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It’s been Saturday evening, second day of Hellfest, sitting outdoor at the press area with Josh “Scruffy” Wallace: Dropkick Murphys’ bagpipist. Being in a great mood and more than talkative, Scruffy talked about several subjects such as the latest release of Dropkick Murphys “Going Out in Style”, the upcoming concept album, the working class, the music industry and his music influences mentioning that Slayer are his favorite band! …by Panagiotis Karagiannidis
Scruffy from Dropkick Murphys is here with us, hello Scruffy!
Let’s start the interview. It’s been more than a year since the release of ”Going Out In Style”. An album that got the highest chart position for Dropkick Murphys.
Yeah, #6 I think….
Yes, #6!. How do you feel about that and I wanted to ask you if you expected such success for the album.
No, you know, honestly it was a concept album we had about this guy named Cornelius Larkin and just an idea that kinda pushed around a while, and the reception was overwhelming, we honestly didn’t expect to go as high as it did and honestly you know, we were honoured and amazed that it took that kind of position and so, in the line of that we’re actually writing up the second record now, the second half of that, a guy with the name Mike McDonald is actually gonna be writing a book based on this character.
Yes, I read it on your website.
Yeah, and it’s been going fantastic and you know, I think the older we get… we’re like wine you know, it takes age but it tastes a little better as we go on.
What’s the reason of the succesfull of the album?
In my opinion, it’s music from the heart that everyone can kinda relate to, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what background part of the world you’ve got, it’s stories anyone can relate to, everyone had a parent had to immigrate or work really hard and things like that, so it’s universal.
On March 18th you played an intimate show on Brighton Music Hall.
How has it been for you?
Well you know, honestly these are really intimate shows, I really love playing these shows, it’s more personal, you want the crowd to know that our stage is your stage, you come up with us, you wanna sing, you wanna dance around, go ahead! We’re not like these jack-ass bands who have like security all around, so we’re part of that and we just play our intstrument.
So do you prefer playing in small clubs than open festivals?
I prefer playing smaller, more intimate settings, except ten or twelve days ago, there was an anti-show up and there were huge fights, fuckin’ people got fucked up and the cops came, pepper bombs and all that shit, those kind of clubs are just more bringing that kind of environment but usually in the smaller clubs the fans are more enthusiastic about being there, it gives us more energy to play, so this kind of festivals, they wanna see us but they wanna see another band, and another band and another band…
But it’s not an independent Dropkick Murphys show…
I think during the Download Festival recently, you announced that you are working on the new album.
It’s almost done!
Really? Could we have any details? When is it going to be released or the title?
We don’t have the title of the record yet, we actually have a song called ”Rose Tattoo” and it’s the second half of Cornelius’ life, it’s just more songs of us from our heart, we’re gonna go home in July, the album is about 80% done, so some whistles here, bagpipes there, Al Barr sings some parts, add some guitar solos and hopefully October/November it will be released.
Is it going to be a concept album again?
It’s not so much a concept, it short of is, it’s a continuation of ”Going Out In Style” on the fact it’s the second half of Cornelius’ life, it’s getting towards the end of his life…
So it’s a continuation of the story…
A little bit, some of the songs you’ll hear a hint, the song I told you about, ”Rose Tattoo” is about looking back and see like full grass and realise how life is like a candle and it kinda flickers in and out, you have your highs, you have your lows, and in the end, when the candle burns out, end of the story, it’s the end of your life, the ending of one life and the beginning of another. It’s a continuation of all. It’s revolutionary, it’s always moving. One life ends, another begins, with the passing of the torch, we all have kids, we all have wives, my son -when I die- my music will still be in him, and hopefully when he has kids, and so on, it will never stop, it will never be over. That’s how we are, parents and their parents and their parents… That’s how we write our music. It’s based on the idea of… We’ve got party songs, we’ve got sad songs, we’ve got angry songs, happy songs, almost all spectres. So it covers a wide variety.
Scruffy I really wanted to ask you how you started playing the bagpipe. Many people when they are young start playing guitar or bass, but bagpipe is not usual.
