Here’s proof of Al Barr’s punk rock credentials: He named his 13-year-old son after Joe Strummer of The Clash.
“My wife had 60 hours of labor with him,” recalled Barr, one of two lead singers in Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys. “At the third hour of pushing, I said ‘What do you think of Strummer?’ … She said, ‘I love it.’ ” “She’s the one having these amazing people so she’s the boss” when it comes to names, he added with a chuckle.
Barr’s gravel-throated growl powers many of Dropkick Murphys’ biggest hits, including “Rose Tattoo,” “The State of Massachusetts” and “I’m Shipping Out to Boston.” (You may remember the latter song from the movie “The Departed.”) But, ironically for a Boston-based band nearly synonymous with Beantown — Dropkick Murphys donned Boston Red Sox jerseys to play the national anthem during the 2013 World Series — Barr is neither Irish-American nor a Bostonian.
“They said Scottish is close enough,” joked Barr, a New Hampshire native.
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For Barr, who led The Bruisers for a decade before joining Dropkick Murphys in 1998, the From Boston to Berkeley Tour has been a nostalgic experience.
“This is such a special tour (with) so many special friends,” said Barr, who got a celebratory tattoo from tourmate Bryan Kienlen of The Bouncing Souls right before a Chicago show. “It feels like a throwback to the old Warped Tour days in the sense that you walk out the bus and there’s just friends everywhere.”
Q: Let’s talk about Dropkick Murphys’ most recent album, “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory.” Why did you record in El Paso, Texas, of all places?
A: We’ve done all of our records in New England and the Boston area. You go in the studio and you know at some point you’re going home. You leave the bubble. … All of the sudden, (creativity) gets interrupted by life.
This was a decision we made so there wouldn’t be those interruptions, so we could focus on what needed to be focused on.
Q: “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory” features a song about the Boston Marathon bombing, “4-15-13.” How do you take something so raw and painful and translate it into music?
A: Very carefully, with a lot of thought and respect — and with the intention of not making it about the band. … Obviously we wanted to tread really lightly on that (subject) because it is very fresh in terms of history. …
There’s no political intention in that song. It’s just a heartfelt song about the love that was brought forth by such a tragic event.
Q: Did you go in the studio knowing what the album would be about?
A: We don’t sit in front of a war-room board and go “Okay, we’ve got to invade here and make sure our frontlines are covered here.”… The album cycle starts with one song. Once we get that one song, whether it’s a cover or an original, that gets the creative juices flowing …
In this case, the song was our cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” addressing the opioid epidemic.
Our reason for doing that (song) was to bring forth (attention to) the opioid crisis in New England. It’s going on all over the country but my state of New Hampshire has the highest overdose rate in the country — and we only have 1.35 million people — which is staggering to think about.
Q: How has the opioid epidemic affected you and your bandmates personally?
A: I lost my brother-in-law to it. I’ve been to a lot of funerals in the last few years of friends and friends of friends. In New Hampshire, it’s pretty impossible to throw a rock and not hit somebody who’s been touched by this crisis. … Big Pharma companies, they’re raking in the money and they’re stepping over the bodies to cash their checks.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the band’s charity, the Claddagh Fund, which gives grants to groups working with children, veterans and substance abuse recovery?
A: A few years ago, as the band started to get bigger and bigger, (we realized) it was time for us to make that statement that we weren’t leaving to go buy mansions. … We grew up in these communities. For us to attain some level of success and turn our backs on that, that’s not our style. ...
You can’t change the world but you can change the world around you. The little bit we can do to help, we’re going to do that.
Q: What is one of the most important things you’ve learned in your time with Dropkick Murphys?
A: I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. (It’s) very simple. Be nice. Be nice. Don’t be an asshole, be nice. Treat people like you want to be treated. It’s pretty [freaking] simple, isn’t it? It’s so simple it boggles people’s minds. …
People talk about having bad days. That’s because (they) got out of bed and decided it was going to be a bad day. Get out of bed and say, “It’s going to be a good day,” and see what happens.
Q: You’re 49, married and a father of three. How do you maintain your punk edge?
A: I keep my edge because I’m still plugged into life. I still have my beliefs. I still have my passion for music.
I’ve got to take care of myself a lot better. I feel like 49-year-old me would kick the [crap] out of 30-year-old me. I’m in better shape today than I was then. I gave up drugs and alcohol a long time ago.
I do vinyasa yoga every day. I work up a good sweat. I do a breathing exercise regimen every day. I go to bed early. I drink a lot of water.
It ain’t drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. (laughs) It’s take care of yourself so you can give everybody 100 percent when you get on that stage every night. That’s what it’s about. The whole day’s built around that hour.
Q: You have such a distinct singing voice. Where did that come from?
A: I had a cerebral hemorrhage when I was 19. When they opened me up to do the surgery, they severed the nerve to where my vocal cords are. I’ve been singing with one vocal cord since 1987 …
Q: Do you ever wonder what your career would have been like if you had had two vocal cords to work with?
A: There’s always that thought of “What would it be like?” but I like the way things turned out. I wouldn’t change a thing. I live a blessed life and I wouldn’t want to change a thing. …
If I had died, I wouldn’t have my beautiful wife and my beautiful children and this amazing career. I have a lot every day to take stock in and be thankful for.
When I start to do the human thing, which is to pity yourself and complain, I can slap myself around and say, “You know what? Shut the hell up. You’re a lucky motherf---er.”