Ebb And Flow: An Interview With Al Barr Of The Dropkick Murphys

Massachusetts-native punk ensemble, the Dropkick Murphys, are in the midst of a smaller-scale U.S. tour, following one throughout Europe, in preparation for a co-headlining set of dates that will span nationwide this summer in larger venues. The group have been creating and performing Celtic-inspired, tavern rock for upwards of two decades, showing no signs of stopping.

Aside from releasing several well-loved records such as The Meanest Of Times and Blackout, the band have been closely involved in charitable works over the years. The most notable being their very own, the Claddagh Fund, a community-focused non-profit organization whose benefactors include rehabilitation centers, veterans, and children.

Momentum doesn’t seem to cease as this outfit continue to make the rounds via tour stops. In the heat of their busy season, vocalist Al Barr took a few moments to fill me in on the goings-on of the Dropkick Murphys. Here are some of the more interesting bits of our conversation:

The St. Patrick’s Day Tour has just begun here in America. Tell me about the tour stops. Will you guys be playing anywhere that you have not before?

We are kind of doing B and C markets right now, we’re doing a big co-headlining tour this summer with another band to be announced later. We’re kind of staying out of the bigger venues, bigger markets right now. We’re doing, like I said, like the place we’re playing today in Grand Rapids is a brand new club we’ve never played yet before. Actually, we’re the 18th or 19th show here.

Give fans some insight behind the title of your latest record, 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory.

I guess life is full of both, you know, and we’ve always kind of written songs about what we know and where we come from. Some of that is painful stuff and some of that is joyful stuff. You got the pain and the glory. There is a lot to be said for going through the pain to enjoy the glory as well.

The single “Blood” is one of the more standout, Dropkick-esque tracks on the album. How do you feel this anthem is relatable today?

It goes back to the days of the band when we were not the favorite sons, quite the opposite in Boston. We were kind of like the pimple on the ass of Boston, or looked at in that way, if you will. We weren’t really welcomed with open arms by the city and actually had to take ourselves out of the city for a while because it kind of shut down the all-ages venues and weren’t catering to all ages. We were kind of persona non grata for a little while, you know what I mean? It’s just kind of our love letter to our fans, if you will. They bring their passion when they come to the shows and we have that relationship with them. We’re going to bleed for them, you know what I mean?

Look at, you know, how far you’ve come.

Yeah, it’s been an amazing journey for sure.

How do the fans stateside differ from those abroad?

I always think of people as being relatively the same everywhere you go, in a sense. People work for a living in general, they love their families, their children. Human beings, I think, they’re not that different. It’s been my experience, at least. In saying that, there are definitely places that, you know, crowds are more, maybe a little, restrained with their showing of passion, in terms of our live show. Then there are places where we go and they’re lighting road flares in the audience.

It also has to do with the day of the week. You could be in Germany on a Wednesday night and people are having a great time, but if you’re there in that same town on a Saturday night, people are drinking more because they don’t have to work the next day. You see people a little more boisterous. We are very fortunate in that we have a very loyal, rabid fan-base all around the world that show their support in coming out to our shows.

On the road, what are you listening to aside from your own material or that of the bands you perform alongside?

When I do listen to music, it’s definitely quieter music than what we play. I listen to everything from old punk rock to hardcore to rock ‘n’ roll, reggae. I listen to a wide range of stuff, but I’d say that my go-to stuff is Tom Waits, Steve Earle or Oasis, or something like that. When I’m trying to go to sleep, something a little more quiet.

What are the best and worst parts of being on tour for an extended period?

Well, I mean, the best part is the shows, getting on stage and playing for the people, bringing the new music that we are so proud of to the different places that we are going. We’re very lucky to be able to do this for a living, so it’s hard to find something to complain about. Life is relative and everybody is going to complain, I guess.

I guess the hurry up and wait is the hardest thing that we have to deal with. I think some people would find that to be a luxury compared to what they might do for a living. Again, I have a hard time defining it as being the worst thing.

I guess the hardest thing is to be away from your wife and children. Even saying that, when we’re home and off tour, we’re home 100 percent of the time. You look at people who work in the real world, as I call it, they work nine to five or whatever, they get home and have just a little bit of time, maybe, for the kids. If they’ve had a bad day or whatever, we end up getting a lot more quality time with our families when we aren’t on the road than normal people. That would be again, the hardest thing, the missing. There’s times that people pass away when you’re gone and you can’t be at a funeral, somebody’s birthday. There’s those kind of things. It certainly isn’t going to make us write a sad country song about being on the road. We live a good life and we’re very grateful.

Tell me a bit about the Claddagh Fund.

Our founding member and co-lead singer, Ken Casey, I think had the foresight to… we were getting to a point in our career and just attached that word to the band, it’s kind of crazy. I guess 21 years into it now, we can use that word. We had always been a band from inception that was tied into community. We always championed local causes and when we were approached in cities or towns with some kind of local cause that we could get behind, we would try to get behind it. When we asked our fans to supper whatever that would be, we saw a real outpouring of generosity from them.

I think Ken had the foresight into seeing that we started to become more, as our popularity grew, it was a great way for us to stay grounded in what we always started off as being. Perception is people see you rolling in in these buses and getting on stage as you’re playing to bigger audiences, it’s real easy to get lost in all that. It’s very important for us the people know that we’re still the same guys that we always were, we’re just playing to more people than we used to. We still have the same core values that have always been important to us. I think it’s great when a band can use its notoriety or whatever you want to call it to do some good in the world. There’s a lot of not good things going on. We’re just doing our part, doing what we can to try to help what we can.

I think the Claddagh Fund is a great vehicle for that. We’ve been able to raise some money for some great causes back home in the Boston area, in the New England area. There’s chapters in Philadelphia and New York as well. The Claddagh Fund is a conduit, the band is a conduit for it. It’s the fans and the people that donate that are the real heroes there. We’re just the vehicle, I guess.

For example, when the marathon bombing happened a few years ago, we were on the road. At first, we just wanted to fly home, then realized, obviously, what were we going to do when we get there? There is nothing that we are going to be able to do to help. We just thought music is a great healer. We brought this “For Boston” shirt out to raise money for charity and within a very short period of time, raised almost $400,000 initially for the victims. Again, we’re just the conduit for that, that was all the fans around the world donating to that. It’s very inspiring to see, you know, when people, in the wake of such a tragedy, have such a selfless outpouring of love.


You can catch the Dropkick Murphys at The Paramount in Huntington, NY on March 12. Their new album, 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory, is available now. For more information, go to dropkickmurphys.com.