Top of Mind: Ken Casey, Extended Version
Dropkick Murphys Frontman, Publican, Philanthropist, Lucky Bastard, 41, Hingham
If you could engineer the perfect Boston rock star, you’d probably come up with someone who looks and acts like Ken Casey, frontman for the Dropkick Murphys. The band’s Celtic punk combines the city’s Irish heritage with its aggro attitude, and on stage Casey is raucous, funny, perhaps a bit obnoxious, and always engaged with his insanely intense fans. In person, Casey has the same wiseass humor, but tempered by an endearing earnestness and patience with dumb questions. He’s also a very industrious guy: We met him at his bar, McGreevy’s, and after the interview and photo shoot, he had to discuss the kitchen with his new chef, meet with a consultant for his Claddagh Fund charity, finish a shoot for an episode of the new TV show Grill Seekers, and rehearse with the band for a slate of shows around the U.S. and Europe. He was generous with his time, though, spending the morning talking about the Boston music scene, tours, and why he won’t play weddings.
[sidebar]MRB: Okay Ken, the main goal of this interview is to just have you talk, be a little circumspect about Boston in general, and cover a bunch of subjects, like where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you look to go. After all, you’ve kind of hit the trifecta of every Boston guys’ dream, which is hanging with the Red Sox, fronting a killer band, and running a popular bar. Think back to where you came from and where you are now. You’re at the top of Boston society in a lot of ways; how do you feel about that?
KC: I definitely would not say I’m at the top of Boston society. But, you know, I have a lot of good friends, and a lot of good people in my life and a lot of good opportunities. I think in this town if you’re honest, hard-working, and treat people right, it goes a long way toward making sure you do all right. If you do the opposite, people don’t forget; they’ll go out of their way to cut you off at the knees. But no doubt, I feel very fortunate starting a band that was supposed to be a hobby, and not even literally to play live, just to play for fun to blow off some steam. And now, going on 15 years later, we not only have had opportunities in music, but also have been able to cross over from the music: being involved in sports, tying the music and the sports into McGreevy’s, and being able to channel a lot of the charity stuff we’ve done throughout the years into the Claddagh Fund. Those are all things that every day I never take for granted. I always say, “Wow, that’s a pretty fortunate situation.” I know that what you were saying about high society was just a joke, where it puts you on the list of things, and yeah, in some ways, that’s a lot of changes in my life. But in other ways, nothing’s changed, which is good. You know, I don’t know half the big shots in the town who people think I roll with. I still hang with the same friends I grew up with, and it’s good to have it that way. That’s what’s very unique about a city like Boston – you can be like that and it’ll still work for you. If it was New York or something, I don’t know if that would work. But here, it works.
MRB: How have things not changed for you?
KC: The friends and family, obviously. The friends I grew up with are still the people I surround myself with now. And even with the shows in other cities, too. The people who were at our very first shows in 1996, when we were playing in the VFW hall or someone’s basement, and someone put on a show through their own blood, sweat, and tears, and maybe we got 50 or 100 people there…those are the people who are backstage at our shows in Los Angeles and Chicago now. I think as a band we just surrounded ourselves with good people from the start. The thing is, with the ball-breaker friends I grew up with, if you ever changed the person you were – man, would you ever hear about it. But I think that makes the whole experience that much better. In terms of the music – with both the Irish side and the punk side – it’s a unique form of music in the sense that I can have generations of people in my life [at our shows]. Like, I can have both of my grandmothers in their eighties come to the show. I can have my mother be proud, my wife. My daughter Irish step-danced with us last year; she goes to the Forbes School in Quincy. You know, I can have my five-year-old and one-year-old there. So that’s spanning some 80-odd years, and you know, I can have the friends I grew up with, some of whom aren’t even into punk rock. And it’s nice to be able to do that. Whereas, let’s say we had success as a metal band – we probably couldn’t have that. So it’s interesting. It takes a unique style and combination of music to spin it into not only something everyone in your life can take part in, but also something that has different opportunities attached to it, whether it’s owning a bar or doing charity work and all that.
