Talking Drums

Cooking In Kelly's Kitchen: The Dropkick Murphys

Matt Kelly

Toward the end of July in 2010, roughly four years after The Dropkick Murphys released The Meanest Of Times The Meanest Of Times, the group began throwing around ideas for their next record. They started the process by cherry picking and structuring the best of forty or fifty song seedlings that the band members collectively brought to the table. Shortly thereafter producer Ted Hut arrived on the scene and got to work with the group in a location you’d least expect: Matt Kelly’s Kitchen.

The Murphys proceeded to hash out their new ideas in the drummer’s cooking quarters, strictly using acoustic instruments. This writing style was reminiscent of how the group composed their first two records, constructing the tunes on unplugged instruments before recording their electric versions in the studio.

Following Huts’ Dropkick remodeling session in Kelly’s Kitchen, it was back to the practice space for the band. For the next two months The Dropkick Murphys shedded six to seven days a week for ten hours a day, interspersed sporadically with lyric writing sessions.

Meanest Of Times

Entering The Studio

When it came time to record Kelly ended up laying down his tracks accompanied by just the rhythm and lead guitarists. Atypical in today’s current state of Protools-edited recordings, there are no punches on the drum tracks. Just as surprising is the fact that the drummer recorded to a click track. Kelly’s pounds out heavy organic pockets, difficult to create with a metronome ticking away into your earphones.

After the foundation tracks were laid down, he and Hutt embellished a few of the drum parts with some overdubs. Take, for instance, the records’ opening track, “Hang Em’ High.” In order to ensure that the record started off with a bang, they overdubbed an 18” floor tom and a concert snare on top of Kelly’s original drum track. Interestingly enough, the drummer’s driving tom intro, which forcefully kickstarted the record, was merely an afterthought after the body of the tune was completed.

Live

On June 29, 2011 I got to see the Dropkick Murphys perform at The Warfield in San Francisco. Like many of the shows that I’ve seen at this particular venue, the low end of sound was ridiculously high. Fortunately Kelly was able to cut through most of these sonic obstacles. His playing was clean, creative, and forceful. There were elements of his performance that felt loosely improvised (an extra fill here or there), which gave it a real nice edge. We live in an age of drumming that is often focused on the foppish language a player uses instead of their ability to serve a song. Kelly's style is the right blend of “technical ability meets creativity within the context of the song,” which makes sense since helps write these songs on guitar. His snare rolls really stood out, where they were both forceful and clean, which I attributed to an earlier remark he made before the show where he referenced time he spent in drum core years ago.

Dropkick Murphys at the Warfield

The Murphy’s banjo player also cut beautifully through the venue’s low end, punching through with sharp percussive notes. Banjo-driven tunes like “The State Of Massachusetts” and “Shipping Off To Boston” sounded great.

I hadn’t purchased Going Out Of Style before attending this performance, so the highlight to my evening was hearing the track “Broken Hymns” for the first time. It's now my favorite track. Kelly begins the track on the rims of his drums accompanied by the banjo and bagpipes. The song has a strong melody, with an instrumental intro that feels like sunshine breaking through fog at daybreak. It's great accompaniment to my morning cup of coffee in San Francisco, especially on days when the sunlight is burning through that early haze, if it breaks through at all.

I love how Kelly perfectly builds the bridge, coloring the thick wall of sound with musical tom fills, clean snare rolls, and offbeat crashes, often playing seamlessly over the bar line.

Check out Kelly’s style stretching on The Dropkick Murphys’ new record—it will be very interesting to hear where he goes next, being that he’s making musical choices, instead of just drumming choices.

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