Friday, September 27, 2013

An interview with Dropkick Murphy's drummer, Matt Kelly!

Well, since it is six months until the Lansdowne Invasion with Boston's own Dropkick Murphys, it is fitting to set up an interview.  The Dropkick Murphys are one of the longest standing punk rock bands in Boston and absolutely one of the most influential.  The band started from humble beginnings and with strong work ethic, the right attitude, and an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, they became one of the most world renown bands in the scene.  Known for their mixture of punk rock, hardcore, and Irish music, they became a band that any new band today could look up to and plenty do!  I give you Matt Kelly everybody!   

Run Don't Walk: Hey Matt, how is everything going today?  Why don’t you tell us what you do in Dropkick Murphys, how long you have been in the band for and just a brief history to get started?
Matt Kelly: Hi Nick, doing just fine man.  Chomping on some leftovers and waiting for some long-neglected bathroom caulking work to dry.  You know, the good things in life!  I play the drums in the band, whom I started with in May, 1997 to replace one Jeffrey "the Shark" Erna.  Jeff played on everything up until Do Or Die", though I joined the band before "Boys On the Docks" or the split 7" with the Anti-Heros came out.   
  The band started in early 1996 as the Snots(great name, I know), covering the Clash, Swingin' Utters, Stiff Little Fingers, Generation X, etc., and their own material.  The main goal was to play a gig at the (sadly defunct)Rathskellar in Kenmore Square(remember when Kenmore was actually a place to go?).  From that time onward it's been a work-your-ass-off mentality and here we are today. 

RDW: What other projects have you been involved in other than Dropkick Murphys? With those projects, do you have the opportunity to play a different style of punk rock and hardcore music that is more stripped down compared to what Dropkick Murphys play?
      MK: I've played in various bands over the years with friends and family, some stuff more complicated, and some less, than the Dropkicks.  My brother, Mike(the real talent in the family), is recording an album at the moment, and I just recently threw some drum tracks down with him, which was really fun.  It's musically a bit of rock, pop, country, and maybe folk/bluegrass.  Not my musical fortés, so it was nice to have the challenge.  Other than that, I get together with my asshole buddies and bang some songs around in the practice space, but nothing serious.  Over the years I've played in lots of hardcore, punk, and Oi! bands, though I'm pretty much just doing the Dropkicks these days.   
  I think it's good to try one's hand at various styles of music, as they can be used as interesting influences on one's playing, arranging, and songwriting. 

RDW: Who were your major influences when it came to playing drums?  What age were you when you first started?  Who and what age was your first band?
      MK: Oddly enough, at the time of this interview, thirty-three years ago this past wednesday(9/25) was the passing of the Beast: John Henry Bonham.  If you're a drummer and you have to look up who he is, you should probably hang up your sticks.  Aside from him, who is my #1 favorite drummer and possibly biggest influence, there's Keith Moon, Clive Burr, Nico McBrain, Phil Rudd, Ian Paice, Carmine Appice, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, Al Jackson Jr., man, the list could be a mile long!  Pretty much most rock, soul, jazz, and reggae drummers from before 1979.
  I started playing drums in 1984 at the age of nine.  At first I wanted to play saxophone, but one day when my Dad had his drum kit out I started bashing around on it and from then on I was hooked. 
  The first band I was in was with my longtime friend Kevin Rheault and others, and I believe it was called Neeglans.  Not sure what the frigging name meant but hey, ya know?  I was thirteen and the other guys were twelve.  He, Dan Proietti and I were the foundation of a bunch of groups with various other members until about 1993-94.  More recently, Kevin has actually filled in for James, Tim, and Jeff, on separate occasions due to their family commitments.  Plus he plays a mean upside-down lefty bass and can sing like Bon Scott-- so with him around DKM sound checks are always rife with AC/DC covers. 