My origin is from Great Britain, my family and my background are from Scotland originally, we left Great Britain and I moved to Canada when I was eleven and I told my grandmather I wanna to learn how to play guitar. She said ”You’ll learn this when we get home and I’ll get you your guitar lessons. So I entered a band, I think I was thirteen/fourteen and I started playing bagpipes and I just kept with it, kept with it, trying to make my grandmother proud and then my grandmother passed away, I piped at her funeral and put them down for maybe a year or two, and my mom got mad, she told me ”If your grandmother was alive, she’d want you keep playing” so I was like ”OK” and I started playing again, I just never got playing on a guitar, I mean I can play a little bit but I love bagpipes because unfortunately comes with the bagpipes you hear on funerals so I’m used to doing it, like my friends in the army who got killed and you have to pipe them. Things that you love and you hate, it’s a delicate balance I guess. I like Dropkick Murphys because it’s more happy, the bright side, much better.
I wanted to ask you what music you listened when you were young and what are you listening to at the moment.
Well, it depends on the mood, I grew up listening… my mom listened to folk music, so I ended up listening The Coreys, The Chieftains, then I started again with stuff like The Clash, Sex Pistols and that lad me to Slayer, which is still my favourite band of all times.
Slayer is my favourite band of all times. I’m saying this on the record just for you, Slayer’s my favourite band. I listen to a lot like grindcore, metal, I still listen to folk, i listen to general rock’n’roll, if my ears like it, I just like it. I just downloaded the new Nora Jones album, what does that tell you? You know what I mean? I listen to everything. That’s glory of being a musician, there are people that say ”Oh, I listen only one music” and I say that’s bad, because there’s so much other great music around, Hank III is playing there, I’m gonna see him playing, I like bands like the Old Medicine Crow Show, country music, bluegrass music, heavy metal, rock’n’roll, death metal, whatever sounds good to my ears, I’m all about it. I can listen opera music, whatever it is, it’s awesome.
Punk rock is not as popular as in the past. However, there are a lot of new bands coming out of that genre. Which are the problems in your opinion?
I think celtic music and punk music mixing… Celtic music was the original punk rock, it was music that was aimed against oppression, against a common foe, it was music to make you feel happy or angry or sad, that’s what punk music does, for Dropkick Murphys combining those two sounds is a natural action. And now the bands that are coming out like Flogging Molly and all these different types of bands, it’s great to see a resurgence in traditional music, so that people don’t lose that, and I think that people don’t have to listen to angry music all the time. You can listen to your music and be with your friends, drink a beer and be happy. Punk doesn’t mean you have to be angry all the time.
What’s the difference between the old school punk rock and the new punk bands?
I think it’s what it is, in old school punk scene it was always like a punch in the face, spit on you, that was being punk. The big mohawks, the buttons and all that shit. Now it’s just more about the music than the scene itself. I was a fan and I still am a fan of one side and a musician on the other side and I see both sides now that I’m forty. I’m not twenty anymore dude, I don’t wanna go out and throw bottles at police officers and have fights outside bars, I just came over it. It’s just about music. The young kids that listen to me, listen very closely. I’ve done all the shit dude. Just be happy with your life and what you have and celebrate your friends and your family, ’cause in the end that’s the most important thing you have. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what government says, what media says or what some fucking dickhead says. All you need to worry about is you and your immediate surroundings. Your family and your friends, because in the end, that’s all you have. When you die, are the government gonna be there? No! So who fucking cares? Let them do their bullshit, just care about what’s important in your life. That’s your family and your friends and that’s it.
In what way did Dropkick Murphys change your life?
Honestly, the only change that’s true to me is that I get to do this for a living. I mean, you know, before I had to work and then play music. I had to go to a day job, I was in the army for a long time, I was a steel worker for a long time, and then you know, when I joined the Murphys ten and a half, whatever, twelve years ago, Jesus Christ… I had to go from working and playing in a band to just playing in a band, that’s part of the success of the band for me, it hasn’t mentally changed me at all, it’s… you know, I mean I’ve grown up a lot being on the road, starting a family, I’ve come to being a little more mature, you get older and you start realizing life is not about being angry, it’s about enjoying what you have and not hating it, so I guess that’s the one major thing that changed, I’m pretty much the same person I was 20 years ago, I have the same ideas about what’s important and what’s the same, I wear all of my arms, I guess that would be it.
Dropkick Murphys are also known for their political perception supporting the working class. In what way can music affect politics in your opinion?
Politically we try not to get in a lot of things, we believe in the working class because that’s where we all come from, I was a union man, Matt Kelly our drummer was in union in one way or another, the middle class in every country gets fucked over. The government taxes are higher and we work the hardest. When they take a rich kid off, they pay hardly any tax, they get away with murder pretty much, middle class… we’re the backbone of society and we’re just tired being treated like shit, when a major corporation starts to roll over in a small union, people try to make an honest living for their family, we want to stand behind that because it’s something that we believe in, it’s something that working class people… you know, we’re trying to do the right thing and make a living or not, not drop the system and not go to well fare and fucking seal or rob, they try to making an honest wage, that’s something we’re proud to be part of and that’s really the only political part that… the only political thing that we get combined is the fact that the working class men are the hardest working men and they always get fucked over and it’s something we’re proud to be part of and help out in whatever way we can.
