Interview with Joe Keithley

Nov 18, 2010

Why was it important to you to be involved in the stage adaptation of Hard Core Logo?
I think the big thing with Hard Core Logo: LIVE is that there hasn’t been, to my knowledge, a really good theatrical version of punk in the late 70s and 80s, so this was a great opportunity to put my spin on in it, at least song wise.
Originally the book Hard Core Logo was loosely based upon D.O.A., and when Michael Scholar presented me with the chance to put my stamp on it, I also thought that was an excellent opportunity to give my version of punk rock, at least musically, of how it was in those days.
 The term Hardcore was coined by a journalist in San Francisco, but it was D.O.A. who popularized it with your album Hardcore ’81. What does Hardcore mean to you?
Well, originally hardcore meant thinking for yourself and taking a uncompromising attitude. Obviously that involved music. When we saw the phrase, the journalist also said, ‘There’s a new type of music and it involves bands like Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Avengers and Minor Threat.’ The music was fresh, hard-hitting, hard-driving and political.
Your mandate “Talk-Action=0” is more than just a slogan, but rather seems to be a way of life. Where did it come from?
In 1982, we saw “Talk-Action=0” on the front of an anarchist magazine called Open Road, which was published in Vancouver, and we thought it was the perfect slogan for D.O.A. We asked the magazine if we could use it and they were anarchists, so they said, “Of course. The world belongs to everybody, of course you can use it.”
 D.O.A. has been around for over three decades. In that time, many musicians have drifted away, changed careers, lost their motivation. Why do you think you’ve been able to stick it out and keep doing what you love?
Well, I keep it going because I’m the Tony Soprano of punk rock. That’s why some of those guys have disappeared, and not been heard from again. I think back to a D.O.A. song “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
It’s a philosophical thing. Having fun was a big thing, changing the world was another big thing. People’s ideas of what’s important to them change as things go along. I guess mine really haven’t, so that’s why I’ve continued doing this. D.O.A. has always been the perfect vehicle for me to say what I think about the world.
Why did you start playing punk music?
When we first heard about punk in 1976, popular music ranged from disco to Fleetwood Mac. In other words, it was pretty anemic. And all of the sudden we saw punk rock on TV, and we heard a couple records and we went “wow, this actually embodies the real spirit of rock n’ roll, which is like, stick it to the man and cause shit and have a great time while you’re doing it.”
It just seemed to go back to the 1955, ‘56, era before the original rock got sold out and became Elvis Presley and stuff like that, it just had this mean kind of a cantankerous thing to it that reminded us of the original rock n’ roll.
As the Godfather of punk, you’ve inspired countless musicians. Who or what inspires you?
Being alive is a great thing. Being able to play in a band and entertain people is also a great thing. I take my inspiration from regular people I meet on the street. It could be anything, there’s no one big thing. I mean, I have idols, like Woody Guthrie and Bob Marley and Johnny Cash – people who have really made a difference with music, of course – but it’s more like you take inspiration from what’s happening today. I don’t really dwell on the past very much. Whatever’s in front of you that day, you deal with it then and do the best you can.
You’ve run twice in the B.C. provincial election for the Green Party and received 15% of the popular vote the last time out. Though you’re no longer a Green member, do you have any future political aspirations?
I keep running into people in my hometown who say “Hey, there’s the next Mayor of Burnaby.” So, I’m thinking that in the next few years I’ll try to run for City Council, and then maybe make my way towards Mayor. I asked my friend Larry Campbell, who was the Mayor of Vancouver, what it was like being Mayor and he said, “Joe, you come home every night with a big headache and you have to drink an even bigger bottle of wine. And then you wake up with a worse headache.” So, we’ll see.
You’re a prolific musician, an activist, a spoken word artist, a best-selling author, owner of your own record label, husband and father of three. Is there anything you haven’t done yet, that you’re just itching to do?
One of my real goals that I haven’t done yet is to own a professional hockey team. I’ve gotten a little usurped because Michael Buble bought part of the Vancouver Giants. It kind of pissed me off, he’s stolen some of my thunder — and he’s from Burnaby too! But I’m sure I could flatten him if I met him on the ice. At least I’ve got that going for me.
I think if I could play music with some famous people I admire, like Neil Young or Willie Nelson; to get up on stage and sing a song with them, or even better, to record a song with them. I would like to, over the next few years, pick out some people, write some songs, and see if I could encourage them to do a duet or co-production.
You fell in love with music after seeing a band at your sister’s wedding. Knowing what you know now, if you could give one piece of advice to your nine-year-old self, what would it be?
Get a college degree and become a lawyer – ha, no! I wouldn’t give any advice – it’s been fine. There are a lot of things I could’ve done better, a lot of mistakes I wish I could correct, but that’s the way it goes. You can’t really change that. All of the adults were partying and drinking that night and I was the only kid there because I was the youngest in my family. It was really a fortuitous thing that I became a drummer after seeing that band.
Sum up your career in one word.
Loud. My voice, my guitar, my mannerisms – everything. I think loud sums me up.