MRB: You guys have obviously been a hard-working band, and you’ve also had a bunch of luck. So how much do you think is luck versus hustle and hard work?
KC: I’ll always say I think it’s all hard work. There are a few strokes of luck, and the rest has been hard work. But the thing is, if you’re not working hard, you don’t put yourself in the position for the good luck to happen. We’ve been just touring and touring and working hard and working hard, but then there’s two strokes of luck we’ve had. After shooting my mouth off that the Red Sox would win the World Series in ’04, and after being down in the Yankees series 3–0 and having friends calling me and threatening to kill me – telling me not to get involved with a sports team ever again – the team actually came back and won it all. Because that made the whole story; it made McGreevy’s a story. I’m not going to say it was luck, but if we had released “Tessie” in ’03, we would have looked like idiots. The other piece of luck would definitely be Martin Scorsese using “I’m Shipping up to Boston” in The Departed. It was interesting the way that went down. I had all these friends of mine who had small parts in the movie, and they were telling me, “Oh yeah, I talked to Martin, and I’m going to get your song in the movie.” And then we don’t hear anything, we don’t hear anything, and then the movie’s wrapped. And for all I know we’re not in it and the movie is about to come out. Then we get a call and they’re in the final edit saying, “We want you in the movie, we want you in the trailer.” And I’m like, “Holy shit,
yeah!” And I always assumed it was a couple buddies from Southie who should take credit for getting us in the movie. Then I randomly read an article six months later that said Robbie Robertson from the Band, who is kind of Scorsese’s musical director, brought him the song. So a lot of people take credit for what happened with The Departed. It’s kind of like me taking credit for the ’04 World Series. Thank God for Robbie Robertson; he got it off the table.
MRB: Speaking of being a good luck charm, do you have any plans for getting the Bruins a championship? Because, of course, that would be all thanks to you if it happened.
KC: [sighs] Gee, I was growing a beard, you know, for the Beard-a-Thon this year. I was in first place, and I thought I might be on to something, but luckily I didn’t claim that my beard would bring us a Stanley Cup. I don’t know, the Bruins, I’ll say this: We’ve played at three Bruins games and they’ve won all three. Two of them in overtime, with the last one being – if you want to count it – that one song this year before the Winter Classic. We’re 12–0 when playing at sporting events. Ten of them being in Boston. One was a Celtic soccer game in Glasgow, Scotland, which was nerve-racking in itself. Seventy-five thousand people who just want a soccer game to start. But they use one of our songs, “Fields of Athenry,” as a club anthem. So we played three songs. The first two, the crowd looked at us like, “What the hell are they doing here?” Then we did the club anthem and they were very receptive. We also did a bunch of Red Sox games, and they’ve won them all. A bunch of those were all at the last at-bat, too, so the streak stayed alive at the risk of a heart attack. And then the last game we did, we were at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks play in Milwaukee. There’s an AHL team that plays there called the Admirals. And they had to win in overtime. They almost lost, and I’m thinking to myself, “We’ve got all of this stuff in our winning streak, like, you know, the World Series, and we’re going to blow it on a minor-league hockey game in Milwaukee…”
MRB: In terms of your music, you guys are obviously loud and your shows are fun and you make people bounce like crazy. But lyrically, there’s a lot of heavy themes and a deep sense of Boston history.
KC: In terms of history, the influence of traditional Irish music in a storytelling manner is probably where the desire to do that comes from. It’s a bit of a lost art in modern music, especially modern U.S. music. One of our earliest songs, “Boys on the Docks,” is about my grandfather, John Kelly, a union organizer. And I think, what greater tribute is there to a person that long after we’re not popular, that somewhere – maybe on a CD in someone’s attic – there’s a song about someone’s life, long after they’ve passed on? Same with our friend, Greg Riley, “Chickenman” – people can listen to an old song, and think, “Geez, he must have been a great guy.” Whether they’ve passed away or they’re just people in our lives, family or friends who have instrumental impact on us, or whether it’s just great stories about legendary characters, we like to write about them. Like John L. Sullivan. How can you be a Boston band and not write a song about John L. Sullivan? It’s a no-brainer. Obviously, a lot of characters come out of this place, a lot of good lyrical fodder.
