Mike McColgan - Street Dogs

October 14, 2005

Photo Credit: Angela Monger

Tell me a bit about the band.

The band started in 2003. It started out initially as a loose gathering of friends. We just mutually knew each other and were in the Boston punk scene for a long time. We recorded some songs, played some regional shows, and from there that grew into recording a demo. That demo got circulated for a while. At the 2003 Warped Tour a couple of labels approached us. We did our first record Savin Hill on Crosscheck Records. We did one tour of the U.S. After that we came back and regrouped. Seeing the demand and wanting to do it full time and take it seriously, we formed the band full time, got a hold of the best people we could to be in the band, and we actually got another record deal as well which was with DRT on Brass Tacks. We recorded Back To The World, did a European tour, came back and did a U.S. tour with Flogging Molly and a European tour with Flogging Molly. The band consists of myself, singer and yeller, a guy who takes himself way too serious; Johnny on bass who smokes too much, is on his cell phone too much, drinks way too much coffee; Joe our drummer who likes probably five percent of everything he sees; Toby our other guitar player who is just constantly in motion and never sits down; and Marcus is our laid back virtuoso 22 year old guitarist. That pretty much sums it up.

I like that. You were in the Dropkick Murphys.

Correct, yes.

Why did you decide to leave that band to start Street Dogs?

Basically the reason I left Dropkick Murphys was, ever since I was a young kid I always had a healthy fascination with working in the fire service. My uncle Kevin was a Boston firefighter. A captain on Engine 18 in the arson squad. He's an arson investigator. As a young boy I was around that environment. If my father brought me in there I jumped on the apparatus and the engine. I was just enamored by it all and that always stuck with me so I'd taken the test in 1998. I got hired in the year 2000. I was on the job for four years and I was probably a third year firefighter when I started noodling with the Street Dogs. Basically what happened, like I said at first it was just a loose gathering of friends who were in the scene and just wanted to rock out pretty much and jam and trade some songs. I think what happened was the demand for it took us all by surprise and record labels were coming and tours were being offered. Things that we just didn't see at all. So like I said, when we did the first tour and got back home, we made the band 100 percent commitment to be full time. We got a hold of the best musicians we could find and we formed the band. Street Dogs really took me by surprise because I thought I was done and once I started singing again, the love came back for the writing process, performing, and all that. It's great. It's great to see Dropkick Murphys as successful as they are and for us to be on great terms with those guys. We did Savin Hill. Al Barr and Ken Casey came in and sang on the song "Stand Up" on our first album. Things are good. Punk rock is a huge community and the bands for the most part get along and it's a fraternal thing particularly in Boston and that's pretty much the long and short of the whole Street Dogs saga and how it evolved into what it is now. A full time touring band with tours up the kazoo and another record coming in January that we're going to make and lots going on.

I've been doing a lot of interviews with punk bands lately. I got to talk with GBH and I got to talk with The Vibrators. It seems to me like punk as a form of music is something that took off a long time ago and it doesn't show any signs of dying down anytime soon.

No, it never went away and it never died from its earliest inceptions. From the time Wayne Krayman and the MC5 and The Stooges started it off to The Ramones, it's clearly been viable and alive whether it's been at the forefront of radio or been underground. It's always been alive. It will never die. There will always be people hacking away in garages and basements angry at just typical status quo and bourgeoisie crap. They’ll have something to say and I think that’s where we fit in. We have something to say. We have a purpose. We try to be humble about it but sometimes we wear it on our sleeve and sometimes we don’t apologize for that.

I think we live in a day and age where people feel like they can say any thing they want to and offend anyone they want to so why apologize?

Nah, we’re not trying to be offensive. The way things are today with the war and the administration in Washington, D.C. and just America in general. We’re not happy about it. It finds its way into our music. It really does.

Ever since Bush got into office, things have gone really bad. There are all sorts of bad shit happening now that wasn’t happening before he came along.

Yeah, I’d have to say in my humble estimation his is without a doubt the worst administration that I’ve ever seen in my young life. Things are pathetic. I was watching the news last night and they had that scripted thing with the soldiers and they showed the rehearsal. Even military people are befuddled and mystified by how that could happen. It’s just downright dumb.

I was watching CNN the other day and he and the outgoing Polish president were having some kind of press conference and the Polish guy was all nice and elegant. Bush was sitting there with his suit jacket open, a tie that didn’t match with his hands dangling between his legs and he looked like he was drunk. That was embarrassing. People all over the world saw that.

