Politics is in the DNA of D.O.A. 

Singer Joe Keithley still writes songs to rile the masses after 38 years

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Hardcore Vancouver punk band D.O.A. plays the GLC, their first Whistler gig in five years.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • Hardcore Vancouver punk band D.O.A. plays the GLC, their first Whistler gig in five years.

D.O.A. has been punking up the system for 38 years and lead singer Joe "Shithead" Keithley says they continue to attract fans who have had enough of the mainstream.

"Our whole big thing is that we try to put on an exciting, crazy kind of show. People are still showing up all these years later, so something must be working correctly," he laughs.

Often named a co-founder of "hardcore" punk alongside Black Flag and others, the Vancouver band was the first to use the term, on its second album Hardcore '81.

These days the fan base is a mixture of oldies who bailed out of heavy metal as soon as Queen started using synthesizers, and the younger crowd who now makes up the majority of D.O.A.'s audience base.

"In Canada and the States, most of the audience these days is between 20 and 35. And then we get a few people who are above 45 or 50, even up to 60. The original people who used to come to our shows are a much smaller percentage," Keithley says.

"Twenty years ago, people would come up and tell us their older brother or sister told them about us. We'd say, 'Yeah, cool.' Now we're getting 'My mom and dad told me about you guys.'"

He says this is a good thing, not least because it means that people still like the music.

The current three-man lineup of the band includes Keithley, Mike Hodsall and Paddy Duddy.

In all, D.O.A. has released 18 albums, the most recent being Hard Rain Falling.

The songs for it are short and snappy and under two minutes, Keithley says, with songs that are relevant now, with names like "The Cops Shot a Kid," "Racism Sucks," "Warmonger" and "Pipeline Fever."

Keithley writes original music and doesn't want D.O.A. to rest on past laurels — this has helped the band to survive and grow.

"We try to regenerate. It's the same sound but we try to come up with new ideas," he says.

"Because D.O.A. has been around for so long there is a sense of nostalgia but because we are forward and progressive, kept being active and activists, like I am, we have not become a nostalgia act.

"It's one of the most deadly things that can happen to you. You end up playing in Branson, MO., in casinos."

D.O.A. started out "way outside the mainstream," says Keithley, but more people respect the creativity and uniqueness of the punk era. The digital revolution in the music industry has still had its impact.

"For every band, record sales are not as they were or even close, and that's from big to small acts and includes medium (-profile bands) like us. Everyone has had to make the best of that," he says.

"And with Spotify, you are even making less money from downloads, so there is an even lesser rate of return for what you create.

"You've got to pick your spots and everything is leaner and meaner. Bands don't travel with crews anymore, right? That's a big thing."

D.O.A. performs at the Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC) as part of the Hard Rain Falling World Tour on Tuesday, April 12, at 9:30 p.m. The show features a special DJ set from Cam Pipes of 3 Inches of Blood. Tickets are $15 and available from the GLC or online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/DOA.

"We haven't played there in five or six years. Not since the Olympics," says Keithley.

"We'd play in Whistler every winter when (now closed bar) The Boot was there, and when that closed there was the Olympics, and we played Garfinkel's twice.

Politics, of course, remains part of D.O.A.'s DNA.

Keithley says he still stumps people when he asks who the most influential person in punk was. Answer: Ronald Reagan.

"People will yell Joe Strummer or Joey Ramone. It was Reagan's horrible actions needing a response, but I've got to say that compared to the Republican Party now, Reagan seems like a liberal! A pretty sad statement."

In recent years, Keithley has been a Green Party candidate three times, most recently for a provincial byelection in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding in February. They didn't win the seat, but the Green vote increased by 150 per cent, he says.

"A lot of the political stuff that people said, the people like Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins and myself, that stuff still makes sense today. It's not that we were prophets or anything like that, we were making observations about what we were seeing while travelling and trying to stay informed. Not every punk band is like this, or should be like this. But it's key to us."

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