by Interviews

The Dropkick Murphys have been playing together for close to 20 years and in that time they've gone from humble beginnings to becoming a massively successful band in the mainstream. As their 20th anniversary approaches the band will be playing their first album, Do or Die, in it's entirety at this year's Punk Rock Bowling Festival.

With a few weeks before the festival (which we're sponsoring!), we were able to score an interview with Dropkick's lead singer Al Barr. Punknews' Contributing Editor and Interviewer Mondo Olivas talked to him about the bands' history with the music festival, why they love playing the event year after year, and what separates Punk Rock Bowling from other festivals.

How many times have you guys actually played Punk Rock Bowling?

You know, I want to say we played it years and years ago. More recently we played the time Stiff Little Fingers played and that was a couple of years ago. I know we played Punk Rock Bowling when It was at that theater years ago. I don’t remember what year that was but it was probably early 2000s. I wanna say 2002 or 2003 but don’t quote me on that. It all runs together ya know. I wanna say we’ve played it maybe three times maybe but definitely two and maybe more than that. My memory may be failing me here.

What is it about Punk Rock Bowling that brings you back every year?

You know, it’s an interesting spin on the music fest with the whole bowling thing going on. I’m not much of a bowler, not because I don’t enjoy it but mainly because I just suck. That’s me being completely honest. It’s more like it’s cool because it’s like what the Warped Tour used to be years ago. You catch up with friends. You see so many people. It’s a great time to catch up with people. Ya know, you’re in Las Vegas… I mean I’m not a huge Vegas fan in terms of gambling or anything like that but there is always something going on which is cool. It’s also got that old school New York feel to it in the sense that it’s open all night long. I’d stop the comparison there obviously. There are always great bands playing of course. Last time I remember watching Stiff Little Fingers and going, “We’re going on after them. I don’t want to go on right now.” I’m singing along to everything I grew up listening to and if there was no Stiff Little Fingers there would certainly be no Dropkick Murphys. Then I remember going, “All right, can we just go home now? I don’t want to go on stage after a legend like them.”

Totally. I’ve been about three times myself and it’s always really fun. It’s also one of the more interesting festivals because you have the bowling, the poker tournament and all the after shows. Not to mention that it’s in Vegas and shows are going on until like two in the morning.

I know, it’s a pretty cool aspect about it.

So you mentioned there always being awesome bands at the festival, who are you most excited to see this year?

I’m not sure when we’re getting in but I hope it’s early. It looks like Saturday night is going to be a corker with just Rancid, Sick Of It All and the Bosstones playing. That’s like wow; just those three bands alone. Sick Of It All, we’ve done I don’t know how many tours with and those guys are really good friends, as is Rancid of course.

I’m super stoked for Rancid. I just saw those guys at Musink and I’ve seen them over 20 times but that performance just set the bar really high. What’s especially cool is they’re playing …And Out Come the Wolves from beginning to end.

I know! I read that.

Speaking of seminal records being played from beginning to end, you guys are playing Do or Die from beginning to end this year too.

Yes. We’ve committed to doing that. You know, we do our St. Patty’s Day shows out here in Boston and we always did a small show for the real fans. Not so much for the pedestrian fans that come for the event that it is but for the people that come and know the deeper tracks. So we do a small show every year and a couple of years we started doing the albums in sequential order. So far we’ve done Do or Die from start to finish, then the following year The Gang’s All Here from start to finish, and then last year we did Sing Loud Sing Proud from start to finish. So we’ve done those at the small shows and that’s been a really cool thing. So playing Do or Die again is going to be cool, that was when I joined the band. Mike had left the band a few months after the album came out. The band had done the tour with the Bosstones but there was no social media back then. So there wasn’t really that great of an awareness of who the Dropkick Murphys were so it was a bit of a transition of me becoming the front man of the band. I was the one who toured on Do or Die so even though I’m not on the record I feel like a very big part of that record because I spent two years touring on that record.

Most definitely. The Street Dogs are actually going to be there too.

Yeah they’re playing the club show with 7 Seconds. Mike was at our St. Patty’s Day show. We love Johnny and Mike. Those guys are old friends of ours so we know what’s going on, we know what they’re doing.

That would be rad if Mike stuck around and did like a song or two.

Yeah, he comes out in Boston [for St. Patrick’s Day] every year and usually do "Barroom Hero." This year he came out and we did “Barroom Hero” and “Memories Remain” together. It’s always been great. The Dropkick Murphys are going to be 20 years old next year and I’ve been with the band about 18 years. I remember like it was yesterday playing with the Dropkick Murphys when I was in The Bruisers. It was me and Johhny Rioux were in the Bruisers and the Dropkicks were a four-piece band and we were doing shows together. Then I think about the fact that somehow 17 going on 18 years have gone by now and it’s like “What the fuck?”

It's nuts because most bands, especially in the punk scene, don’t make it that long. They make it maybe only half as long as that.

Yeah. I mean we got a lot to be grateful for. We have an amazing fanbase and I think that the musical styles that we’ve always incorporated into our music tend to reach a wider audience. I don’t know if that has anything to do with our staying power but we also tour nonstop. I think people know when we put out a record that we’re going to be coming to our city and town to perform those songs for them. We’re loyal to our fans and that loyalty is repaid to us, at least that’s how we feel every time we get on that stage.

