Interview: Street Dogs (Mike McColgan & Johnny Rioux)

Street Dogs,Johnny Rioux,Social,Orlando,Punk Rock

The Street Dogs are the kind of band that offer no apologies for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and it comes shining through in their music. Although the Boston natives are a relative punk rock allstar band with members from The Dropkick Murphys (frontman Mike McColgan), The Bruisers and The Unseen (bassist Johnny Rioux) and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (drummer Joe Sirois) they've maintained a sense of their roots and kept their feet on the ground. With a sound more reminiscent of the punk of the late 70's and eary 80's than the crap passing as punk today, their first two albums have become a staple of any heathy punker's diet. No gimmicks, no pyrotechnic choreographed bullshit, no filler, just in your face, straight from the hip punk rock. In an age where punk rock has been raped and left devoid of all it's former meaning, the Street Dogs are among a few who are intent on taking back the ground gobbled up by corporate greedsters and the PG-13 contingent. With blue collar fist pumping choruses and socially concious lyrics, The Street Dogs are the shot in the arm this scene's been needing. I caught up with McColgan and Rioux the other day and threw some questions at'em.

Big D: Let's dispel all the rumors and set things straight once and for all. Mike, after the success of Do or Die (when you were with the Dropkicks), what made you leave the band?

Mike: Well, my uncle Kevin was a career fire fighter, he'd been on the job since he was thirty years old and I was enamored by him, ya know. So I took a test for the job, I got contacted, so I left the group to pursue a career in firefighting. I did that for 4 years and in 2003 on a whim just kind of started up Street Dogs. Something I thought would be casual and laidback, something to kick around with, it took on a life of it's own. It's been shakin' a few rooms and going on a few tours and shakin' a few continents ever since. It's been a good thing.

Big D: So Johnny, with Al Barr leaving The Bruisers to join the Dropkicks what happened there?

Johnny: We were in Europe on tour, we had Blood for Blood as our opener and we got a phone call from back home that said Mike had just quit Dropkicks and I was pretty shocked, you know what I mean. Me and Al were talking about it. You know like "That sucks." The Bruisers kind of helped DKM back in the early days with some of their first big shows, so we had done alot together with those guys and it definitely came as a shock. When we got back to the States we ended up filling in for DKM on some of their shows, because Dropkicks were in the middle of a tour with The Business. I noticed one day Kenny (Casey) came up to the New Hampshire show, and you kind of got the sense he was checking out Al. Later on Al said "What would you do if Agnostic Front asked you to join? Would you quit The Bruisers?" And I said "Absolutely", you know? Because I wanted to play music for a living and that just wasn't what The Bruisers were all about. So shortly after that Al's like "Ok, DKM asked me to join." So we did our last 2 shows. We did 1 hometown show. We did one show in Boston opening for Rancid. We wished him the best and that was that. The Bruisers were always kind of a fun bar band, I mean we never really thought much about going out in a van and touring much. So we never tossed around continuing the band without him. It was Al really, it was his baby you know what I mean.

Big D: Whereas the Dropkicks have opted for the more traditional Irish sound, the Street Dogs have foregone using any bagpipes or tin whistles with a more straight forward approach.

Johnny: Personally speaking, I'm a fan of what Dropkick Murphys do. Between Joe (Sirois) coming out of one of the biggest ska/punk rock outfits ever to grace the United States (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), and Mike coming out of one of the biggest Irish punk rock bands, we all sort of felt like we were in this box ya know. A box where we had to play a certain style of music, do this kind of thing you know, say this kind of thing or whatever. We wanted the ability to go "you know what, we love the Pogues, we also love Stiff Little Fingers, we also love Bob Marley, we also love Bob Dylan. It's like this, Dropkick Murphys are really cool in what they do, but we sought out to be our own thing.

Mike: Yeah, it's true, we are own entity and we do our own thing and we don't like to be confined into any musical box. If we wanna play it, we'll play it. If we wanna say it, we'll say it. It's just good to have that freedom ya know. I find myself in the most awkward of places. When I left the group the last thing I ever expected was to like the group after that. But I've got alot of respect for Al and I have a lot of respect for DKM. I like their music. We did the Warped Tour last summer and they were on it and we got along really well with them. There's alot of mutual respect and admiration there.But you know, they do their thing and we do our thing. It's a big, big, huge scene. We've done so much in a short amount of time. We're on the heels of releasing another record, doing more tours and

Big D: Not Without a Purpose, Not Without a Fight seems to be the bands motto and it's the name of your new album.........

Mike: Actually that was the working title, we've moved over to Fading American Dream, that's gonna be the title for the new album and it's going to be coming out October 11th. But Not Without a Purpose Not Without a Fight is a song that's going to be on that record.

Big D: So what should we look forward to in regards to Fading American Dream?

