Interview: Mike McColgan talks return of the Street Dogs, news on FM359, and much more

“We tried to take a break, but we just had too much on our plate…”

And with that, the yearlong break that we were told to expect from Street Dogs came to a close. News of the band’s return initially broke last week with the announcement of a European tour set to kick off in July. As it turns out, 2013 is shaping up to be a pretty busy year for Street Dogs after all…

We caught up with the band’s frontman and co-founder, Mike McColgan, to chat about this year’s plans for new material, a new US tour, and what’ll now happen with the FM359 side project featuring fellow Street Dog Johnny Rioux and current Continental leader (and fellow former Dropkick Murphy) Rick Barton. Perhaps nothing sums up the state of Street Dogs in 2013 better than the fact that, in McColgan’s words, “life’s good for Street Dogs and Street Dogs are grateful.”  Click here to check out our whole exchange.

Jay Stone (Dying Scene): Let’s start at the beginning, I suppose. It’s official now, you guys are back!

Mike McColgan: Yeah, we’re back. We tried to take a break, but we just had too much on our plate, you know, new songs that we’ve completed that we’re getting ready to put out with our new label that we chose to be on, Pirates Press.  We’re excited to work exclusively now with Pirates Press because we feel like they are arguably the most important and real punk rock label that there is right now. We’re grateful to have worked with great labels in the past, Crosscheck, DRT and Hellcat Records. But now our focus is to work exclusively with Pirates Press. They do such a great job on vinyl and with specialty stuff, and they also have distribution with MP3 now through iTunes and Google play and all the other mediums, so we feel like we’re in a good spot. We have a 7-inch single coming out and a live album coming out and a DVD and side project and a tour this summer. So yeah, we’re busy, I think our tour will have only lasted six months.

So what changed really from a couple of months ago? There was the hiatus and Tobe’s announcement (on leaving the band) the same day a few months ago. What changed? Was it because people were so disappointed in you guys going away, or that you didn’t really want to go away to begin with?

I think it’s a combination of things. I think we were tired obviously. We’d been on the road consistently since 2003 and we needed a break. And Tobe needed a break too, and wanted to pursue other opportunities that he was being offered. We wish him well and we love him like a brother still. It was definitely an amicable departure, no hard feelings or problems. So we set out to take a break or a hiatus, and we realized we have to finish up work on new songs that we had started, we didn’t want to leave that incomplete. So we started doing that, and we got excited about what we had. Me, Johnny (Rioux, Street Dogs’ bass player) and Rick Barton have always wanted to write songs together and have a side project, so we did that too and we completed twelve songs and we have a band called FM359. We’re looking forward to releasing a record and potentially doing shows as well. And (Street Dogs) continually have offers to play live, and we got offers from Europe. So I think after finishing up the Street Dogs stuff and finishing up the side project, I think we did realize that we do miss playing. And clearly there’s a demand for it still. So six months is an adequate break. We did foresee taking a year off, but that won’t come to pass.

Right. I think your fans are obviously going to be appreciative of that. I had sort of assumed that the FM359 project would fall by the wayside since the hiatus didn’t last that long. But you say that’s all done and in the can?

Yeah, it’s in the can. We have the songs completed, so now we’re just in the process of mixing the songs and mastering the songs, so we’re really close to having them completed all the way, but we have the songs for sure, and look to release them sometime this year or early next year.

That’ll be through Pirates Press too I’m assuming?

Yeah, absolutely, we work exclusively with Pirates Press. And we’re very excited about that.  We’ve worked informally with them in the past, they actually had done vinyl for us for Fading American Dream so that was the beginning of our relationship with them. And more recently we did the GOP 7-inch single through them. There’s a common vision and a good working relationship and mutual excitement. So we feel really, really good about it. It’s a genuine partnership where band and label are working together for real.

I mostly came to know of them recently. Obviously I’d heard of them through the years, but those comps that they’ve been putting out, the Oi! This Is Street Punk comps have been awesome and so well-received so far.

Yeah, the compilations, the specialty boxed sets, the bands that they have on the roster…it’s really a formidable, real label that is in it for all the right reasons, and we feel excited and happy and grateful to be a part of it.

Absolutely. (Street Dogs) hit the road in Europe first, correct?

Yeah, I believe our first date is July 26th, we’ll be in Europe. And then I believe that we’re looking at touring the United States in November and December and taking ‘Wreck The Halls’ across the entire United States of America, starting in California and moving back East.

Speaking of California, you’re there exclusively now, right?

Yeah, I’m here exclusively. My wife lived here, and it makes it a little easier on her, because we do a lot of road, a lot of touring…so that came to be that I moved out here. But I still find time to make it back to Boston quite frequently.