It’s more than just that. Not to inflate your ego or anything but every time I’ve seen you guys it’s always a phenomenal show. I’ve seen you guys three times now, one of those times being Warped Tour, and whether you’re playing 30 minutes or 90 minutes you guys kill it every time.

We always say that we feed off the energy that’s given from the crowd. I really feel, having come up in the punk scene in the '80s. I was going to hardcore shows and going to all ages show as a kid. The passion I saw in the singers I grew up listening to was kind of infused in me. When I get on that stage I'm living in that moment. We’re all living in that moment; all of a sudden you have that connection with the audience. Unfortunately now the friggin' cell phone thing going on -- we’ve got like a big backdrop and we put on a video screen telling people to put their friggin' cell phones away and enjoy the show. Live in the moment. I mean I can understand taking a picture but kids are coming over the barricade crowd surfing and they’re not even watching the show they’re taking a selfie. I mean it’s not like it’s everybody but all of a sudden you look out and there is the phenomena of people recording the whole show or taking pictures the whole time. Just put your phones away and be present for a moment. When you go home you’ll have pictures and stuff but if you weren’t present in the moment then you weren’t really there.

Most definitely. I’ve been noticing that happen a lot too. I usually take a picture at the beginning of the show and then I dance. It’s funny, I was listening to the interview you did with Ryan from Off With Their Heads to get ready for this interview and it’s just weird to me that people are trying to crowd surf and take a selfie. It’s like the band is performing, what the fuck?

We’re performing but more importantly the crowd is there. It’s about that relationship that gets established [with the audience] from the minute we hit the stage. You’re one with them and it’s becoming a deterrent from that but it’s not everyone. I was really an anti-Facebook person but because we spend so much time in airports and hurry up and wait seems to be the story of my life; someone said I should check out Instagram or Twitter so I started doing that. I’m not gonna lie, when I found it Instagram was great because I am able to get back in touch with a lot of people that I haven’t seen in years. Twitter is great for news so I can get all the news from the different news sources and hopefully there is a bit of truth out there. But I was looking at a picture I posted from a few years ago and someone posted on the thing and said, “Do you notice no one is holding a cell phone” and I was like “Holy shit.” It was like 2002 or 2003 at the Rave in Milwaukee and I’m looking out in the crowd and everyone is watching the stage, smiling and having a good time. It’s not like that anymore and there’s kids today who will never know what that’s like, ya know what I mean?

Yeah. It’s definitely weird. A lot of these kids might not even understand a lot of the hardships these bands they love went through.

That’s just my thing though. I don’t mean to go off on a tangent.

It’s perfectly fine. It’s interesting looking at the landscape and getting a perspective from someone who has been in the scene and just life in general longer than I have. To get back to the whole Punk Rock Bowling thing, you said you’re a bad bowler but what about the rest of the guys? Are they any good? They trying to compete this year?

No. No. They’re all pretty bad. I know James actually, we did this one thing where we bowled in Boston and James came out of nowhere bowling strikes; the rest of us, not so much.

Ok . I’ve got enough time for one more question and a friend who is a big fan asked me if I would ask it so here it goes. Is there any possibility of you guys doing an acoustic album sometime in the future? Maybe taking a few classic tracks and redoing them or even just recording some new songs as well?

We’ve talked about this for years actually. A few tours ago we were taking songs in the middle of the set and doing them acoustically. There are always songs you can easily take and make acoustic so we have done that. As far as doing a whole record, we’ve talked about doing it but when you get down to the nitty gritty of making a record we think of our fanbase. There is so much that we come up that is rock driven or guitar driven so it’s hard to make time for something like that because it takes so much to do a record. I know a few years ago the Foo Fighters did a double record with one half electric and one half acoustic and I felt overwhelmed by it. Like there was too much music. I don’t even know where to start with this right now. So I don’t think that would work out but it’s not something we’ve thrown out. We definitely have thought about doing an acoustic record, especially as we get older and a little deafer but you know right now we just don’t have plans for that. At some point we will though.

That would be cool for it to happen sometime. Maybe even tack on a deluxe EP to a new album or something.

Who knows what will happen but we are for sure in the throes of writing a new record to come out during the 20th anniversary of the band.

That’s rad. I think that does it for time but is there any last thing you want to mention before we wrap this up?

I know that we are really looking forward to come out there and play the gig. We’re looking forward to getting in the studio and making another record that people will hopefully dig. This will be our ninth studio album and some people say it gets harder as you get deeper into the albums you release. I always look at like this, no record is going to be like the last record but you want it to be in the same vein. You don’t want to make a synth-pop record and call it a Dropkick Murphys record, ya know what I mean? I always look at making a new record as taking a blank canvas and it’s up to us to fill it in with things that are interesting. It’s a challenge but we seem to rise to those kinds of things. So we’re looking forward to squeeze that creative sponge as it were and doing people proud. I appreciate your time and this interview man.

No, thank you man. It was a bit hard to set this up but I’m glad we could make it happen.

No worries. I was on tour for the last two months but I got home the day before Wednesday and told my buddy Daniel to book the interview. So I’m glad I got the opportunity to talk and I am glad I didn’t bore you with all the “old days” talk.