Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey on ‘Turn Up That Dial’, mental health and more

By Lucy Tessier
By April 3, 2021 April 7th, 2021 Features, Interviews, News

Upon the release of their latest record ‘Turn Up That Dial’, bassist and lead singer Ken Casey caught up with Dom to discuss the Dropkick Murphys journey forward as they plan to unleash their tenth album at the end of this month.

For fans of punk rock, April 30th cannot come quicker as the Massachusetts-based punk mavericks the Dropkick Murphys plan to release their most recent record ‘Turn Up That Dial’. Written and produced during a global pandemic, the album confronts themes of self-reflection and life experience, as Casey hopes the band’s new material, “puts a smile on everyone’s face or gets their blood pressure going, and ultimately lifts their spirits.” Everyone can agree that throughout lockdown we have all craved a slice of escapism, and this is exactly what Casey explains the band have aspired to achieve for their fans when the record is released.

“I think most of our lyrics a lot of the time come from life…sometimes reflections back to when you were a teenager, sometimes reflections back to something you just experienced or someone else in your family did,” discusses Casey as he explores the written direction that the band decided to take for ‘Turn Up That Dial’. A band that initially began in 1996, they were originally hailed as the underdogs in the punk scene when their music first landed, but this addition to their extensive discography has proved that once unknown bands can later proceed to reap massive success. “I would always feel the need to tell people what I was really thinking, which didn’t always pan out for me and the same in the early days of the band…we were such outcasts in the touring world in a lot of ways that if someone had a venue they didn’t treat us with respect,” admits Casey as he reflects on the prejudice formed against his small band from Quincy, “We didn’t play that game though…we might not have suited the best interest of what we were trying to accomplish you know, but it is what it is and we are who we are.”

Crafting a bestselling record is never going to be an easy feat for any band…but what about during a pandemic? “Well, I’ll tell you first and foremost, just having something to get up for everyday and focus on in those times when life shut down,” describes Casey as he announces his gratefulness for his career, “…It was a lifesaver for us to make this record, but it had its challenges – definitely having to do things separated, but it was unique too…and we’re up for a challenge.” Though some musicians found lockdown last March mind-numbing and distressing, for some like the Dropkick Murphys, it was a time to focus more intently on their artistry and the inspiration behind that. Outside of music, Casey utilised his time away from constant touring to spend time with his family, something he has longed for since fame grabbed him by the ankles: “The downside of being in a band is all the travel you do away from your family, so like that time with my children when I wasn’t having a tour pending like, ‘Oh I’ve got to go away next week or whatever,’ it was the first time in 25 years I’ve been in the same place for that long…Even my kids are now like, ‘You going back to work soon?’ So, the family side of it was absolutely hands down the best part and getting to be home a little more.”

When it comes to success, the American Celtic punk band are never short of it, having stood high up on the Billboard charts with some of their previous albums such as ‘The Meanest of Times’ and ’11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory’. However, what does it take it reach a point of self-pride and reputable achievement in the music industry? “I think success is just being able to get to a point where you can look at yourself in the mirror and you’re happy…I think one of the greatest things in life is finding something that you’re happy to do with your life,” Casey declares, though his wisdom derives from a place of pain and trauma, “My father committed suicide when I was eight and I have had my run-ins with substance abuse and alcoholism.” Despite this, there is light at the end of the tunnel as Casey announces that he is now 30 years abstinent from alcohol and drugs, a massive achievement for the musician. “Wherever you’re at today, doesn’t need to be where you’re at tomorrow or the next day…I feel like if myself and this band is not proof that you can do anything you set your mind to – I mean I didn’t even know how to play, and I had never been in a band before…and here we are 25 years later!” Advises Casey, as he outlines the trials and tribulations of successful musicianship.

With a fanbase that spans between a range of ages, Casey makes it explicit that he hopes his band’s music and journey will serve as a role model for anyone aspiring to take the same career path. “I think the one thing I see within music I will say sometimes is put your heart and soul into it, but sometimes people put their heart and soul into it to a point where it consumes them, and they let the success or perceived success or failure of the band dictate whether they’re succeeding or failing,” he warns, as this is undoubtedly the case for many creatives in competitive industries, “a lot of that stuff is out of your control.” Though the Dropkick Murphys may have met a dead end during some moments of their career, Casey emphasises the importance of staying afloat and keeping a positive mindset during those difficult moments: “I mean Dropkick Murphys had a lot of breaks…and if I had let the success or failure of the band define who I am, I would struggle. So, I think it’s an inside job and if you’re doing the work on the inside, it’ll probably translate in your other things in life…so don’t let the goals and who you’re trying to be define you. It’s good to put your heart and soul into it, but it can’t be the end-all-be-all either.”

A band that is renowned for its energetic, bold, and dynamic stage presence, Dropkick Murphys cannot wait any longer for live shows to return – although, this is the case for everyone at this point! Casey concludes the interview with a humble message to the band’s fans before the release of their latest record this April: “You make the whole thing work – we need you guys because playing these streams is really hard without you guys because that’s where the adrenaline comes from. Watching how the audience reacts to songs, I can’t wait to play in front of live, human, people again!”

Make sure to check out Dropkick Murphy’s new album ‘Turn Up That Dial’, out on April 30th via Born & Bred Records.

Words: Lucy Tessier

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