Mike: I think Fading American Dream has the sound of an angry menacing record. It's gonna come right at ya and slam you around the room, ya know. So the bite is back for sure, not speaking figuratively, speaking literally. It's got a lot of kick in it.

Big D: Is there a common ground with the songs on the album, thematically speaking?

Mike: I think a lot of people are disenchanted and not happy with the way things are these days. I feel like a lot of the songs are about people not getting a fair shake, common people being left out of the equation when it comes to their jobs and fair treatment and obtaining the American dream. I think that's the common bond on the album you know. We're not happy about anything, and that's going to be coming front and center on every song. The songs explain themselves. You're not going to be walking away thinking, well what are they saying. They're all pretty specific and we'll wear it on our sleeve without an apology like we always do.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Big D: What label is it going to be on?

Mike: It's gonna be on DRT. They gave us our own imprint (Brass Tacks) that we put out Back to the World on. It's our own label, we own it, we operate it, we can sign bands whenever we want. As a matter of fact, we signed the Scotch Greens just recently. They're actually out of Idaho and they're out on the Warped Tour this summer. They put out a record. And we're gonna be active in that. We're gonna be signing bands, and at the same time touring and doing our thing too. Doin' it on our own terms, making the music we want to make. When we signed to DRT Entertainment, alot of their bands aren't punk bands, so the thing of it was they let us form our own imprint for punk rock music. We want to stay within the punk rock community and that's what Brass Tacks is, it's a punk rock label ya know.

Big D: Mike, you're all over the stage and go to great links to keep the crowd involved, who are some of the front men you looked up to growing up?

Mike: Jello Biafra, he had alot of stage presence, Joe Strummer, Jimmy Pursey (from Sham 69), Colin from Cocksparrer, those are some of the guys I looked up to. I mean even early U2, they were really raw when they were just coming out. Ya know Bono and stuff like that. Those are people I looked up to.

Big D: Really? Bono from U2?

Mike: Absolutely. Without a moment of hesitation, I do. Yeah.

Big D: So where is this Dorchester you sing about on Back to the World, and why exactly does it need defending?

Mike: Well, it's the neighborhood I grew up in Boston and it was always maligned in the media, whether it be print or television. Ya know like "Oh it's a bad neighborhood and bad things happen there." People who grew up there didn't necessarily feel that was an accurate characterization. It was an inaccurate stereotype. There were a lot of good homes and a really good community with a lot of good people who do the right thing. So the song speaks to that. Basically that's what In Defense of Dorchester is about.

Big D: Why do you think our generation is so stricken with apathy when it comes to politics and how do you think we can get the American youth in the polls?

Johnny: I think the American youth are getting more and more pissed off , especially since more kids are getting killed in Iraq every day.

Mike: I wouldn't mind actually if someone like Punk Voter or Fat Mike wanted to have bands do sign up booths and help with awareness. By all means, we'd be a part of that in a second.

Johnny: I like the idea of Punk Voter. I just like the idea of young people in general being involved politically and thinking for themselves. Not thinking what TV tells to them to think and not doing what their friends tell them to do, but to research politics on their own terms. If somebody says "I wanna vote for McCain this election and here's why." God bless'em, ya know what I mean. I don't like the idea of alienating anybody based on their party. I just like the idea of young people getting involved. But it seems like the American public in general is so closed off to new ideas.

Mike: Get involved. Here are the sides, here are the facts, pick who you want. It's a democracy last time i checked.

Big D: It's nice to have bands like the Street Dogs who, whereas you're not preaching, you do bring a lot of political issues to the forefront.

Mike: You know Johnny said this before and I subscribe to the belief, the punk I grew up to and listened to and believed in, shook me across the room and threw me into the circle pits and at that time it had something to say. It was incendiary, you know what I mean. We want to follow in that vein, and I feel that to some extent we have.

Big D: I'd say you have definitely.

Johnny: You know, with all the fucked up shit going on in the world today, it's time for punk rock to do what it set out to, and that's....... enough of the bubblegum, enough of the fucking love songs. Let's get some political and social change back into music.

Mike: You know The Clash had music with a substantiative message. They were fighting for the common person. They were saying "Question the system. Stay informed, stay free, stay aware," you know what I mean. That stuff still holds true today. That's why their music still resonates. It's still pertinent. That's why it's stood the test of time. We could never hold The Clash's jockstrap in a million years, but at the same time those are things that inspire us and shake us.

Johnny: It's hard not to be inspired by The Clash, especially with what's going in the world today. I guess the one thing that bothers me about music today is that I see a lot of people doing a lot of things under the banner of punk rock. There's nothing punk rock about it. You might as well give N'Sync guitars and call it punk for all I care. Punk rock is angry. Punk rock is rebellious. Punk rock is for social change. Punk rock is for political change. Punk rock's about getting people angry and getting them to change the world around them and rebel against all the indecency that goes on. On the Warped Tour this year there were prayer groups, what the fuck is that? Organized religion has no place at a punk rock show.

