There is something special about talking to a legend within the punk scene, and even more so when it is one with a political opinion as strong as that Matt Kelly, the drummer of Celtic punk rock outfit Dropkick Murphys. They recently released their new album 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory – an incredibly introspective yet frantic punk album, and going full steam ahead with another album due to be released later this year. We spoke to Matt about his views on the American election, the state of the punk scene and possible plans to come to South Africa.
Dropkick Murphys are renowned for their staunch political views and I can imagine you were incredibly opposed to Donald Trump throughout the election process. So, what are your thoughts on Donald Trump being elected as President now that the nation has cooled down a bit since the election results?
I was opposed to both Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton and voted for neither of them; I voted for Gary Johnson. Mrs Clinton has made a career of padding her own pockets and those of lobbyists, PAC’s, multinational corporate CEO’s, and supporting the out-of-control military industrial complex. She has the blood of tens of thousands of people on her hands in her avaricious quest for power. I’m relieved that she didn’t get elected. People who argue that it would have been great to have a woman president need to seriously reanalyze their criteria for what is important, and get off the identity politics horse that seems to be clouding their judgment.
If the Democrats continued to hold executive office, there’d be no outcry against the countless drone strikes, missile strikes, or sending troops to fight endless wars in the Middle East. So far, the people so critical of G.W. Bush foolish warmongering turn a blind eye to the horrors perpetrated under Mr Obama’s watch.
With Trump, I honestly don’t know. I certainly don’t think he has the moral fibre to be POTUS, but time will tell. I hope and pray that he is smarter than he’s letting on! He seems to be the “bull in the china shop” type. If he brings more middle-class jobs to America and tries to rid us of the draconian National Defense Authorization Act, that would be a big thumbs-up from me but I highly doubt he’ll even touch that but then again, what does he have to lose? He’s not a career politician! Time will tell.
A lot of people were throwing around the idea that the election of Trump may possibly do for punk rock what the election of George W. Bush did for punk and allow for a new wave of politically-charged punk rock to emerge. You were part of Punkvoter – do you think that these election results could revitalise the American punk scene and ultimately the global punk scene? Actually, let’s talk about modern punk music. To be perfectly blunt, as a prominent working-class punk band, do you think that punk is dead, or is rather just going through a jaded suburban phase?
I’d rather there not be a need for politically-charged punk rock; I’d rather a great nation. I think revitalising a scene is a ridiculous payoff for the U.S.A. going to Hell in a hand basket… but yeah, neato mosquito.
Is punk dead? There are more punk bands now than there ever were, and the suburbs is where hardcore basically originally came from and thrived. The only reason for the whole “Punk Is Dead” cliché was to sell newspapers and try and push New Wave, etc. Crap, crap, crap. Everything is cyclical, and Punk rears its ugly head into the spotlight every decade or so in one form or another and then gets revitalised underground. Wash, rinse, repeat…
The punk scene was recently set ablaze by the actions of Joe Corré. People are divided over his actions. Some are praising him for “sticking it to the establishment” and rebelling against the mainstream consumption of punk while others are pointing out that his ability to not care about burning that much merch makes him no better than the establishment. What are your thoughts on these events? Do you think that things should have been done differently?
It really depends on one’s definition of “punk”. Some people are into the nihilistic side of Punk Rock and in that case, it’s the “punkest” thing you could do to burn all that crap. If you look at punk as simply a reinvigoration of rock and roll, taking it back from the shoe-gazing 1970s dinosaur-rockers, then the guy’s burning a piece of the history of rock and roll.
The way I personally look at it is that it’s ultimately his property and he can do whatever he wants with it. I think the little publicity stunt (which is certainly what it is) will gain him many admirers and many enemies. Like they say, “any press is good press”.
Most of the band probably grew up attending punk shows in the 80s and a slew of all-ages shows – something that has kind of faded from relevance in the modern punk scene and even the broader music scenes. How important do you think it is to have all-ages shows where young people can become excited about music that isn’t necessarily trendy pop music?
Haha, well, only two of the guys in the band are old enough to have gone to a lot of gigs in the ’80s. My “career” as a gig-goer started just at the end of the ‘80s, as I turned 15 in 1990. Here in Boston, and many cities in the USA, there is a thriving scene for basement gigs, small gigs in Elks lodges(and other halls people can rent out for cheap). The thing is, any mainstream attention given to Punk is to bands like ourselves and the big bands like Rancid, Green Day, Social Distortion, etc. The mostly underground scene just gets ignored and maybe has become a bit incestuous because of a lack of new blood. However, if somebody scratches below the surface of bigger punk bands, there’s a whole slew of smaller, great bands to check out.
