Dropkick Murphys has never been a band to sweat the small stuff or steep their music in stuffy political narratives.
Closing in on the release of their tenth album, Turn Up That Dial, they are offering more reprieve from the lingering chaos of the world with anthemic songs to raise a glass to, like “Middle Finger”, “Queen of Suffolk County,” and “Turn Up That Dial.”
“Some of it was written, pre-pandemic, but the majority was written during,” vocalist Ken Casey tells American Songwriter. “And I feel like overall the people who continued working or had something to focus on did better than the people that just watched the news 24/7. There was a conscious effort to not sing the blues of the pandemic, and to really focus on hoping for happier times ahead or looking back at happier times in our lives, because after this horrible time no one’s going to want to reminisce about it.”
Casey even went as far as to consciously not write about his current life experiences. Instead he wrote lyrics that linked new perspectives to his old ways, which is evident on the single “Middle Finger.” The song can easily be construed as an abrasive anthem simply ‘sticking it to the man,’ but it was more retrospective than that.
“’Middle Finger’ is not just about telling people to screw off and giving them the finger, it’s a look back at how having a bit of a rebellious spirit can make life difficult,” Casey said. “But sometimes I’m glad that I was taught to stand up for myself and speak up. But over the years I’ve learned that restraint is also valuable to have in your arsenal.”
“I think it’s a lot of looking back on life,” he adds. “I don’t write so much about what’s going on in my life nowadays. I write about life with a different perspective, where in my twenties writing music was probably more brash in the way it was told.”
Turn Up That Dial with its nostalgic nature also welcomed producer Ted Hutt, who the band has known and worked with closely for years. “I always kind of said ‘no producer will ever put their heart and soul into making a record the way the band will.’ But then we met Ted. And he put his heart and soul into the work whether it was on the technical side or pre-production side. It’s hard to get full respect from seven band members and Ted definitely has that.”
Recording separately and distanced was also a challenge that Hutt took head on as the band exchanged much of the demos via an app called Sprite. “You can put modal ideas in and send it around to everybody and it was awesome,” Casey said about using the app. “It was really instrumental; I think it’ll help us write quicker in the future.”
The trust and respect for the music was even more crucial when it came to the standout ballad on the album, “I Wish You Were Here,” a rather intimate song written by co-vocalist Al Barr during his father’s passing. And though the song is not explicitly written from that perspective it provides a universal link to loss that many have experienced over the last year. It was also the first time the band ever chose to end an album with a slower tune, and it bookends the anthemic track list perfectly offering a dynamic and raw tinge to the record.
“That song was written well before any of this, but we felt like as much as we wanted this album to be an uplifting thing, we also wanted this song to be on the album,” Casey said. “It was definitely topical for this year, not just for all that have passed but also for the people—the grandparents that haven’t seen their grandkids—and how we’ve been separated for the holidays. It just kind of summed up the sentiment of the year with without being a song about that.”
Ready to leave the loss and grief behind from the last year, the band kicked off the new album cycle with a St. Patrick’s Day livestream Still Locked Down, which saw donations going towards their displaced crew and charity. With such success from the performance as well as their previous livestream in May of 2020, Streaming Outta Fenway, the group will also be streaming once more on May 1 after the album’s release on April 30.
“It was a great release playing the new songs,” Casey said about Still Locked Down. “We’re really excited for the record release show now.”
The excitement of livestreaming is not just due to the personal reprieve but also reminds Dropkick Murphys of times passed and the community that their fans have built from attending live shows over the years in their hometown, Boston.
“I think the Boston shows are kind of like a pilgrimage for people,” Casey said. “The audience is what really makes the show. When we play in Boston, we have everyone from grandparents to kids to aunts and uncles there. And I swear, half of them don’t even like the music, but they just get a kick out of watching the whole dynamic of how the band and the audience kind of come together and find magic.”
After over a year of nonexistent touring and in-person shows Casey is ready to get back to that community, though he has managed to find a silver lining to the perilous times as well.
“I try to look at the glass half full,” he says. “These have been horrible times and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody and hopefully we never go through it again. But ya know, after years of traveling and touring, having a summer home when nothing was looming and I could just spend time with my kids and really relax for the first time in 25 years—there was some good to it. But now I’m ready to go.”