Interview: Joe 'Shithead' Keithley - D.O.A.
Some bands are more than mere music makers. Some bands influence others. But some bands influence a genre and the generations that follow. These same bands blazed the trail for Punk Rock (yeah - with a capital fucking P!) and set the standards for the rest to follow. D.O.A. is one such band and singer/ guitarist Joe Keithley has been steering the band since day one. In the wake of a bunch of essential reissues and the fantastic, "I, Shithead" book, I thought it high time to catch up with the man - especially in light of the fact that the original print version of Scanner was born at a D.O.A. show in Norwich, UK when I first hooked up and interviewed Joe.
..Given the recent 'Something Better Change' re-issue, 'Positively DOA' singles comp and the 'War And Peace' comp, why are you releasing so much of your back catalogue at this point in time? Why were there no tracks from the 'Murder' album on the 'War And Peace' comp? I thought that was one of the band's best albums.
..Joe) We could not secure the rights to those versions of those songs from Restless Records, so that is why there are 2 of the songs re-recorded on our last studio album "Live Free or Die"
..Looking back on those releases, and the influential and pivotal position they played in the formative years of US Punk Rock/ Hardcore, what do you feel? Has the progression of time made those early discs seem naïve, or do you still hanker for the adrenalin of youth that those records had by the bucket load?
..Joe) When we started out, it was so new to us, that we just said "We're going to knock down everything that gets in our way, so fucking well look out!" Now it is not possible to turn back the hands of time, but I think when you go to record or play a show you have to somehow try and take that kind of attitude to both. When you don't that's when you should hang it up!
..Did you realise back in the late 70s/early 80s that those DOA records would become so influential? What do you make of their cult-like status today?
..Joe) No we never saw into the future about stuff like that, or anything for that matter! It's cool that those records (as a lot of records from that 1977-84 period do) still sound fresh. I guess it was that wild unbridled youth and our desire to stir shit up, that helped it along.
..You've stated that it was NOFX's Fat Mike that inspired you to get Sudden Death Records off the ground again. What differences did you notice between doing a label back in 1980 and its relaunch in 1998 with the 'Festival Of Atheists' disc?
..Joe) Yeah old Fat Mike said "why don't you fucking get your own label going again!" Well that was smart advice. It's good to work for yourself, for your future, BE YOUR OWN BOSS!
When we started in 1978, we figured that "Well, everybody hates us and we will never get a record deal! It's us against the world!" So we recorded the "Disco Sucks" EP all in one, pressed it ourselves and distributed it ourselves. We did 7" and two more "The Prisoner/13" and "World War 3/Whatcha Gonna Do?" on Sudden Death. But we didn't get paid by a lot of people, so we ended up on other labels when the band really started to take off. When I started Sudden Death again in 1998, it was much more serious. It has been a lot of work and a big learning curve, but now it is going great. We have 64 releases.
..When signing a band for Sudden Death, what do you look for? I mean, would you sign a band that sounds great but has a rock-star attitude? Do you deal with legal contracts for the bands on the label?
..Joe) I am interested in people with heart and passion, those that believe in their music. I like all sorts of styles, so it does not have to be Punk Rock (although that is obviously what we are primarily known for). We will do our best to help the artist develop their music and their career, so hopefully there is not the "Rock Star" attitude, although I have seen it develop later on.
Some records we sign contracts and some we don't, sometimes a handshake will cover it and sometimes it is way too complicated for that.
..Did you ever consider releasing the DOA re-issues on a label of Fat Wreck's stature? With the distribution that label has, its sound reputation and the prospect of DOA getting out to a whole new audience, would it not have been worth considering?
..Joe) Yes have talked to labels like Epitaph and Fat, it just wasn't the right fit at the right time.
..What's going on with DOA today? Both your book, 'I, Shithead' and the 'War and Peace' comp wind up with the release of 'Win The Battle' in 2001. Is the band still a going concern - who's in it - what are you plans?