Big D: It seems like you put a lot of feeling and meaning into all of your songs, which song means the most to you and why?

Mike: I feel like where you come from and the people you know can be powerful vehicles to convey a lot of things. Like the song Fighter for example, it talks about one of my best friends Kenny Walls who passed away tragically in a motor vehicle accident. This was a guy no matter what the circumstances were, he always tried to hang in there and do the best he could. And I feel to some extent, you feel a lot of power and passion and remembrance in that song. That song means a lot to me. It's gone, not by design, but just by osmosis from meaning one particular person to more than that. That song means a lot to me.

Johnny: There's a song on the new record that Mike wrote called Final Transmission. It's kind of a folksier acoustic song. Every time I hear it now that we're going through the mixing process, it affects me pretty deeply because it speaks of what's going on in Iraq right now. It's from the perspective of the soldier. That scared shitless kid in Iraq, ya know. You'll have to hear it to understand what I'm saying. Every time I hear it, it hits me it's like a gut punch.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Big D: Boston's been a breeding ground of east coast punk bands since the beginning of time. Like yourselves, most of those bands wear their hometown on their sleeves. What causes such loyalty to a city?

Mike: It's like the first established city in The United States, it's the oldest city. It's pretty much the epicenter of the birth of freedom. There's a lot of history and culture there, and that transcends itself over time into every facet of life. I think a lot of people's affection and affinity for the town extends into the sporting teams, into the restaurants, into the pubs, into the family life and into the work life. It's an amazing place and I feel like no matter how far I drift away from it, due to this business or music and things of that nature, Boston is always there with me. The irony is the further I've gone away from it, the closer I've gotten to it. And that comes hammering through in the lyrics when we write songs.

Johnny: A lot of the scene in Boston today really started in the early 80's. I was talking to Steve Soto of the Adolescents about this the other day. He was like "What the fuck was up with that This is Boston Not LA compilation from so long ago?" And I said "I'll tell ya what, we had genius brilliant bands like the Circle Jerks and Black Flag and everything shoved down our throats. So we were like Wait a second, we have punk rock and hardcore in Boston too ya know" Ya know, all the labels, all the movies, all that shit's on the west coast. We don't really have that in Boston. We've always had a very internal sort of closed off scene. It's the same thing with New York. New York's a big metropolitan city that's just booming with movies and actors and cool people. Boston's this big city that is sort of tucked away. We've always sort of policed it ourselves. We've never tolerated racism. We haven't tolerated any bullshit in the scene. Like tonight I noticed, not to slight your town at all, but I noticed a Screwdriver shirt in the crowd. I thought to myself, if this were Boston... you know what I mean?

Mike: In Boston, we're not having it. It's not acceptable. No tolerance at all for that bullshit.

Johnny: But at the same time, Boston kids are kind of turned off to a lot of other cities too. We were going through there with the Adolescents a few weeks back and a lot of our fans were like "Who are the Adolescents?". It's sort of weird that way. Boston's is just it's own little thing

Mike: The thing about Boston too is that the people you know, you'll take a bullet for. People think Boston people are stand offish and really they just wanna get to know ya, ya know what I mean. It's an amazing place. Have you ever been up?

Big D: No, as matter of fact, the girl I'll eventually marry went to college up there and I had every excuse to go, but for some reason I made excuses not to.

Mike: D what's wrong with you? You still gotta come up some time.

Johnny: I'll tell you something else people don't really know about Boston is you can surf up there. Me and Kenny Casey used to do a lot of surfing in Boston. You can literally surf in view of the Boston city skyline on a good clear day. It might not be the cleanest water in the world, but it's not bad.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Big D: Obligatory question time: What's the craziest thing you've seen on tour with the Street Dogs?

Mike: The Red Sox winning the ACLS in 2004.

Johnny: While we were on stage. We were opening for Flogging Molly and the venue we were at had the game playing on a big screen TV. In the middle of our set we saw guys in Red Sox uniforms jumping up and down and .....

Mike: That's definitely the craziest, most abnormal thing we've ever seen, joyous, but abnormal.

Big D: No shit, it's been a long time coming.

Mike: Yeah, it was long overdue.

Johnny: But from a band perspective, when me and Mike started doing this band it was for shits and grins. You know like a poker night. It was just a good way to get away from the women and get our yayas off playing some music. When we released Savin Hill, our first record, we didn't expect much of it. So we did a record release show at this club in Boston. We thought it be just another show but it was packed. We were like "whoa there's alot of people here." We busted into the first note of Savin Hill and the whole fucking room was singing it back at us. Instantly, that changed everything for us as a band. At that moment it was like "wow, this isn't poker night anymore."

