“I guess we wanted to go a little bit old school,” says Tim Brennan, who joined the band primarily as a mandolin player in 2003 before switching over to lead guitar in 2008, replacing former strummer Marc Orrell. “Back in the day, albums used to have something like nine songs on them, so that kind of influenced that decision a little bit. It’s definitely inspired by this ‘less is more’ mindset. The way people consume music these days is so different, as well. If you’re putting out a record that’s 15 songs long, a lot of that is going to get overlooked. I think ‘concise’ is the word I’m looking for when it comes to what we wanted out of making this record. If we’re only giving ourselves 11 songs, then we need to make sure that they’re all bangers. Personally, I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory was recorded throughout 2016 in El Paso, a town in Texas close to the border of Mexico, which marks the first time the band had ever recorded an album outside of Boston. When it came to getting the album’s sound developed, Brennan – who is one of three guitarists in the band at any given time – initially kept pretty close to home, implementing his live rig into the studio setting and sticking with some of his key instruments. “All my main guitar parts are typically recorded on my 1968 Gibson ES-345,” he says.
“That guitar is the best feeling instrument that I have ever had in my hands. I also have a late ’60s Barney Kessel guitar [also Gibson], with original PAF pickups. I tend not to play that one much outside of the studio, however – I have this huge fear that something awful is going to happen to it. Typically, I record all my guitar tracks through a Fender Bassman head; and that’s generally going through some kind of 2×12 cabinet. For this album, it was a vintage Fender cab. In the past, I’ve also used cabinets by this company called SonicCord, but I’ve found the Bassman to be the best one to play through.”
With that said, Brennan also made a point – in the spirit of the band’s change of scenery – of trying something that normally wouldn’t have been a part of the Dropkick Murphys’ recording process. “One of the key differences on this record was playing a lot of Fender Jazzmasters,” he says. “I used them for some of the extra guitar parts that I was adding in, just for a little bit of texture, as well as most of the solos that I was playing. This was pretty different for me – normally, I just tend to stick to the one guitar – but I think experimenting with the Fender sounds really paid off. I love how the guitars sound on this record.”
Aside from the guitar, Brennan is a keen multi-instrumentalist – as are several other members of the band. Along with providing the band with lead guitar for its previous two albums and mandolin on the two prior to that, Brennan also plays the tin whistle, the piano, the Greek folk instrument known as the bouzouki and – of course – the accordion. The latter is one that has woven its way into many key Dropkicks songs, and Brennan is always happy to talk shop on it. “For such a weird instrument, it’s got a lot of texture in its sound that it can add a lot of colour to whatever song that you use it on,” he says.
“We used to have a giant collection of them, because accordions are not meant to be played the way that I play them. I had these acoustic ones that had pickups installed in them, and they would just get absolutely ruined every single night. We’re so loud on stage, the pickups would just get so much noise and would feedback all the time.” This could well have spelled the end of using accordions for the Celtic punks – in a live setting, at least – until a surprising new development came for the instrument.
“After we finished our last tour, Roland started doing these digital accordions – they have just been an absolute godsend,” says Brennan. “There’s no worrying about pickups or internal mics – you just plug it in the same way you would a guitar or a keyboard. I think the model I have is one called the FR-3x, and it has so many cool sounds. I even got to try out a new prototype they’re working on. They’ve really helped the whole playing process to be a bit less of a nightmare.”
11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory is out January 6 via Born & Bred Records/Warner Music Australia.