WGBH’s Edgar Herwick goes behind the scenes for a no-holds barred (pardon the pun) interview with Dropkick Murphys frontman Al Barr. Check out the transcript below and our front row footage of the Dropkick Murphys live at the House of Blues!
EDGAR B. HERWICK III, INTERVIEWER:
So we’re starting off by having everybody if you could say your name and what sort of your role is in the band.
AL BARR: Well, my name is Al Barr, and my role is lead singer for the Dropkick Murphys.
HERWICK: And how long have you been involved with the band?
BARR: I’ve been in the band for 16 years. Just about.
HERWICK: Talk about, as you best can, 16 years ago and how it all started for you.
BARR: Well, for me the Dropkick Murphys came on the scene in 1996. I had a band called the Bruisers up in New Hampshire, where I’m from. And they used to open for us. And then they just blew up. Not exploded, but got very popular quickly. Which naturally as a musician trying to make it yourself, makes you jaded against such bands. Our phone used to ring; all the national acts that came through the club scene, the circuit in Boston, we’d get the call to do like main support. Suddenly the phone wasn’t ringing anymore. So I wondered what the hell was going on, and then there was this Dropkick Murphy band.
The funny thing is, and I’ll tell this story because it’s where I ended up. The bass player at the time for the Bruisers, my buddy Johnny Rioux, he brought this cassette. He had gone to this show, I think in Manchester or Concord. He’d seen them in New Hampshire and he had this demo of this band the Dropkick Murphys. I remember he put it in, and I immediately knew it was this band that had robbed us from all these good spots of opening for all the national acts that would tour through. And I ripped that tape out and I said—and I threw it across my kitchen and I said, “Don’t ever bring that in my house again. Those guys are going nowhere quick!” And that was just a lot of resentment and anger, ‘cause later on, you know, [there was] egg on my face [laughs].
It’s funny, I got back from a tour—I’d done the Bruisers for ten years—I got back from a European tour. I had $50 in my pocket, I’d just been on tour for five weeks. It made absolutely no money. Not that you do it for the money, but the thing is, you leave your job. No job is really going to hold your place for you for five weeks; so you come back and you have to find a new job. I always worked kinda shit jobs anyway, so I could do this. I’ve been in bands for about 30 years? Since I was a kid.
In any event, we got back from Europe, things were not looking very promising for the future of the Bruisers. I was the only original member, there were seventeen line up changes, blah blah blah. I felt like I didn’t want to do it anymore. My phone rang, this girl from Epitaph [Records] Europe said, “Hey, did you hear about the Dropkick Murphys?” and I was like, “What’s going on?” At this point we had become friends, and I knew Kenny and Rick and Mike and Matt. And she said, “Well, you should call Kenny. They had got really sick and they had to dump off their tour with The Business,” this band from England that they were on tour with at the time. And I was like, “Oh God, I’m going to call them up.”
I called up Ken Casey, and I was like, “Hey man, what’s going on? I hear you’re sick! You alright?” He sounded fine. He was like, “Yea, you heard what happened, right?” I said, “Yea, I heard you were sick! What’s going on?” He said, “No, our singer Mike [McColgan], he quit the tour, he just left the band.” And I was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy.”
And I remember hanging the phone up and thinking “They’re all done,” you know what I mean, because they just put out this debut record on Tim Armstrong from Rancid’s fledgling label Hellcat. It had a big buzz, ‘cause they were like main support for this Bosstones’ tour, with the Bosstones were blowing up, which was a huge opportunity which the band was given. God bless the Bosstones. So in my mind I was like, “How are they going to continue?” because they put this record out, it’s literally been out for two months maybe, and the guy is not in the band anymore, you know what I mean?