MRB: Just as you’ve said your life has changed in some ways, stayed the same in others, how do you feel about Boston? It’s a big city, so it’s had to evolve. How have you seen that happen both in terms of clubs, and the city’s image and culture over the past 15 years? After all, you have the Mandarin Oriental right across the street here, and that’s been a big change for Boylston Street.
KC: It’s interesting that you say that, because I just had a friend who moved to San Diego about 16 years back. We were hanging out and we’re driving around town, and when I picked him up, he kept saying, “What’s this? That wasn’t there!” Yeah, there’s been a lot of change. But like you said, any major city has to evolve and grow, and with the good economy we had, we had a lot of changes. There has definitely been a lot of change in the nightlife. Obviously for me, you’re doing different things and going different places than you did in your mid-twenties. From a musical aspect, the landscape of the Boston club scene really had a huge impact on the band. I will go so far as to say the biggest thing that we had going for us – I won’t say luck – is that we owe all of our success to the punk scene that was going on here in the mid-’90s in clubs like the Rat, which obviously was like our CBGB.
[NOTE: Just in case readers have already forgotten - which would be a sad thing in itself - the Rathskeller was the legendary club in Kenmore Square that was not only the home for Boston hardcore punk bands, but was also the launching pad for the Cars and the Pixies. After the Rat closed, the building was razed to make way for the Hotel Commonwealth.]
It afforded us the opportunity to have a place to play and develop our fan base, and it was just amazing to us. Take Jimmy Harold, who owned the Rat. He’d say, “You want to take the downstairs for a matinee? Fine, 200 bucks.” And the reason I credit it with all of our success, was this is how we started to tour. The hardcore punk scene in the mid-’90s was huge in Boston. There were so many bands that could fill the Rat, and I’m talking bands that had nothing more than a single or two out. You had ourselves, Ducky Boys, Toxic Narcotic, Blood for Blood, and you’d start out with a 1 o’clock matinee, which would have six or seven kids, and a 4 o’clock matinee, which would have six or seven kids. Then you’d do an 18-plus night show, and you sold out the club. Every band on an underground level in the country wanted to play Boston, because they knew they would play to a full house. So what we used to do is put on these eight-band bills, all-ages matinees. We would headline. We still had our jobs and everything, so we would give all of the money we made to the out-of-town bands. So we would have a band from Chicago, a band from New York, and a band from Philly, and in a single one-day show here, we’d come out of that with seven bands from seven other cities owing us a show. They would have such a great show here that when we would go to their town, they would work so hard to get bodies in the room for us, saying, “We just went to Boston, and they’re huge in Boston.” That’s how we got going. And ironically, it came a little bit out of that whole sports mentality – like “Our city is better than yours” – because people were really blown away by the Boston punk scene, by how intense it was, how many kids were coming to shows. We were going to all these cities; one weekend we’d do Baltimore, New York, DC, and then do Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and we’d haul ourselves anywhere for 15 hours. You’d leave on a Thursday night and haul
yourself around till you got back to your job on Monday morning. And we did that for a long time. We’d fly to L.A., and our first show ever outside of New England was in California, because we had bands that we had networked with. We’d fly out there and borrow their gear and do California tours, and so we’d fly them out here. And not only would we do that thing where bands all across the East Coast knew us, but then we’d double down on that and say, “Okay, when we go do those shows, we’ll fly this band out from California, put them in the van with us, and take them on the whole East Coast. And then they owe us all of California.” That’s how we built those great friendships, too. And that’s how we made our solid-core fan base. And like I said, I give it all back to the Rat, because that’s what allowed