For non-punk fans, it might seem a little odd to find a band that infuses its lyrics with political statements, or “commentary” on the current state of affairs. Boston-bred punkers Street Dogs have drawn on their life influences, as well as their diverse backgrounds in music, to create both their sound and their emotionally charged lyrics.
And lead singer Mike McColgan, who you might remember as the original voice behind the Dropkick Murphys, has seen enough to sing it with conviction. Prior to the creation of Murphys, McColgan joined the military, serving in an army artillery unit during the Gulf War. He ultimately returned home safe to Quincy, Massachusetts, formed the band in 1996, and departed not long after to pursue his dream of being a Boston firefighter.
In 2002, McColgan formed Street Dogs, who have toured with the likes of Social Distortion, Flogging Molly, and the Offspring. While McColgan will say that they are certainly not politicians, it is evident that their followers identify with the messages that the band conveys in their music.
Now on tour in support of their fifth studio album, the Street Dogs make a stop in Santa Barbara on Monday, October 10 at Velvet Jones. I caught up with McColgan recently via email.
I don’t mean to start the interview off on a political note, but … what made you decide to join the army? Was it a culture shock? I joined the army because I wanted to get college money, as my parents could not afford to pay college tuition. It was a huge culture shock for sure because the days of doing whatever you wanted to do were over as long as you were enlisted. It was very regimented, disciplined, and serious, but I feel like it made me a stronger person mentally and enabled me to think and react well under stress; things that carried oddly enough into the music world for me.
You served in Gulf War. How do you feel that experience shaped your lyrics at the time? How does it continue to affect your music? I think coming out of it I had a deeper understanding of the mindset of a foot soldier. That immediately affected my lyrical writing. It came back to me post-9/11 as I watched so many young men and women go overseas and serve. I felt compelled to write about the here and now with that understanding I have.
In most of the interviews I’ve read, you’ve been asked fairly consistently about your departure from Dropkick Murphys to join the Boston Fire Department. Because I know that our readers would be interested in that, can you let me know what precipitated that decision? I was always enamored with the fire service from the time I was young boy; my uncle Kevin was a Boston firefighter and I looked up to him. So when I got a chance to take the test and then start the hiring process, which is two years long, I left DKM and pursued it.
What sparked the desire to form Street Dogs? I didn’t choose punk rock, it choose me! I started Street Dogs as a poker night, let’s have a good time and play local shows here and there. However the demand for us eclipsed expectation and I rediscovered the love of writing and performing. The man starts a band and then the band takes the man …
The guys you’re playing with are prolific in various genres of music. I hear tinges of folk, some Ramones, and even a bit of Irish influence. Is this a culmination of what you all listen to, played in previous bands? Would you say that there is a dominant sound that you all strive for, or does it come more organically? It really does come organically and is derivative of so many different styles and genres. We are influentially all over the map and this aids us and abets us when we write and record.
There was an interview in which you stated, “My opinion is worth a dollar and a cup of coffee, nothing more. I don’t get flighty and idealistic and run away with myself.” I completely agree, but have a myriad of experiences to draw from. Do you feel like because you’re in the public eye, you have a duty or responsibility to voice these truths in your music? People can believe in whatever they want, period. You would have to be naïve and crazy to expect otherwise. However, we do not want to write about insipid and trite subject matter. We have always played, said, and done whatever we want without apology and that will not change. We do engage in advocacy for relief agencies, veteran’s groups, and freedom for oppressed people. You can love that or hate it, we do not care. We strive to do more good with what we have than bad, and at the end of the day that suits us just fine. We are not out to indoctrinate everyone to subscribe to us or what we do. Finally, we do not have to be this way, or it is also not our responsibility to voice anything. It is a conscious choice we make and we have to be prepared to endure everything that comes with that choice; good, bad, or indifferent.
What role does social activism have in your life now? I try to help where I can and stand up where I believe I should stand up and say something. I really do not do nearly as much as I should.
Going back to music, what do you consider to be the spirit of punk and how do you feel your band fits into that genre? How did punk influence your own life growing up in Boston? The spirit of punk is unconditional freedom and confrontation of injustice and abuse. At least that’s how I see it. Growing up in Boston, being assertive, aggressive, and loud was a plus for you and that was how I was growing up.
No two Street Dogs album (or songs, for that matter) sound the same. As an artist, did you approach this latest album differently? Yes we approached it differently, as we had over four separate rounds of songwriting over a year’s time [to work with]. This served us well, as we usually do not have that luxury of time when we make records. This time we had it and we used I think to our advantage.
What song on your new album is your favorite and why? I have to say “In Stereo” is my favorite to play, as it is an empowerment song that says, basically, stand up, believe in you, and become something.
I can’t get enough of “Bobby Powers,” which seems to be particularly anthemic, as is “Up the Union.” How much of today’s current state shaped these songs and your new album? What were the inspirations? Our personal lives and the paper tiger status of America shaped this record. I feel like America has started to become a hollow giant with her promises stripped away. This record was written from the perspective of people living beyond the breaking point.
I heard that you’re no longer living in Boston. If that’s the case, do you miss living there? Has the change of environment and landscape had any impact the music? Distance makes the heart grow fonder and I miss Boston immensely. Our music still bleeds Bostoneese, but living abroad has broadened my viewpoints and perspectives and this seeps into the new record more than its predecessors.
What’s next for Street Dogs? Playing at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara Monday night!
Street Dogs play an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Monday, October 11 at 8 p.m. with openers Devil’s Brigade, Flatfoot 66, and Continental. For tickets and info, visit ticketweb.com.