Dropkick Murphys Will Never Stop Fighting Evil: Tim Brennan on Opposing Fascism, Addiction & Haters
publish date: 2017-01-06
Last month, the Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey and Tim Brennan attended the funeral of the man whose scally-capped likeness was depicted on the band’s first ever t-shirt, back in the mid ‘90s when they were playing hardcore in Boston basements. The death was from an opioid overdose, part of an epidemic the Murphys deal with in their extensive charity work and on their latest album. 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory (out today) contains brawny, arm-in-arm responses to drug addiction (“Paying My Way”) and the Boston Marathon bombing (“4-15-13”) as well as their trademark bagpipe-punk covers of a couple Celtic classics. But a sappy, sentimental, obligatory outing this is not.
The Murphys are on the front lines of the tales they tell, visiting the victims of violence and addiction they sing about, opposing the onslaught of fascism and assaults on worker’s rights. Bassist Ken Casey had to beat down a Nazi-saluting stage-rusher nine years ago, long before Donald Trump’s politics emboldened undercover racists. Work is never done. A Dropkick Murphys album arriving every couple years has been a dependable institution for almost two decades; multi-instrumentalist Tim Brennan explains to why their sound and purpose is evolving more than most realize.
I’m interested in the opening track, “The Lonesome Boatman.” It has a similar feel as [2005 classic] “Shipping Up to Boston”; I could picture it pumping up a massive sports arena crowd.
Tim Brennan: That one is a cover of an instrumental Irish song… We heard that and knew we wanted to see how it’d end up. As far as it being the first song on the album, I don’t know if we always intended that. But once we got all those crowd vocals on there, I think we realized that it was a good tone-setting song -- albeit an instrumental.
That actually harkens back to the old days of the Dropkick Murphys. For example, [1998 debut album] Do or Die starts out with “Cadence to Arms,” an instrumental… Kind of a raucous, crowd-pumping-up-type of song like that.
You guys have mentioned that the new album is a response to the opiate epidemic and how “Paying My Way” is about overcoming addiction. Is this something you’ve seen particulate affect Boston’s people?
Yeah, definitely. Obviously because of where we live, that’s where we’re most familiar with it happening. But it’s been a giant problem up here. Ken and I just played at a funeral last week for a very young guy who overdosed, and Ken’s been to about 20 other wakes and funerals apart from that. So it’s definitely something that’s a real problem in the area, and I know it’s a problem in a lot of places in America right now.
The one Ken and I did last week was somebody who was a friend of the band at the very beginning -- before the band was even called Dropkick Murphys. Ken had a friend who bet him he couldn’t put a band together to open for this other guy’s band, with like three weeks’ notice. So he put together a band, and I think they wrote two songs -- one of which was “Barroom Hero” [from Do or Die] -- and then they played a bunch of cover songs and that was it. They were called The Snots and they had a crummy, handmade t-shirt with a cartoon drawing of a guy with a scally cap blowing a snot-rocket out of his nose. It was supposed to be the cartoon of this guy whose funeral we played at last week.
I feel like we’ve definitely done a lot of things where people asked us to show up and play because we’re the Dropkick Murphys. And it might have been a veteran or somebody who was from the area and was a giant fan; we’ll do that sort of stuff. But I feel like most of the funerals and wakes have been from this opioid thing, have been people that we personally know.
Do you think it comes from people being prescribed opioids for pain and then getting addicted?
Yeah, I think it’s a couple different things. It could be like how people get into bad habits with drinking too much. It could be emotional or mental pain that they’re dealing with. But then, at the same time, there’s many people who are having accidents, breaking a leg or something like that, getting prescribed these pain medicines and then when they’re done with them, they’re sick or don’t feel right because their body’s gotten used to it… Ultimately people are getting prescribed them by doctors who aren’t super concerned with the long-term effects, or people are hitting the streets trying to find them.