Burning Angel Interviews: Ken from Dropkick Murphys!!! - Photos by Kerry Brett, Scott Legato and Tim Tronckoe
Joanna: Hey ok, I think we're recording. Cool. (Joanna giggles) Ok, so where are you right now?
Ken: Dallas, Texas.
Joanna:Oh, well that's exciting!
Ken: It is.
Ken: It's suppose to be our first chance for nice warm weather, but it's cool and rainy.
Joanna: I think that happens this time of year.
Joanna: So you guys are on tour right now?
Joanna: And you just put out a new album correct?
Ken: Um, it comes out March 16th.
Joanna:Ooh, right before St. Patrick's Day.
Joanna: Did you do that on purpose?
Ken: Uhh, yeah in a perfect world we'd like to have it out maybe a month before, but uh, we couldn't get our act together. Heh, a few last-minute things that we needed to do, you know - like we were on the road and we're trying to get the artwork done from Europe and all that and just kinda by the time you get something done and you send it back for approval and they get it back to you, even in the Internet age, it's still a little tough when you're trying to travel and do all that stuff. So yeah, but I mean at least you know you're not just back from a promotional stand point you know, like essentially on St. Patrick's Day is a bad idea.
Joanna: Yeah (Joanna laughs) - it probably makes sense for you guys. Now you guys - Dropkick Murphys - have been around for a really long time cause I've been listening to you since I was little and I'm not that little anymore, so...
Ken: Yeah - I think it's 14 years.
Joanna: That's like a classic rock band in punk rock land.
Ken: Yeah I guess so, yeah.
Joanna: How is this album different then your other ones; are you trying to keep the same sound or are you trying to change?
Ken: Oh no, it's a live album. It's called Live On Landsdowne so it's not like change in per say what we've been doing; it's our second live album.
Joanna: Oh, ok.
Ken: The reason for a second live album other than, you know, the nine years since the first live album, is what the first live album encompassed - since then, we've done three studio albums, and there were a lot of songs that people wanted to hear live. What we're kind of most proud of with this album is that it's a completely different track listing from the first one. So you know, a lot of bands will do six live albums, but they're all the same songs, you know? We gave people their money's worth. Obviously, there are songs from the later three studio albums, but we also went back later and put some songs on it from the first three studio albums that didn't make it or get on the first live album, if that makes sense.
Joanna: Oh, ok. So are there unreleased songs on this album, or?
Ken: No, no, no. This was set up in a way that people are not like, "Oh, the first live album is the old stuff and the second live album is the new stuff." It's not that clear cut because we did some live older songs that just weren't on the first live album.
Joanna: Ah, ok. Do you guys plan on releasing a new album that's not a live album with your songs anytime soon?
Ken: Yeah, we were in the studio demo-ing and writing and now we are maybe 1/2 way done. I think the plan was to record a new album over the Summer and the early Fall. So yeah, that is underway.
Joanna: And has your sound been changing throughout the years? Or are you trying to just keep the same...
Ken: No, in some ways we're trying to just perfect the mix of what we've always done. In terms of the punk rock and rock influences mixed with the traditional Irish instrumentation and the folk music influences, and I think we've taken various approaches. On the early album, it was like "here's the punk song", "here's the rock song", "here's the Irish song", and I think as we've gone on it's melded into one a little more naturally, and I think that's the goal, kinda going forward to not have a division or split personality within the band, you know?
Ken: Which in some ways, in a live setting, it works really good for us because we can have a really unique set list and that's kind of why the live album is cool. It's like you can have a really fast hardcore song, and then two songs later, there can be a ballad and it gives people a rest and then a kick in the ass. What I think we're trying to do is do that all within the parameters of all the instrumentation...when we use all the instrumentation of the bag pipes and the accordion, and banjos and all that, there's just so much melody that can be put into the songs and that's kind of the goal to just really bring out the instrumentation as much as possible but other than that, by the same token, not really change what we're doing, because we like to think of ourselves as the ACDC of punk rock just in the sense of "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" kinda thing, you know what I mean?
Joanna: Right. Yeah, I feel like every punk band is trying to put electronic music in their songs.
Ken: That's one thing I can guarantee will never happen.
Joanna: (Joanna laughs) There's not going to be a Dropkick Murphys techno/house re-mix?
Ken: Definitely not. Not approved by us anyway.
Joanna: (Joanna laughs) Um, so how did it come about that you - I'm sure that there's a lot of steps to the story and you don't have to fill in every single one - but how did it come about where you guys went from being a small, punk band that played in smaller venues to becoming a band with a song on the Simpsons? How do you go from there to here?
