Just before their seventh studio album, Going Out in Style, was released in March, I was privileged to sit down and chat with one of the founding members of the Dropkick Murphys, Ken Casey. The album release, however, seems to play second fiddle to some of the band’s other recent endeavors.
In 2009, Casey founded the Claddagh Fund. According to its website, “The Claddagh Fund is based on three core values within our community: friendship, love and loyalty; the three attributes symbolized in the Claddagh ring.” The charity seeks to help children, vets and their families and “the most vulnerable populations in our community.” A day or two before our interview, the Dropkicks sold out yet another show on March 20th at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston to benefit the fund. The Dropkicks have been selling, and in some cases, auctioning off ticket and backstage passes to shows where the proceeds go directly to the Claddagh fund, where as other shows like the one on the 20th are billed as benefits.
In response to the recent labor disputes in Wisconsin, which recently took a turn for the more serious with the GOP refusing to back down and voting to take away more rights of the workers, the band released a track off of Going Out… called “Take ‘Em Down.” The track is a call to action anthem that sounds like it was written specifically for the current Wisconsin situation. With lyrics like, “When the boss comes callin’ his take his toll, when the boss comes callin’ don’t you sell your soul, when the boss comes callin’ we gotta organize,” it’s clear where the Dropkicks stand and who they support. The early release of the song was paired with a commemorative red t-shirt with characters holding a “Unite” sign and emblazoned with the phrase “Take ‘Em Down.” Proceeds from the sales on their website and at shows benefitted the Worker’s Rights Emergency Fund.
Upon walking off of the stage after a brisk sound check in Chicago in the midst of the Dropkicks’ current North American tour, Casey joined me to chat about Going Out in Style, politics, philanthropy, raising kids and what it’s like to have his music in three Academy Award-nominated films.
You have the new album coming out, and even got to work with Bruce Springsteen on it.
That’s always a good thing [laughs]. We’ve just had the good fortune of becoming friends with Bruce. He’s come to a lot of our shows… we’ve gone a couple times to his. We went backstage and what not, then he had us come up on stage to sing with him a few times, and he was always, “Hey sometime you gotta return the favor.” Which is funny because it’s really not returning the favor, it’s like another favor on our account! But none the less, he’s just a down-to-earth guy and we were working on this song (a cover of the 1913 song “Peg ‘o my heart”) and it just kinda felt like it had 50s rock vibe, and we were like, “That sounds like something the E Street Band would pull out! We know how to return the favor!” We sent him the song and he said… Actually, as a matter of fact, he said yes before he even heard the song. We said “do you wanna sing on a song? And he said, “Sure.” So that was kinda cool that he trusted that it would be something his style.
You guys also just did a special release for the workers in Wisconsin. How did you get involved with that?
We’ve always been a supporter of organized labor and the working class in general, and just to see people who we know personally and what not who are being drastically affected up there protesting and stuff… we just felt like it would be a good way to do a little something. I’ve kinda always felt like we are a band who likes to leave our politics to the lyrics and maybe take some action rather than being one of those bands up on stage wasting a half hour of everyone’s time soap-boxing and stuff, so we kinda figured we’d lead by example. So we put up a song early so [they] could have it and maybe that would inspire them a little, and we also put out a T-shirt that all the proceeds will be going to pay the senators’ hotel bill to keep them outta state for the rest of the year until they can recall this bozo. It’s nice to be able to be in a band that has that side to it; that we can get involved with things we are passionate about and maybe help people.
That’s a side of you guys that maybe most people don’t know about. Like the story of Sgt. Andrew Farrar and the song “The Last Letter Home.” When I was reading about that, it brought a tear to my eye and that really speaks to your down-home connections to your fans.