In my mind, as I said, I was going to go get a factory job. I’ve been married for 20, going on 22 years now, 21 years? Anyways we’ve been together for 25. Long story there. But I was at a crossroads in my life, like what am I going to do? I wanna have children, I wanna be able to provide for my wife. I wanna do this family thing, but I also know that I want to do music. But this isn’t working out. Phone rings, it’s Kenny again, and he’s like, “Listen, we’ve been having a really hard time finding a replacement for Mike. And, we’re wondering—we’ve written a new album already, and we’re wondering if you could come down. And I know you’re doing the Bruisers, so I’m not trying to, y’know…”
And I said, “Well, actually I’m not; I’m gonna be breaking the band up.” And he goes, “Well uh, would you wanna come down and do like a informal tryout? Because, you know we just basically—” You know, it was funny, ‘cause they were practicing in a garage, and he said it got to the point where the garage door would be opening, and they would be hitting the down button ‘cause they see the kid’s shoes and they’d be like, nah, he’s not right, he’s not going to work, you know what I mean? [laughter] The stories of the people that tried out were hilarious, but I’m sure Ken will share those.
So I got in there—and this is pre social media, pre internet, pre any of that stuff, so everything was word of mouth, phone calls. We did a show, we finished the The Business East Coast dates, we finished opening for them. They came up to my hometown of Portsmouth and did a show at an old club there called the Elvis Room. And Ken and Matt came up and gave me like a garage tape of the new songs, to listen to, so that when I came in I would kind of have a little bit of an idea of what to do. So I’d listened to the songs, I’d learned like three or four of them. I went in, and they had me sing this song “Ten Years of Service,” which ended up being on the first recording sessions that I did with the band. I remember I [had] sung half the song, and they stopped, and they were like, “Um, can you leave the room?” And I was like, “Yea.”
HERWICK: What are you thinking in that moment [crosstalk] when they ask you to leave the room?
BARR: [crosstalk] “I’m thinking, well, that didn’t go so well. I’m thinking that didn’t go so well, I guess I’m driving back to Portsmouth in my Toyota Tercel—which had a kill switch in it, by the way. Who does that? I guess they get stolen a lot, Toyota Tercels. That’s a side bar. That’ll be on the editing room floor. [laughter]
Anyways, so I remember I went out, and then Ken opened the door, and he brought me back in and was like, “Listen, um, we love it. If you are interested, the job is yours.” And I was like, “Pfft. Whoa.” I really didn’t think, ‘cause I listened to the first record, and the first singer Mike, not to take anything away from him, he’s a great singer in his own right, we’re just completely different voices. So I just, when I got with the first record, I was like, I can’t do this. But when I heard the new—when I heard The Gang’s All Here material, which was the second record, I was like, man, I think I can do this.
At the time it was a small stipend a week, and we were practicing, you know, six out of seven days a week. We were there eight hours in Quincy, practicing, drilling. Seven days later, after I joined the band, we were in the studio recording the first stuff. I mean, there was no stopping with these guys. Like a month later we were on tour, and then a month after that, we were recording Gang’s All Here, with Lars Frederiksen from Rancid producing it.
So it was this amazing [thing], all of a suddenly everything that I wanted to be a part of and tried to set in motion in my life, but couldn’t because I couldn’t find people that were of the same mindset, of you gotta throw everything into this. You can’t just be like, but what about my job or what about my crocheting class, you know, whatever. You gotta be all into it. It was like the car drove up and the door opened up and these guys were like, you, you’re the one we want, this is gonna work.
And then I guess we spent the next three years on tour. It seems like a haze right now, looking back sixteen years later. But I remember everything, cause I’m like an elephant that way. It was rough because we knew each other, but you know friendships can take time to grow. You can’t just be like, oh, we’re friends. Now everybody gets friends instantly, you just hit a button I guess on the computer. I don’t understand that thing. But this was when you had to have real friends, so it was a process, you know what I mean? But it was an amazing time in my life, and it was interesting. My wife actually was like, no I think you should, ‘cause you know she’d been with me for nine of the ten years that I did the Bruisers. And she was like, you should stay. ‘Cause she always believed in me. So she didn’t know either.
So I was really conflicted. I didn’t know; but I knew that I was going to be with three other individuals that wanted, that knew what it took. And I didn’t even, you know what I mean, like I learned so much through the last 16 years. I mean you don’t really know what it takes until you go through it. When I see these younger bands, and God bless ‘em, that are trying to make it in the business that literally 1% of bands, and when I say make it, are able to even just eke out a living, you know what I mean?
