument though?
CASEY: Man, I had a lot going on. I was busy and I though it was just too hard or something, but I always had a real passion for music. When I first learned to play I had all of the notes on masking tape on the back. And literally years afterwards we went on tour with the [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones when they blew up in like ’97. It was like our first real tour and some of the venues were 5,000 seaters. We’re going on first and the lights would be down and I’d be telling the stage guys, “Turn the lights up. I’ve got the notes on the back of my bass. I need to be able to see this. And the thick stage people would be calling all of the others, “You’ve gotta come over and see this! This kid doesn’t even know how to play! He’s playing in front of 5,000 people!” So if it went I was screwed. I was literally playing by numbers.
One day, three years into it I said, “Take off the training wheels. Pull it off! Pull off the tape.” So we were literally learning as we went. I mean a couple of the early guys had experience. You’re only as good as your drummer anyway and we had a good drummer. One of my best friends was supposed to be our original drummer and thank God he didn’t follow through or we’d still probably be playing at Club Three in Somerville, which was where our first show was.
HERWICK: It’s like Pete Best. Nice guy but not a very good drummer, right? So the makeup of the band has changed through the years, though you’re a huge constant through that time. Talk to me about Al and like when Al came into the fold, how he did, how you knew him.
CASEY: Yeah, we knew each other from just the Boston music scene. I was a fan of his old band the Bruisers. And I booked shows for the Bruisers. The Bruisers opened for Dropkick Murphys a lot. We always break Al’s chops over that. They were at the time kind of…I don’t want to say winding down…but it was like a part time thing. They would go to Europe once in a while. Do a few local shows.
When our original singer left we were just hitting our stride in terms of like…we had done a few tours. We realized how to tour. We were kind of a machine in songwriting, you know what I mean? We were writing all of the time and we had a lot of people come in to try out. It wasn’t like we had a poster like ‘SINGER WANTED’ but we had a lot of our friends. Some of them were from bands that I loved and I thought they were going to be perfect. Stylistically, not to say it was rocket science, but coming from that traditional Irish bit of songwriting, the lyrics were often at times very rapid fire and a lot of words, which ultimately led us to having to use two singers a lot because it was frankly, too much for one guy to spit out a lot.
But anyway at the time, most of these guys who were used to being in just straight up punk bands couldn’t do it. And Al came in and we knew just from the very first song he sang, “Curse of a Fallen Soul,” which wasn’t even released yet. We had just wrote it. He sang it. We were in the studio two weeks later and we put out a single. And I don’t even know at the time…keep in mind we still…I don’t even know…we weren’t necessarily saying, “We’re gonna conquer the world with Al.” Even though we had already put out our first album ‘Do or Die’ we were just taking it a day at a time.
The reaction to Al and the reaction to that single was really, really positive so we immediately went into the studio and did our second album. Sometimes Al…poor guy…like Mike, our original singer did one record and maybe did a hundred shows. And Al is like a freak like this…you know he’s done like three thousand shows with the band but you’re still never the first singer. You’ll always have to face that. Sixteen years later, I think he has finally got over that hump of not being the new guy anymore.
We went from a four piece to a seven piece. We’ve had band members leave. We’ve always had this attitude of no one is more important than the team, and if you think you’re a rock star or you think you can do better or you’re not happy with the band or the direction we’re going…here’s the door. Not in a bad way, but this band succeeds based on heart and putting a hundred percent into it. If you are in the band and you have anything less than that you’re going to take the ship down.
I’m proud to say of all the people that have been in the band and there’s been a lot…I’m friends with everybody. Not one person I have animosity to. Not one person I don’t consider a friend still. They all come to the shows when we’re in their towns. A lot haven’t had success equal to ours in terms of record sales but it’s strange. Not many people say, “I kick myself for not being in the band.” They kind of knew. One guy Ryan now does front of house sound for Rancid. And you see him out there. He’s happy as a clam! That’s what he was meant to be, a soundman. So it’s interesting. A lot people say, “Oh, those guys must kick themselves.” They don’t act like they are to me. I always just say, “Everything happens for a reason.” “Love it or leave it” and “everything happens for a reason.” That has proven true so far.