us to have a place to develop. Not every place was like that, especially on Lansdowne Street; Avalon didn’t want the headache or the trouble. And really, when the Rat closed down, there was nowhere for bands to really develop, and that led to us writing the song “Pipebomb on Lansdowne,” which is completely tongue-in-cheek. We wrote it in an era when you could make that joke, but of course, if you said that now about blowing up a nightclub, people are like, “Holy shit.” Of course, we released that song in 1999, and two years later, unfortunately that would become something that is anything but a joke. But at the time, it was a joke. It was also meant to send a message of dissatisfaction from local bands. And not to take credit by any means, but it did get a lot of coverage in the papers, and people were asking [Avalon owner] Pat Lyons about it, and the next thing you know the doors were open for us to play Avalon. That’s what led to us starting the tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day concerts there. The first year after writing that song, we lit off a pack of firecrackers onstage. That was as crazy as it got. And now when we think of Avalon, we think of how we got to play the last-ever show there before it was torn down. That makes you glad you got to be a little part of the music history of Boston. With the new House of Blues, we have maybe seven shows a year – we’re probably playing more there than anybody. But it feels good to be plugged in with so many different kinds of places, whether it’s the Rat or the larger venues. We’d like to play the Garden, but City Hall doesn’t seem fit to give us the permit. They gave it to Green Day, but not us. Obviously I’m not kissing the right asses. That’s another pet-peeve of mine. They gave it to Green Day, who started the whole goddamn problem with people having this misconception of punk rock because of that thing 15 years ago.
[NOTE: In 1994, Green Day played a free concert at the Hatch Shell that drew an unexpected 100,000 fans. A riot ensued, causing the band to stop the show midway through the set.]
So for us, it’s the ultimate kick in the pants that we were trying to get the permit to play the Garden all these years, and who but Green Day gets it. And then I heard that after they finally got the general admission permit to play there, they told the kids at the show to jump the barricade onto the floor! And then they got a permit there to play again! So obviously I’m not kissing the right asses. That’s all right, though.
MRB: Now, amongst all this history, when was the time you guys stood back and thought, “Wow, we’ve just stepped into another level?”
KC: I never had that moment, because we’ve been shocked and surprised and happy at every level along the way. But I’d say the first time I noticed that feeling was literally our second show. Our first show was at this club in Somerville – total shithole – it’s not there anymore. That show was just like a practice with your friends there. And our second show, we opened for the Freeze, an old legendary hardcore band. You know, Bill Close from the Freeze taught me how to play, and we opened for them at a reunion show. That was our first time ever playing to a punk-rock audience. Honestly, we sucked, but people reacted to what we were trying to do, our combination of styles. Our third show was at the Punk Rock Olympics. It was a three-day punk-rock festival at the Rat, and we already had a little group of 20 kids following us and spreading the word. And I said, “Holy shit.” I didn’t even want to leave playing in the basement at the barber shop. I had the notes taped on the back of my bass for two or three years, because everything happened so fast I never really got a chance to learn what I was doing. I remember we were on the stage one night, we were opening for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, in ’97 or ’98. We’re playing somewhere, I can’t remember where in the country – it was a 10,000-seater, and as we were just about to take the stage, I told the guy who was running the stage, “Turn the lights on.” And he was like, “Why? Don’t you want to make a big intro in the dark?” And I said, “No, I need the lights on, ’cause I can’t see the notes on the back of my bass.” And this guy’s calling everyone over, like, “Holy shit, come see this. This guy’s playing to 10,000 people, and he doesn’t even know how to fucking play!”
