DROPKICK MURPHYS (07/09/22)
Dropkick Murphys brings back Woody Guthrie to this world by giving a new voice to his words. With new album This Machine Still Kills Fascists, the band takes a strong political stand that needed to be discussed with frontman Ken Casey.
The last time we saw you France you were at Hellfest then, In the Nîmes Arena, how was it?
Ken Casey (vocals): Damn, it was beautiful. I did not know that something like that existed in France. It was such an opportunity to play out there. And the show was a lot of fun. We actually filmed there some part of a music video for our upcoming album. We used some of the Hellfest footage for one music video, and some of Nîmes for the new single “All You Fonies”.
This new record is named This Machine Still Kills Fascists, this is a phrase Woody Guthrie used to write on his guitar. Could you introduce Mr. Guthrie to the French audience? As he is not that well-known in France.
Ken: Woody Guthrie was a famous American songwriter. His song “This Land Is Your Land” was kind of the people’s national anthem. Not the government’s anthem, but the people’s anthem. He was a strong fighter for fairness and workers’ rights. A good voice for the underprivileged people. He talked about corporate greed and a lot of anti-fascist stuff. Today in America, fascist tendencies are on the rise. Corporate greed is on a high, where the rich got much richer. The difference between the rich and the poor is getting larger than before the pandemic. The songs that he wrote 80/90 years ago are very relevant today.
When you listen to the lyrics, it is almost painful to hear how relevant they are.
Ken: I think most artist would love to know their words are relevant all those years later. But I think Woody would prefer that were not.
You stripped down the instrumental parts in this record, to put an emphasize on the lyrics. It’s all about rhythms and voices. Did you want to make something different with this record?
Ken: For all those years we wanted to make something different, and we wanted to put our voice front and center. We also wanted to challenge ourselves. We still wanted to make the record powerful, but it’s harder work to make it powerful when the music is stripped down. It was a real challenge to us. It was also quite a lot of fun. We recorded 20 songs so there is a volume 2 as well. But you’ll see that when we’ll make our next Dropkick Murphys album we’ll react to that, we’ll make it heavier and faster. It’s nice to be able to do all these different things.
You did some special work with your voice as well. Like on “10 Times More”, you used lots of voices to make it like troop.
Ken: It’s more like a chant. It’s a metaphor for all the voices that we need out there. Cause we really need all the voices we can get out there. It’s just all of us from the band, in a room with lots of reverb. It’s a big natural sound but it sounds like there are more of us. In fact, we were only 7 or 8 in the room with our guitar tech. But it does sound like a hundred people.
It sounds like you’re a bunch of soldiers, trying to make the world stops.
Ken: That’s exactly what we are trying to do.
The record is not all about anger and rage and resignation. There is a softer side to it, like with the song featuring Nikki Lane.
Ken: I think it’s important, that if you want to make a song like “Ten Times More” powerful, you need to have other songs that are just the opposite. If you have ten songs where everyone is just stomping and screaming, then none of them sounds powerful. There is a need for variation.
How did you come up with the idea of bringing Nikki Lane on that song?
Ken: We knew that the lyrics were written as a duet. So, we needed to bring some female voice on it. Obviously, the whole album is built with and americana twist in it. We thought it was best to have a guest that come from that world. We invited her to do it and are happy she said yes.
The last song is a duet with Woody Guthrie himself. How did you manage to do it?
Ken: We stumbled upon a very rare recording of his. Woody was considered such as an important political activist that the government recorded him for the librarian congress. They invited him in, and they wanted to have some of his records just for historical reasons. This is a very rare song. I just thought someday: “hey wouldn’t it be fun to play it?“. We did not even think of putting it on the record. Then I thought it would be nice to play it with Woody. So, we played along the original recording of Woody and his guitar. I dropped my vocals in there. It just seemed such a perfect way to end the record. It was almost like bringing him alive again.
You worked closely with his daughter Nora. How did she react when she heard the song?
Ken: Nora has been great with the Dropkick Murphys. She’s been very complimentary of everything we’ve done. She especially loves what we did with that song. Not just because she could hear her father sing on the album, but because we had her son Paul play and sing backup on the vocals of that song. He played guitar and sang with us. In the studio, playing and singing Woody‘s lyrics with Woody‘s grandson… it gave us goosebumps.
How did it feel to be singing without your co singer and some lyrics that you did not write?
Ken: I feel very connected to his words. They are very inspiring to me. The fact that they have never been recorded before, it felt like we were doing something more important than just making music. We were helping bringing some history to the world. His message is something that I fully agree with, to a point where it doesn’t seem like these are not my words. It’s so personal that sometimes I forget that I did not write them.
After the pandemic, most of the bands were trying to produce some feel good or positive music. Your album is more like a political statement trying to show us the consequences of the pandemic on the dissentions between rich and poor.
Ken: We have to push back so we can enjoy the good times. If we do not push back, there will be no more good times. That’s the message we are trying to pass on.
You were in the news lately, because you raised your voice against Trump, and it went quite viral on the media. What message were you trying to convey?
Ken: Sadly, a lot of our fanbase in America, a lot of working-class people believe in conspiracies and in the lies that Trump is telling them. I sometimes feel that this is our responsibility to tell our audience that they need not to believe in the lies. That they might want to see the other side of it. Obviously that video ended up picked up worldwide. The video happened to be in Pennsylvania. The way our election system work, makes that Pennsylvania comes down to make losers or winners in the election. The republican running for governor in Pennsylvania is a Trump supporter and an election denier. He has said that if he’s elected and in the next election a democrat is about to win, he will single handedly overturn the election. I feel that the fate of American democracy can lie in the hands of whoever wins Pennsylvania. I thought it was important to tell truth there.
And to conclude this interview, what rocks your life, Ken?
Ken: The time I get to spend with my bandmates in front of an audience. There is no greater feeling than playing in front of an audience that is singing the words back at you, participating in the show. Especially in France, people are very passionate, we are very thankful to our fans here.