HERWICK: You were talking about this idea of the band giving one hundred percent…its about the team. You guys have a very strong ethos, like a code. I’m curious about where that comes from. Is that something that grows out of the hardcore scene that you knew and what that music was about? Is it something about your background that has nothing to do with music?
CASEY: I think it’s a little of both. From a musical perspective it was somewhat of the hardcore scene and what is behind that. Like the, “All for one. One for all.” The band and audience in it together. But I think more so it comes from the fact that really a lot of us weren’t these musician types that were meant to play music. We come from families where were meant to work. So we wanted to take being in a band and make it seem as much…most people get in a band so they don’t have to do a real job. I for one always felt conflicted, “Ah, I don’t have a real job.”
We would have band practice at seven in the morning. There were a bunch of bands in the rehearsal space and the guy who ran the space would be like, “You’re the only band in twenty years of running these rehearsal spots that I’ve ever seen practice in the morning like this!” And we were just like, “It makes us feel like we’ve got a job and we’re doing a real thing.” I think that realization of that there are a million bands that can write better songs and play the songs better on the stage for an hour and a half…what do you do for the rest of the time…whether it be shaking the fans’ hands, being accessible. Working hard to write music, you know? So anyway, I think more of it come from that attitude of being hard workers. Which is not to say that a lot of bands don’t have that. I think it’s a unique blend of the hardcore world and the world we grew up in where we were expected to work hard.
HERWICK: Do you think that is one of the things that fans connect with…about you guys?
CASEY: Yeah. They know how hard we work. They like it. I think our fans, for 18 years, a lot of them have been the same. It’s an interesting dynamic where they’re almost rooting for you to succeed. There will always be that element if you’re a punk band, no matter who you are or what you do, where succeeding to the next level is alienating the original fans and I’ve been there. I was never a guy to be like, “That band sucks because they’re not small anymore.” But I never went to a stadium concert in my whole life. I went to see U2 one time and I walked out because they looked like mice or ants down there. They were so far away. I just couldn’t grasp it. So when you see a band go from playing the Rat or wherever it is to the bigger venues some of the fans don’t like it. But for the most part I feel like our fan base roots for us and they feel like they’re part of it, along for the ride. It’s unique in that way.
HERWICK: How about the development of the music over the years? You as a songwriter? Things started. You had three weeks to put a band together. You hadn’t really ever picked up an instrument before.
CASEY: Right off the bat we wanted to connect the punk music that we loved and grew up with with that traditional Irish sound and the storytelling aspect of the songwriting. But when you put a band together with three weeks notice you’re not really ready there yet. When we did incorporate bagpipes and things it was all friends of ours who were cops or whatever. They didn’t want to join a band. They had a job. So they would play on the records but we didn’t have that touring. We always had that hint of it but we weren’t really full on.
I always wanted to just tell stories in the songs. Most of them were about my life or my family’s life or experiences I had. So I think that touched people as opposed to punk bands who were maybe a little bit younger kids and they were writing about what they had read in the paper or what they saw on TV. We were writing about firsthand experiences. Maybe in the workforce, maybe in our families.
I was a wild, crazy teenager and there are a lot of stories to tell from that. People like my grandfather would always say traditional Irish music was based on…to tell stories and pass on the legacy to another generation. To think that there are CDs of ours that maybe a hundred years from now will be found in someone’s attic and they might tell a story about my grandfather, for example. That’s cool. That’s what we are all about.
HERWICK: You talked about the fact that hardcore and going to shows was a part of being young. Was the Irish music something that was always around for you as well?
CASEY: Yeah. But, they weren’t completely connected. I think bands like, obviously the Pogues, kind of made it cool for my generation. Not that the Pogues were really a punk band. I always say Dropkick Murphys is a punk band with the Irish music influence and the Pogues were a traditional Irish band with a punk influence. I think that connected the two worlds a little bit. Growing up around here there was a lot of people that came from the environment where Irish music wasn’t strange to them. To combine the two elements for us, especially in this town, was never like this crazy stretch. The Pogues had broken the ground for it. We just always wanted to turn the volume level up way more than the Pogues ever did.
HERWICK: Let’s talk a little bit about the House of Blues thing, which is insane. This is like a tradition. You do a whole bunch of shows and basically different set lists for every single show. How many songs did you prep for this show?
