Dropkick Murphys didn’t actually place an ad like that when multi-instrumentalist Marc Orrell left the group in 2008. But the musician who got the gig, Jeff DaRosa, would have met those requirements.
A bassist by trade, DaRosa had never played any of those instruments — aside from guitar — when he was contacted about filling a vacancy in the lineup by Dropkick guitarist James Lynch.
“I was coming off of a plane, checking my messages from my last tour and I had a message from James Lynch,” DaRosa says. “He just said, ‘I don’t know if you want to learn any crazy instruments or not, but if you do, the job’s open.’ ”
DaRosa accepted the offer and got to work expanding his instrumental arsenal.
“(Lynch) gave me a bunch of CDs and a banjo, a mandolin, bouzouki and everything else and I sat in my bedroom for about a month and just woodshedded, practiced,” DaRosa says. “That was the only concern. ‘Can you learn these wacky instruments?’ I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at any of them, but I can do it.”
DaRosa joined the band in time to contribute to the writing and recording of the seventh Dropkick Murphys studio album, 2011’s Going Out in Style. That album turned out to be something of a landmark release for the group, becoming Dropkick Murphys’ highest charting album when it debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s album charts. It was also arguably the group’s most ambitious full-length to date, a full-on concept record.
Going Out in Style tells the story of fictional Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin, and looks back on the character’s lineage and life in his new homeland of the United States. In addition to the songs, the album’s liner notes include a short story about Larkin’s life.
“We didn’t set out to write a concept album, actually,” DaRosa says.
Well received critically, the album helped continue the gradual growth in popularity that has characterized the Dropkick Murphys’ 16-year career.
The band was formed in 1996 and, after self-releasing the 1997 EP, Boys on the Docks, got signed to Hellcat Records (the label helmed by Tim Armstrong of Rancid), which put out the band’s first full-length, Do or Die, in 1998.
The next album, 1999’s The Gang’s All Here, marked the debut of lead singer Al Barr (who replaced Mike McColgan) and saw the group solidifying its trademark brand of rollicking Irish music and Punk-rooted Rock.
The band’s national profile has grown steadily over subsequent albums, while Dropkick Murphys have become hugely popular in the band’s hometown of Boston. The city has been celebrated in a number of the group’s songs, most notably “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” The group’s local hero status became blatantly apparent in summer 2011, when the Dropkick Murphys played two shows at Boston’s Fenway Park. An 18-song live album from those shows was included in the deluxe edition of Going Out in Style from this past March.
“It was amazing,” DaRosa says of the Fenway experience. “We did two shows there and just to say you walked on the grass of Fenway is one thing. But to be able to say you played there, the two nights were great. We had the (Mighty Mighty) Bosstones with us and just walking on the Green Monster down to play and the excitement of being home on such a legendary field (was special).”
Now the band, which also includes drummer Matt Kelly, guitarist/accordion player Tim Brennan and bagpiper/tin whistle player Josh “Scruffy” Wallace, is shifting its focus to the future as it tours behind its eighth studio album, Signed and Sealed in Blood, which was released in January.
“We really want to play our new songs,” DaRosa says. “We’re going to be trying to squeeze in as many new songs as we can, but we’re definitely going to have to play all of the old standards.”
Like Going Out in Style, Ted Hutt produced the new album. But unlike that 2011 album, there isn’t a theme to the songs. This time, the emphasis is simply on giving fans a collection of fun, rocking tunes — not that that was a calculated plan.
“We had just come back from touring on Going Out in Style and we were like, ‘Let’s just play and see what we’ve got,’ ” DaRosa says of the writing sessions for Signed and Sealed in Blood. “I guess there was an overall feeling in the band to make some more excitable music.”
“What are you going to do after a concept album like that? Let’s just go in the studio and have fun,” he adds.
The album did require some intense work. There was a four-year gap between Going Out in Style and the previous Dropkick Murphys album, The Meanest of Times, and DaRosa says the band was determined to get a new album out much more quickly. With its busy touring schedule, that meant essentially writing and recording Signed and Sealed between June and August.
“We had to just go in and schedule the studio and get it done and force ourselves to work every single day on it,” DaRosa says. “It was like having a day job: wake up, go to work every day.”
The project was also fun, though, and DaRosa says that feeling translates into the music.
“The whole album is very up-tempo compared to Going Out in Style,” he says. “They’re fun songs to play live, songs you don’t have to concentrate on so much, just have a good time playing.” ©
DROPKICK MURPHYS perform Friday, June 7 with Old Man Markley and The Mahones at Bogart's in Corryville.