..Joe) We released an album called "Live Free or Die", a 20-track Cd , it has been doing pretty well over here. We also just released "War on 45", so that is an 18-track CD that is all anti-war/activist type songs. We will do some festivals in Europe in 2006, so if any of your readers want D.O.A. to come to your town, please email us. There will also be German language version of my book "I Shithead, A Life In Punk" out next year by the same gang that has put out the recent book on Motorhead.
..Likewise, what about your solo work? You thought about doing another solo album soon, or going out on the road doing some more spoken-word shows? Can you tell us the difference you feel personally between ripping it up with DOA and the more intimate confines of a solo performance? Do you have a preference?
..Joe) Solo stuff is fun, I have started on a new solo album, that should be out in the fall of 2006. I do occasional spoken word shows and acoustic shows as well. Those usually happen at activist rallies and on the picket line when there is a strike on that I am supporting.
..Having mentioned your autobiography, it makes for a riveting read; you must be really pleased with it. One thing I was really surprised about was your recollection of events some 20+ years ago. Did you research that material from diaries and journals? I was particularly surprised you recalled playing my UK hometown of Ipswich on the 'Murder' tour!! I'm guessing you must have missed a shit-load of stuff out too - does anything really stand out that you omitted?
..Joe) I remembered a lot of stuff just through re-telling those stories over the years and we had a whole bunch of tour schedules. When I checked those, that made me remember a bunch of other facts and also the order in which they happened. As for omitting things, I didn't bother spending time on the obvious drug and alcohol abuse, that goes on with most rock bands.
As for Ipswich, I remember that tent out back and the review in some UK rock mag. That talked about Wimpy continuously satiating himself with copious amounts of beer flowing over his large jowls. We kept laughing about the description of Wimpy! But let's just say, he was less than amused
..Yeah, it was a great show - can't remember the review though! Given the very to-the-point nature of the book, have you had any come back from old members of the band or any one else mentioned in the book?
..Joe) I am not sure, they haven't said anything to my face, but they were all good guys and I made a point of not slagging them in the book. So that probably helped. I would say they are all still my friends, which is good, because it's camaraderie and friendship that really helped propel us along through all that shit.
..You've suggested there is gonna be a follow-up book too. When can we expect to see it and what will it focus on? Have you started work on it - will it follow the same direction as, 'I, Shithead'?
..Joe) Yes I have started work on a follow up, it will be really different in the way that it will not follow a the stories in a linear fashion. But will more of a guide how to avoid fuck-ups in life, as illustrated by various stories from 1975 till now. It has been delayed by something called running a record label, whatever that is?????..........
..Something that really came over in the book was your own personal progression in life - coming from the book's beginnings of you being a shit-kicking, rabble-rousing troublemaker and maturing into a Green Party standing, politically aware social activist. Is that something that registers on you, or do you feel it has just been a natural form of evolution?
..Joe) It's been a funny journey; I never really planned it this way. But as you go along through life things can kind of just happen to you. But if you are conscious of what's happening, you can do a lot to shape that and control your own destiny. Take control of your life so to speak, rather than just floating back and forth aimlessly, like a leaf floating on the ocean's tide. So somewhere in between all the beer, I kind of woke up. Like my old roadie Booza used to say when one of us as doing something dimwitted, "Wake up to your self mate!"
..I'm guessing that Joey Keithley, within his community and outside of DOA, is a different person from the man in the band. Is that right? You don't have a Mohawk or adorn yourself with studs a'la GBH. Do you think it is easier and more effective to instigate change by blending in and being more socially approachable?
..Joe) The funny thing about DOA, was that we were a kind of a jeans and t-shirt band. Sure there was hair dye and the occasional old army shirt thrown in there, but the style for me hasn't really changed a lot.
I find it more uprising when people are shocked that I don't fit what they expect to see from me.
..As we are on the subject of politics, how do you view the Bush administration? I've read many interviews with people who were incensed and enraged at the time by Reagan's Politics but consider Bush to be even worse. Given his anti-Green stance, you must have some strong opinions on the guy and his policies.
..Joe) Bush is pretty much like Reagan, not really worse. People have forgotten what an asshole Reagan was. So needless to say, George Bush's lousy war on terror policy has just spawned more would be terrorists who hate the west. Nice going, now we have more bombs from more groups going off in different beautiful cities around the world like Madrid and London.