RDW: What is your history with the Twin City Hardcore scene Leominster and Fitchburg, MA.?
     MK: Well, the hardcore punk scene as most of us Twin City knew it started and was centered around the Club 490 on 490 Main Street in "lovely" downtown Fitchburg.  I'd always seen skateboarders and local punks and skinheads sporting Black Flag t-shirts and what have you since I was around 9-10 years old, but I was too young to know of anything going on gig-wise.  The first local hardcore show that we knew of  was February 3, 1990 at the Club 490.  It was Hearing Impaired(super-fast, hilarious hardcore from the North Shore), Backbone(Worcester band whose members went on to Cast Iron Hike, Bane, Doomriders, Blacktail, and God-knows-who-else), and Dawn of Rage(no idea what became of 'em but they were pretty good).  From that night on, I was pretty hooked on underground music.  Up till then it was the Misfits and maybe Exodus and some metal stuff for me, though I had heard of and was intrigued by the band Slapshot from an article Mike Gitter did when he was writing for RIP magazine, as well as being on the lookout for bands like Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, and Carnivore though sadly my local Strawberries Records and Tapes didn't carry those bands, or they never had them in stock. 
  Early on in the Club 490 days we had the bands Common Sense(which became Dive), Pressure Point(not the Cali band), which was kind of a skinhead-core band, Bound(which became Hatchetface), Get High, plus there were other bands in our scene like Opposition, Thingummy, Sunface, etc., and we'd all book gigs at "The 490", or spaces at the Wallace Civic Center, Eagles Halls, etc., whoever would have us.  Dive did a lot to promote our area and try and "recruit" kids to go to hardcore shows… which is what you had to do as moshing/slamming/skanking, stage diving, riding the crowd(or as MTV coined later, "crowd surfing"), were 100% foreign ideas to the "normal" kids at school.  There were rumors as to what went on at these hardcore shows, and I remember overhearing a conversation in which somebody mentioned "moshpitting"(haha):  "yeah I think like, they go to a sand pit and like, fight and listen to tapes". 
  This was before the internet and even before Nirvana broke the whole underground open, so there really was a total divide between the normal kids and us.  A lot of us would get in fights with the Puerto Rican kids because they thought that "skinhead" was automatically synonymous with  "nazi", so that was fun.  There was so little awareness about the underground; it was almost like an exclusive club for losers.  At the same time, when a friend from school would finally go to a gig, they'd be frigging psyched!!  There was so much enthusiasm and so little jadedness with things because you literally had to experience a hardcore show to understand it.  They'd go to a gig and it would usually just *click* with them, or they wouldn't get it.  That's how we got a lot of kids in there.  You couldn't watch it on Youtube or whatever and become an expert on it without even being there.   
  In addition to that, I helped put on a few gigs at the 490 and other places around the Twin-City area.  That's oddly enough the first time I spoke with Ken-- they were looking for a gig in Fitchburg. 

RDW: It’s come to my attention that you are very much influenced by the Oi!, and hardcore scene!  What bands do you like that are coming out today that you really enjoy and what bands did you enjoy growing up and influenced you? What major differences do you see in the Skinhead scene today then fifteen to twenty years ago?
MK: Right now, I'm digging MARABOOTS from France who just put out a new 10" "Dans la Nuit" on Une Vie Pour Rien Records-- very '80s French sound a la Camera Silens, etc.; the new(ish) "Mob Justice" by Boston's RIVAL MOB on Revelation Recs; the BOSTON STRANGLER LP, "Primitive"(self-released, look on eBay); LEGITIME VIOLENCE's "Nouvelle France Skinheads"(self-released) from Quebec; NO QUARTER's "Fight For the Moment" 7" on Lionheart Recs; plus some non-Oi! or hardcore stuff like the excellent Jah Faith / the Black Emeralds ‎– No Bother Grumble / Humble Dub single on Jandisc-- real killer old-style skinhead reggae stuff with "that sound". 
  As far as older stuff, there were almost all the original/classic Oi! bands and their European counterparts, the second and third generations of Oi! had some great bands, and then a few from the mid-'90s on like the Templars, Argy Bargy, Straw Dogs(UK), Superyob, etc..  For hardcore it was always the early '80s BHC scene, the early LA, DC, NYC, Chicagoland scenes, and then cool bands throughout the late '80s-'90s like Voorhees from Bradford, UK or Infest and that ilk in the early '90s. 
  As far as the skinhead scene goes, I suppose the internet has helped and hurt it.  I don't really see people with bar towels sewn on the backs of their flight jackets anymore(which is nice), and I think there's more interest in getting it right sartorially so there are less fashion nightmares walking around.  Topically I'd say that's it.  As far as peoples' attitudes toward each other, music, or whatever, I suppose that's down to the individual and their localized scenes.  I think that those of weak minds and are looking for a leader or an ideal to follow are getting more extreme Left and Right.  The scene gets hijacked by moronic ideologues who think skinhead is about taking some kind of stance for something that it has nothing to do with.  That sort of crap always goes in cycles/waves.  Screw it.  It's been done to death. 
RDW: Since we are about half way to St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the Lansdowne Invasion, what is it that you most look forward to on that weekend, and perhaps the least?  You guys definitely have gone back to basics this coming year with the five shows in four days at House of Blues.  Do you find it much simpler for the band that way?
      MK: Well it's great to see everybody and their mothers, but it's also tough to try and get a word in with everybody.  You have to kind of pace yourself as it's a 200+ person guest list of whom you know probably 75-80% and the rest want to talk to you anyways… so it's overwhelming as hell and you have to focus on what you focus on every other night:  playing the greatest set of your life that night. 
  Yeah, with doing these back-to-back House of Blues gigs, it's great to sleep in your own bed every night.  Not having to get up and set up my stuff every day and getting to sleep an extra hour or two is great, as is waking up next to my wife.
  Not saying that playing a different city every night isn't simple, but loading in one day and loading out 4-5 days later is great!!
RDW: In all the years of doing the St. Patrick’s Day shows, what year has been your favorite or has stood out to you?  And why? 
      MK: I think it was 2004 that Super Yob came and played with us at the Avalon(now the HOB), and then they played again later that night in Quincy at DeeDee's(clean ATM).  I had so many friends there from the UK, Belgium, France, Ireland, and from all over the US and Canada who came out, it just stands out as really special.  People met up at T.C.'s(RIP!!!!!) before and after the gigs, which was walking distance from Lansdowne Street, and a lot of friendships were struck up that exist to this day. 