It’s so hard and I see these bands and I’m like, until you throw caution to the wind and just go out there and do it, you really don’t know what you’re talking about. And I’m not trying to be like, oh I know—all I’m saying is, I just know from having gone through it, what it takes now to really do it. And would I do it again? Yea, I would, but not all the same, probably.
BARR: My buddy Vinnie Stigma, who’s the godfather of hardcore in my mind, I mean he’s probably one of the oldest American hardcore punk rockers. And he’s still playing guitar actively in Agnostic Front, and also in Stigma. He’s like an old New York guy. And years ago when Obama was running for president he put on Youtube this whole advertisement where he was running for president, and he was like, talking about Facebook—he didn’t even say Facebook, he just says, you know, [mimicking an Italian New York accent] “In my day you had real friends. You went out, you played stickball in the streets, you lit fires. And when there was a gun in that car, you knew you didn’t get in that car.” So my hat’s off to Vinnie. But I mean it’s true, this world is so strange now with social media. It’s only been in the last few years that I actually got a computer.
HERWICK: So I want to talk about interaction with the fans during a show, because you guys have obviously cultivated this fan base over time, and it seems to me that you guys have, even as you’ve gotten bigger, really gone out of your way to keep something of that barrier between the stage and the audience from being erected.
BARR: Yea, Yea.
HERWICK: And you’re a big part of that in the way that you’re on the stage.
BARR: The way that I am on stage has been…that’s always been like a punk ethos anyway. So I grew up with that. You bring your friends into a show because then it looked like you were a little more popular than you were [laughs]. There were like four guys—
HERWICK: Call in every favor you can.
BARR: There were like four guys that were like…Hey listen, you’re at practice every fucking week, and you’re drinking our Milwaukee’s Best, you’re coming to the show, and can you sing along a little bit so we look, like, good in front of all these other bands that actually have some people that know them. But that was like, like I said, it was a punk ethos. You know, that whole singing along thing, that was an important thing, and still is. And I think it’s definitely like when we get out there—it’s funny, because as you point out, we’ve gotten bigger, but we try to keep that small kinda thing going, because I think people whose radar we wouldn’t normally be on, and they’ve kind of caught on to the band through whatever way—we don’t really have a “How did you hear about us?” when you walk into the club—
HERWICK: On your Facebook page?
BARR: Yea…but we try to show them this is where we come from, and this is still important to us, you know what I mean? There’s so many people that I hear from all over the world, in this country, in Germany, in Holland, and people that—when I sit down to do an interview with people, and they’ll be like a fan doing the interview, and some German kid will be like [imitates German accented English] “You know I’ve been listening to you from, like, I was 16 and now I’m 26.” And it’s like, wow, ten years! How many bands were you into for the last ten years, I mean, when you were a kid? You know, you’ll go through music, you know what I mean? So that resonates with me, that’s like amazing. I think the fact that we’ve gotten bigger, but we try to stay true those ethos, and that’s very important to all of us, for sure.
HERWICK: What’s it like for you, what’s that feeling like where you suggest, you’re in Germany, you’re in Holland, you’re in Japan, and you kind of walk out and you’re singing part of a song, you’re firing the mic out, and there’s like, eight kids trying to get at the mic and sing your lyrics right back at you.
BARR: That’s, I think, that’s so inspiring, I think. When you see a song that you may have co-written, or just a song that you’re a part of because you’re singing it, I mean for me it’s like when you’re doing a song—it sounds kind of lame, you know—when you’re doing so many shows in a row, to some point, anybody who’s performing is maybe acting. But the nice thing about the Dropkick Murphys is I don’t feel like I’m ever acting. When I get out on the stage, we give as good as we get, and we always seem to get the best because we have the best fans.
And we really mean that, I mean, you see those people, they’re genuinely excited to be there, to be alive right in that moment, to be sharing that experience. All those things are like, that’s the stuff that makes just kind of swell up, and be like—you feel all that love coming at you. It just makes you get more—It’s just very intense, and that’s what brings it out in me. I’m just kinda going off what I’m feeling coming from those people. That’s really what it’s always been for me.