CASEY: Oh man. A hundred and fifty maybe, I don’t know. Yeah that’s insane. We kill ourselves and we always laugh. We say like, “Who’s coming…” And it will be like 10 kids that were at every show. We’re like, “We do everything for you 10 kids?” But they’re the best 10 kids…I mean I don’t know how much it actually is but…It also keeps us on our toes though because too many bands can fall into the trap of just play the same set list. I’m the set list guy which is a burden beyond burden, but it landed in my lap and its something that’s hard to pass off.
We take the set lists from a hundred mile radius while we’re on tour and look at them. We’ll say, “What did we play last time?” Then we’ll try to make it different because some people may have traveled. I don’t remember much but I’ll always remember, even if it was three years ago, I always remember what we opened with the last time we were in that town. Then I can’t remember if I had had a coffee yet today. It’s a bizarre thing.
It’s interesting to write a set list for us because you have eight studio albums. You have the balance you got to create between old and new. Try to have that ebb and flow of fast, slow. Songs that are lighthearted versus songs that are serious. You don’t want to have half the set be all serious. So we try to change a lot. We try to change tempos. We try to change where we are coming from, when we’re writing and when we’re making a set list. We’ve never tried to take ourselves to seriously. We have things that we are very passionate about but if you have a whole album it comes off as trying to beat it into people. But we’ll have songs that are lighthearted to break it up. And then we have instances where we can’t play certain songs back to back just because all of the switches that are going on instrumentally. You know, it would take to long. It’s interesting to try and write a set list.
HERWICK: When do you do it? Are you working on it weeks in advance?
CASEY: Oh no. That’s always the plan. It’s usually right before we go on. The earliest I’d ever get a set list done is like two hours before we go on. And then when our tour manager gets it he’s like, “Oh my god! We’ve got the set list!” It’s an art form, that’s for sure. We’re a strange breed. The whole thing is a strange animal. All those different things to think about…just the instrumentation alone. You don’t want to play to many bagpipe songs in a row. Because that’s an instrument that is beautiful and haunting but if you hear it six songs in a row it can lose what’s special about it. And you just go, “Shut those bagpipes up!” Tim Brennan, our guitar player, is stepping in. I think he’s looking to be the future set list guy. I’m grooming him for the day he officially takes over full time. But I’ll always be that guy that no matter what will say, “I got an idea!”
HERWICK: How about the idea that it’s your hometown? You can sell out a bunch of shows in a row. You’re right across the street from Fenway Park. Honestly, thinking back, as someone who started a band on a dare, in this town…thinking back, what’s that like?
CASEY: It’s amazing. Started on a dare. And then phase 2 was when we were playing the Rat and we knew it was catching on. But when I say “catching on” I mean, to the point where we would be the band that was right before the out of town headliner. So the thought process at that time we were 25 or 26 years old, a lot of bands we were playing with were 18, 19, 20 year old kids. And we were singing about things that were important to us and I’m like, “Is this just gonna go over the heads of…” Some of the songs about family were universal. Or the songs about growing up were identifiable to the young kids. Maybe I was writing about being their age.
But some of the stuff were about the experiences of someone in their mid twenties. I was like, “Is this gonna go over their heads? Are union politics gonna go over peoples’ heads in terms of the punk band? And will it ever reach my friends? Like the guys who casually like the Clash and believe in what I believe. But is it ever gonna get to them?” And that’s what I was most proud of, that it actually filtered into that world and that they could grasp onto our music. There were guys who when we played more hardcore stuff were like, “Uh, what the hell was that song?” But then they liked…I think people just liked that passion.
When it got to this point where we had goals. I know I said we never had goals but there were goals at the middle of our career like, “We wanna play the [TD] Garden some day!” And we did that last year, we got to play Fenway. And even when we were doing strings of shows here we were like, ”We did five last year. Let’s do six next year. Let’s do seven!” I think the most we did was eight in a row. And now we don’t have that feeling. So this year it was like, “Let’s do five House of Blues then one little show next door.” And our manager would say, “Well, you could do six House of Blues.” And I said, “I know. But just cause you can, you don’t have to.” So sometimes now it’s like less is more. You get more out of playing less shows or smaller shows than always being like, “We can do this. We can do that.” We always felt like the underdog that had to prove people wrong and prove we could play the Garden and all that. I think as a band it’s more about being comfortable in your own skin and enjoying it now. It just took 17 years to get to that point.
