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Interview with Tim Brennen of Dropkick Murphys

After 14 years together, Dropkick Murphys are still taking the stage with their Irish punk music. They carry instruments like the accordion and bagpipe along the way. In addition to juggling family, the Massachusetts band has been through more than a decade of set and band member changes. The band’s newest live album “Live on Lansdowne, Boston MA” was released earlier this year, and an upcoming full-length album is expected in early 2011.

The State Press caught up with guitarist Tim Brennen at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in June to discuss the past, the shows, and what's in the Dropkick Murphys' future.

State Press: You guys are so well known for your phenomenal shows, how do you prep for a performance and what do you think that you bring to the table that other bands don't in their shows?

Tim Brennen: I don't know, I mean we're definitely a live band. We're a bunch of people who have been playing shows for most of our lives. We just leave all our energy out there on the stage and we just bang through the songs as best as we possibly can. I don't know if we're any better or worse than a lot of bands out there. You know, we play the songs like they are on the record. We just try to stick what our fans like to see us do: go out there and sweat our [butts] off for an hour and a half.

SP: I read recently that you don't make it to the south (like Tennessee) that often for shows. So what area is always a must when you tour? Who are your greatest fans?

TB: We're super fortunate in the way that no matter where we play the fans are unbelievable and so awesome to us. We always have good ones in Chicago; New York City is always fun; LA is pretty good. And you know, we go overseas, and we'll get Germany and stuff. And they are really into us in Germany, which is nice. When we go there, it makes us feel at home.

SP: And you just put out your second live album in March this year. What's the motive behind selling a live version of songs your fans already know?

TB: Well, like I said before, we're definitely a live band and we just wanted to have a good record to show where the band is now. From last album until now there's been lineup changes…We just wanted to show the progression of the band at the same time. We just wanted to document what a live show would be at the same time. I think we did a pretty good job of it.

SP: I would say so. So a few of you guys were growing out your beards and working with the Claddagh Fund [A charity started by band member Ken Casey — the fund helps organizations that support children’s causes]. What was this all for?

TB: There was a wicked beard-a-thon going on. That's intended with the [Philadelphia Flyers] hockey team losing in the playoffs. But there was a couple of guys growing their beards out. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of those. I don't think I would look very good with a beard. I've never gotten to full beard status. I get way too annoyed and shave it before it gets substantial. But those guys were cool with growing beards. More power to them.

SP: All right, so you rock out with the accordion. Not really the typical instrument for a punk band, though it is a vital Irish sound for you guys. But how did you get into this instrument?

TB: I mean, I started off regular, learned how to play drums and guitar and stuff like that. Instruments just sort of made sense to me. So I just sort of set out to teach myself to play whatever I could. I was a big fan of Irish music and stuff.  [My friend’s dad] had an accordion that sat in the basement, so I asked if I could borrow it. Just sat in my room for a couple a weeks and I never thought that I would be playing accordion in a band before, but I guess that it was good that I put my parents through the hell of teaching myself how to play it.

SP: It's been 14 years for Dropkick Murphys. Nowadays, a lot of bands don't even make it half that long (like your duration in the band). What's the secret for keeping it all together? It could not have been easy.

TB: I've been in the band since 2003, so I've only been around for seven of those years. But you know, we're just like any other band. We love what we do. It's the best job in the world and none of us think any differently. Personally, everyone gets along. I mean, like I said, there's been some lineup changes and stuff but we're certainly in a good place now.

SP: And because you guys have been around for so long, how do you think the dynamic of recording, traveling and your bond with your band mates has changed from the beginning until now?

TB: Ken's got three kids and Al's got two kid's and Josh, our bagpiper, has a little boy. So, I mean, there's definitely that pressure to want to stay at home with your family. At the same time, going on the road is just kind of what we do. It's one of those things where we used to, when I first joined the band, go out for six or seven weeks at a time. Now we do these sort of short three week tours, but we do them incredibly frequently. It's still the same in the fact that we're pretty much always on the road. But there's probably a bit more lag time in between.

SP: Well, personally, I've never heard the story of how you joined the Dropkick Murphys. Would you mind recollecting?

TB: I was friends with a guy who was the guitar player at the time and he knew that I could play all these instruments. He got me a job coming out on the Warped Tour for three months selling merchandise for the band. After a while, they realized I could play a couple different instruments. At that point, they already had a guy who could play most of the traditional instruments, but every once in a while I would play accordion for one or two songs, if I was lucky. Then the rest of the day I'd be out in the sun selling merch and t-shirts. After that, I went back to school, and just as I went back to school, the kid who was playing all the Irish instruments left. So he called me and said 'We need you to join full time if you're into it.' And I said, 'Absolutely.' And so I started doing that. I started playing until 2008, I think, I played all of the Irish instruments. And when one of our guitar players left, the kid who actually got me the job, I moved up to guitar and playing accordion for a few songs. We got our friend, Jeff, to be the new multi-instrumentalist. So, I'm working my way up the chain. I'll be singer one day! (Laughs) I really don't want that job.

SP: So, when are are we going to hear new music from you guys? What's next for you boys?

TB: Well, we're writing stuff now. Not now, we're on the road at the moment. When we get home from this we'll just get together and finish up our good songs. Then, we'll hit the studio and hopefully we'll have something out at the latest by the spring, but we're working on it. There was some time in between records because of line up changes, but we've got a good batch of new songs now and we're all excited to get them on the record.

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