[MISSING?] In the early days, and I have to say this, we never got girls. Like girls coming to our shows in the early days. When we first wrote a ballad, when we wrote “Forever,” that was when we first saw girls, who were like coming to our shows. We did this tour back in 2000 with this band the Bouncing Souls, and there were chicks at the shows. And we were like, “Oh my god, there’s girls here.” And the Souls would be on, and they’re like one of my favorite bands. And I’d be watching them every night. And then Wig, their TM, their Tour Manager would come up in my ear and he’d be like, “Almost time for the penis show, Al!” [laughter]
And as soon as the Souls were off, the girls would disappear, and the dudes would take the front and it was like…and you know, God bless the dudes, but it’s nice to see both sexes represented at a show. You feel like you’re reaching more people than just—you’re hoping that the music that you’re writing is reaching more than just, and being identified with more than just, you know, some male thing.
HERWICK: Sausage party.
BARR: Yea, exactly.
HERWICK: You bring up something that’s I think a really interesting question, which is, for you in particular, somebody who comes from a very strong hardcore and punk background, the idea of starting to write ballads, perform ballads, sing ballads—did that feel like a risk for you?
BARR: Well you know, it’s funny. Our original guitar player, Rick Barton, who was part of the legendary Outlets, who were like a legendary rock ’n roll band in the late 70s, early 80s in Boston, and they used to play with hardcore bands all the time, which is how I they knew who they were, and years later I ended up playing in a band with him. He wrote the music for this song “Forever.” It wasn’t even named yet. And I remember when we were sussing it out at the practice space, we were still a four piece. Played slow it was like a pogue? polka? song…when they played it fast it sounded like “The Tide is High” by Blondie or something.
Like, it was weird…I remember Kenny Mack going, like it’s just not going to work. And I remember saying, you know, let me take this home, the music, and let me try to write some lyrics to it. I remember I was thinking about my wife when I wrote it. And it sounds kinda, you know, romantic I guess. But you know, I am romantic when it comes to my wife, that’s why we’ve been together so long. But I really felt like when I wrote it—I’m really into singer-song writer, I’m really into Steve Earl, and you know the old guard obviously as well, anybody from Bob Dylan to Woody Guthrie. I grew up listening to the Beatles when I was a kid, so there’s a lot of singer-song writer in my musical background before the punk came. To me it’s punk if it’s coming from the heart. It wasn’t so much the ferocity wasn’t in the song, but it was like, the message resonated with people. It was amazing.
And to this day, it’s one of our most popular songs with our fans that have been with us for so long. Any one of us, you ask any of us, and they can tell you a story, at least three or four stories regarding that song Forever, personally, where someone has come up and said, “My mother was buried to that song,” or “My son got married to that song,” or “I have the lyrics tattooed on me.” That’s stuff where you’re like, whoa. When something hits like that…you’re made that connection, and that’s a beautiful thing. But it started as a love song about my wife.
When I brought it back to the band and I remember singing the lyrics to the music then, Kenny was like, that’s it, that’s what we needed. And then Kenny’s always been the master arranger. I marvel at that. I’m able to write lyrics and stuff and I’m able to come up with melodies sometimes but Kenny has this knack for arranging songs. He’s a great lyricist as well, and songwriter as well, but he’s a master at arrangements. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years just watching how he arranges things. He just came up with this arrangement that really just built the song into what it’s become.
HERWICK: [Tell me about] “[The] Boys are Back.”
BARR: What do I think about “Boys are Back?” You said one word?
BARR: Oh, OK. “Boys are Back,” it’s like a rock anthem, you know what I mean? It’s a Friday night and you feel the excitement; people are jamming into a car and we’re going downtown. And we’re gonna have some fun, and in doing so, who knows what’s going to happen, you know what I mean? Sometimes things happen, but that’s why you’re with your friends.
HERWICK: Alright, “Black Velvet Band.”
BARR: Good God, we’re really going to cover that song? I remember hearing a traditional version of it and thinking “Impossible.”
HERWICK: Why? Why was it impossible?
