Friday, October 25, 2013

An interview with Mike McColgan of the Street Dogs and FM359

The Street Dogs have been around for ten years, and have been through their fair shares of ups, downs, and amazing opportunity. For a band that has toured the United States and world over multiple times, they still stand strong ten years in to being one of the most influential bands of our time. If you are interested in a history lesson, some story telling, and earnest conversation with front man Mike McColgan, keep reading here.  I present you Mike from the Street Dogs everybody!

                                                     Mike McColgan Interview
                                                            October 23, 2013

·         Run Don’t Walk: How does it feel to be back?

Mike McColgan: Well, we’ve been talking about that for a little bit now.  I can’t even put it into the right words, how amazing, how great, and satisfying it feels on every level to be back home in Boston, Massachusetts.  I mean, my son, my wife are here with me and it’s good to be back around my immediate family, it’s good to be back around my friends.  It’s also, you know, I was raised in Boston so politics also make my blood run. It’s an interesting an amazing time in Boston sports right now because the Red Sox are in the World Series right now, the Bruins are stacked they have a great team. I couldn't have pick a better time to come back.  I am actually going to game two tomorrow night with Eric our label president at Pirates Press so I am excited! 

RDW: Eric is a great guy!

Mike McColgan: Eric is great!  Eric is very forthcoming and transparent- What you see is what you get.  He loves punk rock, and loves ska.  He’s amazing on every level, I love the guy.  He’s been great with Street Dogs on every level.  

RDW: Why don’t you tell us what you do for the Street Dogs, and give us a brief history of the band for starters?

Mike McColgan: Well, I could answer both from the beginning. Prior to the actual formation of the group, I got a call from Jeff Erna saying he had a couple songs with Rob Guidotti he wanted me to sing on and I went down and started working on them.  Low and behold, I liked what I heard and we started working on some stuff.  Rob suggested Michelle Paulus as a bass player for some of these songs.  At the time, when we were doing that stuff, this was just for fun, “let’s record these songs” not “let’s make an actual band”.  So we did the demo probably played the song two shows in that manifestation and Michelle left.  My first thought was Johnny Rioux.  So we bring Johnny Rioux aboard and Johnny really loves the songs and Johnny was like “We got to start playing more shows” and turn around and look for more opportunities and tour.  At the time, I was a Boston Firefighter and I was little apprehensive and was like “Well, why not?”   At that time, that’s when Jeff Erna fell out of the fold. So for a while, we went through a couple different drummers and then Joe Sirois came into the fold and with Joe coming into the fold, Rob tails out.  We let it out we were looking for a guitar player and Marcus hits us up and we try Marcus out and it hits!  Right around that time we get offered a tour with Flogging Molly, this is September 2004, Punk Voter Tour.  At that time, we get offered two additional contracts: one with Side One Dummy, and one with DRT. We were really torn and we kind of gave verbal commitment to both labels and ultimately got going with DRT and things just exploded.  The Flogging Molly turns into a tour with Social Distortion and tours with Tiger Army, dates with Bad Religion, shows with Rancid.  All of that takes place around the “Back to the World” record cycle which basically eight and a half months on the road which is pretty grueling.   Then from that, we go right into the studio and record “Fading American Dream”.  “Fading American Dream” takes us out again for seven or eight months and then we start the cycle with “Fading American Dream” with touring with the Bouncing Souls which is the Gold Tour.

RDW:  That was my first show seeing you guys play at the Avalon.