Does that change the way you write at all, your experience? Because (Street Dogs) have obviously, and you personally, have been tied to the Boston punk scene for such a long time now. Does living somewhere else…

Yeah, it does widen my songwriting parameters, you know, living in a new place and things of that nature, and that’ll be reflected in upcoming songs via Street Dogs and FM359. But all things told, distance makes the heart grow fonder. I think my appreciation and love of the City of Boston for all things good, bad, indifferent, ups, downs…it’s stronger and stronger, and that’s only grown to be more so through the distance.

You know, I find the same thing, even though I only moved up to (the suburbs) for God’s sake, I didn’t move to California. I think the same of Dorchester specifically, and try to get back as much as I can.

Yeah, it’s a great city with great people and a great music scene and great sports culture and just, a really good family-oriented place. It’s the best city in the country, without a doubt.

I agree. Obviously I’m sort of biased and sheltered… (Then we talked about the old neighborhood and hanging independently of one another at the Harp & Bard. If you’re ever in Boston, check it out.) Back to Street Dogs. Are you guys touring as a four piece now that Tobe is gone or do you have people in mind to take his place?

We’re going to tour as a five-piece. Right now we’re in talks with Lenny Lashley from Darkbuster come on board and, at least temporarily be a part of the group. Personally, I would prefer him to permanently be part of the group because he’s a great songwriter. He’s a great person first and foremost. He’s someone that I’ve always looked up to as a performer, a singer, a writer and a person, both inside the scene and outside of it. He stated an interest to do tours with us and we’re looking to take him out for the next two tours that we have and we’ll see where that takes us. But it’s exciting to possibly have him in the mix.

Yeah, that’s huge coming from the Boston scene. I’ve read other places that Tobe will sort of remain a Street Dog in perpetuity really, a “once a Street Dog, always a Street Dog, that sort of thing.” Was he or will he be involved in writing on the new record at all or is he out doing his own thing now?

I think for now, we plan on writing without him. But if he was up to offering songs, it’s something that we’d strongly consider. And yeah, for sure, he’ll be a Street Dog in perpetuity and a lifer and a friend and a brother. We have his back no matter what.

Back to FM359 for a sec. A couple of us were joking the other day about how it’s sort of funny or ironic or whatever that there are more original Dropkicks in FM359 than there are in the Dropkicks nowadays. Is that something  that you guys are conscious of, that it’s you guys getting back together and that it’s what you had fifteen or eighteen years ago or whatever it was?

No, that doesn’t even consciously come into our way of thinking. I mean, we’re friends and we’re excited to write and hang out and play together again. But we don’t ever consciously think of that or discuss that. I mean, you know, DKM are dear friends and brothers of ours. You know, you’ve got Kenny Casey and Matt Kelly…in my way of thinking, Matt Kelly is an original member and a driving force, a force of nature on the drum kit back there, an amazing collaborator and songwriter and creator. It’s great as a friend and a former member of the group to see them do so well and do it on their own terms. And the guys haven’t changed at all, they’ve helped other bands in Boston and more recently had the Claddagh Fund, helping people below the radar screen. It’s a great bunch of guys, and we got to tour with them last year on the Shamrock ‘N’ Roll tour. In Street Dogs, we definitely hope for and look forward to more touring with Dropkick Murphys. And I had a lot of fun getting back on stage and doing songs like “Barroom Hero” with Kenny, Al and the boys. There’s room for us all to be active in music in different capacities, and it makes for an exciting time.

Yeah, I suppose I can see where that connection is fodder from afar and not something you guys would get into… (totally blanks on the follow up he had come up with…then finds it again). You’ve obviously been a Street Dog for a lot longer than you were in the Dropkicks. Is it weird to still be referred to as “Mike from Dropkick Murphys” or “the original singer from the Dropkicks”…or does that even still happen a lot?

No, I can’t control that. I can’t control that. I’m proud of my time in the group. And my time in the group clearly made it easier for me to be in another group and to establish another group and get out there and tour and make five albums and be around the world and do what we do. So I’m grateful for my time in the group, and it doesn’t really phase me or bother me. I don’t really spend much time thinking about it. I mean, my mind is on, you know, Street Dogs and FM359. I’ve got a lot on my plate. But when I’m referred to as that or when it comes up, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m good friends with the guys and happy to have been a part of the group for one time. I’m fortunate to have been a part of the group. I’m fortunate to even be involved in music at all and to make albums or records and tour

Especially nowadays…

Yeah, for sure.

