"I still feel like we have something to prove to people. I think we have always felt like that."
Dropkick Murphys are set to release their brand new album 'Turn Up That Dial' on April 30 via Born & Bred Records.
More than just a collection of raw and raucous punk anthems pulled straight from the heart, the record also serves as the band's 10th album and a marker for their 25th anniversary. Though rather than being a look back on the places they've been and the people they've met, this is a celebration of everything the band have done but also what they will do in the future. A joyously loud and jubilant assault on the senses from a band who do it like nobody else.
We jumped on the phone with vocalist Ken Casey to find out exactly how the record came to be and also how despite being a quarter of a century into their journey, he feels as though they have only just scratched the surface...
So, where do the roots of this record lie, and how did they develop into the entire body of work you have now?
“We decided the purpose of the album before we even wrote any of the songs. We were trying to put a smile on people’s faces. We were trying to bring people something that warmed the heart or made them feel better about their day. That could come from the tongue in cheek songs that we ended up writing or because your idea of feeling uplifted is turning up that dialling and smashing something. We didn’t want this album to be a lament in any way.
“So we started the writing in the fall of 2019 before the pandemic, but we had this same mindset because of the four years of You-Know-Who that we had been through who had divided the world and divided America. We’re coming out of four years of arguing with our own families, you know? So we just wanted to do something that could bring us all out of the doldrums and this bummer of a place. That’s when the pandemic happened. We had some of the songs already done, but then it was like if we ever needed this thought process at any time, we needed it now.
“Then there were the real challenges that came with doing it and being in lockdown. It did open some doors for us that will make the writing process so much easier for us going forwards. We weren’t a band that used technological advances to write. We still got together in the practice space and writing like that, just like we did in the early days. We were raised to be musicians, and going to practice made us feel like we had a real job. Though in the pandemic, we had to go into the studio one at a time with the engineer. Even though the basis of these songs was the camaraderie and lifting people’s spirits, we were concerned that it could fail miserably because we had to do it this way. But I’m proud that it doesn’t sound like that at all. The concept and our motivation behind it won out over the fact that there was this physical separation."
In many ways, the fact that it wasn’t a steady switch to a different way of doing things benefitted you. Having the rug pulled from under you so immediately forced you to change things…
“And sometimes the only way you can sometimes face things like that. You have to adapt. Like who would want to change what we all know? It changes everything when you have to, though. It also felt like there was a greater good at stake. We were motivated by the legit feeling that people needed music. Now that it feels like everything is clearing up and hopefully this album can now be the soundtrack to the start of better times.”
It’s fascinating that you said you don’t want this record to feel like a lament, which is so easy to get trapped in when your singing about the past or what has been. It’s a case of singing about things that are still possible now and feelings that you still feel now, even if you’re not as young and free as you used to be…
“That’s what music does. It takes you to a place outside of your current location. I can’t say how many times during the last year I’ve put my earbuds in, closed my eyes and told the music to take me away. Nobody wants to make or listen to music that when you close your eyes, it takes you back to April 2020 or something!”
It’s also the 10th Murphys album that you’ve released. Is there sentimentality in that for you?
"The sentimentality is more in the 25th anniversary of the band, really. That’s what feels the craziest because it feels like we are just hitting our stride. That’s weird to say, but we do. The live show is getting even better, and we are the happiest with this album than we have ever been. That’s a good feeling going into the next 25 years. I still feel like we have something to prove to people. I think we have always felt like that. Nobody gave us much of a chance of having the success that we have had."
When you consider how far you’ve travelled since those very early days, how does it feel to be here still to be able to talk about them alongside an album that you’re as proud of as this?
“25 years is the sort of milestone that we’re proud of, but considering that the band started off the back of a bet, it’s not half bad. I was bartending with a kid who went to the music college here, Boston Berklee, and he said, ‘You’re always talking about starting a band, I dare you to open for my band in three weeks’. That’s how we started. It was a joke. We wrote three songs and learned three covers, and we played that six-song set twice to win the bet. It was a shit show. All our friends came just to mock us. I remember doing that maybe three times in front of those friends and then making that shift when we played the first all-ages punk-rock matinee in front of people who didn’t know us. To then go from there to playing to a fan base that we are so proud of, you see how we have forged our path that we’ve had the chance to play in front of a friendly, welcoming audience for most of our career. I remember playing a couple of bars in the early days in front of five people, and there was the old guy stood at the bar hating you too, and that is hard. But being able to look out now and see people who are truly happy to see you, that’s not a job. That’s a blessing. I feel like we have been on the ride of our lives with this band. It’s been such a joy to travel because of our music. I never thought I would travel outside of the Boston area, and now I look at my passport and think, ‘Holy shit, how good has this thing been for me?
“So I truly think that the key to happiness and success is low expectations, simply because we couldn’t have started with lower expectations than when we started Dropkick Murphys. I never got paid the $30 from that kid who bet us either.”
The band has always been about that community, and that understanding shared from the floor up to the stage. And it’s that belief that has undoubtedly helped you through any rough patches that have occurred…
“For sure. I feel like that connection between the fan base and us. It’s stronger and more real. I’ve never been in another band aside from this, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You could offer me all the success in the world in any other form of music, and it simply wouldn’t interest me. This is what I love.”
Ultimately, what does it mean to you to have this album as a permanent marker for this period in the band’s history?
“It feels like this album is a landmark for this period of our career in which we didn’t just sit on our asses. We got something done, and thank God for it. As much as we hope it brings joy to others, it kept us just as sane.”
And through everything, how does it feel to have this band still be such a massive part of your life?
"I think that longevity is something to take the most pride in in this business. That’s the longevity that we have had on our terms. We’ve always been our own boss and controlled our career and not let a manager or record label tell us how to do things. We take a lot of pride in that we’re still here and that you can’t get rid of us. It’s not lost on us as people, just how lucky we are, though. We work hard, and we have consistently downplayed our talent, but we must be doing something right if 5000 people still want to come and see us play Brixton Academy. But we also know that we have been given a fantastic gift that doesn’t happen to every band. An old saying goes, ‘How you treat people on the way up, they will remember you on the way down'. Not that we’re going down, but we can play a big show in a city, and the guy who booked us for the first time at a small punk show is now there with his kids. That makes it so special. Coming to a city and knowing that you have friends there who you have known for 25 years is the best thing in the world. This band has given us gifts that we never thought we would get."