RDW: The last two years on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, you guys played a couple small intimate shows and played two shows a night. The first year, you guys performed “Do Or Die” and last year, you performed “The Gang’s All Here”. What was playing those songs like in a small venue?  Did it bring back memories from when those records first came out?
 MK: Well, as much as I love playing giant halls in Germany and arenas in Amsterdam, the kind of gigs I like personally like to attend are in bars and smaller clubs.  The atmosphere is always a little more intense, a little more on-edge, and a hell of a lot more intimate.  Playing those albums front-to-back was a hell of a lot of fun for the band, especially for the guys who weren't there to play a lot of them back then-- and it was really cool to play songs that we had up until that point NEVER played live, like "The Only Road" off TGAH, or songs we hadn't played live in years like "Tenant Enemy #1", which come to think of it, we may have never done since the Do or Die record release show.  Wow. 
  I think the REALLY cool thing was to see so many of our friends from around the Boston club and bar scenes, who were kids when Do or Die and The Gang's All Here came out, going apeshit and singing along with such ferocity at those Harper's Ferry/Brighton Music Hall gigs.  It was like the Rathskellar all over again.  Talking to people afterwards, it really gave us an idea of how special it really was. 

RDW: Going back to 1999, as I look through history, a tour that really stuck out to me was the Unity Fest tour with Dropkick Murphys, Maximum Penalty, and Agnostic Front.  What was going on tour with all those bands like?  Any stand out memories from that tour?
      MK: Oh man, that was an absolute blast.  We did a month in the US with AF, US Bombs, and Maximum Penalty, and then a month in Europe with AF and Straight Faced(California).  Those were really some of the best times on tour I've ever had.  I mean, AF was the band that got me into the whole skinhead thing to begin with(via hardcore) and their first three and first live album are among my all-time favorites… so to tour with those guys was like a dream come true. 
  Memories:  fighting with club staff on Stigma's 43rd birthday in Barcelona and then getting cuffed and almost processed by Barca police; pelting dance club goers with bottles of urine in Berlin; filling in on drums for Agnostic Front when Roger couldn't get into Slovakia and Jimmy "the Lump" Coletti filled in on lead vocals; simultaneously projectile vomiting and (much to his amazement)holding a coherent conversation with Stigma about obscure early hardcore groups; almost getting molested by some creep in France, getting egged on, and trying to bottle him; Maximum Penalty dudes performing emergency "surgery" with a Leatherman and a lighter on their merch guy's severely infected, pus-squirting, impossibly ingrown toenail in a hotel room; drinking to excess and extolling the merits of the Wolfetones with Kevin "Bunny" Norton(then-bass player of Straight Faced, bassist of Boston Hardcore legends, EYE FOR AN EYE) on long European bus rides; man, the list could go on and on and on and on!!!!!!

RDW: What kind of kit do you play with?  I watched a video that it was custom made and you actually had the original skull from the Do or Die record on there as well which looked sharp.
 MK: Oh yeah, the fine gents at SJC Custom Drums did my kit up.  They're out of Dudley, MA and make absolutely beautiful drums.  This kit is a clear green acrylic with hand burned wood hoops.  They sound incredible, and look pretty sharp, too.  Yeah, they actually made shaped wooden DKM skull badges on the drums.  Absolutely gorgeous job; I was blown away when I saw them.   Also, the toms and snare from that kit were used on the SSIB album.   
RDW: Whats the goals for the band going into 2014?  Just tour continuously before and after the St. Patrick’s Day shows? 
MK: Well, to be perfectly vague: one of the guys is a new dad as of the last weekend of August, and another guy is going to be a new dad come the first week of February.  So between then we're all doing the family thing and enjoy being domestic; maybe strum a few chords now and then.  We plan on getting together sporadically, maybe once a week, to keep things fresh, toss around new ideas, etc.  This will also mark what is probably the longest break the band has ever taken from touring, a clean four months at home.  It's been   a couple weeks and I'm already stir-crazy!!!!  I'm sure I'll have something popping up to occupy my time soon though.  We're now putting together some US tour dates for the late winter/early spring, and some stuff in the summer, too.
 RDW: Any final words?
MK: Yeah, thanks a lot for the interest and the interview!  Excuse my rantings, I had a lot of coffee and was possibly high on fumes from doing my bathroom tiles over.  Those sorts of things gets me loopy.  All the best to you and for your blog, Nick.   Also, RIP Dan Boss.   


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