But that was the beauty of the whole thing. Every time we would go to a town along the way, it was just a step-up kind of process. Play the first time to 100 people, the second time to 200 people, the third time to 400, and just really work up and build up the fan base on a word-of-mouth, underground level. I mean, people think back and say, “Oh yeah, in ’04 they did the Red Sox thing and whatnot,” but in ’03, we headlined the River Rave for ‘BCN, playing over a lot of bands that were huge, but we had the niche following. It’s the same with festivals in Europe to this day: We’ll play after some massive band, and you’ll see that band being like, “Who the fuck is this and why are they playing after us?” But it’s the fans who are very supportive, and very loud, so sometimes they make us seem more popular than we are. Maybe the other 20,000 in the back are also saying, “Who the fuck is this?” But the thousand in the front are really loud.
MRB: I was just listening to the Live on Saint Patrick’s Day record from 2002 that you recorded at Avalon, and once again I was reminded that just a whole bunch of weird things happen during your shows, like the guy who proposed to his girlfriend onstage and the speech you gave about getting yourself ordained online to marry a different couple onstage. That let me to wonder: What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened at a show of yours? And did you really try to get yourself ordained?
KC: I did. I signed up, because a fan asked me to do it. I go online and I sign up, and I come to find out it’s just a scam to get you to buy the books and all of that, you know, if you want to do it for real. But I was just doing it to grant the wish of these fans who wanted to get married onstage. And I’ll tell you what, putting that bit on the album, that I’m an ordained minister – it was the worst thing that could ever have happened to me. We got letters for years. I still get asked, “Can you marry us?” I really think that after this music career is over, I could buy those books and potentially have a career as a minister. A lot of people wanted me to marry them, and I always just said that I don’t want to make a mockery of the institution of marriage. And besides, I know I will curse your future, so I’ll just pass. And I never actually did get to marry anyone, because that couple I was supposed to marry onstage for the CD – she dumped the guy. I can’t remember what happened. But I won’t marry anyone, and we will not play weddings. I remember we played one wedding for a buddy of ours in Milwaukee. We went all of the way out there and learned all of these crazy covers just to be entertaining for the wedding. And they told us, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be all of the young kids, and the older people will all be way in the back. It will be just like a show.” And we went, and it was just the opposite: It was all of the old people at the tables right in front, and they’re going, “What the hell is this?” And then a bunch of guys ended up hammered and ended up onstage doing an act I’ve never seen before or since, thank God. You can’t print this in Boston magazine, but they…
[NOTE: Description deleted, and it's for your own good.]
That’s the last memory we have of playing a wedding. Maybe if you touch on it, you can just call it a “horrific event” or a “scarring moment that led to them never playing a wedding again.”
MRB: Wow, I don’t even want that image in my memory! And I had asked what the weirdest moment was that you’d ever had at a show…
KC: Yeah, that doubles down on that! But we’ve had everything from just the most bizarre things, like we’ve caught people having sex in our backstage when we come offstage. We come onto our bus and find that someone broke in and is lying in the bunks. We’ve had people vomiting onstage. I can’t even stop. There’ve been so many weird things. Are you talking on the stage or around the show? I mean, oh man, it’s just a litany. We’ve had tours that almost had to be canceled because band members were surfing on the roof of a car and fell off and broke their arm. We’ve had people missing. We played a show in Finland and ended up in Russia on the wrong side of the border with a flare being shot at us, and we’re looking up and realizing we were under a guard tower in Russia. The list goes on and on. I don’t even know where to start with that question.
MRB: Do you ever look back nostalgically on those times when you were just getting started, or are you feeling good just kicking back with your bottle of Cristal?
KC: Nah, come on, I don’t drink Cristal…. We have a lot of good laughs. And I will say this, and it’s my answer whenever asked, that had I known what I was getting into, I don’t know if I could do it again, or would do it again. Seriously, it’s a roller-coaster ride, and it’s just the travel and the amount of time spent away from home. I look at the itineraries of some of the years and think, “Holy
shit, did we do that?” And so many of those years, it was in a van. I remember we’d be out for 12 weeks straight in the U.S., and it’d be my fifth time on that particular tour passing a tree I recognized in Nebraska. I mean, I really look back it now and go, “Wow, we put in some serious road work,” but there are a ton of funny stories. Nowadays, when you’re touring in a bus and getting a good night’s sleep, it becomes a lot more sane. But the insanity is what you can look back on and laugh, and it makes the whole story what it is. However, would I want to do it all again? Probably not. If someone said, “When this band is over, you can start another band that will have success if you get in a van for 10 years first and if you plug away…” I’m not sure I’d say yes, but then again, I’m not in my early twenties anymore.
