After four decades, countless tours throughout North America and around the world, 16 studio albums, two EPs, a pair of live albums, and nearly 20 band members, legendary Canadian punk band DOA continues to set the standard for raggedly awesome and intense live performances, the unparalleled ability to connect with fans of all ages and backgrounds and languages. It’s also steadfast in its mission to keep fighting the good fight against corruption, the increasingly fascistic and nativist tendencies so common in popular politics, sexism, homophobia and environmental degradation.
Led by founder, political activist and occasional political candidate Joe Keithley (aka Joey Shithead), DOA is set to mark a hugely important anniversary, embark on a short swing through Eastern Canada, and is in the midst of compiling material for a new album, set to be released in June of 2018. The ‘Fight Back Tour’ is meant to be a rallying cry for those who are sick of seeing greed, hatred, selfishness and violence imposed by the ‘one per centers’ to the detriment of so many ‘regular folks,’ as Keithley calls us.
Keithley has been interested in politics and social activism since first marching against nuclear war as a high school student in Burnaby, British Columbia. Over the years, through his music but also through his speaking and his celebrity status, he has advocated for many progressive organizations over the years, and has steadfastly maintained his punk ethos and creed to vehemently oppose more corporatist, militaristic and right wing/conservative policies.
In the age of Donald Trump, Brexit, ISIS and rapid climate change – it’s not an easy fight, but it’s the good fight, in Keithley’s mind, and he will keep fighting it with every tool in his arsenal, especially his voice and his music.
“Although DOA has been around for ages, we’re still trying to do this; we’re still fighting the good fight. When you put freedom of expression in the light of a guy like Donald Trump, and the Republicans trying to tell people how to behave and act and stuff, and some of the other leaders we’ve gotten recently in the western world, it’s put us on a slippery slope and we have got to be alert and ready to fight for the freedom of expression, and that applies to talking about politics, religion, lifestyle, whatever – the main conflicts that are going on in society, with the biggest thing being the environment. We’re still trying to improve those things and those are some of the themes we’re looking at for the next record. You have to fire people up and make them mad, and encourage them to channel their anger into a productive and peaceful force for positive change,” Keithley said, as he explained his concern about the rise of a very monolithic and homogenous ultra-conservative movement, as compared to a more fragmented left or progressive force.
“I always say that with right wing people they really only have one unifying force and that’s usually money. But now there is kind of a religious angle that’s built into it as well and they all just kind of speak with one voice and just do what their told and vote as a group, whereas the left has always been splintered. You look at the last big group movement we had, the Occupy movement, which highlighted to the average person how one per cent of the people have 99 per cent of the wealth, is that fair? And it kind of woke the general population up a bit.
“But then the Occupy movement in all these different towns and in these camps and their protests got hijacked by all these other causes, which were not bad causes, but it definitely got hijacked and then the focus got completely shifted away from trying to get some wealth equality. And then the last attempt at from a guy like Bernie Sanders. He would have made a far better candidate for the Democrats and probably would have beaten Donald Trump and we wouldn’t have been in this state. But Bernie still took that idea of wealth redistribution and income equality and get people talking about it.”
Keithley, who is a card-carrying member of the Green Party, ran earlier this year as the Green candidate for the riding of Burnaby-Lougheed in the B.C. provincial election, finishing third behind the victorious NDP Candidate and the Liberal hopeful, garnering 13.77 per cent of the popular vote. He said he may run for Burnaby city council and possibly again in the next provincial election, as he wants to continue to fight for social justice, equality and environmental protection and against what he sees as a manipulative right wing agenda that he believes is actually tricking working class people to vote against their best interests.
“I do think it’s totally mystifying, where you have a guy who is a mechanic or a small contractor and those are the people who were stiffed by Donald Trump’s corporations. He and the Republicans have never been friends of the working people. So it is completely mystifying how they could pull this con job and get all these people behind him saying, ‘yes, this guy is going to straighten things out and make life better for us.’ But guys like Rush Limbaugh and talk radio have been creating that for years, ever since they got rid of Bill Clinton,” he said, adding that while there is a certain amount of support for the so-called ‘alt-right’ in Canada, is doesn’t have the kind of depth and breadth that it does south of the border.
“So far Canadians have been more open minded about most of those subjects so theoretically it will stay that way and hopefully our friends south of the border will wake up a bit. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But, you know what, there are a lot of smart people down there, not everybody is a racist redneck. People would be really wrong if they painted every white person in the south that way.”