Mike McColgan: Yeah, at the Avalon! Let me just stop really quickly and I’ll continue because there’s more history but that was the best tour the Street Dogs have ever done.  The Bouncing Souls on every level are the real deal, genuine article as people, as performers, they are amazing!  They are selfless, they are exceptional, they are kind, they are friendly, and they are benevolent! It was such a pivotal experience for us as a group because further on down the road we  made it a point to treat that bands that played with us with dignity, respect, and never cop any bs rock start attitude.  After that tour, we did stints on the Van’s Warped Tour, which cycle gives way to a deal with Hell Cat/Epitaph and we go in and make “State Of Grace” the successor album of “Fading American Dream”.  We made three hard hitting punk rock records, “Fading American Dream” being the hardest hitting of them all and most polarizing and maybe the most difficult one for our fan base to accept. The Street Dogs have always been capturing where we are as people at the time we are making a record.  The songs, the lyrical content and the overall vibe of the record, it can’t help but be reflective what’s going on inside of us as people at the time we make it.  We were very disenchanted with the country and President George W. Bush.  Although we respect the oval office and the presidency, we didn’t like him we thought he made a lot of questionable decisions.  Going forward with “State Of Grace”, we wanted to push the parameters of what Street Dogs were, push things sonically and take chances and roll the dice.  I really feel with “State Of Grace”, sonically we take some big gambles.  If you put it under heavy scrutiny, it’s a rock record; it’s not a punk rock record.  I feel like songs like “Mean Fist, songs like “Two Angry Kids”, “Free” are all great songs.  I feel the “Into the Valley” cover is a very great song.  (At this point, some guy standing in line for coffee made a loud sneeze…)  That was a very bizzare sounding.  We’re in a coffee shop, and it’s packed, these things happen.  That wouldn’t happen if I did a candid interview in an email.   There wouldn’t be some very loud seal sounding coming from the coffee line.

With “State Of Grace”, I am really proud of that album.  I feel that history will vindicate that record and a lot of musicians and things of that nature love the record and fans love it.  After going through a heavy cycle with that album, and went into “self-titled”, there were no conscious decisions to make a punk album, it was just where we were at. The “self-titled” record is a very good reflection of our abilities as a group.  The hard hitting hardcore songs, the anthems, the folksy song with “Poor Poor Jimmy”, I really feel arguably that’s our best album.  Production wise with Jason Livermore, at the Blasting Room as an engineer working in conjunction with Johnny Rioux and Rick Barton, it’s a pretty powerful team.

RDW: It must have been an amazing experience recording at a great studio like that!

Mike McColgan: It was a great experience.  It was uncanny, perfect, efficient, exceptional and on time.  Usually with Street Dogs, we are never on time.  Usually there is bust ups, and punch ups, and arguments, all sorts of problems, there’s usually meltdowns in the studio.  On “Self-Titled”, it was insane.  We were just in a groove and something just happened, I don’t know if I could quantify it with words.  We knew in the room; we were in pre-production doing these songs that was powerful.  Personally to me, all things considered, that’s our best record.  “Fading American Dream” may be my personal favorite, because I feel like it was a polarizing and incendiary and we didn’t care, and still don’t, what other people thought and what everybody likes.  There is no such thing as a record that everybody likes.  As far as the “Self-Titled” and the feedback we got from fans, it was overwhelming.  The funny thing was, before we went in to track these songs, before played them live, songs like “Punk Rock and Roll”, songs like “In Stereo”, the moment, we played those songs, it felt like it had always been there.  We play these songs, the people feel them songs but the new songs had instant impact.  Songs like “Rattle and Roll” had instant impact.  That record took us all over the world.  We caught in a moment in time.  We went in with thirty songs.  Usually, it’s easy to say “seven or eight songs aren’t going on there.  They are B-Sides.” But with “self-titled”, it wasn’t easy.  That’s when you know you are in a really good spot when you are in that predicament.  It’s not a predicament, it’s a quality problem!    By the way , I’m the singer, song writer, cheerleader, and bully pulpit of Street Dogs because that was a part of the question! 

RDW: So you released “Self-Titled” on Hellcat, now you are “Pirates Press Records”.  Last year you put out the “GOP” 7’’ out there, and over the summer you put “Crooked, Drunken, Sons” and “Rustbelt Nation”.  What was the transition going from Hellcat Records to Pirates Press?  Was it an easy one?