The Andrew Farrar situation was probably one of the most emotional things the band has ever been involved in. It was almost surreal the way it happened and the timing and to be involved with the family. We recorded this version of the song and then rushing to the wake to get there so we could put it in his casket and… just these kids walking with the casket… and they’re just so young. We’ve stayed close with the family ever since, so it’s, you know, a lot of good comes out of these things… out of bad situations. I’ve been to Andrew’s sister’s wedding and stuff and I’ve stayed really close to the family. It’s nice to have that connection with your fans; you know whose listening and you get to meet the people. I wouldn’t wanna be in a band that was anonymous to its fans. It just doesn’t interest me.
Which leads into a big subject I wanted to talk to you about: the Claddagh Fund and the big benefit show on March 20th. I think that actually sold out.
I guess coming from a small, close-knit community where we’ve been able to use the band’s popularity around Boston to be involved with charity things — whether it’s like a big thing for us like a silent auction for a charity [and] putting together these packages and tickets and signed CDs. They’ll end up going for more than NKOTB tickets, you know! [Laughs] One of the old guys in the artwork of our CD’s is Joey McIntyre’s father believe it or not! I grew up with Tommy Mac Sr., who was a great guy. It’s just that community feel, [and] that’s how we got our foot in the door with charities. People would ask for more and more stuff, and we’d get more involved, [and] sometime we’d play acoustic at these things.
I was talking with a friend of mine who’s an ex-athlete and is really one of the most giving philanthropic guys I know, and he was like, “You need to do one thing with the band, because it’s great what you do, but you need to channel your fans and everyone.” Man, he couldn’t have been more right! Playing a couple of benefit concerts, giving a bunch of packages away, which we still do, pales in comparison to… We channeled our efforts and raised $500,000 in the first year. I’ll tell you who it was, being in Chicago and all. It was Bobby Orr, (of the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackwaks fame.) Bobby Orr is to sports what Bruce Springsteen is to music. He’s really been an inspiration to everyone. Honestly, the best part about us raising the money: you see kids giving their last five dollars, and that’s pretty powerful stuff in my opinion.
You brought up the NKOTB connection. Is that how you got the spot in The Fighter?
No, we got the spot in The Fighter through being friends with Micky Ward, who the movie is about. He asked two things: that his daughter had a little bit part in it, and that the song that we wrote about him be in it. (“The Warrior’s Code” the second track on the album of the same name.) But once it got to Hollywood it got cut down so much it might as well not even be in it… but that’s alright. Maybe there will be a Fighter 2.
That’s, what, three Academy Award-nominated films that you guys are in?
Really? Maybe it is. I don’t know… what would the third be?
Well, you’ve got The Departed, The Fighter and Restrepo.
[Smiling] Oh yeah, you’re right! I forgot that was nominated. Hey, that’s pretty cool. I’m gonna have to go around and say that! I haven’t watched the movie yet. I’m reading the book.
You guys kind of have your hands in everything. One of the coolest things I saw you do was play Fenway for the World Series and the ALCS game.
I’d have to say it was a toss-up between Game One of the ’04 World Series or the ’07 ALCS. We’ve played at Fenway a bunch of times but Game One when all the flashes were going off was surreal. I’d say Game Seven of the ACLS was awesome. We came out and we’re playing in center field and Dice-K is warming up in the bull pen and he’s looking at us like, “What the fuck is going on over here?” We brought out these step dancers and he must’ve thought that he was on another planet! They let us out on the field after the game. It was awesome.
You are also involved in restaurants too? You just opened another one.
We just opened one in Providence, R.I. [We’ve] got some good friends up there that were impressed with the work we did at McGreevy’s in Boston, and were like, “We’ve got a spot we think you’d do well in.” So we went down and looked at it. That’s my favorite part of it: the designing and decking them out so they look like old bars. Once the doors open I want nothing to do with them. [Laughs] It’s a really tough business.
How has that changed with people being married and having kids?
Well, it’s funny, ‘cause now we’ve gone to a new phase. My daughter just turned nine, my son is seven. I’ve got a six-year-old and a 20-month old, but I’m actually at the stage where I tried to lobby with my wife to let me take, ‘cause the kids right now are on school vacation, take my kids, my nine and six-year-old for three or four days, and then Scruffy’s (Bag piper Josh “Scruffy” Wallace) wife is out here and she could fly with them home. And my wife was like, “Uh, no.” I just figured to them that would be better than Disney World, and they’ve been on the… I mean, before I had my third child, they’d been all over the world with us.
