Top of Mind: Ken Casey, Extended Version
Dropkick Murphys Frontman, Publican, Philanthropist, Lucky Bastard, 41, Hingham
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.