..What do you think of Bush's (slow) reaction to the flood devastation that hit New Orleans? You think he may have been a bit faster out of the blocks had it been the prosperous area of Florida controlled by his little brother is instead of a poor, black area?
..Joe) Maybe, but I think the main reason is that he hired incompetents to run FEMA. So when you hire people based on their political allegiance, instead of their skill, your bound to have all sorts of screw-ups!
..Can you tell us your thoughts on your home city of Vancouver? What are the best and worst parts of the city and Canadian life in general? What changes have you seen in the city over the last 25 years? How has the city's Punk Rock scene changed in that period also?
..Joe) Well Vancouver is a great town, but it sure has grown. Unfortunately it is becoming more like a big American city in some senses, more drug trade, more shootings/gang violence. But there are a lot of great people here that have a lot of compassion. Just an aside, I will see tomorrow if my friend Jim Green is elected Mayor of Vancouver, which would be cool, he is a very progressive guy and besides it's handy to have the Mayor be a friend of yours.
..How do you explain the differences between the Canadian society and that of America when the two nations are linked together on the one land mass? Do you feel DOA, as a band, would have been a drastically different entity if it had been an American band? Likewise, how different do you think you would be as a person had you been raised in NYC or LA?
..Joe) I think that we would probably had more notoriety if we had of moved to the States in '82 like we talked about, but Canada is a cool place and it's good to stand away from the giant in order to observe it properly. Besides, they don't know shit about the world's greatest sport: Ice Hockey!
..You've been in film too - Terminal City Ricochet - what did you make of the filming process? Was it something you enjoyed and do you have any further plans for that medium? In hindsight, what do you think of that film?
..Joe) I have a done a bit of acting off and on over the years, it has been hard work but ultimately it is fun!
I just got hired as a regular columnist for the national music TV show called Shuffle, I get to rant for two minutes every week!
..What do you make of today's 'Punk Rock'? Obviously there is still a wealth of bands that are sincere about what they are doing, but that's counteracted by the likes of Good Charlotte and other watered-down 'mainstream Punk' acts. How does it make you feel - as a guy who fronted a band that was truly pioneering for the Punk Movement - to see 'Punk' fashion sold in shopping malls; to see Punk as no more than a passing phase rather than something to believe in?
..Joe) Like you said there are a lot of great bands out there who have "kept the faith" so to speak and I take my hat off to them, bands like ANTI-FLAG and such. As for the commercial side of Punk, I am just surprised that it took this long, after all Punk is ready made to sell anti-parent and anti-establishment themes to youth.
..What songs that you have written and recorded are you a) most proud of; b) represents your past better than any other; c) that is a total embarrassment and d) defines Joey Keithley in 2005. Please explain your answers.
..Joe) Well they all had their point at the time.So it is hard to be your own critic, I best leave that to the pundits and punters.
..Finally, for a man who has fronted a pioneering band that has toured all over the world, recorded a solo album and performed spoken word shows, written his autobiography, runs a record label, worked in film, had a radio show, has raised a family and been politically active - where do you go now? What keeps you motivated? Where do you seek your inspiration? Do you have any final, as-yet-to-achieve ambitions?
..Joe) When I started, I wanted to change the world into a better place, that hasn't changed and obviously there is still a lot to do. So rather than resting on any so-called laurels, I better keep moving and thinking and creating. One thing for sure I will never quit playing music, 30 years from now, just come on down to one of the local pubs in Vancouver and I will be there on a Saturday nite playing for beers!
..Pleased to hear that!! Anything you want to add?
..Joe) Just www.suddendeath.com, it's all there new releases; Young Canadians, Modernettes, Pointed Sticks "Perfect Youth" and another CD spring 2006, Schulz (industrial rockers/ex KMFDM) DOA "War on 45" CD, "Guilty of Everything" book by John Armstrong ( leader of the Modernettes) the book is about early Vancouver punk rock.
Also, sorry my answers were not longer, perhaps in the future a telephone or an in person interview would be more detailed. Take care Joe Shithead Keithley