Ken: Part of it goes back to being around long enough; I think if you're around long enough, a lot of the kids that listened to you in the early days that were teenagers go onto real life and grow up and get good jobs and have influence on things. And all of a sudden, next thing you know, the kid that listened to you as a teenager is now 30 and a writer on the Simpsons. I don't know; that's just an example. But I really think, more than anything, touring is what really paid off for us, because we did it the old fashioned way - you know? - and the faster you go up, the faster you fall. We kinda just went to cities and played to 50 people and the next time went back and played for 100, then 200, then 400, 800, 1600. We literally just kept climbing the ladder, every time we went back cause apparently, obviously, thankfully, people liked it and told their friends, or whatever...and then you know, as we started to get into the level of playing the larger clubs, that's when breaks started happening, when people, whether it's in advertising, or movies and things like that, start to notice you, and then you get those kind of breaks and then that helps you expand an audience even further. We never really had mainstream radio or MTV.
Joanna: Right, you never have...right?
Ken: The funny part is...No...well you know, in Boston and a few select cities that had decent independent programming, but we never fit the mold of the national radio band or anything. And there was a long point of time in the music business where bands that were having success with radio and in that world would have probably laughed at the way we did it, you know, in the sense of trying to build a fan base, trying to use licensing and music to TV and Movies and cross-promoting with sports as a way to promote, and the irony is that a lot of bands that depended on radio, they don't know how to even market themselves and now they would have killed to have done it the way bands like ourselves have done it. So it's kind of like the laughed at way is now the only way. In a lot of ways, there's the whole music world transformed. I'm not talking about bands like frigid' Britney Spears. I'm not saying -
Joanna:(Joanna giggles) - Right, you mean like punk bands...
Ken: If you're at all a rock band, or a punk band and you're one of those mainstream punk bands, and watching Green Day, it's tough today.
Joanna: Right, and since you have been around awhile, what kind of changes have you seen in the punk scene in the past 15 years?
Ken: Well, I mean, there's varying degrees in the punk scene. There's a lot of people who would not consider us part of the scene because we're too mainstream but in a lot of ways we haven't really done much mainstream and then in some ways in punk, once you're playing in a larger room, you're no longer mainstream or punk because it's not DIY, booked by yourself. You know, booking our own shows in people's basements is where we started. Now in terms of how - you know what? We just operate in our own little bubble really. There's definitely all these changes: what's popular on the Warped Tour, what's popular at Hot Topic, what the next batch of 15-year-olds consider punk that I don't consider punk, and honestly, we just do what we do, and hope to be somewhat of an alternative to some of those choices because a lot of it is just crap. And like I said -
Joanna: - you guys don't want to be just a flash from the past, you guys want to last.
Ken: Yeah, no I think the bands that have the flash from the past are sad for the bands that you go, "Hey remember that band? Whatever happened to them?"
Joanna: How many Warped Tours have you guys played at this point?
Ken: Oh man! I don't know...probably six. We haven't done it in many, many years.
Joanna: Oh, you haven't?
Ken: No, we're doing a week of it this year. Isn't it their 20th anniversary this year?
Joanna: Yeah I think so.
Ken: Yeah, so they wanted to get a lot of the bands that they've had history with for the nostalgia factor. We were going to be on the road anyway. I think we're doing like five shows. Salt Lake and um...Denver, Pomona California and Sacramento, Portland. Something like that; just doing a small little handful of em. It'll be interesting because we haven't done it in a long time and I had heard things about the Warped Tour and previous years where the band used to be, just because the Warped Tour sometimes becomes the flavor of the month with the younger kids, and for the band that had the history and were in the class of Warped Tour weren't even popular anymore with who comes to the Warped Tour, so it'll be interesting to see our take on it but, like, the good part is we're only doing five shows so if it sucks, we're out of there before -
Joanna: (Joanna laughs) Yeah...When you are playing, do you find that it's mostly old people or young people? Do you think kids that are getting into punk these days are listening to the Dropkick Murphys or do you think you're mostly getting people that have been listening to you for 15 years?
Ken: Yeah, one of the greatest things we have is the crazy wide audience of ages. I think the core, is you know, probably people who started listening to us 10+ years ago, and they were either 16 or maybe they were 24, so it's either mid 20's to mid 30's. But you know, there's this huge group of people in their mid 40's and then kids you'll see who are 15, and then even in Boston, you see people bringing 6 or 7-year-olds with them. They started listening to us as teenagers and now they're parents and they're bringing their kids. Or maybe they're a little on the older side and they're bringing their father because maybe their father likes Irish music. So we've always had the cool ability to play to different age groups which is good, you know?
Joanna: Yeah, I understand you guys have played in Ireland?
Ken: Yeah, yeah.
Joanna: How do you guys go over there? Is it better than Boston? Is it the same?
Ken: No, you know what? It's so funny in the day and age of Internet and people...It's so different from when we started.
Joanna:(Joanna giggles) It's fliers.