He’s less than poor, you know? As far as his job skills, his being in there in the first place doesn’t make sense.

How does Street Dogs differ from Dropkick Murphys?

With DKM, the Celtic influence is very, very prominent. They carry a full time bagpiper and they have a mandolin player. All of the songs seem to rotate in and around that theme. With us it's more straight ahead punk rock and there are elements of folk music too. You'll see Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Bob Marley, and things like that find their way in there. I was just listening to Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg the other day and I can't believe how poignant, urgent, incendiary, powerful, and intelligent those artists are. How their lyrics sound. How they're more pertinent today now than they were even when they were written. That stuff finds its way into our music. It's sort of folk, rock and roll, and punk rock. A little bit of everything. We don't want to be pigeonholed into anything like "oh, they're that band that only does this or that." It's difficult because everyone wants to categorize and compartmentalize but we just do our thing.

Everything has to have a label damn it.

Or you can’t sell it.

Tell me about the new CD.

I‘d say Take Back The World is a combination of punk rock songs, rock and roll songs, folk songs, hardcore songs, and it’s a little bit all over the map. There is a lot of diversity there. A lot of urgency. A lot of anger and agitation. We’re really proud of it. It’s selling a lot better than we thought it would do. To have been able to tour the world constantly like we have and continue to get offers and the thing continues to sell, it befuddles me. I have nothing but the lowest expectations and I try not to have any expectations in life because I think that’s one of the most ridiculous things you can do is have expectations. I think you just show up a day at a time and you see what happens and see where it takes you. For us, I think in our own collective consciences as a group, I think we’ve already been successful. Having been able to record two records and to tour constantly and see the world and to do interviews and hang out with other bands, we’re really fortunate and grateful.

Besides that, if you don’t have expectations then when something good happens it just makes it so much better.

It’s a surprise. Exactly. And when something bad happens it’s a surprise.

Always expect the worse.

Yeah, exactly. That’s what I was taught and it’s never let me down so far.

Tell me about some of the songs on the record.

I think the initial track “Strike A Blow” is pretty much our disenchantment with rock and roll radio and how punk rock never gets a fair adequate shake. So many bands prior to us have written about it. Elvis Costello who was pretty much post-punk or on the cutting edges of punk had a song called “Radio, Radio” and he talked about it and Alkaline Trio even more recently on their album Good Morning had a song called “We’ve Had Enough”. That was something from my earliest days all the way up until now in Street Dogs. I always wondered why more punk rock didn’t get played on the radio. It’s never set well with me and that finds its way out in “Strike A Blow” and in a song like “Tale Of Mass Deception” we talk about how the whole nation got hoodwinked into thinking that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when they really didn’t. Our nation was lied to, to go to war. That song is dripping with venom and “Back To The World” takes an entirely different slant. It sympathizes with the men and women in uniform. It sympathizes with the human being underneath the armor and the sacrifices that are inherent in their line of work and we want them to get home now. Now. I've been a soldier so I can acutely identify with being separated from your loved ones, being far away, being in a combat zone. I was in Desert Storm/Desert Shield. I surmise that a few of them don't back the reason for being down there. Some of them may. "Back To The World", the politics are irrelevant at that point. It’s talking about the people and the human condition of being far away and wanting to get home. Wanting to live. Wanting to be back with your family. Talking about the fear. Talking about when you join the military you’re an order taker, not a policy maker. It’s really not a debate society and you’ve been a soldier so you know all about that. We have a song on the record, “Drink Tonight” and it’s a hardcore song that just talks about the mindset of the chronic alcoholic and the self-destructive path. It doesn’t promote drinking and some people when we play it think it does. It really doesn’t.

People are always going to misinterpret things.

Of course and that’s fine. We don’t want people to strictly interpret our stuff but when we wrote it that was our aim. Another song I sort of hold near and dear to my heart on the album is “Unions And The Law” which is the closing track. It pretty much talks about the decline of organized labor in the United States and how it would probably be a beneficial thing if it came back more and if more people were predisposed to union membership or able to organize. When Republicans control all three levels of government, it’s really difficult to do that.

They’re pro big business. It’s all about profit over people. That’s what this whole Iraq war is about. It’s not just the soldiers in uniform but the Iraqi people as well. Profit over people.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and have two classes here eventually if things keep going, the haves and the have nots. There will be nobody in the middle anymore. Unions have always been that source of advocacy and that voice for workers. I don’t think that every worker should be unionized. That would be way too idealistic and unrealistic but at the same time I just wish it was more widespread and more available and not so battled so hard by rich people and Republicans once again.

