Allow me, if you will, the opportunity to rewind your memory all the way back to August of 2010. For contextual purposes, here are some reminders as to that comparatively much simpler time; Dying Scene was barely a year old (and still had white text on a black background! The horror!); MySpace ruled the social networking landscape; the United States was less than two years into the Obama Administration, and we hadn’t had our eyes opened to the fact that the then-President was a Kenyan Muslim by the reality show host and beauty pageant coordinator Donald J. Trump.
It also marked the last time we were graced with a full-length album from working-class firebrand Boston punk veterans Street Dogs. Little did we know at the time that the dozen-and-a-half tracks on that self-titled album would mark the last time we’d hear from the band for quite some time, and the last time we’d hear from that lineup forever. In the time that’s elapsed since that embarked on a brief hiatus, Pete Sosa replaced Paul Rucker on drums, and Lenny Lashley (Darkbuster, Lenny Lashley’s Gang Of One) and Matt Pruitt (Have Nots) took over on guitar duties for longtime members Tobe Bean and Marcus Hollar. Centered around the backbone of Mike McColgan on vocals and Johnny Rioux on bass, the new lineup put together songs for a few 7-inch releases a few years ago, and slowly got to work on their first full-length as a unit.
Next month, June 22nd, to be exact, the wait for a new full-length Street Dogs album is finally over. Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing is slated for release on the band’s new label home, Century Media, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The album finds the band at their shot-out-of-a-cannon best, and serves as a shot across the bow not only for the powers that be that bought and sold our political system on the backs of the working class, but for those that might choose to sit idly by and let it happen. We caught up with the band’s quintessentially blue-collar Bostonian frontman Mike McColgan to chat about just why and how the band put out their best material to date, more than a decade-and-a-half into their life as a band. As you might imagine, McColgan pulled no punches.
“I don’t want to be the punk band that sat that fucking out. A lot of fucking bands are sitting that out, and history won’t be kind to them,” McColgan states emphatically. “I have to be honest about what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. I have a son, and I want to be able to say ‘We didn’t sit back. We stood up. We said something’.” Whether for personal or social or political reasons, McColgan and crew are well aware that there are some people in the scene that they could alienate but putting forward an album that puts out a cohesive statement in this day and age, and they’re more than okay with that. “We’ve always put our money where our mouth is, behind the hard-working people, and taking action. We’ve tried not to be too overbearing or be like Bono about it. But you’ve got to say something. That’s the whole point of Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing…Do! Fucking! Something! Don’t just sit this out and think it’s going to be okay. The stakes are way too fucking high.“
If you are a long-time member of the Street Dogs Army, there are more than a few moments on Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing to remind you why you got into the band in the first place; lock-tight rhythms, rapid-fire guitars, infectious hooks, chant-along gang-style choruses that pull the listener and the audience right smack into the middle of the storyline. Look no further than the album’s title track for a textbook example. But there are also some sounds you might not expect; the late 70’s classic arena rock anthemic guitar and higher register vocals on “Mary On Believer Street,” rapper and fellow Bostonian Slaine making a spitfire cameo on “Angels Calling,” the album’s closing track, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Torn And Frayed.” In many ways, its those things you’ve grown to love about Street Dogs but performed at a higher level than you’re used to hearing. McColgan credits not only the playing and songwriting stylings of the band’s new members, but the production chops of Rioux, who manned the console on a Street Dogs album solo for the first time (Nate Albert handled the first two albums, Ted Hutt the next two, and Rioux teamed with McColgan’s former Dropkick Murphys bandmate Rick Barton on the self-titled album). “Johnny Rioux came into his own as a producer,” says McColgan. “He pushed me in particular, moreso than anybody, really, really hard. I feel like, at the end of the day, the record really stands up and will stand the test of time. I feel like our fans and maybe some people who don’t even know who the hell we are will like it too.“
Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing is not only a great album, it’s a personal album and an important album. It’s tough to encapsulate the breadth and depth of the conversation we had with McColgan into a few lines in an introduction; as is part and parcel when we chat, there’s a lot of ground covered, but perhaps nothing is more poignant than the stories behind some of individual tales that Street Dogs are trying to relate to their listeners on the new album. “These Ain’t The Old Days” looks back at some members of the scene that haven’t, unfortunately, been lucky enough to overcome some of their struggles, namely former Kings of Nuthin’ frontman Torr Skoog who passed away five years ago. The emotion in the song, particularly in Lashley’s vocal contributions, is palpable. “He had to walk out of the studio,” explains McColgan. “He had to take a break. It was that personal and that pivotal and that powerful and that poignant to him.” “The Comeback Zone,” meanwhile, tells three individual tales of redemption that may sound familiar to those that have followed the long-term arc of the careers – and lives – of the band’s individual members.