You have shown your position against George Bush in the past, I want to ask you your opinion about Obama and the political situation nowadays.
Well, I don’t really like politics bro, it’s not my position, I’m not a politician, I’m a musician. So as far as it goes about politics, I try not to get involved because it don’t affect me directly, or my surroundings, like I said, I support the union but as far as it goes whoever’s lying at the White House or whatever time…
I see. What do you think about the music industry nowadays? I wanted to tell you that you see all these trends with i-tunes, more people are downloading, digital downloading and not physical cd’s…
Which is the shame! I still like having a record or cd in my hands so I can read the inserts, then the liner notes and… I was just saying to someone that the problem with digital age now is convenient with downloading but unless you have like a really strong following, people who pirate your music, they don’t really want to support the band, they just wanna steal your music. It makes it harder and harder for the artist to actually continue working, so unless you really have a hardcore supporting base of fans, you’re basically on the road for 300 to 350 days a year, so touring is obviously a huge part of being in a band now, when before you would make a two week run and you would be ”OK, I’m going for a month” but now it’s like you’re gonna tour for five months and then two weeks off and then go out for another five months and make a good living, so it’s a shity place to be. It’s ok if you’re downloading but it sucks when you don’t get the liner notes, you don’t get the heart and soul.
It’s not the same feeling…
Absolutely, I still like vinyl, as do a lot of us. So it’s the thing of having that record, hearing the crack on and hearing the low ends on that vinyl, just flipping on these liner notes and listening to, it’s just connecting to the music and if you’re downloading you say ”It’s in my I-pod, I’ll get to it eventually”, before it was like you go for a record you want to get, you get to the store, you looked for it, you picked it up, you paid for it, you went home, you put in on the record player, the cd player, the tape player, you looked at it and said ”ok, side 2” and everything was a step.
So, do you think with this stuff, the music became more business than what it used to be in the past?
I can’t speak for everyone else, for us the passion has always been inside of us, I think that’s why we have the greatest fans in the world, because they know. People get sense when you’re just trying to sell them something, we’re not trying to sell anybody anything. We’re just playing music from inside of us because it’s something that burns inside us, it’s the stories that we need to tell because we think they’re cool or we think they are important, and if people want to listen to them it’s fucking great. But we wouldn’t be doing this if there was only one person listening to Dropkick Murphys. Becayse that’s something that we need to do. It’s just the fire that burns in our souls, it’s why we do what we do, I missed the shit out of my wife and my son, but I do it because when I’m home I’m like ”I want to be on the road again” and when I’m on the road I’m like ”I want to go home”. So it’s a concept, we do it because it’s all about music for us, this isn’t business. Obviously there’s business aspects of this but as far as it goes for us, it’s more important about the music. And that’s what’s obvious about Dropkick Murphys.
So Scruffy, what are the future plans?
Well, we’re gonna continue touring, we’ll keep playing shows, like I said we’re going home on July and finish up the record and on August our singer goes out with his old band The Bruises for a little reunion tour and we’ve all got some side projects going and in September we’re out again, so we’re going to do a comeback to Europe and… fuck, we wanna get down to Greece, we’ve been talking about it…
You have never been to Greece before and there are a lot of fans there waiting for you…
Never, never. We have some friends who’ve been there and we were gonna come down. And then I think you guys had a union strike or something and they wouldn’t let anyone come in. We had planned to come down because we were in Italy and thought ”We’re just gonna go to Greece for three days or four days”, I don’t remember what it was. But it was in January and you had some problems and it got cut off. Hopefully we can make it happen, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, as long as I’m in the band, ten years, we wanna get down there because we know it’s beautiful, we’ve looked pictures.
We could see you in a future tour, right after the new album maybe.
I think we’re gonna do a U.S. tour about September and I think we’re gonna be back over here in October maybe South America, I don’t know. I go where the water takes me, being in the bus and say ”Where are we playing now?”. That’s how life in the bus is, drink play, whistles, bagpipes, repeat.
So Scruffy thank you very much for the interview
Hey man, my pleasure bro and I hope you have a great time. Are you gonna watch us?
Yes of course!
Awesome, awesome man. All the best brothers, thank you.