Sit Down Series: Mike McColgan of Street Dogs

Following our original interview in 2013, I chatted once again with Mike McColgan of Street Dogs. And he certainly delivered with an honest and incredibly insightful interview. Prior to hitting the stage at the legendary Toad’s Place, Mike talked to me about paying your dues, Newbury Comics, Koffin Kats, Noi!se, rock clubs, Boston, Pirates Press and more.

Alex Obert: You’re currently on some dates with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. You told me in our last interview that you saw them live prior to Dropkick Murphys and Street Dogs. What have you taken out of knowing them that long?

Mike McColgan: Well, myself and Kenny from Dropkick Murphys were and still are big fans of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. As far as bands from Boston go, they were one of the first bands in the Boston scene that I’d seen eclipse and go outside of Boston to tour relentlessly. They had a touring vehicle. They had tours in the United States and around the world. And they did that before they had a big label, they did it when they had a big label, they do it now on their own label. Throughout all that success and hard work prior to the big success, they’ve always done things on their own terms. They do with the way they want to do it. And I think it appealed to me and Kenny when we were starting Dropkick Murphys.The way Mighty Mighty Bosstones do things on their own terms and being great human beings inside and outside of the concert hall, doing things above and below the radar screen for charities, all of it has always been inspirational to us. They’re a big inspiration and a big influence on our group. As far as frontmen go, I think Dicky Barrett is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He seems more comfortable on stage than any other frontman I’ve ever seen. I’ve learned a lot from him throughout the years. I’m extremely grateful to be in Street Dogs and touring with them. It’s like a big family, we have so much history and so many things we’ve all been through together. And we also poke fun at each other and joke around, but we all love each other. It’s great.

Alex Obert: On the tour I first saw Street Dogs on, you had Koffin Kats on the lineup. What do you think of them?

Mike McColgan: They’re a good band. A hard-working band and a real band. They had a great sound and they’re cool dudes. We had a great time being out on the road with Koffin Kats. It was good for our fans too because our fans got to see what we do and then see psychobilly in the mix as well. And that’s cool. If you’re a headliner, you can have a bill that has a couple different types of genres. You’ll draw in more people. Say for instance you had two bands on that you share fans with. If you’re the headliner, it doesn’t make sense. Those people are gonna show up and see you anyway. If you add an opening band that’s one genre, a direct support band that’s another genre and then yourselves, you’re setting yourself up for a better deal.

Alex Obert: How do you feel about treating opening bands, especially local acts, with respect? There are those who may blow them off, but I picture someone like you doing the exact opposite.

Mike McColgan: I think it’s crucial to always remember where you came from. So when you talk about treating opening bands with respect and dignity, it really goes back to that. Every band has been an opening band at one time or another. And not just bands, I think it’s also important to treat people the way you’d want to be treated. And that’s with respect and common decency. When it comes to us, we’ve always done our best to accommodate opening bands and be as kind and as understanding as we can be.

Alex Obert: And how about being accessible to fans?

Mike McColgan: That’s crucial to us. Before the show, after the show, we’re not gonna be hiding in the hotel. You’ll be able to talk to us. Usually what I’ll do after a show is I’ll go right to the merch table and hang out with people and talk to people and sign things and take pictures. What is a band without fans? Nothing. The band-fan interaction at a concert, it’s like one thing. It’s the sum of all its parts, you can’t have one without the other. We’ve always done our best to treat our fans with maximum respect because we’re no better or worse than anybody that comes to see us, we’re all on equal footing.

Alex Obert: Which musicians do you have fond memories of meeting prior to being in a band?

Mike McColgan: Meeting Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers really stuck out to me. This is a band that is a pivotal band in the history of punk rock. They’re a bold, brave band that came up in Northern Island. They sang about a lot of important and polarizing things, things that occurred in Northern Ireland. Or just things like injustices, social justice problems that occurred worldwide. So I had a lot of respect and admiration, clearly I was a huge fan of the group as well. Meeting him and then talking with him, he was accessible and down to earth and a great guy. I was asking him about the history of the songs and he was willing to be cool and sit down and talk about it. That’s an amazing experience. I’m just so grateful and lucky that I got to meet him. I’ve met Mike Ness before, he’s another great guy and hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He’s really easy to talk to. I’m lucky, I’ve met a lot of people. I could go on and on all night. And The Bouncing Souls are the biggest sweethearts and the greatest guys that you’ll meet on the face of the planet. They’re great musicians and great people. We’ve gone on tour with them, just salt of the earth. Flogging Molly as well. Dropkick Murphys too, at one point in time I was a part of it. And Street Dogs got to go on tour with them, myself and Johnny have a lot of history with Ken Casey and Al Barr, it’s one big giant family. That was a great experience to go on the road with those guys for the Shamrock ‘N Roll Tour years ago. Yeah, I could go on and on all night.

