Dropkick Murphys' Al Barr on Garth Brooks, & the Bruisers' breakup
With Saint Patrick's Day just around the corner, people begin to beget the loyal sentiment of historical nostalgia. One band over the course of the past 14 years, the hard-core essence of the Irish lifestyle has lived within Boston's Dropkick Murphys. Mixing authentic Irish folk and a militant understanding of punk music, the band has maintained an honorable following.
But what about a band that came before the Murphys that doesn't seem to recall such devoted vigilance? Gimme Noise caught up with lead singer Al Barr for a little history lesson about his previous outfit, the Bruisers. This band was so aggravatingly undiscovered, or in Barr's words: "My own private fucking horror."
Why did you break up the Bruisers in 1998?
My baby turned 10 years old and there just wasn't anything happening. I wasn't throwing the towel on music, but I definitely came to a crossroads. It kind of happened at the same time that Mike [McColgan] left Dropkick. I hadn't even verbalized it to anyone but the guitar player, I was thinking of just calling it a day. Then my phone rang.
Someone told I should call Ken Casey. I called him up, and he said that Mike had quit. Then he called me a couple days later and said, "You said you weren't doing the Bruisers anymore...? We're not trying to step on your toes, but we'd like if you could come down and sing a couple songs to see if we could hear your voice with it." Long story short, I ended up just doing it. All the gigs were already written in, and I just went in and ended up singing all the songs Mike had already done. That was almost 14 years ago now, the rest is history.
I know a lot of people who are constantly talking about the Bruisers, and...
Well let me tell you something, about respect and all that horseshit! Five years later, I did a reunion show in Boston, and tons of kids showed up. And at one point during the night I said, "Have you seen this before?" Every single person in there raised their hand, and I said "You're all fucking full of shit!" We couldn't sell 200 tickets, let alone 1,000 tickets when we were in that band. It's cool to like a band when they don't exist anymore, as long as they're not popular. If a guy at your school, who you hate, suddenly discovers the band that you're into, suddenly that band has leprosy.
So all these people that say were into the Bruisers weren't really into the Bruisers. I would have been selling out clubs, and selling enough records to be able to earn a living with it. The guys wouldn't have had to deal with their shitty jobs, and I wouldn't have had to deal my shitty job, and we wouldn't have had to break up the band. The Bruisers are part of who I am and will always be. But I never, ever broke up Bruisers to join Dropkick Murphys! That was never, ever how it went down. But if anyone has ever bothered to read some interviews at the time I joined Dropkick Murphys they would have gotten the whole fucking story then, because I was very plain about it!
Are you going to do another reunion someday?
We're going to do another reunion, for sure! I'll say the same thing, but I'll probably say a little bit more this time. But I'm talking about people all over the world... [In a very low-balled, South Boston accent] "BRUISERS, we want real bad!!" and I'll be like, dude seriously, we toured Germany fucking three times! I don't remember ever coming into Germany feeling like, yeah this is my country, and this place can't live without me. Like anything else, it's funny how people only like to listen to you when you're dead... I think what it is too, is a lot of people just want to relive that golden age of punk.
How do you feel that modern-day technology has played a role in music?
It just killed it all, I don't mean it killed it all in a sense that it's dead, but I don't how to function, it's different... The ritual of buying a record, the waiting for it to come out, the going to the store to get it, the LP, the artwork, the liner notes, the pictures, the lyrics -- all of it, it's a ritual! All of those things, they've all been whittled down to this little fucking, sterile sound bite. It's taken all the lust out of it, there's no passion anymore.
How do you feel about illegal downloads of music, how do you think that's affected your album sales, and your music?
I remember years ago thinking illegal downloads are not going to affect a band like us. I was dead wrong... Now, if you go to buy a record, you don't have to buy the record anymore, you can sample it. The artist has gone through the trouble of creating a record, and writing the record and telling the story.
Did you know, and I'm going to go off topic here, but everyone thinks that the Beatles were the last people to put their music on iTunes. But that's not true, there's actually a huge, huge superstar that has not put his music on iTunes. I saw an interview with this guy, his name is Garth Brooks. You're probably rolling your eyes like "who gives a fuck?" Well, the guy sold billions of records! Here's a guy that says "Ya know what, I'm not going to make my music available on iTunes, because I don't think its right. I think it is killing music. When I make a record, I'm telling you a story."
It's fucked up that people can change your story that you worked on, that you've written. The artist doesn't get any further down in his career, when you're just buying a song, it doesn't help him with his position in Billboard. He or she doesn't get credited for an album sale, so the band gets a couple of nickels for the song that you bought, thank you very much... So, at the end of the day that's what I think is wrong with it.
Dropkick Murphys. With Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls and the Mahones. 5 p.m. SOLD OUT at First Avenue. 612.332.1775.
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