Al Barr (above centre), the voice of the Dropkick Murphys, isn’t quite what you’d imagine from his full-throated growls on record. Quick to laugh, relaxed and easy to talk to, his manner is disarming, to say the least, as is the calm way he discusses the heights his band has reached in recent times. Although always known and loved inside punk circles, the last few years have seen them featured on Shameless and in the soundtracks for no less than three Academy Award-nominated films, as well as opening games for the World Series. Indeed, their last album, released nearly one year ago, entered at number six in the charts.
“It blew us away man, let me tell you,” says Barr. “We hadn’t put a record out in four years, The Meanest Of Times was top 20, and we were very happy with that, it’s a great place on the chart considering we’re not commercially-fuelled. And if the vinyl had been out that week as well, then we would have beaten that Justin Bieber kid, all we needed was 500 more sales and we would have kicked him out of the top five.” Despite this, Barr stresses, chart positions don’t mean much to them as a touring band. If, as he puts it, they’re still putting “asses in seats” when they play, then they’re alright. They’re certainly doing that – the show we’re interviewing them before, at the London Roundhouse in Camden, has been sold out for weeks. Pairs of tickets were going for £100 a piece even before the end of January.
“That’s amazing for us,” Barr says. “It’s tough over here, we’re an American band that plays punk rock with an Irish influence, and people have always been a bit like, what the fuck is this all about?” It’s a common reception at first, he explains, until people realise that they’re not trying to be an Irish band, they’re just an American punk rock outfit that takes influences from outside of rock and roll. It’s perhaps slightly facetious, given the band’s strong Boston Irish roots and the tenor of their marketing, but the point is a fair one nonetheless. Their ability to draw affection from most who spend a bit of time with their music, Barr says, is down to the fact that they sidestep the political angles in a broad sense, although that hasn’t stopped them from stepping up for workers’ rights in the US, what he calls ‘neighbourhood politics’. That, apparently, extends to US presidential elections as well.
“Well, you got people with names like Mitt and Newt,” he says, when asked about the competition for Obama. “Those are dogs’ names. What’s a Mitt, what the fuck is a Newt? Ain’t that like a gecko, like a little lizard? And Mitt… we met him. When we got involved with the Red Sox, they had us play City Hall and the State House, and we kind of got the run of the place after we performed. He caught our old guitar player sticking dinner rolls into his pocket. He was like, ‘We can get you a doggie bag if you want?’ That was our interaction with Mitt Romney.”
Politics and vol-au-vents aside, Barr laughs when we ask him if the title of the last album, Going Out In Style, is a thinly-veiled statement about the future of the band. “You know it’s funny, when we wrote that song, I think I was one of the guys who said that we should call the record that, and immediately, everyone was like no, that’s crazy, they’ll think we’re breaking up,” he says. “But no, it wasn’t in any way any kind of statement, we’re actually working on a new record as we speak. We’ve had a practice room set up every day on this tour, and our goal is to have a new release early next year. We want to hit the studio in the spring, and hopefully have something in the can for… if not the fall, then right as the year changes for January.”
As for the direction of the record, Barr says that the band has been approaching what he considers to be their ideal sound for some time. “What we always ended up with was a folk song with a bit of punk, then a punk song, then a hardcore song, but with every record I feel like we’ve gotten closer to having it all served up in a song,” he explains. “With the last record, and with The Meanest Of Times, we’ve honed our craft a little more, if you will.” Whatever happens, their ardent – and growing – fanbase will be waiting.
Interview and words by James Rundle.