MRB: How do you balance everything, especially now that you’re getting into philanthropy?
KC: Just the best you can. You know, some days you run around like a crazy person, but I think that’s the nature of philanthropy, but also the nature of entrepreneurship, where you’re your own boss. You’re putting in a lot more hours than if you weren’t your own boss, but you’re on your own clock, be it 24 hours around the clock. It’s great. I have good people to help me, and we just take a stab at it. Most people in my life know I’m crazy, that I’m running from one place to another. I have two phones going, but I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have a lot going on, I’d find something. But juggling that with the family and everything is definitely tough, and you have to make them the number one priority. It’s funny, when we were filling out the paperwork – the 501(c)(3) paperwork for the charity – the accountant said, “So what would you say your time investment is? Two hours a week? Four hours a week?” And I’m like, “What? I’m gonna do 30 hours a week!” Everything you do – whether it’s a band or whatever – when you really do something the right way, when you really put your heart and soul into it, it’s usually never less work than you thought. It’s always more, but it’s all fun stuff, and all positive stuff.
MRB: Just thinking about you being a dad, how do you feel about getting older?
KC: I think kids keep you younger. I honestly do. Ask me that question again in five years, and I’ll probably be like, “Holy shit, what have they done to me?” But I think it’s really cool. You’re out playing street hockey with all of the five-year-olds, all the kids in the neighborhood, and it brings you back to doing stuff you haven’t done in a long time. We’ll see when they hit their teens if I’m still saying the same thing. I have a big payback coming.
MRB: As far as going out on the road and keeping up this punishing schedule, do you ever feel at some point you’re going to have to scale it back?
KC: We already have scaled it back. Maybe we do 100 shows now, whereas we used to do 200-plus before. So I consider our schedule scaled back. I think we’re only scheduled to do 60-something this year, but we’re in a kind of writing and recording period. It’s interesting how the music business has changed. You know, none of us want to be millionaires. We’re the type of people who would rather earn enough money to put a roof over our families’ heads and then stay home and enjoy the family, instead of being like, “I’m going to go make more and more money,” and then never be home. We’re fortunate we make a living through touring, because a lot of bands didn’t and tried to live off CD sales.
The way the music business is changing, it’s good we can have it both ways. With all the albums we have out, I have thought that maybe sometime we wouldn’t have to tour quite so much to keep a roof over our heads. But that’s what we are anyway, a live band. That’s just what we do. So it’s all good.
MRB: Are you guys recording this fall?
KC: Yeah, we’re writing the album now and recording in the fall.
MRB: Any direction you see yourselves going in, or is it too early to tell?
KC: No, it’s too early. With the past two albums – even though I think they’re fun albums – there were a lot of lyrically heavy topics, death and other big problems, and I think we’ve made a conscious effort now to be like, “Man, we want this to be a freakin’ party record.” We want to put the smiles on peoples’ faces…we need it, you know? So that’s the only conscious effort, and yet having said that, it never goes how it’s planned. It’ll probably end up being morbid, bitter…who knows. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we’re definitely trying new things and trying to broaden what we do.
MRB: Okay, now I’m going to fire some random questions at you about a number of things. First off, you’ve been involved in Punkvoter and recorded for Rock Against Bush, so you do have some politics in your background. What’s your take on Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat being won by Republican Scott Brown?