BARR: I just thought ‘cause you hear these original folk traditional—I think we were at some New York Irish fest or something, and we heard some band doing it. And we were starting to delve into the idea of doing that song, and I was like, “How the hell are we going to arrange this one?” But again I defer back to Ken and his master arrangement skills to come up with a good rocking version of that.
HERWICK: “[I’m] Shipping up to Boston.”
BARR: “Shipping up to Boston.” Ahoowaa! No. I think about Martin Scorsese, the Departed. I think about an email at 11:30 at night, reading it and going, “Oh that’s never gonna happen, but that’s pretty cool.” Because it said, Martin Scorsese’s doing a song – sorry – doing a movie about [the] Irish mafia in Boston, and thinking about using Shipping Up to Boston. And I remember thinking, that’s so awesome, but it is never gonna happen. And then, fast forward months and [I’m] sitting in the movie theater with my wife and hearing the song and all the hair on my body standing up and just being like, oh my God, this is crazy. And since then [laughs] it’s just been used in so many things, you know, The Simpsons and other TV shows. It’s just crazy, kind of, how that’s been used, but it’s very cool! [laughs]
HERWICK: Is it still fun to play that one live?
BARR: Yea, Yea, because people get really fired up. I’ve put all the other stuff aside when it comes to that, I just look at it as it’s one of our songs, and people apparently wanna hear it.
HERWICK: “[The] Warrior’s Code.”
BARR: Mickey Ward. That song, that’s one of my favorite songs to play. I just love the way it starts, with the guitar and just the way it crashes in with the drums. Something about that song just makes my blood boil in a good way, if that’s possible? It just gets me fired up. And if we’re having a tough time waking the audience up, that one seems to do it. “Warrior’s Code.”
HERWICK: “Which Side Are You On.”
BARR: “Which Side Are you On,” I think about what’s become of – when we play that now, I mean when we recorded it was different, but when we play that now it’s funny because people will catch it if they don’t know it, by the end—they’ll get the chorus you know what I mean, but I wonder if they’ll really understand what this is about.
HERWICK: What is it about?
BARR: It’s about the early days of the unions, and about trying to get some rights for the workers, and just trying to gut through the apathy that I’m sure a lot of union organizers encountered at the time, trying to get people to care about themselves and about other people and trying to unite people. But I think there was so much poverty and there wasn’t really a middle class, there was poor and rich. And because there was that fight for that, there was more uniting people, it was easier to do it.
Today, it seems to fall more on deaf ears, I find, as I go across the country. I think people have a real twisted idea about unions, you know. But I don’t really want to get into all that. But it’s definitely something that I still—you know, when I do it, I do a scream as we start it and it’s kind of like a battle cry, if you will. I believe…people’s idea of unions is like [nasal voice] “Oh, that’s just some guy just trying to get paid more than someone else.” No, that’s not really want it’s about. But in any event, I don’t want to get into it. But we’re all union members; we support unions, and we will continue to…[nasal voice] Wake up, America.
HERWICK: “Barroom Heroes” [sic].
BARR: “Barroom Hero.” It’s funny, that song, people hear that song and they think it’s glorifying drinking, it’s glorifying the life of a guy in a bar. But if you really listen to the lyrics, it’s about basically the downfall of excess, and living the life of excess, and not realizing that suddenly something that you thought was just something you did has now become your life. You know what I mean? I hate drinking. It’s not supposed to be like a—we’re not trying to preach by any [means], it’s just kind of more of a story about a character who that’s happened to. And I happen to know a lot of them. You meet a lot of them when you’re on the road. And I have a lot of them that are friends of mine, so.
HERWICK: How about “Flannigan’s Ball?”
BARR: The thing about “Flannigan’s Ball” is when we recorded that, we had Ronnie Drew [of the Irish folk band The Dubliners], and Spider Stacy [ Peter “Spider” Stacy” of The Pogues] singing on that. That was in itself an amazing…to have, and it was…I think it possibly was one of the last things that Ronnie Drew recorded, because he passed away soon after he recorded it.