Alex Obert: Which musician that you’ve worked with would you say you’ve learned the most from?

Mike McColgan: I think I would revert back to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Myself and Johnny and the other guys in the band, Lenny in particular, and Matt and Pete, we’ve learned a lot from them. We’ve learned how to treat others. And clearly they’re a big musical influence. I would even say Rancid as well. They’re a big influence, Lars and Tim and Matt and Branden, they’re all great people. We’ve learned an awful lot from them. And like I said earlier, we’ve learned a lot from The Bouncing Souls.

Alex Obert: What does it mean to you when a fan comes up to you and says that one of your songs has significance to them because it was there when they needed it? And of course those that have tattoos related to your music, logos and lyrics, as well.

Mike McColgan: It touches you in a really deep spot. It makes you realize that you sometimes take things for granted. I said this to Johnny the other day, what we mean to people is a lot more than we think. People have Street Dogs tattoos all over the world. And I don’t say that to brag or to be egotistical, it blows me away. There’ll be kids in Indonesia with Street Dogs tattoos. There’ll be people in South America who will want us to come play. We’ve played in Russia, we’ve played in Australia, we’ve played in Japan. There’s people in Israel that want us to come play. It blows my fuckin’ mind. It personally and deeply touches me, what a song means to a fan. I have such a level of gratitude for it. Maybe it helped them get through a difficult situation or the passing of a family member. We sort of are the unofficial eulogy band, I don’t regret that at all. There’s veterans and people who are in organized labor and people who are in public safety, it seems like we’ve touched them throughout our time as a band. We mean something and I think our legacy will be very kind to us. That is of greater importance to me than selling records or being a big deal. It’s legacy that means something to me.

Alex Obert: Being from Boston, it’s no secret that you have embraced your roots. Feeling as strongly about Boston as you do, what would you say makes it a better place than somewhere like New York City or Los Angeles?

Mike McColgan: I don’t take any umbrage and I don’t have any negativity towards Los Angeles or New York. Relatively speaking, every city in the country has something to offer with their music, no matter what the genre. But when you’re talking about punk rock or hardcore, Boston is a very close-knit scene and a very working class scene. The band stay close to each other and look out for each other. Relative to Boston, I think it’s always kept us rightsized and our feet on the ground. We’ve always looked to help other bands and family and friends where we can.

Alex Obert: Boston is the birthplace of Newbury Comics, which spread out to other states like right here in Connecticut. How has the iconic record store played a role in your life?

Mike McColgan: I bought my first Clash records at Newbury Comics. I bought my first Stiff Little Fingers records at Newbury Comics. Bought my first Elvis Costello records at Newbury Comics. Bought my first Cock Sparrer records there. My first Mighty Mighty Bosstones records there. My first Bruisers records there. Ducky Boys. The Trouble. 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. I could go on and on. That place, crucial to me, as far as buying music and buying merch. It’s just the type of place that people in the scene could go to. You’d bump into other people from the scene buying records and you’d talk to them about upcoming shows. Flyers were always put into Newbury Comics of upcoming shows. It’s an amazing place. I spent a lot of fucking time in Newbury Comics growing up. And I still pop in there every now and then to buy records.

Alex Obert: So whether it be Boston or elsewhere, what are some of your favorite defunct clubs or venues?

Mike McColgan: The Rathskeller in Boston, Massachusetts was the epicenter of my music experience and where it all started. The Garage in Los Angeles. CBGB’s in New York City. El Torreon in Kansas City. Those are some of the places I miss. There’s a lot of history in those places, a lot of history.

Alex Obert: Where do you like to go see shows?

Mike McColgan: I like to go to the Middle East, that’s one of my favorite places to see a show. I like to go to Paradise. I used to watch shows at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, now that’s gone. Kind of sad. But there’s spots to go to. And you know, I’m not the cool guy that’s gonna say I don’t go to shows at big venues because I do. And I do listen to bigger bands. I listen to all genres of music. I don’t pigeonhole my tastes or limit my parameters. But those two places, Paradise and Middle East. I’ve seen so many good shows at Middle East.

