DS Exclusive: Mike McColgan on new Street Dogs, Wreck The Halls…and teases reunion with his former band?

Street Dogs – photo by Paul Caufield

Normally when we conduct an interview here at Dying Scene, we take this introductory space to give a bit of a primer on what’s to follow; to boil everything from the discussion down its essential forms and give the reader a concentrated taste of what’s to come. If we’re feeling especially froggy, sometimes we’ll flesh it out into more of a feature-style story; other times we’ll give you just a tease. Consider this the latter, in part because there are some people that are so thoughtful and compelling to talk to that you really want to make sure that you digest every word. While our scene contains its fair share of such personalities, there are a scant few that are more thoughtful and compelling than Mike McColgan.

Whether its been in his role as frontman of working class Boston punk band Street Dogs or in his role as a founding member in Celtic punk stalwarts Dropkick Murphys, McColgan has been a visible, vocal member of the Boston and at-large punk communities for the better part of the last twenty years (more on that later). While his current band may not be on the road quite as often as it used to be for myriad reasons, the present lineup (from left to right above: McColgan, longtime bassist Johnny Rioux, Pete Sosa on drums, Matt Pruitt and Lenny Lashley on guitar) is arguably as tight and powerful as its ever been.

The band are getting set to play the Hi Fi Rock Fest in Long Beach, California, next month, followed by the triumphant hometown return of their annual “Wreck The Halls” shows. The format for “Wreck The Halls” will be a little different this year, as the band will take over the Brighton Music Hall in Boston for three consecutive nights, with each night’s set including one of their first three albums in their entirety. That task is made especially daunting because not only have the newer members not played or practiced a handful of those songs, Rioux and McColgan themselves have a handful of songs from their seminal triumverate of albums that they’ve never played either.

We were privileged to catch up with McColgan for a discussion that started out as focusing on all things Street Dogs (Hi Fi Rock Fest, “Wreck The Halls,” new material in the works for early next year). McColgan is always quick with a complimentary word, whether it be about his bandmates, his hometown, or different bands that he’s shared the stage with and been influenced by. While it might come across as hyperbole from other individuals, the always thoughtful McColgan is his trademark gruff Boston accent and measured tone evokes nothing but honesty, leading to an interesting discussion on McColgan’s own legacy and the importance of celebrating benchmark moments in his own lengthy career, including what will be the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Dropkick Murphys next year. Any special events planned? To quite always thoughtful McColgan himself, “all will be revealed in time.” Check out our Q&A below.

 

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I think that we can lose perspective on (how great a place Boston is) sometimes. When you live through a tough winter or a tough summer or when politics kinda sucks, or the endless road construction, I think we lose sight of that. But getting out and having the ability to talk to people that aren’t from here, or especially bands that come through here on tour, when they tell you that it really is a cool place to be, it helps you put that back into perspective.

Mike McColgan: When you mention the part about bands coming through here, I know a lot of people in different bands, and I can honestly tell you Jay, that I’ve never heard anybody say “Boston sucks.” Everybody that I know from other bands, when they come through here, they’re gushing about how much they like it and how much they, from an outside perspective, think it’s a really unique and cool place. That’s a good point.

Although sometimes we’re a lot harder on our own than we are on other people…

Without a doubt! That’s just the Boston way. When we’re amongst our own and amongst our tribe, it’s definitely a different flavor and a different level of scrutiny, no question about it.

When this interview initially started to get lined up, it was in advance of the Hi Fi Rock Fest, but obviously there’s more Street Dogs news that has come up just in the last day or so with the addition of Wreck The Halls. I’m really excited that that’s coming back, as I’m sure you guys are too.

Yeah, we took a year for guys to deal with obligations and family things, and now we’re back up with it and we’re doing something that we’ve never done. We’re going to perform a different album each of the three nights. December 18th, Friday, we’re going to do Savin Hill. Saturday December 19th we’re going to do Back To The World, and then Sunday, December 20th, we’re going to do Fading American Dream. I feel like, as far as Street Dogs go, that’s a very pivotal and prolific and strong point of song producing in that window of time. I’m not putting down anything else we’ve done after that, but I really feel like those three records are special and are looked at very fondly by our fans. For us as a band, it’s a challenge of sorts, as we’ve never done records in their entirety. That’s something new for us. And then of course, there’s songs that we don’t really do live. Like if you take Savin Hill, for example, “Modern Day Labor Anthem,” we’ve never performed live.

Like ever ever? Even on the first tours?