HERWICK: The band [is] politically active in causes, community stuff, especially around [the Boston area] still. How does that work?
CASEY: I don’t think the Dropkick Murphys set out to be this pro-union band. But it was something that was in the forefront of our beliefs and how we were raised so the first album has a couple of songs that address that subject matter. And then we decided to put the album cover…the union hours and right before the band. It was an old picture and my father-in-law was in the picture…I don’t know if he was in the picture but was on his wall from when he was younger. We used that as the cover. That just cemented that idea in peoples’ minds.
So it was partially singing about things we believe in but then it morphed into, “We mean something. We actually have the voice to speak on behalf…” And the AFLCIO reached out to us. We played acoustic in their cafeteria one time. We just started to branch out just because people would ask and we would do it. And cause charity stuff and community stuff, when you’re really from somewhere and you’re really connected…when you’re asked to do these things, you say yes. it just took on a life of its own. We got more and more involved in things and did more and more.
I think that’s very unique as a band. I don’t think you see many bands that end up intertwined in their city. You really put down roots and get to know people and the areas when you’re on the forefront showing up at events. The greatest part of the band for me is getting back and feeling like you have a job, or that you’re involved in something more meaningful than just being in a band. Being able to be at the forefront of political issues like when there was the teacher’s strike in Wisconsin; we were able to be heavily involved in that with one of our songs, and we did a t-shirt.
You get the letters from people…it’s not life and death for them but their livelihood is being compromised and their families’ livelihood is on the line and you can represent them and be a positive voice of support for them to get their message across. It’s huge. It makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. And then there’s the same thing with charity tenfold. When you can show up and visit a kid in the hospital or play an event when someone has passed away…you can’t put that into words…how good it feels to give back.
HERWICK: How about, most recently, two firefighters dying in the Back Bay and then you guys got involved in the aftermath of that?
CASEY: I knew those guys personally so it was a little bit of both. I’m sure we would have done it anyway. I always joke…there’s a boy band playing here tonight and there’s a line of little girls outside. I think they’re called The Wanted. We’re like the boy band for cops and firefighters. They’re like, “Ah! The Dropkick Murphys!” They wouldn’t like me saying that. They respect and get what we’re doing. So we’ve had huge support from those communities. When we got to play after the funeral at Florian Hall, the union fire hall, that feeling of seeing how grateful those people were and how much positive impact it had, to just take their mind off the matter for a little bit was just…that was one of the highlights of the band’s career. It’s a lowlight in the sense of the day but that was one of the highlights of the band’s career. That’s the stuff I get more out of than playing in front of a hundred thousand people at a festival.
HERWICK: Your music has become intertwined with the Red Sox and Bruins, and especially the Red Sox. You have this 86-year curse, and as they ostensibly break the curse, as they get into this era where they’ve won three World Series, you guys are so identifiable with them. You guys are so identifiable with them, and your music is really identifiable with them. That seems insane. 11-year-old you, it seems to me, would think that was insane.
CASEY: Well, what’s really insane is that the only three years we’ve played on that field is the three years they’ve won [the World Series]. So, we never got involved in ’03, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’09. When the curse first got broken people would say, “It was my red sweater!” Everyone was taking credit so we tried to take credit. Then when it came to ’07 I’m like, “Come on! We played again and they won!” Most people were like, “Yeah, yeah…” And then after 2013 we were like, “Come on. This is…” you know. So that was awesome.
The year of the curse…forget about it. That was like a religious experience. I was on the field. I was in New York for game seven in Yankee Stadium. I was in St. Louis on the field after that game and typical me…I was with a buddy and we snuck on to the field. The Dropkick Murphys never roll with the legitimate passes but we’re always like cockroaches. We get out onto the field and I call my grandfather, who has passed away now, he was 86 years old at the time. He had lived his whole life and I got to be on the field to call him right after I tried to steal the pitcher’s mound but it wouldn’t come out. That is an experience you can never…talk about chills. ’07 was great.