I remember we were trying to get some of these old traditional Irish guys on records. I’m not going to mention the name because the family is living in New England…let’s just say we put the feelers out back in ’99 to see if we could get said Irish folk legend to sing on our record. And it came back to us, “Oh, I’d love to do it, [funny voice] so long as they’re nothing like The Pogues, ‘cause they’ve set back Irish music a hundred years.” And we thought, wow, he doesn’t like The Pogues, he’s going to _hate_ us. So we just kind of capped that idea.
And then in 2005 we did a tour, we did the Christmas tour in [the] UK with The Pogues. So we got to know Spider. I mean, we got to know everybody in the band, but Spider’s really, I mean, he comes and hangs out. To this day he’s really a good friend of ours. The last show was in Dublin and Ronnie Drew came out to do a song with The Pogues. And afterwards, after the show was over, he was walking past our dressing room, and he leaned in and just said, “Ah, great job lads, you guys were great!” And we were like, Ronnie, can you come in, and we were talking, and we asked him, would you ever consider singing on a Dropkick Murphy record? And he was like, *whew*, I’d love to. And he gave us his cell phone number right there on the spot.
He was like what, when we meet people like that, people like Joe Strummer and these legends, and they’re so humble, it’s like that right there, that speaks to me. That’s what I hope to be someday. Not necessarily saying, I don’t think we’ll ever be like that. But I hope to be, in the success that we’ve been able to attain, I want to be able to still have someone walk away from me and go, he’s a nice guy, and not go, I’m going to go burn every Dropkick record I have right now. I’ve met my heroes. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the people, and some of them aren’t so nice. And it makes it hard to go back and listen to their records afterwards, when you have a bad experience with them, ‘cause you’re like, “Fuck, man, that guy was an asshole!”
But Ronnie Drew – I remember, he took a taxi cab to the studio, and he took a train back. I mean, knew everybody on the street from the taxi cab driver to whoever. He was a man of the people. Everybody knew he who was. He was just the nicest, most humble guy. The world needs people like him and it was a sorry loss to have him go.
HERWICK: That’s it for Murphys songs, but I want to talk about some of the covers that you guys [have done]. How did the “Jumpin Jack Flash” thing come about?
BARR: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Well every year we do this, the last 14 years we’ve been doing this St. Patty’s Day thing, we do multiple shows. And it’s like, how do we make it more exciting? How do we keep it exciting? And we’re all rock fans. Along with punk rock, we love rock. Not all of it, but you know what I mean, the good stuff. The old [Rolling] Stones stuff is awesome, and that’s a great song. We thought, maybe we’ll do that and give that a whirl. So we did, and, uh, I think it went over like a fart in a space suit last night, so maybe we won’t do that again. We had fun playing it, though.
HERWICK: Do you feel liberated when you’re up there, and you’re doing a cover song? Are you sort of living outa rock ’n roll fantasy a little bit, playing a Stones song? Does it feel different when it’s not your stuff?
BARR: The thing is, because we only learned it two or three days ago, it’s like even though you’ve been singing with that song when it comes on the radio or whatever, you wanna kinda put yourself into it somehow. It’s kind of hard to do that in the limited time you have. It’s a little strange, but at the same time, we know we’re not the Rolling Stones. We’re trying not to be a cover band, but we’re trying to be the Dropkick Murphys covering a rock song. Hopefully that comes across when we were doing it.
HERWICK: How about “Taking Care of Business” [by Bachman-Turner Overdrive]? Whose idea was that one?
BARR: Going back to the days in the van when we were a four piece, our guitarist, Barty, Rick [Barton], he is an old rock guy. He used to put on BTO because we’d get into- we’d be coming into New York City, and all of a sudden he’d be like, [FV, cross talk] “Alright, I’m putting this on right now.” And he’d put this in and it’d be this song “Come into a new town” [“Rock Is My Life, and This Is My Song”]. He’d stomp his feet and he’s just be like “Listen to that, listen to that, this is awesome.” And we’d just be like rolling our eyes and like oh God, you know, this is Rick. But like I said, we’re all old rock fans and “Taking Care of Business,” and it seems to be…[MISSING?]
We’d stop at these truck stops and we’d buy these cassettes, you know, 2.99 for like, Bad Company’s Greatest Hits or like The Cars or whatever.
HERWICK: REO Speedwagon.
