Formed in 1996, Dropkick Murphys, the Celtic punk band hailing from Quincy, Mass., have gone from playing cramped bars and basements to headlining theaters across the world thanks to their dogged touring schedule and DIY attitude. It only took them a couple decades of dedication. The group has won accolades for charity work benefiting unions, veterans and alcohol recovery groups through the Claddagh foundation. They’ve also been bluntly outspoken taking on conservatives who have tried to use their more famous material during rallies. When the notoriously anti-union Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used “Shipping up to Boston” during a rally, the band Tweeted at him saying: “Please stop using our music in any way…we literally hate you !! Love, Dropkick Murphys.”
David Howard King interviewed Tim Brennan, singer and lead guitarist of the band, earlier this month. Brennan was asked to join the band on tour in 2003 to sell merch. A little bit later he was asked to play accordion, mandolin, tin whistle and banjo. Eventually, he was promoted to lead guitarist and singer.
DHK: Dropkick has spent so many years as an underdog band, on the road playing small clubs and releasing albums independently, how does it feel now that you’ve become a cultural touchstone?
TB: It’s tough because it’s difficult to see ourselves like that. I just finished telling someone that over the past 20 years it’s been such a slow growth that I don’t want to say don’t notice it on stage–I remember we played a bar that didn’t have a bathroom in it–we didn’t make this big crazy jump from one kind of show to another. It was a slow gradual process, so it is tough see ourselves as anything other than the band as it was initially. That being said it’s crazy to be sitting at home watching a Notre Dame football game and hear our songs coming out of the television.
DHK: “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” has become so ingrained in the culture and representative of Irish culture. What was it like to hear it used in The Departed? Did you have a sense of how iconic that moment was?
TB: It’s crazy that we are considered as part of anything like that. I remember at one point sports teams started playing “Shipping Up” and I worried they’d blow it and “shipping” would become synonymous with failure. Now you watch some random sporting game and they’re playing “Shipping Up to Boston” and it has nothing to do with Boston or Irishness.
DHK: The band has always been very much in control of its destiny, releasing albums on small labels and now on its own. How has that impacted your creative output?
TB: The band has always done things on their own terms. Even when they were on the Hellcat record label, they had the stipulation that they would operate in their own way. Now that we’re putting out our own records, it takes a little bit more energy, but it’s worth it to maintain control.
DHK: A lot has been made of a 2013 show at Terminal 5 in NYC where bassist Ken Casey decked a fan who had jumped on stage and started giving the Nazi salute. He also appeared to hit him with this bass. Do you find you have to deal with more of this behavior?
TB: Not really. Luckily, people coming to Dropkick shows come to have a good time. Very rarely we get a numbskull but our tour manager is really good about trying to head off problems.
Sometimes he’ll get word that a group of skinheads are planning to show up and he’ll make sure they don’t get in and cause trouble. We don’t worry being on stage and someone doing something because luckily they are not coming to mess with us as a band. Unfortunately, they are coming to push their agenda on others. You can see that when they get on stage and push their shitty agenda things do not go well for them.
Dropkick Murphys will play the new Albany Capital Center on Sunday, February 25. Doors open at 6 PM. Joining them will be NY hardcore legends Agnostic Front.