“Lest We Forget,” though, is perhaps the most personal and emotional song that McColgan has worked on. The song teaches us, the listening audience, about Gerry Dewan, a Boston kid who couldn’t find work on the local fire department, so he moved to New York City and spent a few years working for the New York Fire Department, a budding career that came to a tragic early end on September 11, 2001. McColgan was not only a new recruit to the Boston Fire Department at the time of that fateful day, he was working for Dewan’s brother, William, on the force. “It’s a very, very, very tough thing for me. I’ve been trying to write this song, God, since the Savin Hill days. I’ve written multiple, multiple variations of this song – I’m talking hundreds – because it’s such a heavy, heavy topic, that I was just hellbent on finding the right way to say this and not make it too political.“
Head below to check out our full, wide-ranging interview. It’s a pretty special one, particularly as McColgan himself commented on having trouble putting a few feelings into words; noteworthy for a conversation between two guys with Dorchester Irish Catholic roots.
Pre-orders for Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing are still available here.
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): In addition to (Dropkick Murphys’ debut album) Do Or Die turning twenty this year, (Street Dogs’ debut album) Savin Hill turns fifteen!
Mike McColgan: When we dropped that record, there were really no expectations as to what it could, would, or might do. We just did it. We were excited to make music. I think when we recorded the initial demo in 2002 and then we went in to 2003 and had played a couple local shows, there was a lot of interest. Way more than I could have possibly ever imagined that there would be. I was very casual and very cavalier about the whole thing. It took off, and took on a life of its own, you know? We put that record out and then Flogging Molly was like “hey, you want to do some shows with us?” It was like whoa, you know? It was crazy in retrospect.
How much time was there between when Savin Hill came out and when the Flogging Molly thing came up? I’m trying to go back and do the math in my head?
Oh…they had already had Swagger and Drunken Lullabies out before we put our initial record out, and they were touring in support of Drunken Lullabies when they asked us out. That was a long touring cycle for them, because it was a very, very successful record. Understandably so; Dave King and the guys in the band and Bridget are a great songwriting team, and Ted Hutt was instrumental in elevating Flogging Molly. He was in the original lineup.
Yeah, I think some people forget that.
He was instrumental in those first three records, which without a doubt are Flogging Molly’s best three records.
So does it feel good to finally have a release date and to finally be within striking distance of the new album? It seems like we’ve been talking on and off about this for a long time.
We have been talking on and off for a long time, and through the years and through doing this for a long period of time, we’ve all learned through trial and error and hard work and getting crazy or maniacal or obsessive at times about promotion that the thing that matters the most at the end of the day is the music. We were prolific in the past. The pace that we were operating on was mind-bendingly fast. But I think as time went on and life went on and our families expanded and things happened, ups and downs and all-arounds, we came back together and realized that it’s the music that matters. That’s the thing with Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing, with every song excluding the Rolling Stones cover at the end, “Torn and Frayed,” on every song, there were multiple rewrites of lyrics. We tried a variety of sonic arrangements with each song. We took way more time, and if felt good to be in the position to be able to do that.
In the past, we weren’t in that type of position. It was go, go, go, go, go, go, go, and sometimes that’s good, and sometimes it’s not. I can honestly say that I think this is our best record to date, and that doesn’t bring down the other records that came before it, because I think all of them in their own right have something special or a window into what was going on at the time it was released. I feel like this record’s great. It’s very cohesive. I feel like the sequencing is great – Johnny Rioux came into his own as a producer. He pushed me in particular, moreso than anybody, really, really hard. I feel like, at the end of the day, the record really stands up and will stand the test of time. I feel like our fans and maybe some people who don’t even know who the hell we are will like it too.
I agree! It’s obviously a punk rock album through and through, but there are some elements of some things that might appeal to people outside the traditional three-chord punk rock thing.