I think it’s very, very important to have a thriving all-ages scene for young kids to check out established bands, but also to start their own bands, put on gigs, interact on a human level— as opposed to “interacting” over social media —and make friends, find out about bands, and form their own unique local style, vernacular, sound, or whatever. That DIY all-ages scene is very, very important as a social structure, and a great alternative for the less normal kids to hang out in and call their own.
It’s actually pretty cool that you guys have been together for the exact length of time as I have been alive. Looking back on your 20-year career, what moments stand out the most for you?
Wow, that sort of thing is really mind-blowing! Some of the standout things are like when someone at one of our gigs comes up to us and introduces themselves as the child of one of our friends who used to come see us in 1997!
Also, the first time we played Australia in November 1999. We made such good friends and were treated so well. It left an indelible mark on our psyches.
To be honest, just being able to play in a band, travel the world, meet cool people, see cool places, and have people care about our music is the most amazing thing that has happened to us, really. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have this as a “career”…. I know scores of family, friends, and acquaintances who have been trying to do it for decades.
So this interview was actually set up to discuss your new album and to promote it in South Africa. This is your ninth studio album – how does it compare to your previous releases in terms of musical style?
This album reminds me of the Who, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, The Clash, maybe Bruce Springsteen, and stuff like The Faces and Kinks. Maybe some more of our rock and roll heroes’ influence coming through on it, more so than on Signed And Sealed In Blood. The power of it seems less reliant on speed and franticness, more on deliberate, tough power and songwriting.
What was the recording process like for this album? Did you do anything different that you hadn’t done on your previous albums?
Yes, we went to Sonic Ranch studio in Tornillo, Texas, which is about 2,400 miles from Boston. This, unfortunately, kept us from our wives and children, but it did manage to keep us free from the distractions of everyday life. We were able to really “live” these songs and fully entrench ourselves into the creative process. Living very simply at the studio, all we had to focus on was making an amazing album, and I, humbly, believe we succeeded. The ranch is on a pecan farm that borders the country of Mexico. There is really nothing for miles around, so we basically worked 12-14 hours per day for about three weeks and cut nineteen tracks. The place had an austere beauty to it, being in the desert and very far from anything(the closest city is El Paso, and that’s about forty miles away)… so it really was an inspiring place to record an album.
One of my favourite songs on this album is “First Class Loser” – what inspired this particular song and is it directed anybody in particular?
Haha, well everybody has that annoying neighbour or relative…. we won’t name names, but we know a lot of Mamalukes!
There is some degree of retrospectivity and introspection present on the album as it sort of feels like you’re taking a look at your career and where you’ve come from. Is there any degree of truth to this, and if so – what influenced this retrospectivity?
Maybe in the subject matter of the song “Blood” when we speak of Kenmore Square— which is where the band got its start, at the Rathskeller (now sadly gone). Also the song “Sandlot”, which is about the innocence of youth. Sometimes ideas just present themselves and you just run with them, sort of letting the album write itself in a way.
There is this kind of stereotype that Celtic punk is pretty much just about drinking and rebellion – what are your thoughts on this? Your music has always seemed to defy that stereotype.
Thanks, because we certainly don’t fit the stereotype. We’re all in our thirties or forties. If you’re an adult looking for fights and getting wasted every night, you need to reassess your life!
Now, I think that two facets of Irish music have to do with drinking and rebellion, but there’s so much more to it. There’s pain, lament, poverty, love, love lost, pride, patriotism, wonder, aggression, crime, you name it. I think so many bands and enthusiasts look to the Pogues, or specifically what they think Shane MacGowan is like while expanding and idolising two small facets of that (amazing) band.
I guess drinking and rebellion are the lowest common denominator in Irish music, and that’s what some people gravitate to. Nothing wrong with them as part of a bigger whole.
Here’s the question most of our readers want us to ask you – are there any desires to head to South Africa in the near future or at least before you decide to call it quits as a band?
Yeah, I’d love to play there eventually. But hey, we are certainly NOT calling it quits anytime soon! We have most of another new album after “11 Stories” coming out, we hope, at the end of 2017. We’re not slowing down, baby!
On the note of calling it quits, it is pretty amazing to see a punk band keeping it together for a solid two years. Most rock bands can hardly even stand existing for that long nevertheless a punk band – how have you managed to keep going strong?
I’m not sure. I think it’s mostly “nose to the grindstone” and working hard. Staying grounded and not letting success cloud our judgement. There are always other bands and musicians out there who are so much more talented than you are, and there are millions who would give their right arm to be in the position of being in a popular, successful band. I guess just do your best every day and don’t forget where you came from.
Finally, and this is out of pure curiosity – what would have to happen for you guys to decide to break-up?
I think it would take something very serious. I really don’t know… I guess maybe a death in the band? Tough question with morbid answers!
Thank you so much for your time and I do apologise for some of the more politically orientated and lengthy questions.
Yeah, thanks for the great interview. Thank you to our South African supporters; may we someday meet!