Death wound up giving birth to the idea for “Going Out in Style,” the latest release from the Celtic-flavored Boston punk rock troupe Dropkick Murphys.
Singer-bassist Ken Casey says that after writing the title track for the album, which comes out March 1, he “knew in a lot of ways what the album was going to be about — going out in style, like a crazy Irish wake, the last hurrah.” But it wasn’t until he visited a funeral home owned by a friend, where the group was thinking about shooting the album’s cover, that a greater theme began to register.
“It was probably one o’clock in the afternoon and there was going to be a wake there that night,” recalls Casey, 41, who co-founded the septet — whose song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” was used in Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning “The Departed” — in 2006. “There was a body in the casket already. I felt disrespectful being there, so I knelt down and said a little prayer. Then I noticed this guy had a (New England) Patriots jersey on that he wanted to be buried in.
“So I started thinking about how we’d written this song about the end of a guy’s life, but what about all the stories that have gone on in this gentleman’s life — not him, in particular, but in anybody’s life. I don’t want to sound too artistic, but that character gave us something to channel the whole project into.”
With the direction established, Casey and his bandmates created a fictional character named Cornelius Larkin and filled his story with inspiration from a variety of sources. He and guitarist James Lynch tapped specific stories from their grandfathers, both Irish immigrants. Other band members and friends tossed in their own ideas about events that could have populated Larkin’s life. And author Michael Patrick MacDonald was recruited to write a faux obituary included in the liner notes.
“We wrote this record faster than we’ve ever written a record before,” Casey notes. “We didn’t know we’d be making a March deadline; we thought it would be a summer album. But everything came together quickly. The songs and story fell into place because it had such a focus with it.”
Yet, he adds, “we don’t like the term ‘concept album.’ It’s more like a theme album. To me, ‘concept’ says, ‘What the hell; are you trying to re-invent the wheel? What’s going on.’ We felt like it had a good focus and a good story that gives a little more depth and weight to the whole project. So instead of just getting it on iTunes, maybe you’ll go back and listen to it four, five, six times and read the story.”
And the story, Casey explains, “is purposely not spelled out 100 percent. It leaves some room to find out where connections are and maybe make your own conclusions about things.”
One of the connections Dropkick Murphys made while working on “Going Out in Style” was with Bruce Springsteen, a longtime friend of the band’s who guests on their fierce rendition of “Peg o’ My Heart,” a 1913 composition that first appealed in “The Ziegfeld Follies.” Springsteen first saw the band perform in New York City and subsequently had Casey and some of the others join him for encores of his “American Land” in Boston.
After Dropkick Murphys began working on “Peg o’ My Heart” for “Going Out in Style” — which also includes guest appearances by NOFX’s Fat Mike, The Living End’s Chris Cheney and actor Lenny Clarke — Springsteen’s name came into the mix.
“We said, ‘Y’know, this sounds like something the E Street Band would pull out in concert,’ so we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s ask Bruce,’ ” remembers Casey, whose two grandmothers were both named Peg. “I had to do a lot of pacing before I picked up the phone for that call — talk about a guy who must get asked for everything under the sun and constantly being harassed.
“So we called down to (Springsteen’s manager) and he said, ‘Talk to him.’ So we got on with Bruce and asked him, and he was just like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it. Send me the song.’ He hadn’t even heard it. We were blown away.”
With “Going Out in Style” finished, Casey says the band may not be done with the story of Cornelius Larkin. MacDonald is thinking about turning the tale into a full-length book, while Casey sees “possibilities” for a film or even a stageplay based on the story.
“I think it’s a unique collaboration between an author and a recording (group), both who have followings, and a character who might pique people’s interest,” Casey says. “I’d love to see something more happen. That’s not why we did it, but it would be amazing.”
Meanwhile, the band is out playing its new songs — and, Casey notes, has “a bunch of extra songs” it wrote for “Going Out in Style,” which means there might not be another four-year gap like there was between this album and 2007’s “The Meanest of Times.”
“We feel like we’ve got half a record that’s just as good as anything on this one,” Casey reports. “We put out a live album and DVD in the middle, and we’d basically done a record every two years for our first six, so I felt like we put out a lot of music in a short time.
“We felt like maybe we should make people wait a little bit more. We don’t want to be hitting them with a record before they’re sick of the last one, so we wanted to make them hungry for another one — and us, too, I guess.”
Dropkick Murphys, Against Me! and Off With Their Heads perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $47.20 and $35.25. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com
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