Yeah, you take a song like “Mary on Believer Street,” and you can obviously see that a lot of us in the band, all of us as a matter of fact, are huge classic rock fans; huge AC/DC fans, we like Turbonegro too, in the now. Even bands like The Cult and Generation X, three-chord, four-on-the-floor anthems…”Mary On Believer Street” was kind of an ode to that, and we just said “fuck it, let’s step into that and see how it feels.” All of a sudden, I started singing higher than I had ever sang before, and at first I felt a little ambivalent about it, and weird. But everybody was really into it in the room when we were working on it, which I was very fucking shocked and surprised at! (*both laugh*) That was one of the songs we got really excited about in the early stages of making the record. It’s very different stylistically for us, you know?
Yeah, for sure. I took notes the first time I listened to the album, and almost exactly what you just said were my notes for “Mary On Believer Street” — “this is 70’s classic rock, That riff is like something that would have come when Aerosmith were good,” you know? (*both laugh*) That late-70s, Toys In The Attic sound, which I mean as a very, very good thing.
I’m a huge fan of those early records and that sound and that raw, visceral, guttural guitar riff. Lenny is too, and Lenny’s the one that brought that forward.
I assumed that.
He was the one who lead the charge on that song.
Did it take much convincing for him to get a song like that through?
No, surprisingly, I was the one that was the hardest one to bring on board with that, because it’s a high key song, you know? I kicked it and I tried it, and all of a sudden I was right into it. One of the best things about being in the band is when you’re in the room and you’re banging stuff around and trying to find something that works, and then all of a sudden, organically or by osmosis or however the hell it happens, something just clicks and everyone in the room is buzzing. I fell into that too, and I started to lean into it more. I could feel the excitement of the other guys; it’s contagious. And that can go the other way around too; I can be singing something and guys can be into it and hit a chord, and there’s a variety of ways to really get into a song. It can come from the instrument side or it can come from the vocal side.
Like I texted you a week or so ago after the first time or two that I listened to the album, I genuinely think that, while it might be my favorite Street Dogs album now, though I will always have a soft spot for State Of Grace…
That was a bold record. I look back at State, and Ted Hutt, from day one, said “we’re not making a punk rock record.” Everyone was floored and shocked. Maybe not so much me; at the time, I was listening to a lot of progressive rock or a lot of bands at the time, but that record was one of the hardest ones for our people to wrap their heads around. Now as time goes on, we consider that to be the record that went over people’s heads, but as time goes on and we talk to people when we’re out doing shows and stuff, it’s gotten a lot more popular. I think it took time for people to catch up.
I think that if you’re taking things independently on the new album, that the best individual instrument is your voice. The way you sing and approach the songs is different than you have in the past, and to me, that’s what puts the album over the top and to another level. You were probably inspired by the other guys to go for it, but on songs like you said “Mary On Believer Street” ….
Yeah, that’s where Johnny Rioux really comes into the fold. And the other guys too. Lenny brings a lot to the table idea-wise and songwriting-wise, and when I was doing vocal takes, everybody had input. It wasn’t just Johnny running it commando style. Lenny and Matt and Pete had input, and the more cooks that are in the kitchen in that particular sense for this record was better. When you have that much quality input going through things, you have more ideas to pull from. Given the current, horrific political climate in the country right now and all that’s going on in our own lives and in the world and the things that we hold near and dear to our hearts, it was easy to really lean into these songs and blast. None of these songs could be approached casually.
The vocal takes are at their best when it gets personal, and a lot of these songs, like “These Ain’t The Old Days,” we’re talking about Torr (Skoog) from Kings Of Nuthin. There’s a point in time, before we cross into that second verse, where we fire into a couple of names of people from the past, it’s really easy for Lenny and me and the guys to get behind that song. We remember Torr, we remember Kings of Nuthin, and as far as I’m concerned, that was probably one of the best bands to ever come out of the city that didn’t catch on the way they should have. I thought they were amazing. They were phenomenal, but they were dangerous. They were volatile, and so was Torr, and sometimes, you know, a star that burns twice as bright only gets to stay around half as long.
There are a couple of songs that I wanted to pick your brain about. The story behind “Lest We Forget,” sort of inspired by listening to the song however many dozen times at this point, I actually went and picked apart where at least part of the story came from, the firefighter from West Roxbury, Gerry Dewan, who went to New York City Fire Department…
Yes, the Recon Ranger. It’s about him.