Nope. We haven’t. So there’s songs on those three records…”Hands Down” from Back To The World we’ve never done live. So I mean, that challenges the group. And then, I think inevitably when we’re rehearsing that material, we’ll get a little bit nostalgic. And also, since we’re looking to work on a new album in February/March of next year, it might kick up some song ideas too, which would be good. So we’re excited about it. And of course, I like Brighton Music Hall a lot. Recently, me and my girlfriend Rebecca went to see Alkaline Trio when they did a little residency there. They were doing records in their entirety. We’ve played there before and I liked the experience of playing there, and watching Alkaline Trio play there, right in my mind I said “let’s do ‘Wreck’ here this year.” It’s easy for people to get to, the ticket prices are reasonable. We can do more than one night.

Yeah, that’s a really cool venue. I think it’s the first venue that I went to to see a band play an album start-to-finish. It wasn’t Alkaline Trio, but I saw Face To Face do an album there front to back when just Trever and Scott did Ignorance Is Bliss acoustic. It’s a unique room for something like that because it’s plenty big enough, but it feels intimate because people are almost wrapped around the stage, or people can be out back where the pool tables are. It’s a cool place.

Yeah, I like the semi-surround factor to it. I think that’s really cool. Being in the audience watching Alkaline, I really keyed in on that too.

What prompted the decision to the first three albums? I know other bands at times have tried the “album a night” thing and you have either glowing reviews about doing it, or say that it’s really, really difficult to actually slog through it sometimes. What prompted the decision to make it three nights and three albums?

I think one is that we have informally talked about it before and thought it would be cool. And thought, quite frankly, that it would be a challenge as well, rehearsal-wise. When we looked at reengaging with Wreck The Halls, I think we wanted to take on that challenge. And fans have approached us too and suggested it would be cool if we did records in their entirety. A lot of fans whether of our group or of other groups, for that matter, have favorite records, or they like to listen to albums in their entirety. They identify a record as a body of work, front-to-back. That still exists. I know we’re in an MP3 age, an Apple music age, Spotify, et cetera, et cetera. However, there are still fans of music, particularly punk rock, where people listen to albums in their entirety, and that’s how they identify with a band. So I think with those things considered, we felt “let’s give it a shot and do this,” you know? Let’s roll the dice.

I know, obviously everyone has their own favorite albums on our side, on the Street Dogs fan side (editor’s note: mine is State of Grace…go figure), but do you guys have different favorite albums? Or do those albums have different memories, whether through writing them or recording them or touring for them? Do each of those have a different feel for you?

Yeah, each album is definitely a distinctively marked period of time in your life, and where you’re at on so many different levels as a person, and it evokes a lot of memories. It would be really difficult for me, if I was put up against it, to say what my favorite record is. It’s difficult, but I think I could get at that, and I think it might be a tie between Fading American Dream and the self-titled record. I feel like those are the two records where we really hit strides creatively and were just really coming up with songs one after another. Something overtook us, and those were really creative periods. But like you said, each record is a window into all the band’s members lives and where they’re at. All of that stuff pours itself into the finished product of a record. Like I said earlier, when we go through the records and we’re rehearsing, it’s going to bring back memories of writing the songs and performing the songs early on and a bunch of different things.

Obviously this will be Lenny and Matt and Pete’s first times playing some of those songs…well, like you said, it’s your first time playing some of those songs, which I didn’t realize…but does having the new guys bring a different feel or a different life to songs in a way that maybe re-inspires you in playing a song that you might have done 4000 times before?

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a good thing. Surely, when you bring guys into the fold and they’re new, there’s transition and change and adjustment. Where we stand now with the guys, we’re way past that stage. They’ve been on board for what I would deem a considerable amount of time as far as punk rock or as far as bands go. They add a different feel and a different look and a different perspective for it. I feel like that’s good, because I like what Matt and Lenny bring to Street Dogs, and I like how I feel they’ve elevated things and reinvigorated things. Not putting down anybody who has been in the band before, because everybody that’s been in the band before made a significant contribution and made it what it is and are a part of it still, even in absentia. I really feel like, in a lot of ways, the band’s really hit a really good stride, and they’ll give it a little bit of a different feel, no doubt about it.

I’m glad that you said that, because I know that there’s a lot of people….historically, bands go through different lineup changes and everybody has their favorite lineup, and that goes for bands as big as Van Halen and even tiny bands in our scene. But I think almost universally, amongst the people that I know and read and talk to, this seems to be unanimously considered the tightest that the lineup has probably ever been. Which I certainly think so, but it’s nice to hear that you think it’s been elevated like that.