Mike McColgan: You may or may not know this, but when we put “Fading American Dream” out on vinyl, Pirates Press issued it! The transition from Hellcat/Epitaph records to Pirates Press was pretty easy because we have a history working with Pirates Press dating back to “Fading American Dream”.  We put “Fading American Dream” out on vinyl and “Skippy” Eric Mueller, the President of Pirates Press has been a huge fan right from the beginning and has always inquired about our plans, and our releases and things of that nature.  We had the option of going back to Hellcat for another record, or go over to Pirates Press and I think although we have deep respect, and admiration and love for Tim Armstrong and Brett Guerwitz, and that will never change because those are guys who not only, work at Hellcat and Epitaph and run it, they worked their way up to it really struggling, going through mean and hard times with their bands to make their bands what they are. We feel that way and always will, on that same token, Pirates Press was much better for us because where we are at now, me and Johnny has families and we feel like Pirates also gets us and wants the world a little more in depth and intensely than us.  We moved over to Pirates Press and we still maintain a great relationship with Hellcat/Epitaph, particularly Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen. We do our merchandise through Machete and we maintain really close ties with those guys still.

RDW: It’s a great merch company.  There is a lot of cool stuff on that site. 

Mike McColgan: I agree.  I have always been a fan of those guys as people first and foremost and their band.   Its Rancid!

RDW: There one of the most influential punk bands ever, you know what I mean?  I saw them last year on the 20 Year Anniversary Tour and that was the first time I ever saw them.  I have been a fan since I was a young kid but the first time seeing them and they walked on stage and opened with “Journey To The End”, I thought “Wow this is amazing!”. 
Mike McColgan: Yeah I have seen them multiple times and have been fortunate enough to have played with them, and I mean, Lars has the Bastards and Old Firm Casuals, and Tim has Transplants, and Matt had Devil’s Brigade who supported Street Dogs on a tour.  I mean, just great people and great musicians and we owe a huge honor and a huge debt of gratitude to those guys.  They’ve been friends; they’ve helped us at every turn.  They also work with Eric at Pirates Press.  They put out an amazing box set for Rancid.  If people look at Pirates Press roster, it’s pretty full but there are some great bands on there.  I mean, take Downtown Struts for an example, C’mon, you kidding me?  Those guys are so good!

RDW: I saw you guys last fall on that tour you took them out on and I was blown away.

Mike McColgan: It’s an exciting time at Pirates Press. You got Smalltown over there too who is a great band from Sweden.  You get the Ratchets over there.  I know Noi!se and us are slated to do a split pretty soon.  Cock sparer is over there.  Rancid is over there.  Tim Timebomb sells vinyl over there.  It’s an exciting time.
(Quick coffee break happened around this mark!)

RDW: Going back to the Boston Fire Department, you were at Engine 10 and Engine 16.

Mike McColgan: Yeah, I was at Engine 10 for two years which is Division 1 Headquarters on Purchase Street, Engine 10, Tower Ladder 3, and Rescue 1.  Then I was on Engine 16 which is District 8.  Talk about an amazing, gratifying experience just helping people in their time of distress. You are helping people in their time of distress, it’s a great job.

RDW: When you got the call saying, “Alright, you are going to the academy!” what was your initial gut reaction like “Alright, I got hired!” and then what was your first day at Engine 10, what was your initial reaction then when you went through the graduating ceremony, etc.

Mike McColgan: I think when you get appointed and you’re going to go to drill school, it’s a great feeling.  I mean a great great feeling and then when you graduate, and you’re a firefighter on probation, and you get to your house, you’re excited but at the same time,
there is an overwhelming sense to apply your training, do the best you can, listen to your senior firefighters and officers and just do the right thing.  So that’s pretty much how it felt for me, all those instances along the path to being on the job.
RDW: So you guys just start FM359 or kind of came up with it in the last year, correct?

Mike McColgan: Yeah, I mean it’s crazy.  Me, Johnny, and Rick always wanted to do something a little different and off the beaten path and not the sonic verbosity the Street Dogs has.  So with FM359 we sort of had free range to branch out a little bit and do more melodic, and folk tunes, we love that stuff.  We’re big fans of a lot of Americana or folk music, whether it’s Cory Branan, or Chuck Ragan.  We just kind of wanted to do something a little different.  The greatest thing about FM359 is there is no pressure in making the album.  It’s just a bunch of guys having fun, and recording, and writing and recording songs that they are happy about and excited about.  So there is really nothing to lose with FM359.  I mean it’s great, and I am excited about it because it has this novelty feel to it and I can’t wait to play our first show in San Francisco and that’s the nine year anniversary of Pirates Press so I mean I am excited.