That’s a story that I was not aware of before, although I’ve since found it in the (Boston) Globe and places like that, but where did that inspiration come from (to do that song) now?
I’ve been trying to write this… (*sighs*) It’s a very, very, very tough thing for me. I’ve been trying to write this song, God, since the Savin Hill days. I’ve written multiple, multiple variations of this song – I’m talking hundreds – because it’s such a heavy, heavy topic, that I was just hellbent on finding the right way to say this and not make it too political. Because it’s a very polarizing issue. A lot of people have a lot of powerful opinions about what when on (on 9/11). As time went on…(*pauses*)…when I was a Boston firefighter, my boss was William Dewan…
Oh no way…
Gerry was his brother. So that loss hit me really hard, and obviously it hit Billy really hard, and that never left me, you know? I thought to myself (*sighs*)…this is a song that we always wanted to do the right way, and I got into that story and into that time, and it was very easy to get into that and to bring that. I think Street Dogs is at its best when we can take an individual story and try to let everybody into it. In the chorus, let’s open it up. Everybody’s in. Build it in the verse and the pre-chorus, and then let everybody in. “Savin Hill” is a prime example. That song…we’ve been fortunate enough to play shows all around the world, and there’s people who have gone to Savin Hill Beach and taken pictures and sent them to us and said “this song means a lot to me” and this and that.
I think, obviously, this song’s a lot heavier than “Savin Hill,” and I was just hellbent on making it a fitting tribute to him, and also to letting it be a tribute to all of the responders that paid the ultimate price that day, and tried to find the line, the right balance, lyrically to make it work. I feel like we did. I get the chills when I listen to it because I know…in October 2001, I was an FFOP, a firefighter on probation, for the Boston Fire Department, and I was on that site. I couldn’t dig in the pile because I was still on probation, but I got to attend a lot of services of fallen FDNY members, so that song is very, very personal. I wanted it to be a fitting tribute, and when that one came alive in the studio, we actually wrapped that one at a studio in Houston, and that song really set the table for coming back to Q Division (recording studio in Somerville, MA) and laying into other songs. It was a pivotal song on the record. Once we laid it down, we all knew something special had happened.
It really does combine some of the best parts of the Street Dogs catalog, where you have some songs that tell almost a singular story and some that big, rallying cry chorus. Even a song like “Tobe’s Got A Drinking Problem” has that same sort of rallying cry that gets everybody. Now this is a different type of rallying cry altogether, but it’s still the best example of the style that Street Dogs do best. And yes this is a touchy subject, like you said, although I don’t think that it’s a political one…
No, I went to great lengths to keep it relative to Gerry, and to keep it relative to the 343 guys that paid the ultimate price, and to not be too overt and bleeding heart in the lyrics, but to keep it appropriate. It was not an easy song to write. Out of any song that I’ve had to tackle or try to get right, that was the hardest one, without a doubt It took years to get it right.
It kinda struck me, in listening to it, you almost forget that 9/11 was seventeen years ago. It feels like that song is much more recent, but those incidents happened before Street Dogs even became a band. It’s crazy that that story is almost a generation ago, and yet when you sing it, it sounds like it was last Tuesday.
As far as it goes for me, there’s still memories of (9/11) every day since that day has passed. If I see the numbers 343 on a digital clock, or I see the number sequence 91101, there’s always reminders here and there along the way that have kept it on the front burner of my mind. Without a doubt, it changed America and the world we live in at-large forever. And not necessarily in a better way. So we really wanted to go above and beyond in getting it right. Who we were writing about, we have a lot of respect for. It’s very personal to me, because I work still in the fire service, doing dispatch with the Boston Fire Department. It’s near and dear to my heart and it’s obvious; you can hear it in the singing. Even the guys in the backup vocals laying into it…a lot of times when we’re singing songs, we’re breaking each others’ balls. We go with it and give it everything we have, but there’s a feeling of looseness in the room, you know? With this song, it’s different; everyone wanted to give it everything they had down to the bottom of their feet, you know?
That comes across, not just in that song, but you mentioned “These Ain’t The Old Days” before; I know that Lenny specifically had an affinity for Torr, and the way that he sings even the backing vocals of the last third of the song, the “we really miss you, brother” line – you can hear in his voice how personal that is.
Oh yeah, he had to leave the room. He had to walk out of the studio.
