The Bobblehead Speaks!
The Skinny sits down with legendary DOA frontman Joe “Shithead” Keithley
by Kristina Mameli, the Skinny
“We still raise shit, we’re still good live and we keep trying to say stuff about what’s going on and I think that’s really the key,” Vancouver’s legendary godfather of punk, DOA frontman Joe “Shithead” Keithley said recently at a Vancouver coffee shop.
Wielding his iconic Gibson SG, Keithley is the band’s only original member, backed by bassist Dan Yaremko and drummer James Hayden. His music has inspired legions to question the world and work to change it—embodying the true spirit of punk.
“The thing that’s made DOA different,” Keithley revealed, “is that it’s always been a progressive band with new ideas and politics. There’s a certain sense of nostalgia with DOA of course, I realize that, but it’s not a nostalgia act because we’ve at least tried to be progressive and forward thinking as time has gone on.”
And it’s because of that inherently progressive nature that DOA’s music and message have been able to transcend three generations of punk rockers—even garnering the band its own day: December 21st is DOA Day in Vancouver, which undeniably speaks to the impact of the band.
Co-produced by Chon and Keithley at Vancouver’s Profile Studios, DOA’s 13th studio album, Talk – Action = 0, promises to be “up to DOA standards.” The album was fittingly due out on May 1st, the People’s Day, on Keithley’s own Sudden Death Records, but has since been pushed to June 8th.
The album’s title, a long time slogan for DOA, was originally the logo on the cover of a Vancouver anarchist magazine called Open Road. “We asked them if we could use it and being anarchist they said ‘Yes, of course you can, the world’s yours,’ so we did.”
“We went through a few title ideas and then finally settled on that as being the ultimate DOA slogan,” said Keithley. “I think if you don’t get out and try to change anything in this world, then you’re in a position where you don’t have a right to complain. I believe that real change always comes through people power.”
The effort, a stark return to the band’s grittier roots, features such titles such as “That’s Why I’m An Atheist”, about scandal among the clergy, and “I Live In A Car”, about the plight of those forced to do so. As compared to previous albums, the recording process was relatively quick—indicative of a veteran act.
An updated version of “Royal Police” from DOA’s seminal Disco Sucks EP also appears on the album. “It’s now called ‘the RCMP,’” said Keithley. “We changed the words a little bit to talk about Robert Dziekanski and people getting tasered and cops investigating themselves and stuff like that.”
DOA also includes a couple of choice covers such as Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” mixed in with blistering bursts of punk such as “They Hate Punk Rock.”
Reputably the hardest touring band to ever cram in the back of a converted milk truck, DOA heads to Europe in April and the US in June. The band will start in Germany and move through Italy, Slovenia, Denmark and Holland.
He noted that the band has always had a very positive reception in Europe. “DOA’s got a really strong following there just with the political connection, just with the activism. We always play in squats or for political events over there.”
Indeed, DOA has had the opportunity to play in some pretty interesting places. Last year the band even ventured to China. “I think we’re, if not the first, one of the first political punk bands to go over there,” theorized Keithley. “When you go you have to submit some lyrics to the censors…so we kind of picked some songs that weren’t political, right? And we’d never written a song about Tibet or the Falun Gong so it was no problem.”
Despite looking as if they’d just come from an Exploited concert circa ’84, the Chinese punks surprised Keithley. “The bands were generally really good—I was pretty surprised. And the crowds were good. They didn’t understand very much of what we said though,” smiled Keithley, who hopes to go again next year.
But his plans reach even further than China. “We’ve never been to South America, we’ve never been to Africa, never been to the Middle East, and never been to Russia,” he said. “I have a friend in Brazil who’s going to try and line up a tour in November to go to Brazil and Argentina, so that’ll be something.”
Closer to home, in late February, DOA played an anti-Olympic show at the Rickshaw Theatre. Keithley set the record straight on his stance. “I’m a big fan of sports and of course I followed both the Canadian hockey teams closely,” he said. “But VANOC operating ahead of time in a very undemocratic manner was a really key point behind why we’d have something like the anti-Olympic show.”
“And the other thing: the IOC is really an arrogant bunch that won’t listen to anybody and they push everybody around and they have all their own rules. But they’re so concerned with money and I’m afraid that’s their problem. It’s great if [the sponsors] donate to the athletes, but they pretty well close everybody else out.”
Keithley worries that the stringent rules imposed during the Olympics were of an undemocratic nature, such as protests only being allowed in specific zones and a moratorium on handing out pamphlets. “You go to any major city in the world and people are handing out leaflets. Usually it’s for crap, but sometimes it’s political stuff, and that’s part of the political process in a western democracy. To subvert that is a bad thing. Even if they’re saying it’s only temporary. It sets a bad precedent if you ask me. These democratic rights that people fought hard for and died for and were imprisoned for have to be maintained.”
He also mentioned the unfairness of holding the Paralympics after the Olymp-ocalypse, suggesting they be held either before or during. “I think that’s one of the fuck- ups of this Olympics and other Olympics. They need to get more attention on the Paralympics because it’s a pretty cool event and it’s not the heavy commercial thing that the regular Olympics are.”
An anti-Olympic song was written specifically for the rally, the release of which was halted by the likelihood of a barrage of lawsuits. The controversial lyrics of the song have since been reworked, the new version of which appears on DOA’s latest release. “It was originally ‘the oh-oh-lympics can go-oh-oh to hell,’” Keithley sang. “But we took that same song and we changed it and now it’s called ‘Tyrants Turn in Hell.’ So now it goes ‘the bloody, bloody tyrants can go-oh-oh to hell.’ Same tune—just changed the words and now it’s about tyrants around the world.”
The original lyrics however, are not lost. They may appear in the next book Keithley has planned, the follow up to I, Shithead: A Life In Punk. The book would include “pictures and posters and lyrics throughout the history of DOA and opposite would be a little story or anecdote about how each of these things came about.”
It’s hard to imagine, but Keithley certainly isn’t out of ideas. “I’ve got a few things in the back of my head but not all of them have come to fruition yet, but they will,” he said. “And like Bob Dylan said ‘I’ve got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.’ I feel the same way.”
The Philadelphia based Aggronautix, a company responsible for not one, but two runs of gory GG Allin effigies, recently commissioned one thousand headbanging “throbble heads” in Keithley’s likeness. “I think it’s pretty funny because my buddy Ford Pier said that ‘if I have my own action figure, I know I fucking made it,’” laughed Keithley. “I don’t think of it quite that way, but it’s just a funny statement.”
Considerably more charming than Allin’s, the figurines are available through the Aggronautix website or exclusively in Vancouver at Scratch Records. “It’s cool I guess, and a few people have already commented that if you want to get Joe to agree with ya, you just got to get the bobble head and get him to nod yes, right? My band mates will get one…”
Posted: May 20, 2010
In this Article Artist(s) D.O.A., Joey "Shithead" Keithley