Then last year, with all that the city had been through. The Bruins too, though they didn’t actually pull it off. During that period I was visiting a lot of those victims in the hospital and they were so deep into watching the Bruins playoff run. It was the only channel you could put on TV that wasn’t constant pictures of the bombings and they knew that they could watch the Bruins and that took people’s minds off of things. And then the Red Sox were really attached. I was on tour, it was my birthday when it happened. I was in Santa Cruz, California, and my kids were at the Red Sox game, I couldn’t reach anyone. So the Red Sox, I think, due to the nature of how close they were to the bombings, the fact that they had just finished a game, they really had that tie in. Ortiz saying the things that he said, so for them to pull it out it was spiritual as well.
HERWICK: By the way, happy birthday! Your birthday is tomorrow.
CASEY: Yeah, tax day!
HERWICK: So, do you ever walk out or peek out at a venue after the show is over to see the aftermath of a Dropkick Murphys show?
CASEY: Yeah, I usually go out, I didn’t go out on Saint Patrick’s Day just because I was sick, but I usually go out to the barricade and shake hands so I’m seeing the whole thing as people leave.
HERWICK: So what do you see? Can you describe a typical post-apocalypse …?
CASEY: You just nailed it, it looks like a barren wasteland. I remember one time we played this Irish festival in Chicago and it was one of those Irish festivals that was run by an old old Irish guy, who was like 80 and he’d been running it saying, “Don’t tell me how to run this festival, I’ve been doing this for fifty years!” He had seats, and we said “Oh the seats, you have to move those seats.” He gave me a lecture, he put out a thousand seats in this tent, and we took a picture afterwards and just every chair is demolished. And of course the guy’s backstage saying “You owe me for a thousand chairs!” And we’re saying, “We told you what was going to happen.” It’s an interesting scene out there and usually we have a couple of souls wandering around looking for a phone or a wallet. We do a good job of destroying a lot of places, in a good way.
CASEY: When we come out, especially a hometown show; If you knew what was going through my head…first of all, the third tier of seating in the front is all our family and friends and I’ll go through before we play and there’s a seating chart and I’ll say “put my mother in this row with her guests, put my uncle here, put so and so here, put my grandmother there.” And I’ll literally be on the first song looking up in that balcony going, “why is my grandmother in the second row? She’s supposed to be in the first row.”
But that’s not normal, I’m a little bit obsessive in that way and you’re looking around seeing friends and like you said, the mosh pit you’re excited by the energy. But then I’m also a parent, I have massive hearing damage, I’ll see someone with a kid on their shoulders and I’m looking like, “do they have earplugs?” that’s not necessarily cool in the punk world but its one of the most awesome things, by the way that people bring their kids. Another thought that I’d thought back when I was thinking in the Rat days, will my regular friends get this and grasp on?
Another goal would be like this should and this does cross many different generations, the old time traditional feel from the Irish end of things is why my grandmother, she’s 90 years old, can come to a show. I can bring my four year old to the show, I would rather be in Dropkick Murphys playing the House of Blues with my 90 year old grandmother and four year old son than I would rather be in Metallica and have it be something like, that’s too much for me, Metallica might be a bad example, but something metal like that.
So, I’m thinking all kinds of thoughts like “Oh man I know that guy, those are my friends I grew up with, where’s my kids? My daughter’s going to come out and Irish step dance. My grandmother’s here, there’s great energy, I wish there was more energy.” Whatever it might be, there’s a million thoughts going through my head. Get that kid earplugs. I’ll literally be trying to play a song telling the tour manager, there’s a kid in the third row that needs earplugs!
HERWICK: What’s it like when you walk out onto that proscenium? That sort of spot where there’s, you waltz out with the bass and there are 16 year old kids screaming in your face, screaming in the mike, just describe that.
CASEY: Oh, it’s just intense. That would intimidate, I think, a lot of bands. But when you come from the punk world where we used to be doing the same thing on a stage that was six inches high with crazier kids in your face, getting microphones in the mouth. I look at being in Dropkick Murphys as a full contact sport, like if there’s blood on a band member, that’s a good show. The crazier, the better.