Yeah, he had to take a break. It was that personal and that pivotal and that powerful and that poignant to him. Even listening back, when we first listened back to it when it was finally mixed and mastered, it was a powerful, powerful fucking song. I know it’s going to be powerful live, because I know what’s going to happen. People are going to take that song and make it theirs. We don’t get to say when that happens or who that happens to, but I just have a sneaking suspicion that as time goes on, as people hear the record, that’s going to be a powerful song live.
Yeah, I think so too. And I think “The Comeback Zone” is another one that’s like that; I’m probably reading way too much into it, because I tend to do that, but it seems like that’s a very personal song to a few of the guys in the band, but I think is also one that’ll have people making it their own personal rallying cry.
Yeah, the whole gang of us have had moments in our lives where we’ve been out of whack or messed up or out of control and got cleaned up, and I think that song recounts going back to those places when we were out of our minds. Today, we’re grateful for living a more even and clean life, and I think we’re grateful that we got to make it this far to see the other side, you know? That’s a song that’s intensely personal, and I think that’s when this band’s at its best, when it’s coming out of us and it’s relative to us, and then in the chorus we invite people into that. Don’t keep it person-specific at that moment. Let everybody in, you know? The stuff that we’ve gone through, other people have gone through too, you know?
Oh for sure. I think the first time I listened to it, that third verse hit and I said “hey, that’s Lenny!”
Oh yeah, unmistakably. Lenny’s story is extraordinary; he’s an extraordinary person, very funny, very loyal, very kind, very passionate. Gentle, strong, the whole package. I think, you know, he had his moments where he was up against it, and he had demons he had to stare down and battle back from and he did, and he continues to do that day by day. I think we tackled that on the song with his blessing. It’s really difficult to try to sit and get that all down in one verse, but I think we managed to get some of the more powerful parts in there, you know? It’s the best part of the song, without a doubt, because the poignancy rises, the key in the vocal rises, the solo before it lifts it up and it’s like, okay, here we go! I think that’s the thing about the song, each verse gets stronger and stronger.
A lot has changed obviously in the fifteen years since Savin Hill, but it seems like there’s some really unfortunate parallels between what is going on now and what was going on fifteen years ago, politically, socially, economically, et cetera, et cetera. Is that part of why this seemed like a good time to get more Street Dogs material on the record?
I think we’ve never shied away from tackling that and, for better or for worse, that will be part of our legacy and our mantra going forward from now. I don’t think that back when we made Savin Hill or Fading American Dream — that was a very prolific time. We were popping out records every year-and-a-half or two years. I thought, back then, that it couldn’t get any more divisive or polarizing or worse or spiteful or divided, but now it’s ridiculous. Social media, particularly, is out of control. The whole premise of Facebook was to bring us together and catch up with classmates or see what your family or your friends are doing. Now it’s turned into crossfire. It got bought and sold to political parties and it was made to spread disinformation and false news. It’s unbelievably horrible, the impact that had on things, relative obviously to the election itself and what it has done to families and friends. It’s dividing us, and people are so confused now as to what the truth is. It’s a nightmare, you know? It’s difficult to even put into words, and typically I don’t have a problem with that (*both laugh*).
It’s overwhelmingly obvious that the election wasn’t on the level, and that there was collusion and treasonous activity and horrible, unconscionable, unthinkable things going on, and it’s so sad what Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision, did with money and elections and who’s allowed to insert money into elections. It’s absolutely disgusting. There was a time when people like Senator McCain and Senator Feingold wanted to peel back lobby money and peel back that outside influence, and we’re so far away from that now. We’re so far away from that now. Anyone can insert money. Money has been inserted from the most outlandish places; dubious activities and lies and malicious disinformation…Fox News is practically state TV at this point. Even MSNBC and CNN have fallen victim to “Trump This, Trump That, Trump This, Trump That.” I think our country is absolutely, positively desperate for an independent news source. A voice that is outside of all this madness. It’s a prime time for something like that to come into the fold. It’s a prime time for another political party to rise and say that both of these parties are co-opted and bought and sold. It’s time for a third party to come in and say we’re for people, we’re not for companies, we’re not for fossil fuels, we’re not for resources that would buy and sell the whole process and make a profit.
That makes its way into Street Dogs music now, like it always has. Writing a song like “Stand For Something or Die For Nothing,” in some ways, was easy, but in some ways it was difficult. That’s a song that had a lot of rewrites too. We wanted to make it a shot across the bow at charlatans and snake-oil salesmen and liars and con men and people taking all of Bernie Sanders ideas and boiling them down into a populist message and becoming the root of the very problem that they said they would take care of. To elect a billionaire to fix a ton of problems that billionaires have caused, you have to be a special kind of stupid.
We weren’t afraid to dip our toes in that water and strike that thunder and lightning across the bow. You know, at the end of the day, Jay, I don’t want to be the punk band that sat that fucking out. A lot of fucking bands are sitting that out, and history won’t be kind to them. There was a very pivotal moment in the studio, where we said we were not sitting this out, for better or for worse. It’s risky to wade into that. It’s polarizing. Some of our fans aren’t going to like that, but I have to be honest. I have to be able to look myself in the mirror; I have to be able to go to sleep at night. I have to be honest about what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. I have a son, and I want to be able to say “we didn’t sit back. We stood up. We said something.” We’ve always put our money where our mouth is, behind the hard-working people, and taking action. We’ve tried not to be too overbearing or be like Bono about it (*both laugh*) But you’ve got to say something. That’s the whole point of “Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing”…Do! Fucking! Something! Don’t just sit this out and think it’s going to be okay. The stakes are way too fucking high.
I think it’s an important thing to note, people call Street Dogs and bands like you political bands or songs like that could be political songs, and I think that is oversimplifying it. It’s not a political thing as much as it is a social thing, because it’s not necessarily a singular political party that’s responsible. The whole system has gotten so far where any of us want it to be on either side of the aisle.
Absolutely. It’s been bought and sold, completely.
And whether you’re fiscally conservative or socially liberal or whatever, there should be a common ground between us that this whole ship is leaving the harbor without us. That’s not a political statement, that’s a societal statement, and I think people have to listen to that and not just think “oh, it’s just anti-Trump.” That might be a big part of it, but he and his people are in power for a reason, so we have to fix that reason.
They stole. They stole power. It’s co-opted, it’s not legitimate. It’s not a legitimate presidency and I’m not afraid to say that.
No, nor am I.
I stand behind those words til the day I’m put in the fucking ground. The proof is overwhelming.
Hindsight is 20/20. You take a guy like Bernie Sanders. Look at the corruption and some of the things that the Democratic Party did to push Clinton into the mix. If it had been fair and on the level, vote for vote, Bernie Sanders would have gotten the nomination, and he would have been the President of the United States. Hindsight is 20/20, but watch for guys like Bernie Sanders in the 2020 election.
True, although it would be nice if there was somebody who wasn’t well on the other side of 70 who could not only take that torch but carry it.
There will be new voices. I don’t think there will be any shortage of people that want to rise up and take on the biggest charlatan since the inception of the American political process.
You mentioned briefly another change that’s happened not just since Savin Hill but since the self-titled album in 2010. You’re a dad since the last album came out? How does that change the way you approach things and write things?
You can’t help but think that anything that transpires or anything you see on a day-to-day basis, how’s it going to be for our children? For my son? You see so much economic disparity between classes and so much divisiveness and division and bitterness between people and in politics, and that comes into it when you’re a father. I think, to some degree, we have to lay down some type of road map for them to follow. I talked that about that earlier a little bit, but I wanted to make sure that I can tell him that we didn’t sit that out. We didn’t play it safe. We didn’t wait for it all to blow over. Now is the time to say something, and kudos to anybody who is standing up and saying something.
Have you had to have the talks with him about — like, my daughter is a couple years older than your son is, but it makes for some interesting or uncomfortable conversations, when you have to explain why a certain party or a certain class believes certain things…
Take all the ideology out of it. Take Trump’s obviously beholden to billionaires and millionaires and to cutting taxes for them, and they put him in power and they’re the people that lie for him and help him. Take all of that out of it. Kids see him in interviews, and they don’t see a statesman-like leader, with poise, composure, kindness, compassion, intelligence; from a kid’s perspective, he seems mean, domineering, deceitful, unapologetic about all of it. Kids feel that. My son doesn’t like him at all, and I didn’t say anything to him! I have never said “here’s what you have to think or believe or who to support” or anything like that. This is what he sees and feels when he’s presented with that mess. He’s coming up with his own feelings and thoughts relative to it.
It’s amazing that elementary school-aged kids can see through it and understand it for what it is.
Absolutely they can. They know he’s not on the level.
Right…but trying to explain to a kid, politics aside why a person would be a bully like that…
…or how it all came to this! How did this happen? I just saw a meme that was titled “Things That Don’t Seem Right” and there was a cow stuck in a tree, and a car on top of a billboard, and it showed Trump in the White House. How did it all get to this? It got to this because of money, corruptions, lobbyists, Citizens United, no checks and balances on political contributions on where they come from and what country they come from. The system has been bought and sold. There’s a line in “Working Class Hero” – “you pay into a system that you know is already dead.” I thought when we were in the studio making the record, that that was one of the most powerful lines on the record. What the fuck!? What other option do we have? We don’t have any! And that’s tough. As we were going through the song and coming up with lyrics, that had the old Savin Hill sting and bang and hit to it. That’s probably my favorite song on the record. Obviously it’s pro-Union, you’d have to be blind or not have ears or be incapable of reading to not notice that. But I feel like on “Working Class Heroes,” we didn’t go overboard and say “union this, union that, union, union, union.” We just got inside that human condition of people working now and what the fuck you feel, you know? On the way out the door, do we give a solidarity forever? Yeah, of course we do. But it’s not “union, union, union!” We poured over the lyrics differently with this. Johnny made us all dig a little deeper.
Does that come from the fact that you guys are all working quote-unquote regular jobs still? You’re kind of dialed in to and feel that pain and struggle of the working guy.
I think because of interactions with fans, not just in America but worldwide. And having family members and having your own life, exactly, you don’t lose sight of that struggle. On the same token, I do okay. I’m not complaining, and I’m not going to act like I’m squatting in a house, poor as can be. I still have a lot of friends and a lot of family and fans that I’ve talked to that I’ve always been able to keep in touch with that part, you know? It’s not because I’m a pauper in any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that it’s always been something that’s been important to me to not lose focus of.
That resonates loudly with me, and I think it’s going to resonate with fans; I don’t remember if you were there yet, but I know at Warped Tour I was with Johnny and Lenny and Matt before you got there, and we were sitting around a table talking, and I remember saying that Street Dogs are still a band we need. There’s a need for new Street Dogs, not as a nostalgia band that plays a couple dozen shows every year and that’s it. It’s cool for bands that do that, but I think there’s a voice that’s been sadly missing for a while. I’m trying to say that being unbiased and just looking at the scene in general, but I think that’s a voice that’s been lacking and we really, really need it.
I said it earlier; I don’t want to look back on these times, the most tumultuous, crazy times, and to say “oh, we sat that out. We just hunkered down and sang about our babies or good times or why’d she leave…” No fucking way. It’s time to stand up and say something, and I think that’s what the record speaks to. For better or for worse, it’s not easy to be this band, or to draw this line. It’s clear that not everyone is going to like it, but at the same time, the five of us got out of the Fucksgiving business a long time ago. (*both laugh*) Legacy is very important to Street Dogs. I look at bands like Black Flag, or The Clash, or bands like Stiff Little Fingers – Jake Burns and those guys are still playing. They had the gumption and the courage and the straight-out balls to take on heavy messages and say things that most bands would think “Oh, they’re fucking crazy! They’re not going to get a hit single saying that!” They didn’t give a fuck! Nor do we! This is how we are, this is how we’re wired. This is what moves us and capitulates us to get into it and write songs.
And then, reactions of our fans thanking us for saying something or doing something…thank you! Thank you for buying a record. Thank you for buying a t-shirt. Thank you for buying an MP3. Thank you for ripping the record or stealing it. I don’t care, you know? Thank you for even caring and taking the time out of your life. We’re so grateful and so lucky to even be doing this. To have a record deal in 2018? The music business changed completely from the time we started up until now, so the fact that we’re still in tact at this stage of the game given those changes and how it all evolved? It’s a miracle. It’s a straight-up miracle. We’re grateful for anything we have.
The first single is officially out, right? “Stand For Something Or Die For Nothing,” people have heard that at this point, right?
