Celtic punk’s Dropkick Murphys bring their March sojourn — and labor union advocacy — to GLC Live at 20 Monroe on Sunday night. The interview and back story at Local Spins.
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“If we weren’t fortunate enough to be playing in this band for a living, we would all just be working like our parents and grandparents did.”
Tim Brennan, multi-instrumentalist for American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys, revels in the band’s deep connection to working class families.
With unions having a large part of vocalist Ken Casey’s upbringing and family history, the band continues to defend against social injustice and corrupt government. Recently being recognized and awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, it only made sense that their fight for blue-collar workers would lead to a new evolution for the Massachusetts band.
And in a bold attempt to avoid stagnation, the band took a new approach to songwriting that flourished in unexpected ways.
After the family of the late Woody Guthrie approached the band around 2002 in support of using Guthrie’s lyrics in “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” a previous Dropkick song, they decided to expand on the format.
Two decades later, “This Machine Still Kills Fascists” was released: the first full acoustic album by the band, containing previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics, curated by the iconic singer-songwriter’s daughter, Nora Guthrie.
While the band had released acoustic tracks in the past, the idea to stay true to the music that Guthrie wrote with a single acoustic guitar guided the band on their approach to the creation of “This Machine.”
Not quite a tribute, but instead a true collaboration between the New England punk laborers and the anti-fascist pioneer, the band was challenged to a new writing and recording experience.
Instead of following a more traditional Dropkick Murphys songwriting formula, the group felt inspired to shift sound perspectives and find new ways to play with each song’s dynamics without sacrificing the power and punch that DKM fans love.
According to Brennan, while writing original music to and around Guthrie’s lyrics was mostly “fun and fluid,” at times, the band was met with challenges as they wanted to make sure that “whatever music [they were] using to support those lyrics is worthy of that sort of writing.”
However, the marriage of Dropkick’s music to Guthrie’s lyrics has been one of authentic and organic connection that Nora Guthrie and the rest of the family celebrated.
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“I can’t stress enough how supportive they were about everything we were doing. We’d send the music and they always responded with, ‘That’s great!’ In the super rare instance where Ken felt he would have to change a word or something, he would always reach out to Nora and the Guthrie family and they were always so supportive in the ideas we’d have.”
The Dropkick Murphys bring their “St. Patrick’s Day 2023 Tour” back to GLC Live at 20 Monroe at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 12). General admission tickets are $76.50 and available online here.
While Brennan explains the nerves that the band felt collectively as they wondered how this divergent sound would be received by long-standing fans, there is a calm excitement in his voice.
He goes on to explain that while the preliminary legwork of preparing for such a tour was a hefty task, “Ultimately, once we got everything dialed in, we were super happy about it and it was a really fun tour to do. It’s nice to get nervous still . . . that means we really care about it.”
“This Machine Still Kills Fascists” was merely Part 1 of the project. The second album, also featuring previously unreleased lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s set to original music of Dropkick Murphys titled “Okemah Rising,” is set to be released on May 12.
In the final release from Tulsa, the album boasts collaborations with producer Ted Hutt, Violent Femme’s vocalist Gordon Gano, Boston musician Jesse Ahern and country songstress Jaime Wyatt.
Brennan speaks fondly of the guest vocalists featured on both albums and the fresh dimensions they brought to the recordings. Exclaiming how grateful the band was to have such legendary and talented artists share in the experience, Brennan found some parts unbelievable:
“To hear Gordon from the Violent Femmes singing on one of your songs is pretty surreal. I was over the moon when I ended up hearing what all the guests had done on both the first and second album.”
For diehard fans: Keep watch for an upcoming documentary that follows the band on its journey into writing, recording and performing the 20 songs crafted around the lyrics of Woody Guthrie.
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