Hardcore Punk Godfathers DOA Discuss Farewell Tour, New Live Album + More
When you’re talking about the history of hardcore punk, you’d be a damn fool to leave out Canada’s DOA. By releasing their own records and booking their own tours throughout North America and the filthy squats of Europe, these pioneers from the Great White North joined the likes of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys in creating the scene that still exists today. Need further proof of their legitimacy? Their second LP is titled ‘Hardcore ’81.’ Need we say more?
But after 35 years of punk entrepreneurship, front man Joey Keithley and his merry band of men are calling it quits. They recently kicked off the U.S. leg of their farewell world tour and released ‘Welcome to Chinatown,’ a double live LP culled from an initial round of goodbye gigs in their native land, on their own Sudden Death label.
Diffuser.fm recently caught up with Keithley via phone as he waited out a Yankees vs. Blue Jays rain delay in the basement of his home in British Columbia. The singer chatted about politics, Pete Seeger and the origins of the term “hardcore.”
So, the big question is why breakup after 35 years?
[Laughs] Do you mean, “Why didn’t you get this over with 20 ago and save yourself a lot of trouble?” Well, I’ve done a lot of things in music. I’ve been an activist and tried to change things in this world in my own little way. That was the modus operandi of the band when we started out, and I was 20 years old. I think it’s just a good time to wrap it up. I’m not saying I’ll never play again. That would be a mistake, because I’ve said that before and obviously, I’ve come back and played. But I’d like to try my hand at something else. I’ve tried working with local government. I was not elected. I tried, and the people spoke, and I was defeated! I’m also working on a new book and still running the record label, Sudden Death. But it’s been really good. We’ve done 14 pretty good albums and played over 3,000 shows. We’ve played five different continents. Not bad!
So will you be pursuing your political career a little deeper now that the band is coming to an end?
This past fall, I ran for a nomination for a party here in British Columbia; it’s the equivalent of a state congressperson for your country. The race was actually really tight, and I thought I was going to win it, but at the last minute, some of the brass in the party thought I was a little too radical and too different and threw some heavy weight behind my main opponent, and I lost to him by five votes. He went on to lose the general election, which I don’t think I would have. I think the next step will be running for city council in my hometown, Burneby.
You started off your farewell tour a few days ago by going out to the Northwest; one of the first places you gained a fan base in the early ’80s. Do you ever see the old faces from the shows you played there way back when?
You know, the audience that we get in North America is the younger audience; 75 to 80 percent of them are under the age of 30. That says something good to me. That means DOA have progressed and kept itself relevant by writing new songs and talking about what’s going on at the time. While there might be a sense of nostalgia with DOA, we’ve been spared being portrayed as a nostalgia act, one of the most deadening things you can be. But since this is our farewell tour, I’m sure we’ll see some old hats come out, especially when we get to England. I’m sure the crustiest of the crusties will show up for that.
Some say DOA coined the term ‘hardcore’ with the title of the album ‘Hardcore ‘81.’ Where did you yourself first hear the word used to describe the music you were playing?
In 1980, there was this magazine out of San Francisco named Damage, a really good mag. This guy wrote this article about this new version of punk where it didn’t sound like London and it didn’t sound like New York and he called it hardcore. He mentioned bands like the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, DOA, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and Black Flag. At the time, we were recording our second album, and our manager came up with the bright idea, “Why don’t we call the album ‘Hardcore ‘81?’” We didn’t come up with the term, but you could call us the progenitors in the sense that we spread that word around and got it into the common vernacular. Some say “DOA: godfathers of hardcore.” You could say that — or you could not.
Even though you are shutting down DOA, you’re still a band that kept at it longer than others. What was the motivation all these years?
The DOA motto has always been: “Talk minus Action equals zero.” I started out as activist when I was 16 years old. The problems of that day are a lot different than they are now, but in some sense, they’re the same. The big problems of the world for me were greed, warmongers, sexism, racism, and 35 years later, they’re still going on. I just always thought it was important to have someone speaking aloud about things that are important. The guy I really model myself after is Pete Seeger. He went from being a singing star to blacklisted to making instructional videos on how to play the banjo to reviving protest music, while being a great songwriter at the same time. I just thought if I could do something similar to that, at least a quarter of that in my lifetime, I would have done well.
Let’s talk about this double live album, ‘Welcome to Chinatown.’
It came out pretty good. It’s got this reckless sort of feel to it. We took some of the older songs, some from the mid-period and three or four later ones, so it covers all grounds.
Would you have ever thought DOA would do a double live album? It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.
Certainly not. I didn’t envision DOA playing for longer than five years. How we started out was we had a band called the Skulls before DOA. We took this black and white photo and sent it into Creem magazine because they had something in the back that said “New bands send your photos in.” The next month, our photo ended up in Creem, and we were like, ‘Holy Christ! We’ve made it!’ So thinking back to that, no, obviously, I would have never thought we’d get this far. It’s been a rocky road, but it’s been fun.