Big D: So who do you guys most enjoy touring with?

Johnny: My favorite band is the Bouncing Souls and I'll tell ya why. That band is the most real deal bunch of guys I've met in my life. No matter how successful they got, they're still the most real guys I know. They took us on a tour with them in Japan. They didn't have to do that, we're not well known over there. They were like "Our backline, our gear you can use it. Our hotel rooms, you can sleep in them if you want to, Whatever you guys need." That's how they run their whole camp. Man, it was a pleasure to play with them every night, and to get to watch'em. They're just a good group of guys.

Mike: Touring with a band whose music you absolutely love, and then they're legitimate friends. Beyond the music there's friendship you know what I mean. If this whole thing stopped tomorrow, we'd still be friends with those guys. They're the best without a doubt. I can't leave out Flogging Molly though. They're like brothers to us.

Big D: Every time I've ever seen Dave (King) He's always got a Guinness in hand.

Johnny: Dave King, saucier'. He loves the sauce.

Mike: He should have an IV hooked up to'em.

Johnny: Another one of the most real deal men in music as are the rest of Flogging Molly.

Big D: You got any pet peeves from touring?

Mike: Trying to find a clean bathroom is always a challenge. Making sure we have coffee all the time.

Johnny: Not being able to find a good cup of coffee can ruin your day.

Mike: Yeah, that can fuck you up big time. Finding good sushi on the road is important too.

Big D: Are you kidding me?

Mike: No, it's important, at least to the Street Dogs it is. No one else gives a fuck though.

Big D: When you guys went to Japan you fucked up your diet huh?

Mike: We started eating healthy food.

Big D: At what point did you guys decide you wanted to play in a band?

Johnny: When I was like 9 or 10 years old (I don't care how stupid this makes me sound) but when I was a little kid I seen a Duran Duran video and I was like I want to do that.

Mike: 13 years old seeing U2 Live at Red Rocks. I said I can do that. I can be that guy. I can be that idealistic, crazy, wearing-it-on-your-sleeve guy, just slamming the message in as hard as I can. Without a care of what anybody says, I love it. For the longest time I was so afraid to admit it. I grew up in a rough gang of guys that would just break your balls constantly. But I came to grips with it in 1995. For better or for worse, I love it.

Johnny: It's one of those things that people really get into. It's the same thing with being a fan though, if I wasn't playing it I'd still be going to punk shows.

Big D: Being the advocates of worker's rights that you are, what do you think the most important issues are in respect of the American worker?

Mike: I feel like the current administration that's in DC now and a lot of the GOP senators and representatives disallow workers the right to organize. And that's a legal right benefited by state and federal laws, I don't think that's fair. People should be able to organize and be able to vote to organize. I feel like there are a lot of reprisals against people who try to organize. Allow people the right to say yes or no to unions, don't roadblock them.

Big D: So how do you feel we should take a stand against all the force-fed corporate radio bullshit, "Strike a Blow" and take back the airwaves?

Johnny: Back in the 1950's, they tried to do away with payola. In this day and age you have your I pod and your satellite radio and stuff like that; as a matter of fact I haven't turned on my radio in a long time. It's starting to get to the point that, anytime you have a a corporation telling you what to wear, what to buy, what to listen to, what to think, corporations are controlling your mind and for some odd reason you have to drive a car the size of a school bus. Anytime that happens, I'm not supporting it. You know what, I don't like your fucking radio, I don't like the crappy music that your force feeding people. I believe people don't generally like it anyway, they only listen to it because they're force fed it. The early 90's was a decent time for the radio. It seemed like people were taking risks and just doing it. Then of course that became a commodity. Just like anything else. We don't care about being on the radio, I couldn't care less about that shit. I will never play that game, I will never be a part of that system. But if they wanted to play our album on the radio, I'd certainly be happier that they play something of substantial merit than Creed or some crappy band like that.

Big D: Creed. Ha, that's right about the time I turned my radio off, years ago.

Johnny: Yeah, I might have dated myself with that one.

Big D: So what's next for the Street Dogs?

Mike: Like I said we have Fading American Dream coming out October 11th. We'll be touring with the Bouncing Souls again in the fall, then we're going to Europe. We'll be out there doing it. We'll be out there wearing it on our sleeves. I'll tell ya, we're grateful to be doing it.

Johnny: Fading American Dream is our most important record to date. It ties in the better elements of both our previous records, we're really proud of it.

Big D: Alright gents, I've interrogated you for long enough, I'll let you get back to that never ending quest for sushi and coffee. Thanks for the interview and thanks for coming back to our little peninsula.

Mike: Hey, thank you. We'll be back, we're here to stay.

Johnny: Yeah thanks D.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting * Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting * Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting * Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting