Skins and Strings: Meet Kevin Rheault

Skins and Strings: Meet Kevin Rheault

For more than two decades, Kevin Rheault has been gigging, touring and recording with some of America’s best and most exciting alt rock bands. A highly talented musician, he plays drums, bass, guitar, and more instruments than you can shake a maraca at. Since 2018 he’s been touring bassist with acclaimed Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys.

Rheault has also had successful stints as drummer with punk rock band Side Effects, alongside genius guitarist and Dropkicks band mate James Lynch, and as singer and guitarist with post hardcore outfit Double Nines, with fellow Dropkicker Tim Brennan on drums.

Rheault is an impressively versatile musician, able to transition between instruments, styles and genres with apparent ease. He’s a musical Renaissance man, a top-tier stage performer, and, as we discovered for ourselves, a bloody nice chap to boot.

Given his impressive musical credentials, we were stoked and more than a little honoured when he agreed to answer our questions about his more than twenty years in music.

Join us for a nice long chat with Kevin Rheault about his career, musical influences, and reflections on his years of musicianship.

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Hello Kevin. Thanks so much for agreeing to be grilled. Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Leominster, Massachusetts, in the U.S. I moved to Boston when I was 17 and lived there for almost twenty years. I then lived in New York City for a couple of years. Now my family and I are back in Massachusetts. We live in a rural town called Orange.

Great name for a town. What instruments do you play?

Skins and strings: guitar, bass and drums. I’ve also played tenor banjo, mandolin, etc.

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You're an actual one-man band. How did you get started in music?

I've loved music from as early as I can remember. When I was 3, I had a plastic KISS guitar. When I turned 7, my parents gave me my first real guitar: an acoustic. I took lessons from a local hero named Johnny Moore. He was a great guy, giving me lots of encouragement, He taught me the most valuable skill I possess: how to learn by ear, quickly.

After playing for a few years, my friend Tony Greene put me in contact with his classmate, a kid named Matt Kelly. We started jamming and played our first gig together as a guitar and drums two piece at a school Halloween dance: St. Leo’s Halloween Dance, October ‘88.

Matt and I played in different bands together over the years: GSP, Earwig, Common Sense, Dive, Get High.

We carried on with Get High for a couple years, released two LPs, and toured the East Coast, Midwest, and Canada pretty extensively. We called it quits in April 1999.

Then what?

I spent the rest of the year without a band. Then I played drums in a band from Philadelphia called Supergrub. From late 2000 I was focused on the courier business I co-owned with Greg Letarte, the bassist from Get High, and wasn’t involved in music or any bands.

I started playing with other people again in April 2005 when I joined a psychedelic space rock band called Transient. I was their drummer.

In 2006 I formed another band, Stationlife, with my friend Logan Hodson and Dive guitarist Danny P.

Around that time I also joined the Boston-based band Barnicle as lead guitarist. Their drummer, Luke Garro, was also in Piebald, and in 2007 he asked me to go on the road with them for their upcoming U.S. tour as tour manager, guitar tech, merch guy, etc. I did a couple of tours with them. It was great fun.

So many bands!

For a couple of years I was in 6 bands. It was a really exciting time.

I did my first tour with Dropkick Murphys in November 2007. Things clicked pretty good with those guys and I was soon playing in two Dropkick side projects: drums in Side Effects with James Lynch, and guitar and vocals in Double Nines with Tim Brennan.

As time went on, most of the bands broke up or found replacements for me since my touring schedule made it hard to book shows.

How did you come to be part of Dropkick Murphys?

Well, in spring ‘97, Get High played a show at The Rat in Boston with Dropkick Murphys. Afterwards, they needed a drummer who was willing to tour. They asked Matt to try out and, of course,he joined the band.

Fast forward to September 2007 and I got a call from Matt telling me DKM were looking for a guitar tech and asking if I’d consider going on the road with them. The music business is a small world.

I’ve worked full time for the band ever since, apart from a period from 2012 to late 2014 when I wasn’t so involved, but I still ended up doing a few tours with DKM in those years.

Dropkick Murphys celtic punk band

Over the years, I've stepped up and filled in for various band members who had to miss shows for family emergencies, etc. I played guitar for James [Lynch] throughout 2017 when he took a leave of absence, and in June 2018 I started playing bass when Ken [Casey] got serious nerve damage affecting his hands and arms.

Do you have a favourite Dropkick Murphys song?

I love playing every song. ‘The State of Massachusetts’ is always a fun one. It really gets people fired up.

What about a pinch me moment?

Playing with Dropkicks is itself one big pinch me moment!

Stephen King walking into the DKM dressing room in Bangor, Maine, was a pretty good one. And playing some of the bigger festivals, where you look out at the crowd and it’s just people as far as the eye can see. That’s a wild feeling.

What effect did Covid have?

Covid had a big effect. All touring stopped for about 18 months. But I did get to spend time with my family, sort of catching up on the time I’d missed being on the road.

What’s the best thing about being in a band?

The best thing is the sense of purpose and belonging it can give you. We bring happiness and good times to people wherever we go. It feels good to do something people enjoy and appreciate.

And on the flipside, what’s the worst thing?

At this stage of my life, the biggest negative is missing my family when we’re out here on tour.

 

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Who are your musical heroes?

I subscribe to Duke Ellington’s theory of there being only two kinds of music: good and bad. There are great songs and artists in every genre. And there’s a lot of crap out there too.

The artists that had the biggest influence on me in my formative years were AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. Later, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Sick of It All, and Killing Time had a big impact.

Anything Walter Schreifels has done is important to me. Failure’s ‘Fantastic Planet’ album had a huge effect on my sensibility as a songwriter. When I discovered electronic artists like Com Truise, FM-84, and Timecop1983, it also made a big impression on me.

There’s still so much music I’m not aware of which I probably need to hear.

Give us three albums everyone should own.

Tough question. My answer to this will change daily. Today it’sAC/DC ‘Powerage’, The Stone Roses’ debut album, and the Embrace LP. That's the DC band from the ‘80s, not the UK metal band.

What other interests do you have? How do you relax?

About ten years ago, I taught myself, with a lot of help from the Internet, how to make tube amplifiers. I’ve made about 35 or 40 amps over the years. I have a workshop in our attic. I like tinkering up there whenever I get the opportunity.

If you could be in any band, now or at any time, which would it be?

Dropkick Murphys! I also really enjoyed playing in Double Nines, a band where I had a heavy creative contribution.

I suppose my idea of the best possible band is one where all are free to contribute, and everyone’s working together to make the best music they can with as little ego-related bullshit as possible.

What advice do you have for someone just starting their musical journey?

If anyone were to be foolish enough to listen to my advice, I’d tell them to simply never give up. Be stubborn.

Whatever idea you have, whether you want to write your own songs, be a DJ, or just play in a band, get started as soon as you can and learn how to be patient – really, really patient. When most of the musicians and people around you are getting frustrated and giving up, hang on.

Good things come to those who wait. Now for a few quickfire questions. What movie title best describes you?

Rebel Without a Cause.

 

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Very good. What’s the best way to start the day?

Strong coffee and a ‘proper shit’, as you Brits would say.

Can’t beat a good clear out. Tell us a surprising fact about yourself.

Hmmm… I’m an Eagle Scout. And I’m about a quarter Korean.

What’s something you think everyone should do at least once in their life?

Jump out of an airplane.

Preferably with a parachute. What irrational fears or phobias do you have?

Water snakes. Not my thing!

You’ve already accomplished so much; what dreams, musical or otherwise, do you have left?

I would love to write a book someday. Not sure if it would be fiction or a sort of memoir. I don’t think I’m old enough to write a memoir at face value though. Probably a mix of both.

 

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Most memoirs are probably largely works of fiction anyway. What’s next? Can you tell us any projects you’re working on?

I still write and record my own songs. I have a new batch I’m finishing up which will be posted to my bandcamp page soon.

My wife and I have also written lots of songs together as The Omegamegs. And we’re on the verge of starting a podcast together where we just talk. We feel like many conversational podcasts are just listening in on people talking. We talk about a lot of cool stuff, even after 12 years together, so why not?

Thanks for making time for us today. We appreciate it.

No problem. I think you’re dope because you’re giving artists a platform to express themselves and have their work be seen, and you’re keeping an aesthetic alive that’s personally important to me. I love this Tape t-shirt. Being an ‘80s kid, more or less, I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

Cassettes played a huge role in my discovery of music growing up. Having a blank tape at the ready to record music off the radio was the best. And trading tapes of exclusive or hard to find recordings was how I heard so much great music. So yeah, I love this design.

Thank you, you lovely man. Your interrogation is over. Any final words?

Thanks for having me here. I appreciate you guys!

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📸 Gig photo by The Vinyl Lens. Band photo by Dave Stauble.

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