Earlier in the summer, DOA, which also includes drummer Paddy Duddy and bassist Mike ‘Maggot’ Hodsall, toured extensively overseas, including a jaunt through Europe as well as to the Far East. Opportunities to not only perform for fans in these far flung locales are welcomed by Keithley, but they are also opportunities for him to get a first-hand look at other cultures, other nations and the lives of other people, beyond what is seen on television.
“The summer was good. We did a couple of big festivals; one in England and one in Germany, and they were great. And when you go over in the summertime to play, you do club shows during the week and festivals on the weekend, that’s the way it works and it’s a lot of fun that way,” he said, adding that the band also played in Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Poland, before heading east to China, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“It’s interesting because China is a tough one in the sense that DOA is strong enough to get a crowd, but not big enough to get banned by the government. You know what I mean? If we were the size of some gigantic band that played arenas here we would never have gotten into China, put it that way. There’s no way because all the music is political. We didn’t and don’t change what we were playing and we didn’t pull and punches. I think my reputation is pretty solid on that – I don’t really ever pull any punches. Anyways, the reputation was good enough in the underground scene that every place was full. We would play clubs that held 200 or 300 people.
“And then the places that we did really well were like in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Taipei in Taiwan, they were great. And so was Bangkok – those places were really great because they have a lot more freedom of expression in those places than in China, and there are pretty big punk movements in all three of those places too. So it was really a great tour. It’s good to observe people when you get the chance from a different vantage point because the world has really changed a lot. Twenty years ago if you would have said okay DOA is going to tour China, I mean, how would you do it? How would you even get in the country and how would anyone show up? Put it this way, there’s an audience and an appetite for rebellion everywhere and DOA has always been ready to help deliver that message.”
Not only will there be a new DOA album coming in 2018, but the year will also be the band’s 40th anniversary – a remarkable feat for any band in the music business, let alone a punk band, for which longevity is rarely used as an epithet. For Keithley, it is an important milestone and one for which he is justifiably proud.
“I think we’ve survived and stayed relevant because DOA has always been forward thinking and talking about what’s going on right now, as opposed to being like a trip down memory lane. I mean, in a sense with DOA there is a tinge of nostalgia because we have been around for so long – we’ve been through the entire punk rock counterculture movement, so to speak,” he explained.
“But because of being forward thinking and coming up with new ideas, new songs and new albums, we have avoided the tag of being a nostalgia act, which is the most deadly thing going for a band. Because of that, we’re able to get new people coming out to the shows because people say, ‘oh, I have heard about these guys,’ or they know our reputation. So you get new people and usually those new people are younger, and that that does is it really regenerates the band. There are so many people coming to our shows who are half my age, which is good because I don’t just want a whole bunch of old farts out there all the time, although they’re always welcome, don’t get me wrong.”
Although it’s on a different scale, there is some validity to the comparison of DOA with Motorhead, one of the well-respected metal bands of all time, led by its powerhouse, no bullshit leader Lemmy Kilmister. Both Motorhead and DOA lasted for decades, beyond both the expected shelf life of most bands, and even further beyond the expectations and prognostications of so-called music industry experts. Both bands made the kind of music they wanted to make, never bowing to pressure from labels or management, nor worrying about what was popular and fashionable at the time.
“It’s funny, but over the last 10 years of Motorhead people were saying ‘man, this band is f***ing great.’ And everybody who had been a fan was saying, ‘yeah, we’ve been telling you this for 30 years.’ Motorhead is a fantastic comparison. I love those guys, I loved Lemmy. It was really sad when he passed,” Keithley said.
“What we also had in common was perseverance, which is obviously part of the longevity; you just keep going at it and keep kicking and that’s the whole thing. If you’ve got a band that, for lack of a better term, kicks ass, like DOA or Motorhead, if the band is still delivering onstage, people will know that you’ve still f***ing got it. But I have noticed in the last five to 10 years audiences aren’t playing the age card when they go see bands. They don’t care how old you are, they just want to know if you can still give it when your onstage. And if you can create that sense of excitement with an audience, man, then you can play until you actually physically can’t play.”
And there’s little doubt that DOA can still play. After a few warm-up shows in British Columbia at the end of September, the next run begins Oct. 10 at the Beer Exchange in Windsor, and goes through, in rapid order, Kitchener, Oshawa, London, Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Kingston, Montreal, Sherbrooke and Ottawa before wrapping up in Quebec City at L’anti Bar on Oct. 21.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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