Music Interviews
2:24 pm
Tue January 1, 2013

The Dropkick Murphys: A 'Rose Tattoo' Tells A Life Story

Originally published on Tue January 8, 2013 12:19 pm

If there's a soundtrack for last call in a Boston dive bar, the Dropkick Murphys' music is on it. The group has been a local favorite for more than a decade, but even outlanders are familiar with Dropkick Murphys' mix of punk and Irish music, which has spawned two major hits: a reworking of the old Boston Red Sox anthem "Tessie" and "I'm Shipping to Boston," which was featured in Martin Scorsese's The Departed.

For founder, bassist and singer Ken Casey, these songs aim "to tell you a life story in four minutes." The Dropkick Murphys will release a new album, Signed and Sealed in Blood, next week, and its single "Rose Tattoo" was inspired by Casey's own tattoos.

"Throughout life — trials, tribulations, dates, times, places, things that are important to you, family, people who have passed away — tattoos on my body document my life and what I've been through, things that have been important to me," Casey tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "You know, they're all a part of the story."

The rose tattoo itself appears on Casey's arm and is a memorial to his grandfather, who raised Casey after his father had died.

"He taught me most things that make me who I am today," Casey says. "He was a big union guy in Boston. It's in a visible place for me, and I look down and I see it a lot. He was such an inspiring man that it inspires me. Oftentimes, I just catch it out of the corner of my eye and it literally changes my mood when I think of him and what a strong individual he was."

Dropkick Murphys fans are just as proud of their tattoos — many of them sporting ink that pays tribute to their favorite band. Within five days of releasing the artwork to Signed and Sealed in Blood, Casey says that more than 100 tattoo submissions came into the band's website and now feature prominently in the music video for "Rose Tattoo."

Signed and Sealed in Blood will be released in the U.S. on Jan. 8.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

They've been a local favorite for more than a decade, but the Dropkick Murphy's mixture of punk and Irish music has grown way beyond their Boston roots. Their reworking of the old Red Sox anthem "Tessie" served as a soundtrack to the team's 2004 World Series win, and their song "Shipping Up to Boston" became an anthem in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON")

CORNISH: The latest album from the band is called "Signed and Sealed in Blood." The cover art includes a rose on a shield and has already inspired their fans to get it as a tattoo. We asked cofounder and lead singer Ken Casey to tell us about his own body art and how it inspired this song, "Rose Tattoo."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSE TATTOO")

DROPKICK MURPHYS: (Singing) The pictures tell the story. This life has many shades. I'd wake up every morning and before I'd start each day I'd take a drag from last night's cigarette that smoldered in its tray. Down a little something and then be on my way.

KEN CASEY: As a songwriter, I was talking about my life, you know, in a different way that kind of tell you my story in four minutes. And, you know, I happen to have a lot of tattoos on my body throughout the years from - since the age of 15, which is highly illegal. I probably shouldn't be saying that but...

(LAUGHTER)

CASEY: ...but, you know, I guess throughout life - trials, tribulations, dates, times, places, things that are important to you, family, you know, people who have passed away - I guess the tattoos on my body kind of document my life and what I've been through and things that have been important to me. And, you know, they're all a part of the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSE TATTOO")

MURPHYS: (Singing) Some may be from showing up others are from growing up. Sometimes I was so messed up and didn't have a clue. I ain't winning no one over. I wear it just for you. I've got your name written here in a rose tattoo, in a rose tattoo, in a rose tattoo. I've got your name written here in a rose tattoo.

CORNISH: What's significant about the rose?

CASEY: Well, in particular, they're kind of - what I say in the song, this one means the most to me. And it's a tattoo on my arm that's a memorial to my grandfather. My father died when I was really, really young. And my grandfather kind of stepped in and raised me and taught me most things that make me who I am today. And, you know, he was a big kind of union guy in Boston. And, I don't know, it's in a visible place for me. And I look down, and I see it a lot. And, you know, he was such an inspiring man that it inspires me. And oftentimes, I just catch it out of the corner of my eye and literally changes my mood when I think of him and what a strong individual he was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSE TATTOO")

MURPHYS: (Singing) This one means the most to me, stays here for eternity, a ship that always stays the course, an anchor for my every choice. A rose that shines down from above, I signed and sealed these words in blood. I heard them once sung in a song. It played again, and we sang along.

CORNISH: In watching the video for this song, it's clear that the fans also have gotten involved quite literally in terms of getting tattoos.

CASEY: Yeah. We're blessed to have the most dedicated fan base in the world. And over the years, we've seen probably 1,000-plus people with Dropkick Murphys-related tattoos. And when we looked at the finished artwork that we had created for this - long before the record, you know, was even done or the artwork was finished - we said this is something that a lot of fans are going to get tattooed. So we put it out on the website to show the new artwork. And within five days, we had had, you know, over 100 tattoo submissions, which really shows the ultimate dedication, because, you know, the people hadn't even heard the album, and they're getting a tattoo of the album artwork.

So I think that shows that our fans can trust us to deliver what, you know, they expect it to be and not like throw a disco album at them after 16 years or something, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: It seems as though in the end, your band has become almost completely synonymous with Boston, specifically its Irish-American culture. And where do you see your place in all this? Do you think you're kind of marking something or the soundtrack to something?

CASEY: No. Definitely not. That would make us seem like we take ourselves way too seriously. But I do think the nature of what has inspired us as songwriters is, you know, traditional Irish music being one, especially in the lyrical front, you know, and the way traditional music tells a story that's potentially there to be passed down for generations.

And when you're writing songs about those that have come before you, family members, you're documenting history of your surroundings and your city and your friends and those that have passed, you know, long after you're gone, you know, there might be a CD kicking around in someone's attic that tells a story of both something or someone that was important to us.

And, you know, that is history. You know, it might not be huge. It not might be in the textbooks in school, but, you know, you're creating something that's probably going to outlive us, you know, that's important to us.

CORNISH: Well, Ken Casey, thank you so much for speaking with us and telling us the story behind the song.

CASEY: Oh, thanks for your help. And it was a pleasure talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.