The reason is why it’s such a battle is that if people are unionized then you have to treat them fairly, pay them decent wages, and you have to give them decent health benefits. Where I work, every year we get this speech about how horrible labor unions are and how they are evil and I sit there and laugh because I come from a pro-labor union family. My mom was a union steward for federal employees.

A lot of people ask me, why sing about them? Why do you sing about that? It’s a big part of who I am and where I came from. Every job that I ever had prior to being in music was unionized. Whether I was working as a pressman at the Boston Globe or I was working as a firefighter for Boston or as a campus police officer for the Department of Mental Health in Massachusetts. Anything I did was unionized and my father was a union transportation worker. My mother works a city job. She’s a union member with the SCIU. Service Employees International Union. I feel like the spirit of Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, and Bob Dylan is alive in us in a lot of ways. Whether we want to or not, we’re sort of carrying that torch on. We certainly could not fill those idols’ shoes or would never remotely compare ourselves to their artistic ability but the message that they carried, we certainly empathize with and definitely want to send forward. Those guys are geniuses. It’s still alive. That spirit is still alive.

You have to sing about stuff like that because that’s the only way you can get messages across to people. They don’t always watch the news and they don’t always pay attention to what’s going on around them and it brings things into their faces a little bit more I think.

I agree.

How has the tour been going so far?

So far so good. It’s a paying your dues tour. It’s your first headlining tour in the United States. All the tours we’ve done prior to it have been support tours with Flogging Molly, Tiger Army, Social Distortion. This time we’ve taken Brain Failure from China out with us. They just recently put out a record on Thought Records. We have River City Rebels who are on Victory Records. We’re touring smaller venues like 100 or 200 capacity venues and we want to get out there, cut our teeth, pay our dues, and do it the hard way. You don’t see us showing up in a big silver tour bus with a big semi beside us. We’re doing it on our own. Everything we do is on our own so it’s grassroots. It’s hard work and we’re not staying at the Marriott or anything. It’s on someone’s floor. All of us bunched up in a tiny cheap Motel 6. It’s punk rock.

You’re touring with a band from China.

Yeah, actually when we were on the Warped Tour, we ran into Brain Failure and I had heard about Brain Failure because my friend Kenny Casey in Dropkick Murphys had produced their record for Thought and he had told me about them but I physically saw them for the first time and bumped into them on Warped Tour. We were blown away by their performance, their hard work, their dedication, their hunger. The hunger for punk rock. The fact of the matter is that they’ve been humble people on this tour and as far as their work ethic and their punk rock egos, they’ve traveled all the way from China with minimal funds and just like us, they’re not making much on this tour. They just want to do it for the love of the music and that’s admirable. Their hearts and minds are in the right place.

They’re getting their name out there.

Yeah, they are and you have to do it through hard work and through constant touring and the grassroots way. That way it sticks.

You hear all this crazy shit about countries like China which I know most of that is bullshit anyway but it’s interesting to see people come out of those countries and be able to tour around foreign countries. That must give them a sense of accomplishment.

Yeah, although China isn’t a bustle and hotbed of democracy and first amendment rights, I think to some extent even though it’s a Marxist communist nation, there’s more leniency and more openness. It’s more of an open society than it was in the past and that’s what behooves and benefits bands like Brain Failure. They can come over here. They’ve actually brought bands from here over there under the radar screen in smaller clubs but things are certainly better for them in where they’re from.

Absolutely. How much longer are you guys out on the road?

We’re actually going to be out on the road until November 19. The tour will wind down in Los Angeles at The Troubador and then I think we have about a week off. We’re tentatively slated to go to Europe. That hasn’t been cemented yet. We may go or we might not. I know in January we’re probably going to be looking at starting recording on our third record.

When will that be out?

I think the third record will be out between March and June. We’re very excited to get that process under way.

You’ve already written material and everything?

Yeah, we have a lot of new material that’s existing. A lot of demos. A lot of solid songs. We’re super, super eager to do the third record because the band’s gotten more hungry and tighter from having toured so extensively on Back To The World. I think that’s going to benefit us when we make the next record.

Any other thoughts or comments?

I know I need a hair cut, I need a shower, and the interview was great. The questions were intelligent. I’m hungry and listening to Rocky theme music is pretty rough too. Other than that, everything is great.

Street Dogs