A Word With D.O.A.’s Frontman Joe Keithley

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Celebrating their 40th Anniversary with a new album titled Fight Back, and an extensive North American tour, punk legends D.O.A. will be playing their high-energy show at the Hilo Town Tavern on Jan. 11, 2020. Ticket info below.

I caught up with D.O.A.’s frontman Joe Keithley by phone in Victoria, BC Canada. Keithley co-founded D.O.A. in 1978, in the wake of early influences such as Ramones, The Clash, and the Sex Pistols. During our interview, we discussed a variety of topics including his view on positive punk politics.

How has your 40th-Anniversary tour been going?
We’ve done lots of American dates this year and the year before. It’s been spread out over like… a two years type of thing. You can’t go everywhere just all right in a row. We went to Europe in the summertime. That was great! Some Canadian shows up here, and then we have more Canadian shows in the spring. In March, we go up to New York, Philly, Boston, all that kind of thing. So that should be fun, right? So, yeah, it’s been going great!

Will your Hilo show be the band’s Big Island debut performance?
Yes, we’ve never been to Hawaii before.

D.O.A.

D.O.A,’s album Hardcore 81 was recently named as one of Canada’s Top Albums of All Time (all genres included). What was it like hearing that news?
It was interesting because the album has been nominated a few times, and this is the third year in a row it got nominated. It got some serious competition for the first two years. So, we ended up losing to Rush, who are obviously a very popular band. But this time out, some really popular artists and people just realized, OK, this is an influential album. People like Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye had already said that. You know, people from the punk world… we’ve been an influence on lots of people. The more regular music industry is finally catching up with it. You know, 35-40 years later.

I understand you’ve transitioned into politics and have been elected as a councillor for Metro Vancouver, which makes you the first punk rocker in North America to hold such an office.
I am the first punk rocker elected to such a position as a city councillor in Burnaby, which is a really big suburb, right next to Vancouver. So, yeah. It’s great! People have told me I’ve been a cultural politician for like 40 years, working outside the system, and now, I’m working inside the system. I take the same approach I did with punk rock, which is, ‘Talk minus action equals zero.’ I take that approach in politics as well. If you want to get out there and if you want to change things you can’t just talk about it, you have to act upon it too.

Which is harder: music or politics?
I always say, ‘politics is easy!’ (laughs) It’s much harder. I’ve been playing music since I was 11. I started as a drummer for years and learned guitar when I was 18, and later put out 17 albums, and played over 400 shows. So, I say, by this point, I sure hope [music]comes pretty naturally by this point! (laughs) After that amount of practice. Right? But, you know, I’m a quick learner, and I just went into politics to basically act like a sponge and try to pick up on what was going on and how to proceed. The hardest part was learning the procedure on how to enact bylaws, change things within the city, and be a positive input. So, that’s what I’ve been learning in the first 14 months.

“It’s loud and fast. Yeah, it’s out of control!”

Your music is so powerful. Where does that energy come from? What inspires you?
When we started out, we wanted to do three things: One, we wanted to have fun. Two, we wanted to play loud, fast, obnoxious music. Three, we wanted to change the world. And those goals really haven’t changed. I mean, 40 years ago, the things we were fighting against, writing songs about, and trying and act upon was stuff like war, greed, racism, sexism. Now, 40 years later, we’re still fighting against war, greed, racism, and sexism. So, a lot of things haven’t changed. So, you gotta keep fighting. I take a lot of inspiration from my idols like Pete Seeger. I played a couple of times with him, met him. He kept doing really great stuff and playing great shows until he was 93 years old. To me, he was an inspirational guy, because no matter what obstacles were put in the way, like the McCarthy blacklist type thing, and his music couldn’t be played on the radio anymore. So, to be somebody that can fight through stuff like that, I use him as an inspiration. You always have to keep trying and try to make a change.

Over the past 40 years, what’s been the weirdest concert experience?
God, there’s been a lot of them! It was kind of crazy. They really stood out, because it was in the early days, and we had lots of really bizarre shows in weird places with weird people in the first few years. We took a train trip on our first tour of Europe in ’84, from what was at the time still Yugoslavia, which is now Croatia and the last show was in Milan. We slept out in the aisle because we didn’t have seats. When we got to Milan, 3,000 people showed up. It was the first hardcore show in northern Italy. And it was out of control. There were three separate mosh pits swirling around with all the kids. Yeah, it was a great experience!

What do you think needs to be changed in the music industry?
I think one of the worst things that people don’t realize with Spotify is that you don’t make anything off of it. You get one-hundredth of a cent per play, or something like that. So, you could have 50,000 thousand plays in a month on your song and end up with like 20 bucks. Right? The music industry always changes and reflects technology, and it’s up to the musicians to adapt. I think now we’re back into a period that’s almost like the ‘50s. Where in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, people made albums and the audience cared about albums. It didn’t matter if it was country, rock, jazz, whatever genre. Now [the trend]is back to selling singles… a song that gets played a lot on YouTube or whatever manner used to get it out to the public. Right? So, it’s kind of come full circle… back to really short contemporary pop music.

What can fans look forward to at D.O.A.’s upcoming show in Hilo?
We’re pretty excited that it’s our first time there. Let me put it this way, every time we go up on stage, we get up there thinking like, ‘You know what? Who knows? We may never be here again. So, we’d better just kick ass.’ So, what you will get is a wild unbridled over-the-top punk rock, crazy show. The whole idea is to get the audience excited, and when they’re excited, the band gets more excited! You build the audience up to a fever pitch. That’s our whole approach. We’re pretty no-holds-barred. We don’t sit around, talk, and take a lot of breaks. It’s like, you know, music, music, music… it’s loud and fast. Yeah, it’s out of control!

If You Go… Have A Good Show!

Event: D.O.A. w/El Sancho and The Cutthroat Brothers
When: Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020
Where: Hilo Town Tavern, 168 Keawe Street, Hilo
Doors: 8:30 p.m. Show: 9:30 p.m.
Cost: $23 Advance + s/c / $30 Door
Tickets: www.eventbrite.com
Info: 21+ – No Minors – ID Required. Call: (808) 935-2171.

This interview was edited for space, clarity, and continuity. To hear the full interview click play.


Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Courtesy photos provided

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