Alex Obert: Have you eaten there?

Mike McColgan: Yeah, the food’s great. There was great food in there, it’s a great vibe and the people who work there are down to earth. It’s really chill. I’ve eaten in there and I’ve hung out there. I’ve seen shows upstairs and downstairs. I’ve seen local acts and national acts, everything in between.

Alex Obert: Does the staff know you personally at this point?

Mike McColgan: Yeah, there’s a few people in there who know me. But I’m no better or worse than anybody else. I’m no big shot, I’m just a regular person.

Alex Obert: Is this your first time at Toad’s Place or have you played here before?

Mike McColgan: When I was in Dropkick Murphys, we rode through here before. We’re talking 98.

Alex Obert: How were things during those touring days?

Mike McColgan: What I recall in the nineties was that this genre was on fire. There was another wave and it was the thing at the time. We didn’t see that coming. We didn’t suspect it, we were unassuming. We didn’t know, we just put our music up and put it out. It caught certain people’s attention which led to a rise for us. Then things took off. That’s what I recall from that time period. We just worked our asses off and played the best we could. We tried to stay rightsized and helped other bands and people that we knew.

Alex Obert: Present day, you are a member of Street Dogs and on the Pirates Press label. In our original interview, you referred to Pirates Press as “a great working class label that does what it says it will.” What makes them stand out from other labels?

Mike McColgan: Skippy is down to earth and loves music. He does it for all the right reasons. All of our interactions with them have been positive. We tell them what we want to do and we do things on our own terms. And he’s like, “Hey, that’s great! Just make some records for me every now and then, play some shows and it’ll be great.” There’s no fuckin’ A&R people in the studio telling us what to do or this or that. That’s how we like it.

Alex Obert: How do you feel about the state of up and coming bands at the moment?

Mike McColgan: I’m not like a critic of the scene. I’m not a critic of music these days. I don’t wanna sound like the old guy on the recliner saying things aren’t as good as they used to be. There is great bands out there. I mean the band that’s out there tonight with us, The Interrupters, they are phenomenal. People around the country and the world know that now. There’s a lot of good young bands out there now working really, really hard to come up and earn their stripes and cut their teeth and play their asses off live every night. I’m not the guy that would say that it ain’t as good as it used to be, that’s bullshit. Bands have been playing forever. There’s good bands and good bands stick around. I think there’s a lot of good bands starting to rise to the surface, that’ll always be the case. There’ll be new bands coming along.

Alex Obert: What did you take out of doing the split EP with Noi!se last year?

Mike McColgan: Talk about a good band! We love their music and they love our music. One day we get a call from Skippy saying, “Hey, they wanna do a split with you guys.” We were like “What? We love these guys!” It was almost like a gift from the gods. So we did the split with them and people received it really well. There’s talk maybe down the line of us doing shows with them. I’m grateful for everything we’ve ever done, every place we’ve ever seen, every song we’ve gotten to record. It’s a gift. We don’t feel like we have anything coming to us. We just go out there and do the best we can. And whatever happens, happens.

Alex Obert: On the split EP, what did you think of your cover of Johnny Come Lately?

Mike McColgan: Well we’re huge Steve Earle fans and so that’s one of our favorite songs by Steve Earle. In Street Dogs, we’ve always tried to do cover songs that are maybe outside of the parameters of our genre and then bring it in to what we do. We felt like that was a song that would work well inside of that. A lot of our fans have liked it. That’s ultimately what we aim to do, but something out that our fans dig.

Alex Obert: In closing, what do you have to say to the aspiring musicians and the bands that are paying their dues each and every day to get better?

Mike McColgan: Well AC/DC said it a long time ago, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll. You gotta earn your stripes. You gotta be able to hang and bang, it’s rough. It is rough. But at the end of the day, it’s the love of doing it. I had a friend of mine tell me one time “Whether you’re doing it in a coffee shop, basement, the backyard party, the concert hall, stadium, whatever, as long as you’re having fun and it feels good and you can do it and sneak by, you’re all set.”

Alex Obert: I can’t think of a better way to conclude our discussion than that. I’d love to thank you for your time.

Mike McColgan: No problem!

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