BARR: Unnnh, I draw the line there [laughs]. But if it was guitar heavy and rock, we were having it. BTO is funny, it always just reminds me of Rick and the early days of the band. “Taking Care of Business” is just a fun song. Even if the younger people don’t know it, by the time you’re going through the second chorus, people are like, OK, I get it, taking care of business, I’m there. But it’s funny, because we have such a varied age group of fans, you see the old people, they get fired up, man. They’re just like, oh I know this one! So that’s kind of cool too, to see that.
HERWICK: I just have one more question. You talked a little bit about it, but I’d like to know a little bit more about the process for you and about writing lyrics. And how you collaborate. Ken or whoever…
BARR: It’s [an] interesting process, I guess you could call it. It’s different for everything, you know what I mean. For me, personally, because I’m the lyricist and sometimes melody guy. It’s weird, if I have to sit down and write a song—if any of us have to like, [funny voice] “Go write a song.” It’s like your mother telling you to go read a book. It’s just not going to happen. Or if you did it’s going to be the worst song ever.
For me, lyrics just come to me. Something might inspire me. Sometimes it’s just like a line, other times it’s just a paragraph, sometimes I get the whole song. So it’s different every time. There isn’t a formula, if you will. And then it’s a matter of you bring it in, we just get together. and then it’s a matter of putting it through the Dropkick Murphys’ gaulntlet of, is this worthy of us? Is it something that’s gonna resonate with the fans? But also, more importantly, is it something that we can believe in? ‘Cause we gotta believe in it, as a band, in terms of whatever it is. Whether it’s “Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced,” or “The Warrior’s Code, “it’s gotta be something we can kinda get behind.
HERWICK: You’re kind of a singer for hire in the very beginning of your relationship with them. Now it’s a completely different animal than it was then. As a lyricist, when you were starting that— you said, you gotta build friendship over time with people. Was it nerve-wracking? Is it something where you sort of—does it take trust?
BARR: Yea, I think there’s definitely trust there. I remember the first two. The Gang’s All Here, as I said, was already written when I joined, so that was more what I had to learn was I was coming from a band that was based in R&B, so everything was being song in the pocket. With the Irish music, it’s everything is ahead of the beat. So I had to really get that, even the punk stuff, everything is ahead of the beat, ahead of the beat, ahead of the beat. That took me a really long time to get. Now it’s second nature, now it’s like slow down now [laughs].
But in terms of the trust building, with our third record, Sing Loud, Sing Proud, I co-wrote two of the songs on there. I remember saying that in a Polish interview and they go, [in German accent] “Two songs? Is not so much.” I don’t know why I’m throwing a German accent on the Poles. I just remember going, well, I tried anyways. It was a song called “The Gauntlet” and another song “Forever,” and those were two of the songs that seemed to get talked about the most. I’m not trying to blow my own horn because like I said, I co-wrote them, and it wasn’t something that I did or anything like that. I wouldn’t be anything without the other guys in the band. But I was really proud of that. The fact that I’d written—
HERWICK: You were part of this. You helped create this thing.
BARR: Exactly. I felt like the teabag had finally started to seep in the water if you will.
HERWICK: A little more about process, like you’re saying it comes to you as a line. What happens? You’re like, “Oh my god I have an idea,” do you text to yourself, do you write it down on a napkin?
BARR: I have like, in my memo, audio memos, I’ve got all these things. and then I’ll get into a hotel room and on this tour I remember spending like four hours just writing down— actually putting the lyrics into my notes section from the memo. But I had to write it out on hotel paper and then transfer it over. Someday they’ll come up with an app probably that I don’t have to do that. Hurry up with that [laughter].
It’s very easy for me to [forget?] something. Even at night, I’ll keep the phone next to my bed, cause I’ll wake up from something and if have, I’ve done this so many times where I gone, that’s a great song, I’ll remember it when I wake up. Wake up, don’t remember it. So I’ve learned, you know, I’ll be driving, I’ll be on the toilet, whatever. You know what I mean, when it comes to you get it, catch it, cause it’s in the air right now. It doesn’t exist yet. It’s in the air. So grab that butterfly, you know what I mean?