It’s a fine line we walk now because there are young kids and we are in bigger venues with insurance. We would prefer to never have a barricade, but see it has to be more controlled chaos now. You want people to feel that energy, be as close to the band as possible, but we don’t want anyone to get hurt. So, we’re just as concerned with safety as we are chaos. We want to create chaos, a lot of people will misunderstand that, our tour manager Evan, who has been with us forever, is always on the frontlines of explaining that. “Don’t freak out. We do this every night, they let kids onstage. It’s a unity thing; it’s not about destroying the place. The band doesn’t need security from them.”
It’s to an outsider, who is not accustomed to it, would probably say, “What the hell’s going on here?” But by the same token, I can know that if someone has a four year old kid on their shoulder, and there’s a mosh pit ten feet away anyone else in the world they’d be like that’s not safe, but in our weird world, it actually is safe, because these kids know the drill and kind of have an eye out.
HERWICK: In our interviews we go through a couple songs, songs we anticipate we might use for [Front Row Boston], and just get your first blush reaction to it. You can tell a story about how it came together, what it feels like to play it, what you like or hate about it, whatever it is. I’m just going to throw you a song and you give me what comes to mind. So, “Black Velvet Band.”
CASEY: “Black Velvet Band,” traditional song that we did in 2003 album, I think, Blackout. Always one of the more, with traditional Irish songs you get that down trodden, the Irish are funny, you can have the most down trodden song about death and dying and famine and misery. They’ll still sing it with a fist in the air like it’s a party song. But, “Black Velvet Band” actually has such a, it’s about getting sent away to Australia with a prison colony, but man it sure seems like a good time. So, like I said, only the Irish can do that.
HERWICK: Okay, what about “Out of Our Heads?”
CASEY: “Out of Our Heads,” is definitely one of my more favorite live songs to sing. It just totally kind of ramps up the excitement level when we play it. It has a good riff but it also kind of has a sing along chorus. It’s a song that even if you’ve never heard it before, by the second chorus you’ll be able to sing along. Sometimes, those simple songs, “Shipping up to Boston” for example, most easily get’s caught in people’s heads.
HERWICK: “Boys on the Docks.”
CASEY: Boys on the Docks, is one of the songs I was mentioning earlier, it’s written about my grandfather. Man, the ninety year old grandmother I mentioned is the one here, he’s been passed away for twenty two, twenty three years but to have her sit here and watch multiple times in her life as a whole crowd at Fenway, House of Blues, the Garden, sing that song. In the middle in the break, the whole place is singing the song and you know that’s a connection I have with my mother, my grandmother. To remember him in a way that is indescribable. My father died when I was young and [my grandfather] raised me, he taught me to be who I am today. So to be able to have this song that still, 23 years after his death being sung, that’s my favorite part of being in the band, that song. Absolutely.
HERWICK: “Captain Kelly’s Kitchen.”
CASEY: Well our drummer is Matt Kelly and we all love playing that song. Another Irish song that just really, I don’t even know if we played that song over Saint Patrick’s Day. We hadn’t been playing it for a while. But that song brings the emotion, that song gets everyone in a good mood, that’s a good, we always say, “You gotta have a few hits sprinkled in.” When you’re writing a set list, that’s one of the ones that brings the excitement level right back up.
HERWICK: “Skinhead on the MBTA.”
CASEY: Well, as most people would know, if you were from here. That’s “Charlie on the MTA,” which was probably responsible for a lot of our early popularity. Because we played that song live well before we ever recorded it. We used to play at the Rat, the stage was less than one foot high and everybody knew that song and we updated that and obviously made it a little edgier. Right when we go into that song the whole crowd would just bum-rush the stage at the Rat. And [that’s] how that tradition was started. So, I love to play the song. I love that it has that connection to Boston, and it’s a really amazing phenomenon that it took on this life of it’s own with the stage invasion. When you hit the first notes of that you buckle down because it’s going to be a lot of people rushing at you.
HERWICK: “Jimmy Collin’s Wake.”
CASEY: Released in 2013, the song about the Red Sox. Released in another championship year. Not taking any credit. Love that song, love the whoa part in it. When we play that song in Europe, who would have thought, a baseball song in Europe. When we play that song in Germany or France, the whoa part the whole crowd sings it, it’s pretty cool. I love playing it here too.