It’s also tough… you’re trying to focus on the job, and then you’re trying to run around the hotel and get the kids arranged. It’s tough when you’re on tour for a new record and you’re doing press, and that’s more difficult than if it’s just a laid-back summer tour or whatever when you don’t have a lot going on. But we’ve always had the philosophy that we don’t let the music business run us. Family is first. We never go for more than three weeks and we always take at least a couple of weeks at home. It’s just not worth it. I remember in the late 90s when we were touring all the time, just opening for everybody, I’d get home and I’d feel like a gypsy. I’d finally get home after like nine months and I wouldn’t feel comfortable at home and that’s not right.
How does it make you feel when you look in the crowd and see little kids?
You see a lot of that in Boston; there is just huge people bringing their kids, man. We actually are on the fence right now. I don’t know if we pull it off either since we waited so long. We wanna play in the Southeast St. Patrick’s parade. We got kicked out last time. We did it about five years ago [laughs], but maybe the dust hasn’t settled. Then again, I wrote kinda a dis of Mayor Menino on one of our new songs, so maybe it won’t be happening.
All the shows are open to everyone and are all-ages for the most part, but the matinee is when more kids can generally go because it’s not late. What we actually wanna do… maybe we will call it a soundcheck party or something, after our soundcheck on Sunday the 20th at the Paradise, we,re gonna like, turn the volume way down and sell like 200 tickets, and literally say, “You can’t come to the show unless you’re with a kid under 12 years old. Then the kids can actually go down in the pit. We’re still working out the logistics. I think it would be cool because the parents wouldn’t have to freak out protecting their kids. Yeah, we’ll play a quieter, shorter show. You know, these kids can sit through an hour-and-a-half set; my son is good for like three songs and then even he’s like, “Yeah, I’m outta here.” [Laughs]
You know, speaking of kids and the new records, probably should have brought this up earlier when we were talking sports, but we got a new video for the song “Going Out in Style,” and we got cameos from Lenny Clark from Rescue Me, great comedian, Micky Ward, Bobby Orr, Heidi Watney – who’s like the hot sports reporter for the Red Sox, Shawn Thornton from the Bruins, Milan Lucic from the Bruins, and my son. He hits Milan with a snowball and it’s just random. It has nothing to do with the storyline; everyone gets pelted with a snowball, and Lucic is singing one of the lines in the song, and bam! He gets hit in the face with a snowball and it’s my son. Lucic chases him down the street and catches him and it was pretty cool. Once again, my son is really totally oblivious, but it was a really fun video to make. My daughter is in it too.
Do any of them have musical aspirations?
My daughter plays violin on the new record. She just started, but she can do enough. So on the song “Hang ‘Em High,” there’s some accents when the guitars are chugging and she got the timing down, and she’s great, man. She’s only been playing like six months. She does Irish Step and plays violin so she’s already danced at our shows with her school. I think she’ll probably do both, play violin and Irish Step. One day, our kids will just take over the band and we’ll be like the Irish Menudo. [Laughs]
What do you think of the music today…the state of music if you will?
I was, as a kid, into the wilder side of things and that’s probably what partially attracted me to want to get into music. We get to play a lot of these festivals in Europe and you get these bands there just acting this part ‘cause they think that’s what they’re supposed to be or something, and you just wanna slap them silly. Or all of these old guys who … you don’t know whether it’s just an act or if they’ve had their head up their ass for so long that they don’t know what’s going on. We’re just travelling in this parallel little universe, and we just come in and play. That’s not to say that there aren’t some punk rockers who don’t need an ego check, especially a lot of the old British punks, which, unfortunately… don’t meet your idols ‘cause when you do they’ll let you down. But, for every band I’ve have a bad experience with, I’ve met 10 bands that are great and just get it and have the same mentality too.