IT’s taken a lot of hard work and it’s taken a lot of commitment from those guys, Matt and Lenny, but they exceeded the challenge and have worked hard and have done really well. They came in to a situation where there were high expectation and the people that had come before them had done really exceptional work. They met and exceeded that, and we’re extremely grateful and fortunate that that’s happened. It feels like this is the lineup this is the best lineup that we’ve had, and we’re very fortunate and lucky. And the guys who came before them really put in exceptional work and paved the way for these guys. I think, all things considered, we’re all very, very lucky to be able to do it. To be on Pirates Press. In this day and age, to be a band that can do things on their own terms and guys can have jobs and have lives and other responsibilities and other things that they get into and somehow make it all work. We’re very, very grateful for that.

Why do you think it clicked so naturally for these two? I think one of the first times I interviewed you for Dying Scene was right when Lenny and Matt were officially announced, and we may have even officially announced it that way, that they were officially in the band. Now it’s been two or three years or whatever it’s been since those guys joined, why do you think it just sorta worked?

I think Lenny and Matt had a deep operational insight into how the band works. We had our Crooked Drunken Sons tour where the Have Nots and Lenny came out with us on the road and I believe we had Flatfoot 56 out with us at the time.

That sounds right, yeah.

Those guys got a bird’s eye view of what we do and how we do it. We’ve always gotten along with Matt and Lenny as friends, but during that tour, bands inevitably get a lot closer and it becomes like a band of brothers, if you will. I think they got a good look at what we do every night for a sustained period of time, so when they came into it, they had an idea of how we operate, what we do, what we expect, and they just really came into it seamlessly. And that’s a tall order. That’s a really tall order. And they met and exceeded it and we’re grateful to those guys.

They certainly had big shoes to fill because Marcus and Tobe were such personalities and players and songwriters in their own rights.

Absolutely. Those guys are Street Dogs for life. They’re great guys who were titans and heavyweights as far as being guitar players and personalities and road warriors. We love and miss them. They’re a part of the story and the history and the fabric of the group and that will always be respected. A lot of nostalgia and a lot of good work there, for sure.

Next on the list for you guys is Hi Fi Rock Fest, right? There’s nothing between now and the end of September, right?

As far as right now, no, there isn’t. I know we all continue to catalog ideas and exchange ideas for the new record that we want to work on next year. It seems like the festival in Long Beach has a significant amount of press behind it and a good lineup, and we’ve always loved playing in Southern California. We’ve done really well there. We’ve got a great history of playing great festivals there, like Ink-N-Iron, for example. We’ve played Alex’s in Long Beach; that’s one of our favorite little clubs and one of the first places we played at when we went out to California. We’re excited about it and we look forward to it for sure.

You guys have seemingly always done pretty well in southern California, which is not always the case for bands from the complete opposite end of the country. What do you think it is about California that gives those shows not necessarily a hometown feel, obviously, but by all accounts they are pretty intense shows in southern California too?

I think, as far as Street Dogs go, no matter where we play, we’ve always tried to make the audience an active participant in the show, and engage the audience whenever we can. I think as far as California goes, they were very receptive to that, and they continue to be when we go out there to play. I attribute it to the that; that we’re not reserved and we don’t stand back when we play live. We attack right in to the crowd and try to get people involved and into it, you know? I think that’s done us well out there in California.

Also on that lineup is obviously Dead Kennedys and Richie Ramone, and it just dawned on me that you guys were joined recently by CJ Ramone on stage, and I think that Johnny (Rioux) spilled the beans on social media that CJ will be up for one of the Wreck The Halls shows, but that’ll be two Ramones you get to share the stage with in a short period of time. That’s got to be, I’d imagine, a pretty cool thing.

For us, in Street Dogs, we’ve never lost sight that it’s been bands like the Ramones, the Stooges, The Clash, Sex Pistols, that, in a lot of ways, set the table for this thing. Particularly the Ramones, for us in Street Dogs, they’re the litmus test. They’re the end-all, be-all. Their songs are ferocious, tight, short, down-stroking…just powerful, incendiary numbers that hold up over time. For me, every time I hear the Ramones, it’s almost like AC/DC or Iron Maiden. Every time I hear the music, it sounds better and better. It’s timeless, and it gets better and better. There aren’t a lot of bands that you can say that about. You can say it about Cock Sparrer. Every time I listen to Cock Sparrer, I think “these songs never get old!” It’s an honor of all honors to play and share the stage with CJ Ramone. He’s such an outstanding and great guy, and a dear friend of ours. And we get to play with Richie Ramone. We’re really excited about it, for sure.

