Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey is staying off Facebook these days. He’s tired of coming across posts that either promote white nationalism and fascism or tear down labor unions and workers’ rights. It’s too hard to swallow for the bassist of a band that is nearly as well-known for its left-leaning political activism as it is for its hard-charging, fist-pumping Celtic punk sound.
In January, Dropkick Murphys released their ninth album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory. The LP quickly rose to the top of Billboard’s Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts — a first for the band.
This summer, the Murphys hit the road with Rancid for the From Boston to Berkeley tour, which starts July 27 in Bangor, Maine and wraps up Aug. 26 in Los Angeles. Each night, the bands — whose history dates back to 1997 when Rancid members got Dropkick Murphys signed to its first label — will perform a joint encore together. The Bouncing Souls and Jake Burns open the first half of the tour, while The Selecter and Kevin Seconds open the second half.
Casey spoke to Amplify about the tour, the album, social media and why Dropkick Murphys fans mean so much to him.
Tell us about the tour with Rancid. What will the show be like?
It’s awesome. We go way back. Tim (Armstrong) signed us to our first album. Lars (Frederiksen) slept on my father-in-law’s couch. It was just cool. Lars came on tour with us in 2001 with his side band, and when James (Lynch) broke his wrist, Lars filled in for a month. There’s a lot of history with us, with our fans, going back to our Warped Tour days. There was that certain style of punk back then, and we were coming from the same place. This tour is like the grown-up Warped Tour. The people who come will get their money’s worth. It’s different enough, yet similar enough that fans will enjoy it. We’re all kind of kindred spirits, and it shows.
So, if it wasn’t for Rancid, it’s possible there would be no Dropkick Murphys. Have you guys stayed close since those early days?
We went our own ways in some areas. We got to be later into our careers and didn’t tour together or see each other as much, but the friendship has remained the same and the respect has remained the same. I think that’s what made us feel so overdue to do this, like, “Man, we have gotta get back together.” Bands that are both on tour are like ships passing in the night. It was a way to reconnect the two bands and reconnect the bands with our fans. American music festivals are kind of elitist. Rancid and ourselves tend to play in all the European festivals. This is our way of playing at an American outdoor summer festival together.
What’s this encore performance at the end of each show we’re hearing about?
We’re really just kicking it around now. Rancid is finishing up their new album, and the idea is having five or six different covers that we play together each night, or we each choose from three or four of our own songs. Maybe one of our more popular songs, one of their more popular songs. Either way, we’ll all be out there playing together every night.
How did you pick the opening bands?
We picked the East Coast band and (Rancid) picked the West Coast band. The Bouncing Souls are an East Coast tradition. They are one of those bands who we share a mutual fan base with. We thought they would make the tour stronger. Then I said to Jake (Burns), “I think your songs would be great with us acoustic.” He said he’d love to.
Your band has gone through a lot of changes over the years, most recently with the addition of a new bagpipe player. How do you keep your bond solid despite all the transitions?
When you think about all the changes over the last 21 years, it’s really been a love-it-or-leave-it atmosphere. The guys who have loved it have been there, 100 percent heart and soul. The guys who have left, it’s been, “If you’re not that into this, you should go before it becomes a resentful thing,” and we’ve never let it get to that. We’re still friendly with those guys because we’ve never let it get to that. Some guys left because of women. It’s the classic thing. It happened to two of our band members. They meet a woman on the road and the woman tells them they don’t want them to be on the road anymore. For the most part, we’ve had support from the families. Being on the road takes you away from your families. We don’t take that for granted.
In January, you released 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory. What kind of response are you getting to the album and its messages about addiction and the country’s opiate epidemic?
I talk to people after the shows every night. Almost every time, there are people sharing their personal stories with me. Obviously (the album) is spreading a message and awareness about (opiate addiction) and that is most important. Hopefully, our listeners aren’t battling that problem, but a lot of people come up to me and say they can apply it to their own struggles, and get help from it. It always makes you feel good to think that your music is helping people. You hear the stories you wouldn’t ever pick up otherwise. People are very kind. It means a lot. There are people who listen to your band and there are the people who really get the band. It makes it all worthwhile.
You once pummeled a skinhead who made a Nazi salute at a show in New York. How does what’s happening now affect the songs you write and the way you perform?
Pummeled? What’s this, pummeled?
OK. You beat the shit out of the guy.
(Laughs) That’s better. In 21 years of doing the band, it was the only time someone at a show had ever used a racist gesture. It doesn’t happen where someone like that will be at our shows, thankfully. But, I see it a lot on social media. I try to stay off Facebook because of it. You see people saying crazy stuff, lifelong friendships ending. It’s pretty sad. When I’m on tour, though, we don’t see or hear about anything. We go from the bus to the venue and back. Our world is a bubble. I keep my head in the sand.
What’s next for the Dropkick Murphys? Any future tour plans or album in the works that we can look forward to?
We go to Europe leading into the Rancid tour. In the fall, we go to work on our next album, which we recorded half of when we did the last one. It could come out sometime in 2018, depending on when we allocate enough time to finish it, or if another tour comes up. We’re in a creative space and feel as good as we ever have.
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