Ken: You gotta go play there for it to be good...fliers (Ken laughs), Nah...nowadays, I could honestly go say most places are just the same. And I don't mean that in a bad way. Some places, the enthusiasm is greater than others, but it's great everywhere. Ireland, it's great. I think there's more enthusiasm and appreciation for some of the things we do and some of the instrumentation. On the other hand, if you want to hear someone playing that instrumentation probably better than we can, you can go to any pub in Ireland.
Ken: In some ways, I don't think people, um? I think people have a better appreciation for some of the old traditional Irish songs we do, but I think we have kind of a more punk audience. And I think that's where they appreciate it more that we've livened up the music and made it more for their generation. You know?
Ken: With Ireland, it's different. Dublin really is such a major cosmopolitan city, that you don't even really feel like you're in Ireland, to be honest with you, you just kind of feel like you're in another huge city. And you go down to Cork, somewhere like that where we're playing in April, if you go down there, every kid is trying to take you home for dinner at their house and meet their family, and it's completely different, you know, so it really all depends. It's hard to pinpoint a country, it's more like cities are different. We love playing in Ireland, it's awesome.
Joanna:Is there like some major competition?
Ken: No, no, The Pogues are a huge influence on the band. Shane MacGowan sang on our records, Spider Stacy sang on our record. Spider's a great friend, comes on tour with us, hangs out sometimes when The Pogues are not on tour. Nothing but respect for them. You know, The Pogues and us have toured together. Um, yeah...so long history there. Flogging Molly and those guys are good friends of ours and they come to Boston to do meet-and-greets at a bar. It's such a small world, and because we're not in some like, cut-throat scene, not being in that mainstream thing, I feel more unified with them against the rest of the world than I do being in competition with them. I think any of the success one of us has, helps the other band. Yeah.
Joanna: Yeah...What label are you guys on now?
Ken: We started our own label called "Born and Bred" and, Born and Bred Records is distributed through Warner Bros.
Joanna: So you guys own everything yourself?
Ken: Yeah, we own the songs. And that's a lot of the reason why we've had a lot of success with licensing music, just because a lot of the times when people call you and wanna use your song in something, they want an answer that day, and not, "Oh well, can you give us a week to make sure our record label and our publishing company..."
Joanna: Yeah, it's true - I can speak from experience, when I've asked certain bands for music.
Ken: Yeah, so for that reason it's been a smart business decision and it's just nice when you have an idea and you want to follow through with something promotionally-wise or musically, not having to answer to anybody, it's good. It's a good way to operate especially for a band like us.
Joanna: Yeah, I feel like the smarter punk bands that I grew up on seem to own their own stuff which is amazing. Like the Bouncing Souls and Rancid and you guys. You all put out your own shit which is very respectable. It's very rare to find that in a band these days.
Ken: Well, I think all these bands you just mentioned have always had a unique sense of the larger picture and punk in general. You know, we used to - us and the Souls and Rancid as well - we screen-printed our own shirts in the old days. You're used to being hands-on as opposed to someone who came out of world where it was like, "Hey, let me get my glossy 8X10 photos and my demo done and then just sit back and watch someone else..." It's just that different nature of how we all came up in the music world.
Joanna: Who in the band started another band? Boston Street Dogs?
Ken: That's one of the guys that quit the band.
Joanna: Oh, he quit the band. OK...I didn't know if that caused any friction, or what happened...
Ken: No, no, I mean...He left the band and we went on, and he'd get back into music later so...no time for friction in this world. Everyone's happy, you know?
Joanna: Yeah (Joanna giggles)...Ok, well thanks so much for everything. I really appreciate it. What do you guys see for the future of Dropkick Murphys?
Ken: World domination.
Ken: Going to places we haven't been yet. We're trying to get to South America, Russia. There are a bunch of places like that, that we've just been so long overdue to do. Having children and other important things like that that have slowed us down on the touring front a little bit, to the point where you're trying to get to the places where you already have a loyal established following that want to see you; it makes it tough to make new music, and get to the place you need to. But our goal now is to get to some of those far off places that we haven't been to and to just keep releasing good music that's true to what we started the band about.
Joanna: Yeah! Now I promised I wouldn't ask any questions that are too scandalous, but this is an interview that's going on an adult website and there is -
Ken: Oh! This is the adult website!
Joanna: (Joanna laughs) YEAH! I promised I'd be good.
Ken: ARE YOU THE ADULT WEBSITE GIRL?!
Joanna: (Joanna laughs) I AM the adult website girl! Well, I was just going to ask a SIMPLE question. You know, there is a whole bunch of dirty videos on the website, and there are also band interviews, so everybody who is reading this took a break from watching dirty videos to read this interview, so I just wanted to know if you had anything to say to them.
Ken: I just want to say that I hope taking a small break to read this stops the maybe cramping in the hand.
Joanna:(Joanna laughs) I think that's a lovely message. Well thank you very much.
Ken: Thank you!
Joanna: Enjoy the rest of your day.