RDW: Did you find going back to the basic Americana Roots based music, did that improve you guys as musicians and song writers?  Did you overcome new challenges when playing that kind of music or did it become naturally to you? 

Mike McColgan: I think in Street Dogs, we dabbled with folksier arrangements briefly.  You know songs like “Two Bottles” (Of Sorrow) and “Final Transmission”, FM359 is just much wider, much more adventurous, and bold in folk and rock and things in that nature.  There really weren’t challenges, we had songs we liked, we suggested things along the way and it all just fell into place.  It’s exciting because it wasn’t premeditated or well thought out.  It was “Oh you have this song, great!” and “I got words” and let’s put them together and see how it works.  It just got back to the roots of things to and we first start out in a band for singer and song writer, that’s how it is.  With FM359, we’re getting back to the start a little bit.  It’s good, you know?   Then to work with Hugh Morrison who is a great song writer himself, it’s great.  He contributed a few songs and there’s a song called “Sons Of Liberty” Hugh wrote and it it’s just phenomenal.

RDW: So going back to last summer, you guys got Matt Pruitt from the Have Nots, and Lenny Lashley from Gang Of One and Darkbuster, who are two new guitar players.  You guys took them to Europe for the “Breaking The Break” tour for a couple weeks.  How did that turn out of you guys right when you brought in two new members?

Mike McColgan: Well we talked about it and called it a lateral transfer for those guys with Matt having been in the Have Nots, and Lenny being from Darkbuster, Piss Poor Boys, and Gang Of One and we have toured with those bands.  So we were already bros and friends so it’s Street Dogs.  Even people who have been in the band before are family members, and brothers and I have nothing but the most utmost respect and love for anybody who has played aside me in Street Dogs but life is life too, honestly and realistically.  People just move on and just change and the one thing that is constant about it is change.  So bringing Lenny in and Matt on board was seamless and easy and we didn’t expect it to be.  We didn’t think it would be seamless and easy- we expected to be kinks and difficulty.  However, it just worked right from the start.  Their first show other than their first Midway show, (there is nothing better than a small intimate show to cut your teeth and show your chops), that was a way for those guys to get the kinks out and the nervous energy out.  The first show in Germany was five thousand people so it’s baptism by fire and you know, the stakes are high and you are slotted from second from the top at a big festival and they rose to the challenge, and it was great!  I think they were great from night one and each successor showed along the path of the tour they just got stronger, stronger, and stronger.  It made me ask myself, “Why weren’t these guys in the band from the beginning?” but life is life and a thing happen for a reason and it’s real exciting to have them in there.  Lenny is amazing as is Matt. 
RDW: So some of the newest songs from “Crooked Drunken Sons” and “Rustbelt Nation”- two of the songs that stood out to me was the title track (“Crooked Drunken Sons) and “Eighteen For Life”.  Do you mind giving some background on both of those? 

Mike McColgan: Crooked Drunken Sons is something we’ve been touring with for quite some time.  A lot of our honorable, distinguished, selfless veterans will come back from the theater of combat and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, suffer from guilt, and there are instances where veterans get immersed in heavy alcohol use and drug use.  Street Dogs has always been about self-empowerment.  The driving force of Street Dogs is self-empowerment, also kind of maybe throwing rocks against injustice as well but with “Crooked Drunken Sons”, we wanted to get inside that condition of the veteran who has the guilt, who is suffering from substance abuse and just get inside that mindset, and I think we do that with “Crooked Drunken Sons”.  To be honest, it’s a dark song.  If you look at the lyrics on the poster, it’s a dark song and there are pyramids and avenues for veterans who are suffering from PTSD, or survivor guilt or things of that nature and to get help.  There are guys who succumb to “I don’t need any help” and are alone and have a difficult time, so that song gets inside of that. 

