Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds: Dropkick Murphys' Al Barr On Boston Politics And His Punk-Loving Kids

Since 1996, Boston's Dropkick Murphys have been leading the young and old astray with their own brand of Celtic punk rock and rugged pub leanings. Over almost a decade and a half, the band has released six studio albums, two singles and rarities collections, and a couple of live albums, including the upcoming Live On Lansdowne, Boston MA CD/DVD concert document, due March 16.

In the late '90s, the band came roaring out of the garage with lead singer Mike McColgan out front and co-founder Ken Casey handling bass and backup vocals. Early on the band was closer to their local Oi! and hardcore forebears, with the Celtic stew not quite fully simmered. McColgan was on board for 1998 debut LP, Do Or Die, before leaving the fold a year later to pursue a career as a Boston firefighter.

Soon after, Bruisers frontman Al Barr stepped in as McColgan's replacement and the band released their sophomore album, The Gang's All Here, during the summer of 1999 in time for a jaunt on the Vans Warped Tour. Buoyed by the ace title track and the amped-up traditionals "Amazing Grace" and "The Fighting 69th," the album would also telegraph the new sound to come for the Murphy's, who began adding fiddles, bagpipes and other Celtic-derived instruments to their live show.

2001's Sing Loud Sing Proud would be the new lineup's coming-out party, and the stage on that first tour out bulged with kilts and scally caps. Strong LPs Blackout, The Warrior's Code, and The Meanest of Times followed over the next six years. The band saw a noticeable upswing in its mainstream popularity with the inclusion of their single "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" on the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese's Oscar-winning The Departed.

Today the band has one of the most energetic and hellacious live shows going, almost beating out the likeminded Flogging Molly (and perhaps Monotonix) for the title of most beer-soaked and sloshed fans. This spring the band will be touring the States and Europe, before taking part in the Bonnaroo Festival back in Tennessee in June. The band's first new studio album in over three years is also in the offing for a late 2010 or early 2011 release.

We chatted with Barr from his Boston-area home as he and the rest of the Murphys got ready to tour behind the upcoming Lansdowne, and asked him about the old-world response to their Celt-American sound, their punk-rock lineage and the band's plans for the rest of 2010 and beyond.

Rocks Off: What's the European reception like to the Murphys compared to the one you get in the States?

Al Barr: They really enjoy the whole mix of the Irish folk and punk rock in Europe. I would say that mainland Europe is even more into it than places like England. For example, in Germany they really love the bagpipes, whistles and banjo. We just played Spain for the first time in ten years and we started "Warriors Code" and you could hear the entire crowd singing the melody of the song. It was intense.

RO: How have you seen the crowds evolve since the beginning of the band?

AB: In the early days we got more of a purist punk/Oi! fanbase, and we still get that as well, but now it's everyone who just wants to have a good time. We hope that people get what they need when they come see us, that's one of our intentions. Have a good time and forget your troubles for a while.

RO: Lyrically, you guys seem to be speaking a language not many bands are at this point in time, with that stoic and steadfast working-class vibe coming through.

AB: I think we have always written about what we know and what touches us. We aren't so much globally political as we are all about neighborhood politics. It's interesting to see how things have come full circle, and it's sad to say that some of the things we have sung about are happening today. A lot of bad things are going on, but we have always written only about things we know and that people can relate to.

RO: What newer bands are coming along that you see as taking the torch for you guys that you and Ken (Casey) can champion?

AB: One that I can think of right now is the Insurgence from Seattle, Washington. That's one that people should definitely check out. They have a real great vibe to them and they remind me of like early-'80s hardcore meets a harder edger more current thing going on these days. They are a great band. We just played a few shows with them too.

I listen to so much different music now. I still listen to plenty of punk but I listen to a lot more singer-songwriter stuff now, mellower stuff obviously with the kids around. But the kids actually love the Ramones and The Clash and they run around the house to that. But I listen to a lot of Tom Waits and Steve Earle though.

RO: Have you ever wanted to do anything solo in that same vein aside from the Murphys?

AB: The Dropkicks give me plenty of work to do, and sometimes I have a hard time breaking away from writing for the band. It would be hard for me to personally do that. The other guys in the band have other little side projects that they all do that are completely different from the Dropkicks, which is cool. I'm more of a lyrics and melodies guy, and my head is in the Dropkick bowl most of the time.

With Strung Out and Larry & His Flask, 8 p.m. tonight at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483 or

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty