Q&A: Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey On Shipping Up To Boston For Charity, Getting Advice From Donnie Wahlberg, And The Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry


This weekend, the Yankees and the Red Sox will duke it out in Boston to determine who will top the AL East. As of Thursday afternoon, the Red Sox were a game ahead. Why should a music blog care about such things? We could get into an entire treatise about the relationship between sports and music (look no further than Sports Illustrated‘s recent list of the all-time best sports songs), or we could simply use this as an opportunity to stoke the rivalry fires by asking the almost-synonymous-with-Sox-fandom Dropkick Murphys, who hold two of the spots in the SI list, to trash-talk.

After all, “Tessie” served as the theme song to the Boston’s history-making 2004 World Series run, and “Shipping Up to Boston” is relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon’s entrance music. “Tessie” featured backing vocals by several of the Sox, including baseball Judas Johnny Damon, who joined the Yankees in 2006. “We remixed it and buried his vocals,” Murphys frontman Ken Casey says of the center fielder’s contribution to Boston sports lore. After expressing disbelief, Casey admits “No, those vocals were buried from the start! He couldn’t sing. He couldn’t hold a note.”

We talked to Casey about how tough it is to play in “enemy territory,” how he feels about the New Kids on the Block using “Shipping Up To Boston,” and the circumstances in which he might just put on a Yankees cap.

Is it weird when you play in New York because your band is so identified with Boston and the Red Sox?

It’s awesome. Most recently, I happened to be up in Vancouver for Game 7 [of the Stanley Cup Finals], when the Bruins beat the Canucks. Our tour schedule had us being up there a week and half later. It was very similar, you know, to go up there and rub it in people’s faces or vice versa, where you have it rubbed in your face. I’ve been on both sides of that, and New York for us is just that times 10. I think it’s summed up well just by a kid that came over the barricade in Vancouver and he was pumping his chest, saying, “I love you guys, man” and he stops and he just gives the finger. They’re very torn. It’s like “I love you, but I hate you for not liking my team.”

In New York, after the 2004 World Series. Years would go by and every time we’d go to New York it would just be this—the crowd almost mocks you. After the 2004 World Series, I found that New Yorkers just in general just changed, their personalities changed. They never had a comeback for being the butt of the joke because they never were the butt of the joke. So it was something that they weren’t used to being.

So we came down and we played three nights in New York in March or April of ’05. So it was the first time that we had been there since the World Series. During the show, we killed the lights, we dropped a video screen and brought up the Star Wars “duh duh duh duh” [hums “Imperial March”]. Then over the PA we played, “The greatest collapse in sports history” and we showed all the highlights, and bottles were just raining down on us. It was awesome! We probably should have put some chicken wire up!

As I said to them, they were all pissed and I said, “Hey, you don’t wait 86 years to rub it in and then not rub it in. Plus, you would have called us cowards if we didn’t rub it in.” It’s always been a fun kind of love/hate thing, but they know in reality that besides the sports, New York and Boston have a lot more similarities than differences. At the end of the day, it’s just sports.

Do you ever end up trash talking with Bruce Springsteen about the Sox and the Yanks?

You know, I never really talk baseball with him. He’s just one guy that I’m just happy he’s on our side, I don’t want to do anything to drive him away. So, for chrissakes if Springsteen told me to put on a Yankees hat I probably would. Well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but…

My editor told me that the New Kids used “Shipping Up to Boston” as the intro for their encore when they played here recently. How do you feel about that?

I would probably have a different take if I didn’t know those guys, but I’m very close with the McIntyre family. As a matter of fact, if you look at our new CD the photo underneath in the tray is Joey McIntyre’s father. Two of his sisters work for my mother, I went to high school his older brother Tommy, and Tommy the father’s a pretty good friend of mine. I know the Wahlberg family. I went to high school with Jordan Knight. So it’s kind of a more a Boston thing and they’re welcome to use it. Maybe if the Backstreet Boys were out on their own using I’d think, “What the hell is going on there, you know?” Musically, it’s very interesting, but I like all those guys and their families personally.

I actually went to [NKOTBSB at Fenway] because I was scoping it out for our Fenway shows and some of the logistical stuff, and so I got to see some of that live firsthand. It was pretty wild. It’s a pretty wild experience being in a stadium that’s 90 percent women. I think my ears are still ringing from the screaming.

It’s funny, the Red Sox gave me a suite and I brought some of the girls that work for me at [the Boston bar McGreevy’s] and some of the girls that I grew up with who were fans. They all were saying, “This is funny, it’s going to be nostalgic and it’s going to be a good laugh.” They were not taking it that serious. The minute they went on stage, they all started screaming like they were 13 again.

Did the New Kids give you any tips about the upcoming shows at Fenway? (Next month, the Dropkick Murphys will play two charity shows at Fenway with opening act the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The concerts will benefit the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund and The Claddagh Fund, the band’s charity.)

Yeah, Donnie’s kind of the businessman, the brains behind the operation with them. Yeah, he definitely had a lot of good tips, the process of getting the show where you want it, dealing with the red tape of Fenway and the city. However, I’ve got a pretty good rapport with everyone over there through the other things we’ve done. A lot of that doesn’t apply to us because like I said, we’ve got a real good relationship with the people at Fenway. So it’s been pretty smooth for us.

Is it going to be weird playing at Fenway and there not being a baseball game?

Well, hopefully we can bring some more of that. We’re going to be away. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but if they make it to a World Series, we’ll be away in Australia, so hopefully we can bring the good luck. Not to predict anything, but the only other years we’ve ever played in Fenway in any capacity is in 2004 and 2007 [both years the Red Sox won the World Series]. So, sometimes I think people think we’ve done it other years and we haven’t. So, hopefully we’ll maybe bring a little bit of the good luck back there in September.

SI had two of your songs in the best sports songs of all time (“Tessie” and “The Warrior’s Code,” about boxer Micky Ward). It was you and Springsteen, I noticed.

With sports, obviously, we’ve been fortunate. Whether it’s connections with Micky Ward and writing a song about him or being aligned with the Bruins before we were with the Red Sox. The Celtics used “Shipping Up to Boston” as their kind of victory song the year they won.

We’ve just been in the right place at the right time, but obviously we’ve kind of just done an unusual thing compared to most bands in terms of really aligning ourselves as such a Boston band. Part of that was really calculated, but some of that has to do with the sports.

Some of it has to do with the nature of our music and the Irish heritage and some of it has to do with the fact that we legitimately are very connected there with big families and get involved with charitable things. We have real roots there. We’re not just some band that went to college there. A lot of people in Boston have a personal stake in it. You just look at our guest lists to prove that. There’s that nature of it too. I think all of those things have led to us being synonymous with the city. Some people would probably prefer we weren’t, but it is what it is. It’s awesome. It’s nice to be a bit of a household name, I always say.

And obviously, getting involved with the Red Sox kind of solidified that. My grandmother always used to say to me, “When are you going to go back to college?” We’d be touring around the world, playing to 3,000 people a night and my grandmother would be saying, “When are you going to go back to college?” The minute we did anything with the Red Sox, even if it didn’t do anything with our music career per se, suddenly we were legitimate. Because the Red Sox are just so revered that if you’re involved with them, then, man, you must be serious business. So, if nothing else, it’s given my grandmother the ability to give the whole music thing a stamp of approval. That’s worth it all.

What are your predictions for the Red Sox-Yankees series? Got any trash-talk for New York?

I gotta be honest, this is going to sound bad, but the current Yankees lineup, I don’t despise as I have other ones. I want to beat them more because of the fans, because there are so many New Yorkers in my life that when the Red Sox don’t do well I think, “Oh, the phone’s going to start ringing,” but I like how we match up against them. We’re looking good so far, and I’m just going to predict that we have a strong homestand and maybe that’s when we’ll pull ahead of them right there.

I like Derek Jeter. He’s a guy that makes it hard to hate him sometimes because he plays ball the way it should be played.