Stripped down to its roots, punk rock is about raw expression of emotion, about equality between musician and listener. Boston-based punk band the Dropkick Murphys, carries punk’s 30-year tradition, trumpeting ideals of unity and support for the underground scene.
Al Barr, lead singer for the prominent punk outfit, recently spoke with The Hatchet about the band and his views on today’s punk music. Barr makes it clear from the outset that his music is too eclectic to be categorized as simply “punk.”
“I hate people who label my band,” Barr said in an interview. “I’ll piss on anyone who does that.”
The Dropkick Murphys fuses punk with traditional Irish music, creating a unique and empowering sound. While he shies away from labels, Barr is clear about the band’s backbone.
“Our band has always been rooted in Irish punk rock,” he said.
The Dropkick Murphys’ upcoming release Sing Loud, Sing Proud (Epitaph) adds more traditional Irish instruments to the mix. The originality of the album, which will be released March 20, can largely be attributed to the departure of past producer Lars Fredrikson, guitarist and singer for Rancid.
“(Fredrikson) had always told us, `Guys there’s gonna come a time when you have to do this on your own,'” Barr said. “We were definitely to the point where we were ready.”
The band plays Thursday in D.C. at Nation along with The Swingin’ Utters and Fredrikson’s other band, Lars Fredrikson and the Bastards. Barr said he is excited to return to D.C. after a brief appearance at a Tower Records in Virginia resulted in a near-riot last month.
“It was crazy, 400 kids moshing in Tower Records to us acoustic, Barr said. “They got the spirit in their heart.”
Sing Loud, Sing Proud saw a few additions to the band’s lineup. Three new members, Mark Orrell, Spicy McHaggis and Ryan Foltz, are all youngsters compared to 39-year-old Barr. The band mates, who range in age from 17 to 23, play a variety of instruments from bagpipes to tin whistles.
Barr said he finds the new blood energizing but slightly odd.
“The new kids are young and vital,” he said. “It’s weird, I’m like the old guy in the band.”
Barr got his start in punk rock years ago as the front man for The Bruisers. He joined the Dropkick Murphys in 1998, replacing original singer Mike McCoughlin, who left after the release of the band’s first album, Do or Die, citing distaste for touring. In his time, Barr said he has seen the punk-rock genre grow in popularity.
“Punk was never supposed to be big,” he said. “You couldn’t put on a punk show in the ’80s. We would get some hall and lie to them, tell them we we’re having a top-40 dance.”
In his time with the Dropkick Murphys, Barr said he has witnessed a substantial shift in the band’s following.
“I look out in the crowd and its all 13- and 14-year-old kids,” Barr said.
The young teenagers are a change from the non-racist skinhead and punk following that characterized the band’s early years on the punk scene – a following that often caused misperceptions of the band, Barr said.
Barr said many people are uninformed about the realities of skinhead culture, explaining that racist skinheads only compose a small, largely disdained, minority of the group. He challenges critics, who call the band racist, to research the skinhead movement.
“If you’re going to attack someone you should really do your homework,” he said. “It was started by black Jamaicans in the early 1960s as a way to celebrate working-class pride.”
Although the band dips into traditional codes of pride in one’s work and country, Barr said the group is not centered around a message.
“We’re not a political band,” he said. “We’re an American band.”
One message Barr is willing to spread is his support for online music-sharing services like Napster.
“I’ve never made any money in this business. I think in the end it helps us,” Barr said. “Let people do it. The true music fan will buy the CD anyway.”
With a solid new album and a highly anticipated tour, the Dropkick Murphys has a bright future ahead.