Yeah, that’s getting a very, very strong reaction. Pre-orders are going strong off of that song. I was talking to Lawrence today, and the label is very, very, very excited about the reaction to it. It caught them off guard, that the reaction to it is so strong. Because the scene is not just stuck inside of Boston or America, it’s worldwide. I feel like the next song that gets presented with a video and a formal push will be “Angels Calling.” One of the most difficult topics for any person to stare into the face of is their own mortality, and I feel like that song stares into the face of mortality. We’re not a Christian rock band, obviously, but I always looked at early U2 and some rock bands, and they always throw a little God or an angel in there, and that always appealed to me. Even when we did “Not Without A Purpose, Not Without A Fight,” the soldier that’s wondering if he’s going to see the sunset, he doesn’t believe in Jesus but he’ll pray to God tonight. When I put that in there at the time, the guys were like “get that the fuck out!” I was like “no, let’s be bold enough to put that in there and make our fans think,” you know?
Yeah, I love that line.
Put that stuff in there, make people think. I don’t care what faith or denomination you are, everybody at some point in time thinks somebody is watching out for them. Rick Barton came in on this one, and I feel like it’s a very special song. And Slaine just completely fucking devastated the song. He elevated it, and when I heard that and I crossed back in on the vocal part afterwards, I felt like I had fucking grown a third lung.
Yeah, totally. You come shot out of a cannon in that transition from the end of Slaine’s bars to the last verse.
You have to meet that energy that he brought in. You have to match that. I was moved by that rap, the lyrics…my God. In the studio, our jaws were on the ground. This guy, without a doubt he’s my friend and my brother, so I’m a little biased, but I can say this objectively too. I’ve listened to a ton of hip-hop throughout my life, and he is easily the most underrated MC in the world today. He’s so talented and so amazing.
Where did that decision to bring him in on the album come from?I know you guys have worked together before, but that’s got to be a bit of a gamble on your end too, yeah?
I have always been a big hip hop fan. When the two things link up, like, I can remember when we were recording State Of Grace, Gallows had that “Staring At The Rude Bois” cover, The Ruts’ cover, and they had a rapper come in on that song. I always liked that, it was a nice dynamic. And I remember back when Helmet and House Of Pain hooked up…
Oh, on Judgement Night!
I just always liked that. Even when Run-DMC way back used real guitar on songs, I was always a fan of that. We were always, along the way, looking for the right moment to do that, and this was it. We could hear that getting inserted in there. There was no big master plan or any real discussing about it, it was just like “yeah, this is a song where we just know.” Then he took it to a whole other level.
There are a lot of moments on this album that I think are really awesome and noteworthy, and that song, his verse and then the transition back into your verse…that’s one of those moments, man.
Yeah, and even Lenny’s lead just rips your head off. It’s like a Social D lead on steroids. It’s just so good. I’m a fan of Lenny, and when I listen to that song, it’s like, “mother of God that’s a great lead.” That’s another one of my favorites. It’s they type of record where I really don’t feel like there’s a filler song at all.
Yeah, each song has its own theme and vibe to it, there’s no lull where a few things sorta sound the same. It’s eleven different things…
…but there’s cohesion to it, too, with the sequencing. Johnny felt it really mattered. It’s make or break I think, and he did a great job sequencing it.
I think people are really going to dig it. I try to take a step back from being a longtime fan and being friendly with guys in the band and say I really think people are genuinely going to like it.
I do to, and there’s not a lot of ambivalence with this one for me. I really think that when we canned that record, we all knew that we had something here. That was the general feeling. When we canned State of Grace, we were all shitting out pants, like “oh this is a radical departure from what we do!” (*both laugh*)
I’m not joking when I say that from the very first time I listened to State of Grace, I went “oh god, this is my favorite album.” For whatever reason, it took no time at all to grow on me, and maybe that’s because I have more of a classic, rock-and-roll upbringing through my dad especially. That album itself from start to finish just made total sense to me. Like, my nana could have been “Elizabeth,” you know what I mean?
Yeah, we got personal, and we pushed the parameters of our sound. We wanted to push in a way just to see how far we could push it. How do you know unless you try, right? A song like “Mean Fist” was a radical departure.
Oh sure. And I think everyone’s been one of those “Two Angry Kids.” “State of Grace” itself, the title track, is one of those look-in-the-mirror sort of moments that a lot of people have as they get older.
Yeah! Ted Hutt, when we were making it, didn’t shy away from words, said “this is a stadium anthem.” We were like “Whoa, Ted, we’re not playing any fucking stadiums!” That was a bold song sonically.
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