“Eighteen For Life” I think is me and Johnny being honest about that youthful spirit that drives us to do what we do and I feel that exists with anybody who is into punk rock who obviously is beyond eighteen.  A recurrent theme in most genres of music is how difficult it is to be in a band and the difficulty that male musicians have with their girlfriends and wives to touring and doing it, and the sacrifices and the lack of money because musicians are the last to get paid on the totem pole of the entertainment industry.  So that song gets inside of that and music’s like the mob, once you’re out, they pull you back in. 

RDW: So you announced you guys are doing a split with Noi!se who are an amazing Oi! band from Takoma, Washington and great guys.  How did you get linked up with them?

Mike McColgan: They approached us and they informed us that they were big fans of our group.  It’s funny because we just started listening to them around that time.  So it was really a no brainer and asked “Where do I sign up?”   We recorded  four songs and we should be tracking vocals for that sometime this month and next month so that’s in the pipeline and Street Dogs Wreck The Halls DVD is in the pipeline and FM359 is coming out January 14th so there is a lot going on.  There is a picture disc coming out in conjunction to “Crooked” and “Rust” which is sort of like an EP because there are people don’t have the dedicated 7inches and there are people who like the EP as well.  So I think we will do that.  So being able to work with Noi!se is another privilege and we’re grateful for every opportunity we have.  Everything we have is a privilege, it isn’t a right.  We are not entitled to anything.  Anything we have gotten has been a gift and we are grateful for it and we just show up and see where it takes us. 

RDW: We got a couple more.  This question is from a friend, George Allard (who this day finished up his probationary period on the Ann Arbor Fire Department)  but he wanted to know when someone says you made an impact on their life, or helped make them who they are today, what is your reaction to that?  For him it was the “Do or Die” record with Dropkick Murphys with him and his buddy but what is your reaction to “Your music made me who I am today?” 

Mike McColgan: It’s why we do it.  I think in large part because it’s therapeutic for us to write tehse songs and let people know how we feel, and how we want to see things get better and you referenced “Do or Die” and the time I spent in Dropkick which I have deep respect and cherish. I love how they have been successful on their own terms and still do things on their own terms, and write amazing songs, make great records, and are very accessible to their fan base even with the high ranks they are at which is pretty high and Kenny recently with the Claddagh Fund and giving back and helping out who are clearly in need.  Through my time in Dropkick or my time in Street Dogs, when someone says to me “Songs that you sing they have helped me through this or helped me through that” or are inspirational I don’t think I would do it if I didn’t get that feedback.  I don’t receive tons of that feedback, fortunately I have received a decent amount of it but I think whether its three people or thirty or beyond that number of people who have come up and said that, means a lot.  I don’t think when you start out doing this, what you say or do have will have that type of impact on it but it feels good.  There is a sense of gratification and vindication and I am lucky, and I am grateful that songs I have been a part of have helped people, and they relay that to me.  I am a kid from Dorchester, Massachusetts; I am from a family of modest means.  To be able to be in a couple bands, tour the world multiple times, record records, I am a lucky man.  I am extremely, grateful.  I can’t even believe sometimes they hand me a microphone and they let me sing in the first place.  If you keep asking me to sing, hand me a mic, and give me a notebook and ask me to write lyrics, I am going to take it!  I don’t deserve it but I will take it. 

RDW: Lastly, you guys have been around for over ten years now, did you exceed your expectations, and accomplish what you have set out to do thus far, and take it as it comes?

Mike McColgan: Absolutely.  When we first started out, I thought we would just be doing weekend shows in Boston or New York, or Connecticut, or New Hampshire or DC that’s how far we would have ventured.  To tour the United States multiple times and a bunch of times in Europe and take it as far as Russia, to take our band to Moscow, really it’s cake for me.  I came back to music, when I started singing to doing the songs as a favor to  a friend, I didn’t take the music but the music took me. The energy and electricity I felt when songs like “Savin Hill”, “Star”, “Justifiable Fisticuffs”, “Two Bottles” and “Jakes” the energy I felt just took me and it still carries me to this day. I can’t really put it into words.  It’s just something happens.  Something happens to me when I go up there, I don’t know what it is but I am glad it happens, if that makes any sense.

 RDW: Well thank you very much for doing this man!

Mike McColgan: No problem.  Thank you, Nick!  I appreciate it.

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