KC: You know, I hate talking politics. Honestly. I’ll answer the question, but we’ve always tried to be like, “Hey, if you’re a fan, it’s you that we care about the most, but you probably know where we stand from the lyrics.” But you know, I barely got out of high school. I don’t want to be like that guy who’s all, “Hi, I’m a musician and I have a microphone, so suddenly now I’m a political analyst.” We’ve experienced a lot in our lives and seen a lot, and seen how the world operates, and we also just come from conscious families that have been actively political. And I guess that coming from a family of Democrats, I definitely did not see the state taking that turn. The combination of Ted Kennedy’s death with that unexpected change was pretty eye-opening. But you know, I don’t know Scott Brown. My take on politics is that I judge them on the individual. I’ll give you a perfect example: I’ve never voted Republican in my life, but Charlie Baker is an awesome guy. I know him through a lot of charity work and how he showed up for some things when families were in need. I don’t know how I feel about his policies, but I’ll tell you a good guy is a good guy.
MRB: The concept of the Masshole has now become this national thing. You’ve heard of Jersey Shore, of course. Now they’re going to do Wicked Summah…
KC: Noooooo! You mean here?
MRB: Yeah, here.
KC: Oh no. I had heard that maybe one of the locations for the second season [of Jersey Shore] was in Southie, and I was like, “Holy crap, talk about dropping a load of oranges in with a bunch of apples!” But I mean, we’re a unique breed, and I think if you want to kick it back to sports, we’re a group of people who, by and large, can be loud and boisterous. We definitely took the hometown attitude to a whole new level once we won a few championships. And I only say that because we’ll be in a lot of places, and obviously you can hear the accent from a million miles away. You hear somebody, and it’s just funny – four tables over, and these people are definitely from Boston. I hope that the producers find a few better people to represent us on TV than the Jersey Shore group did. But it’s like anywhere: There are a lot of characters here. There are some that make you scratch your head, and I’m sure those are the ones they’ll pick up for good
television. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the weather or how we breed, but it’s like the Irish – how does a country of five million spread all over the world and make such an impact? How does a small state like Massachusetts and a fairly small city like Boston spread people all over the world who have such an impact? Obviously, we notice it in our shows because a lot of people come out to them. I’m in L.A., and our backstage looks like a Boston backstage. The guest list is out of control. Every time we’re going to a city that has a lot of transplants, we go, “Okay, batten down the hatches,” because it’s their big night out to celebrate. There might be 100 to 200 people backstage, and 50 of them know each other.
MRB: Are you proud to be a Masshole?
KC: Well, yeah!
MRB: Okay, next question. What’s your drink?
KC: How do I put this tactfully? I stick with the coffee these days. I get in a lot less trouble. I’ll tell you what, sometimes even that backfires on me. It’s better for the Dropkick Murphys’ sake. I’m bound to make it to a lot more concerts if I stick with the coffee.
MRB: Is there anything embarrassing musically that has influenced you? A guilty pleasure, or something that would surprise people?
KC: Nah, the other guys in the band have a lot of stuff that cracks me up when they start listening to it. I was always such a meat-and-potatoes person, with punk stuff and hardcore. I didn’t even like embarrassing metal stuff, just the usual Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and AC/DC.
MRB: What’s some musical embarrassment that one of your band members would not want us to put in the magazine?
KC: Aw man, they like some eclectic shit. Why don’t I get back to you on that? I just hear some of the stuff they’re playing and I go, “What the fuck are you listening to?” I know our roadies, and some of them were in these awful ’90s hardcore/rap/rock convergence bands. One day someone stumbled on some YouTube clips of a couple of them back in those days playing, and oh man, the banter. Anytime someone’s near a computer, the first things that come up are those clips of them onstage, and we just tear them apart. I wish I could remember the names of those bands. They didn’t do much, thank god.
MRB: All right, the Jonathan Papelbon question: What’s he like, really?