What I love about a song like “Jimmy Collin’s Wake” is, less electric guitars, it’s not like strip down acoustic, it’s not super loud punk song, but it’s still Dropkick Murphys. It’s in the middle, I could play that song for any age group, that song could represent the band well to anybody that heard it. Whether it’s a punk kid, a grandmother, and a four year old. And I like when we have a song that represents us in one song, because usually it takes a whole album. There’s a little of this and a little of that and then there’s one song, you can fit Dropkick Murphys into one song and that would be one of them.
HERWICK: One last song I want to ask you about which is interesting because, I feel like everybody that we talk to unsolicited mentioned this song. So it seems like it was, I don’t know if something special happened in the studio, but “Rose Tattoo.”
CASEY: People really like that song man, I don’t know it’s a little different for us maybe. I gotta say it is the undisputed hit of little kids. People come up to me, my son loves the band, I go “is their favorite song ‘Rose Tattoo?’” And everyone says yes. I have no idea why, but every little kid loves “Rose Tattoo.” I think we have to re-release it on a kids’ album or something, it’s funny. But, this is another song that represents us but it’s unique. That’s probably one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written.
There’s some songs you’re right, that you only see kids singing the chorus, but then there’s other songs where “Boys on the Docks” would be one of them, “Rose Tattoo” would be one of them. Where, even the verses, when you’re playing and looking at the front, every person knows every word. So, I think it’s impactful and I also think the nature of what the songs about, it’s about the tattoos that you wear on your body, and telling the story of your life. And a lot of the instances I bring up, it’s telling important stories in your life. Not like, I was wasted and got a shamrock. I’m talking about your favorite band that has that impact, or memorializing a dead relative or something like that, or your children’s names on you.
So I think when we play that song to a lot of people, it makes them emotional because it makes them think of the people in their lives, whether they have tattoos or not, it makes them think of the people that are important to them or that they miss. I think that any time you have a song that has an emotional subject matter that people connect with it’s clearly going to be a step above all of the other songs in terms of how they react to it.
HERWICK: Do you remember where that song came from, the beginnings of it, where you were writing it or how it got started?
CASEY: Ironically enough, we were in the studio and our producer Ted Hunt was like, you should write a song about your tattoos. And I was like, ugh that’s tacky, that’s cheesy, what are you talking about? But somewhere in the corner of my mind I was like, how could I do that in a way that really is meaningful? And then it just popped into my head. I don’t know, I don’t labor a lot; well I shouldn’t say that. Some of the best songs that we’ve ever written, just like come and I better get a pen and start writing because, I think me personally, I’ve written 200 songs better than anything I’ve written in Dropkick Murphys and they came and they went and they’re never coming back and I didn’t write them down. So, sometimes for me it’s important to just, if I get a thought, and the iPhone’s been great for that because, get in your notes and start writing.
HERWICK: Is there anything that we didn’t ask?
CASEY: We didn’t really address the band’s charity foundation; maybe we could just mention it. That’s something someone might see and want to get involved in. We started the Claddagh Fund, coming up on five years ago now I think. We were involved in a lot of different charities and as we discussed, it’s a big part of the band. But we kind of wanted to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of the fans as our own thing. Instead of reaching out to our fans and saying we’re doing this, support this cause, support that cause, it was kind of like, start our own charity which then funds all those other causes we help and it’s been amazing.
I mean we do everything from Rotten Tomatoes karaoke contest where we had Boston celebrities sing and people could pay to throw tomatoes at them, which is unique. We have a golf tournament every year, which Bobby Orr is gracious enough to co-host with me. And everything in between, and we’ve raised two million dollars so far. Some of that has kids giving their last five dollars in donation, and some of it might be corporate sponsors. But it’s really been an amazing way to connect with our fans on another level, do something that isn’t always related to the show but still be in it together with the fans, and like I said, to do even more good.
We did a t-shirt when the bombings happened, we raised three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, I mean people were buying fifteen t-shirts at a time to give to their friends. And that’s also what shows me that we have the best fans on earth, the way that they respond to the causes we get behind tells me it’s way more than just a band and its fans. Because your normal band would ask what we ask of their fans and they would be like, hey man, we just want to hear some music. But, they go above and beyond for us, it’s awesome, if you want to check it out online it’s claddaghfund.org. Like Claddagh ring, which represents friendship, love, and loyalty.