You guys have obviously, both with Dropkicks and with Street Dogs, been known as a hard-working, blue collar band. You’ve been aligned with a lot of the labor unions and the more progressive causes. In looking over the landscape now, is there much that you’re able to pull inspiration from, at least in terms of writing music from that movement? It seems to me like since the Occupy movement died down and the movement in Wisconsin died down, it’s been quiet lately, even through the last election cycle. Is there anything in that landscape that you’re able to pull from nowadays or that’s new, or any real unifying cause…

One thing that has piqued my interest recently is social networking, and it being used as a medium to spread the message of organized labor, and point things out, and point out how good it is to have organized advocacy and a voice at the table with your workplace. The only way to combat organized greed is organized labor, and throughout social networking, I see that rising, and I see more people liking it. I see more people making things that go viral and I see things circulating. So I’m hopeful that younger people are seeing this stuff and it’s opening their eyes up to the huge wealth disparity in our society, and just how vast it is and how unprecedented it is in American history. There’s never been such a wealth disparity or gap between the rich and the poor or the middle class and the rich. And it’s not tenable or equitable or fair or containable to have 1% of our population holding on to the majority of the wealth. Something’s gotta give. And if middle class people and people that are impoverished don’t have any money to buy goods, we’ve got a big problem in our economy. And we’ve seen that over an extended period of time.

You’re also seeing a lack of manufacturing in America, and you’re seeing a ‘leftout nation’ starting to evolve, a nation that outsources everything and can’t really produce much on its own except cheeseburgers and shitty music. So, I mean, when social networking first started, I sort of bristled at it, and thought it was just a medium for funny little cat videos or another way to try to move porn. But over time, I’ve seen the value of social networking. You’ve seen the value of social networking in Egypt, you’ve seen the value of social networking in Iran and Syria, you’ve seen the value of social networking in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Ohio. Rest assured that the people won’t sit and they will not continue to get kicked and starved, they will eventually rebel. And I think over time that social networking is going to be that spark that will hit the tinder and start the fire and bring up lots of change, for sure.

Do you think, though, that it hurts to have the guy running the country now to be considered the ‘progressive’ one. Obviously from the last two elections nationally that’s the case. But do you think that’s kept some of the progressives quiet nationally when it comes to this stuff? That theoretically one of our own is running the ship?

Yeah, clearly the lesser of two evils in a lot of progressive minds one. So it has tempered their ferocity or their anger at some things to a certain extent. But the one thing that is really a fun side of democracy, and really makes it painfully obvious how politicians are in bed with PACs and lobbyists is Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision. That’s one of the biggest travesties in American history, when people can just dump money on electoral processes. It really tips the balance of power, and really breaks the whole “We The People” precept. I’m really hopeful that the Obama administration will find a way to repeal that, or start some type of movement to repeal it.

I can remember Barack Obama chastising Supreme Court justices about it in the first place, going back a ways. I think that’s something that can be addressed, because the process, to me, it’s fully transparent now that it’s bought and sold. And a lot of people see this and they through up their hands and they say “there’s nothing we can do.” But there is something that we can do. And I think over time, you know, you can only go so far and keep people in the dark for so long, and you can only kick people so long before they rise up. We’ll see what happens over time, it should be interesting. The current system clearly isn’t tenable; I don’t think it can go on.

Agreed. And obviously these movements start from the ground up. So hopefully we’re at a point where, like you said, where it can build and that something like Citizens United can be overturned, but that starts on the ‘streets,’ for lack of a better phrase.

Yes it does. It really does.

So maybe that’s what we’ll see from the new albums.  Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Obviously we’re pretty stoked about the new music, and that Street Dogs are back, even though it doesn’t really seem like you were gone. It kinda seems like you just took a holiday break…

Yeah, it was a brief break. I kinda feel like eating my words a little bit so to speak. But with a little tongue in cheek humor, we named our tour in Europe “Breaking The Break.” We just don’t do rest or recuperation very well.We still believe that kicking it and letting it all out and letting go of the things that make us mad, happy, glad, sad, up, down, happy, blue, et cetera. We’ve gotta get out there and let it out. And if it helps one or two people out, that’s enough to justify it. And I think that over a period of time, we’ve eclipsed the most humble of expectations that we had. Our expectations were just to play a couple of shows locally, but we’ve gone all around the world and made records and look to make another new full length sometime later this year. Life’s good for Street Dogs and Street Dogs are grateful. And over time, unbeknownst to us, people have been calling us the “people’s champ of punk rock,” and that’s starting to stick. I see it pop up in emails and social networking and things like that. That feels good, when you hear that and see that printed, that people think you’re the “people’s champ of punk rock.” That was the goal all along, to make music and satisfy ourselves and be accessible to our fans and be grateful to them for coming to our shows and trying to do more right than wrong and doing the best we can. So we look forward to getting the new stuff out there and getting back on the road this summer.

Quickly, will FM359 do shows too?

I think inevitably that FM359 will do shows. I think the material is so strong that it’ll prompt some sort of demand for shows, so I’m pretty sure we’ll do shows.

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