KC: Oh you know, he’s an awesome guy; he’s down to earth. He’s a family guy now. He’s always been great to me anytime we’ve asked him to do something for us, whether it’s at the bar or for charity. But he’s also got that crazy side, and I find he’ll play it up if he wants to. It’s good for him to have that image. It’s like you see him staring so intensely from the mound, and you’re going, “What the fuck is going through his head right now?” But yeah, he’s great. People see that persona of him dancing after all those ’07 games. When we did the parade after they won the ’07 World Series, the city wanted him to dance and he agreed. But by that point it was something that he had to do, not so much something he wanted to do. But he agreed to do it at the three main spots of the parade, and yet, when he started dancing the first time, he never stopped. Later on I’m like, “What the fuck, you never stopped for two-minute breaths!” He’s legit. As much as when you’re telling him he’s got to do it and he’s like “Aww…” Once he gets out there, he does it for three straight hours.
MRB: For most of the 14 years, you guys have had a bagpiper in the band. In fact, you’ve had two that I know of: Spicy McHaggis and Scruffy Wallace. How do you find a punk-rock bagpiper? Do they have certain personality traits? Are they like a goalie?
KC: That’s the best analogy I’ve ever heard. They’re definitely like the musical version of a goalie. They definitely have a different mentality. First of all, he’s a dedicated faithful member of Dropkick Murphys, but for another bagpiper, he would slit our throats in our sleep. They have this, like, code shit – I don’t even know what’s going on there. Punk-rock bagpipers are a different breed. They definitely consume more alcohol than anybody else in the band. But they’re hearty souls, I’ll say that. It’s funny, when we started we had the all this instrumentation on the album because we had friends who played the instruments, but not guys who wanted to get in the band and go on tour. And with all of that instrumentation we basically started something, put it out there, and just waited for the fans to buy the albums. And young fans would teach themselves how to play the instruments, and in a couple of years it was like an army of kids showing up. There would be a kid out back like, “Hey, I play the banjo. Can I join you for a song tonight?” And we’d say, “Fuck the song, you want to join the band?” So there was a joke: It was like, “Who’s the new guy on the bus? I don’t recognize him. Oh, he’s in the band now.”
MRB: How long do you see yourself doing all of this, or do you ever think the time will come to wind things down?
KC: The thing is, with this type of music, who knows? You look at a band like the Wolfe Tones, and they’re coming over from Ireland with no amps and plugging their instruments directly into the PA at the VFW hall a couple times a year, and they’re selling out the place. So maybe we’ll rock hard until we hit the wall and can’t do it anymore, or maybe we’ll adapt and tone it down and be playing acoustic with mandolins and banjos until we’re 80. I don’t know. We definitely don’t think about the future like that. I don’t think in this day and age it’s good for anybody to think like that.
MRB: Is there anything about Boston that you actually hate?
KC: The traffic on the Southeast Expressway. I hate the HOV zipper lane when you’re in inbound traffic, and you’re in worse traffic than the outbound traffic at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, because they stole my lane to give it to the outbound lane. I hate the zipper lane, because it never benefits me – I’m always going the opposite way. But I don’t carpool with people in and out of town, so I can’t get in it, anyway. Sometimes I’ll try to take one of my kids with me for a whole day just so I can get in the zipper lane.
MRB: Anything else you hate about Boston?
KC: [shrugs] That’s it.
MRB: Why stay so fiercely local?
KC: It all goes back to that whole fun, us-versus-them, taking-it-on-the-road, we’re-better-than-you aspect of touring. It’s where our roots are. And better yet, it’s where we can make the biggest difference and be involved. Aside from starting the Claddagh Fund, and before that, who would have ever thought that we’d be someone people would go to when they have an event or a benefit and they want us involved? That’s been awesome. That’s not something that we bargained for, but it’s something that cements our roots and keeps us focused on what we’re doing and what the bigger picture is. The social connection we’ve had to Boston has been the greatest success for me. When you can go and walk into a friend’s house, and their grandma says, “Oh, I know the Dropkick Murphys,” and the little kid does, too…I’d rather have that than sell millions of records and have some sort of flighty pop success.