That’s one of the things that I wanted to ask about and that you started to answer anyway; being in the scene and as big a part of this scene as you’ve been, not just in the Boston scene but in American punk music, for as long as you have been, do you still get those moments where you have to, maybe not pinch yourself, but at least humbled by what whatever experience it is, whether it’s playing with somebody like CJ or Richie or some of the other bands you’ve been lucky to go on the road with. You still get those moments?

Yeah!

That hasn’t been lost on you yet?

Jay, we’re so lucky and we’re so grateful. We’ve had many of those moments, like the first time playing alongside Rancid. That’s a moment where you just felt it, and you’re grateful. And then you see they’re all salt-of-the-earth guys and they’re great people and they’ve always taken care of other bands above and below the radar screen in punk rock. The Bouncing Souls – the first time we got to play with them and tour with them. Bad Religion is another example. Or you go to the Shamrock And Roll Fest, where Street Dogs and Dropkick Murphys go out on tour together, and Chuck Ragan’s a part of it, and the Mahones are a part of it…Stiff Little Fingers is part of it! I would gather to say that as far as Dropkick Murphys and Street Dogs, even the Mahones and Chuck Ragan and Hot Water Music, for that matter, that’s one of the overriding influences. Stiff Little Fingers are arguably the most influential band in punk rock history, if you look at all the heavyweight, titan bands – a band like Green Day, for example, that cross over and have commercial success – Stiff Little Fingers is such a pivotal band for so many bands like that. You can even point at U2 and say that Stiff Little Fingers are an influence there. In Street Dogs, we’ve had moments that are just incredible. The first time playing with Cock Sparrer…that was amazing, you know? Absolutely amazing. I could go on and on and on all night long. The first time I played with Agnostic Front! I pinch myself. Or one time on Wreck The Halls, Stars And Stripes was on our bill! I could go on and on, man. We’re really lucky. All those moments in time, we don’t take them for granted. We cherish them, for sure.

I’ll tell you as a fan that standing at the back of the Sinclair a couple of weeks ago and watching you on stage with Lenny (Lashley) and Darkbuster doing “Stand And Deliver” was one of those moments for me. Obviously that song has crept in to Street Dogs sets over the last couple of years, but watching you come out and play it with Lenny and Pete and the Darkbuster guys was a super cool moment for me.

That is a brilliant Darkbuster song. I think it was last time we did Wreck The Halls at House of Blues (in Boston), he broke that out. There was some talk about maybe me doing it with him, but at the time I thought, “it’s your moment, why don’t you step forward and do it.” And he was cool with that. However, when he was talking about doing the Darkbuster reunion shows, me and him talked about it, and I’m honored that he asked me to get up there and do it. I’ve always been a big fan of that song and the message and what it stands for. What we sing about in Street Dogs follows closely along that same trajectory anyway, so it made complete sense. To come out on what I believe to be one of their best songs and then go right in to “Skinhead,” that’s amazing. That was an amazing experience. And those Darkbuster shows…I’ve seen Darkbuster before, and I’ve never seen them perform that good. I’ve never seen them perform such tight, powerful, incredible sets. And the crowds were packed – sold out – and the response was bigger and better than I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t be happier for Lenny. I love the guy. He works so hard and puts so much blood, sweat and tears into things, and he’s a perfectionist. My jaw was on the floor. They just leveled that place.

That was a cool, cool experience, and one that you remember for a long time.

Yeah. It’s important to honor pivotal moments with this music and the records that we’ve all done. I think with Lenny, those songs “Stand And Deliver” and “Skinhead” are benchmark songs. I think we did them justice.

And having Cory (King, local musician and frequent Lashley collaborator) come out on stage to kick that off was a cool moment too. (Editor’s note: King recently finished a year-long deployment overseas as a member of the US Army, and kicked off the encore section of the Darkbuster show in full uniform, accompanied by a bagpipe player.)

A very, very cool moment. Cory is a dear friend of ours and we’ve always had nothing but the utmost respect for him, having gone down range and served this great nation with honor and distinction. I know Lenny was honored to have him out there, and it was a powerful moment for me to witness that too, you know? Being a guest of Lenny’s and Darkbuster’s and perform with them and see that…like you said, it was a moment, for sure. Something I’ll never forget.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us again. I think this is the fourth chat you and I have had for Dying Scene. I appreciate it a lot.

It’s no problem at all, Jay. You guys have been really good to us. Super supportive, and there’s more great moments in the future to be had. You never know what’s around the corner and what other anniversaries there are…I’m really looking forward to the future with a new Street Dogs record and looking forward to honoring other pivotal moments that I’ve had in music…

Oh right, there’s another anniversary coming up soon, isn’t there? (*both laugh*)

All will be revealed in time!


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