SEPARATION ANXIETY: “Being away from the place that I love comes out in the songs,” says Mike McColgan.
"You could put us in Anchorage or Alaska or Antarctica or even somewhere in the Himalayas, and at heart we’d still be from Boston.”
It’s been nearly four years since Street Dogs frontman Mike McColgan moved to LA, but you’d hardly know it from the band’s fourth album, State of Grace (Hellcat). Set to hit stores on July 8, in the midst of Street Dogs’ first summer on the Warped Tour’s mainstage, it’s as Boston as the left-field scoreboard in Fenway Park — from the raw-throated bark of the hard-nosed, rebel-rocking opener, “Mean Fist,” to the local geography that peppers “Kevin J. O’Toole” (an ode to the firefighter uncle in whose footsteps McColgan followed after he left his post fronting Dropkick Murphys) to the vivid memories of growing up in North Quincy that color the Celtic-flavored “Two Angry Kids.”
“Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” McColgan admits. “And being away from the place that I love comes out in the songs.”
McColgan relocated to LA only because, as he puts it, “we generally spend about nine or 10 months a year on the road. So once we started going full blast, I thought it would be beneficial for my wife if we moved here because she’s from here and it’s nice for her to be closer to her family when we’re on tour. But I really do feel more strongly about Boston being away from it. And I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t anticipate it. I know it’s an inevitability that I’ll end up back there, by hook or by crook.”
He has company. “Joe Sirois and Joe Gittleman and Dickie Barrett from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are out here. And Johnny Angel, who way back in the day was in the Blackjacks, is out here too. We all found each other, and then we find other Boston people. You can spot someone from Boston in LA in a second.”
Back in the early ’80s, the Boston punks’ feelings about LA were summed up by the hardcore compilation This Is Boston, Not L.A. (Modern Method, 1982). But even with the renewal of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry, the competition between the two scenes has mellowed. It’s a change reflected in the Warped Tour, which saves a spot on the mainstage for a Boston band every summer — a spot that the Bosstones ceded to Dropkick Murphys and that’s now been passed to McColgan and his fellow Street Dogs: bassist John Rioux, guitarists Marcus Hollar, and Tobe Bean III, and drummer Paul Rucker.
“We did it the hard, grassroots way.” That may be a punk cliché, but it’s hard to argue with McColgan given what he’s been through. Not only did he give up fronting the Dropkicks to fight in the Gulf War, he joined the Boston Fire Department when he returned. In fact, when he first started Street Dogs, he was on temporary leave from the BFD.
“My life experiences definitely put a little grit on me. I think it keeps me mentally tough for the rigors of the road and the challenges of the music business. I mean, it can be tough and it can be unfair. But we’ll take any opportunity to play in front of any crowd because we like our chances. We just go 100 percent. And we’re fearless. I feel more comfortable on stage than I do in my own living room. And I could care less what anybody thinks about me being up there. It’s ridiculous, I know, but that’s really how it is. I’m just always chasing that perfect live performance. And I respect the people who come and pay their hard-earned money to see you and take time out of their lives to give you that moment.”
Street Dogs round out State of Grace with two tunes that pay homage to fallen punk heroes. “The General’s Boombox” is a tribute to Joe Strummer. And the one cover, “Into the Valley,” brings to life a punk gem by the Skids, a band led by Scottish rocker Stuart Adamson (1958–2001), who went on to have greater success with Big Country in the ’80s.
“Joe Strummer was our most beloved writer, musician, and everything,” McColgan explains. “But we try not to do obvious covers. Like, we don’t do songs by the Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, or the Clash. We just wanted to take a song we loved and carry it into 2008. ‘Into the Valley’ is about the ridiculous nature of propaganda and hype for a war, and the lunacy of young people dying in combat. And when we recorded it, it took on a life of its own. The drum track is fucking ridiculous. It’s one of those few songs in Street Dogs that gives me goosebumps. I feel like a listener. I don’t feel like a band member critiquing every single thing like the vocal track or is the guitar out enough or is it too compressed or is it this or is it that? And when you’re in a band, those moments are very rare.”