The Dropkick Murphys on Celtic Punk and Fighting the Opioid Crisis

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The Dropkick Murphys on Celtic Punk and Fighting the Opioid Crisis

By Brian Whitney 01/24/17

While they are known for being a fist-pumping, blue collar punk band, their new album deals with the opioid crisis, addiction, and recovery.

Image: 
The Dropkick Murphys on stage
The band takes on Massachusetts's opioid crisis in their newest album.

The Dropkick Murphys are a Celtic-punk band, one that shows more than a touch of the Irish both in attitude and instrumentation, that has been making excellent music for over 20 years. To say that they are the pride of Boston would certainly not be an overstatement. These guys are, and always have been, the real deal. At first they were as indie as it gets, playing shows all around Boston for whoever would let them on a stage, and only making really good cash around St. Patrick's Day. That all changed in 2004 when they released their hit song "Tessie," and when they had a follow-up hit with "I’m Shipping up to Boston," which was featured in the movie The Departed, they never looked back. They are still extremely popular today, and have just released a new album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, a few weeks ago.

While the Dropkick Murphys are known for the most part for being a fist-pumping, blue collar punk band that puts on one hell of a stage show, the group's new album gets pretty heavy. Much of the album deals with the Massachusetts' opioid crisis, which has touched the lives of many people close to members of the band.

One of the first singles, "You'll Never Walk Alone," is a cover of a song that was heard by the band's bassist and singer Ken Casey after leaving a wake he attended for someone who died because of an opioid overdose. And "Paying My Way" is a song about recovery.

While this type of subject may seem like a bit of a departure for a band like the Dropkick Murphys, it is far from it. In fact, the band has been running a charity since 2009 called The Claddagh Fund. Their website states that, “Understanding the power of their position to harness the passion and generosity of their fans, the Claddagh Fund was created to raise funds for and broaden our impact on worthy, underfunded non-profits that support the most vulnerable individuals in our communities.”

Ken Casey sat down with The Fix to discuss the band’s new album, the opioid crisis, The Claddagh Fund, and just how cool it is to be Irish.

The Dropkick Murphys have been around for 20 years or so. What is it like for you in the studio now? Does it get harder to put an album together after all this time?

No, not at all. We have our own record label, so we release albums when we are ready and when we feel like we have solid material put together. But we are very fortunate that our fan base wants new music. Many times when a band is around 20 years, the fans just want to hear the old stuff. We are so grateful people still buy the new records.

What has been the response so far to your new album 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory?

It's been really good. It debuted at number two on the album sales chart this week, which is amazing since we are such a small operation doing it ourselves without having the big advertising and marketing budgets of our more corporate competitors. We have the best, most loyal fans on earth. Word of mouth will always be the best advertising you can get.

Do you have any plans to tour?

Oh yes, that is the payoff for us. That first time you go play new songs live after such a long time waiting for the album to be released, is an incredible feeling.

We leave tomorrow for a month-long tour of Europe. Then straight back for a month in the U.S. Then this summer we go back to Europe for most of June, then all of August in the U.S. And then South America in the fall. It will be a busy year. But it's nice to have a job.

You have said that much of the album is based around your thoughts on the opioid epidemic. Can you expand on that a little?

Well it's affected the band tremendously. We have lost family, close friends, close friends' children, fans of the band, and lots of people we had become close with through some of the band's charity work. It's so sad. It should be front page news every day.

We actually weren't even planning on working on a new album this soon, but I was sitting in my car leaving one of the maybe 30 or 40 wakes and funerals I've been to in the past few years for overdose deaths, and a song came on in my car and it motivated us to start writing. A very old famous song called "You'll Never Walk Alone"—the one I heard was the Gerry and the Pacemakers version—came on in my car on my iTunes shuffle and it really grabbed me in the sense that it's a very sad song, but also so full of hope. I immediately told the guys, "We need to record this song."

You have to have hope. So many people lose hope and stop caring if they live or die when it comes to addiction.

Doing that song created tremendous inspiration that continued on for about two albums' worth of material.

There is such a fine line between people that are partying all the time, and it all seems like such fun for a bit, but then they just go over the edge and it all gets dark and out of control. Have you seen a lot of that in your years in the business?

Yes, I've seen it a lot in this business as it's one of the rare jobs that often enables that lifestyle. But I've actually seen more of it back home than I do in the music world.

Music is so competitive now that you need to be on your A game. Sink or swim. It's hard for a band to tour and record non-stop if they are all messed up. It can catch up with you. So you see more and more musicians leading much different lifestyles than the old days.

A lot of people don't know about your work with The Claddagh Fund. Can you talk a bit about what you do there?

Claddagh stands for Friendship, Love and Loyalty. The band started The Claddagh Fund in 2009 as a way to give back. We raise funds for children's and veterans' causes and substance abuse treatment and prevention.

How does the fund help folks with alcohol and drug recovery specifically?

We are hands-on with the recovery side because it's the most personal to us, and some of us have been very blessed ourselves in that regard. We raise money for some of our local treatment centers and halfway houses. We give scholarships to students graduating from Ostiguy Sober High School and going on to college, and we try to include the sober high school kids and halfway house residents in things that we do to show them there is more to life than being messed up.

Boston is an awesome city, and one I have spent much time in. I also have a good dose of Irish blood in me. How does it feel to be such strong representatives of that community in Boston?

Well, we have lots of great role models here that have shown us a thing or two about how to carry ourselves, and we are eternally grateful to them.

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