Interview: Joe Keithley, D.O.A. Frontman

Talk Minus Action Equals Zero

Photo by Tom Weibe

A year away from their 40th anniversary, Vancouver punk pioneers D.O.A. are still raging against the machine. Fresh off a tour of Asia, they’re heading out on a 12-date D.O.A. Fight Back tour that stops off at The Boathouse on October 11.

“The reason we called it the D.O.A. Fight Back tour is because we think people have got to fight back against racism and xenophobia, so that’s why we have Donald Trump on the poster,” explains D.O.A. frontman Joe Keithley.

“I think that people have to make bigger strides fighting stuff like racism and abuse by the police. It’s not big enough yet, because a lot of the times, people that are on the right wing are being encouraged by the president. It’s happening in other parts of the world too, like all over Europe.”

Originally known as Joey Shithead, Keithley has matured into respected punk elder statement. In addition to running the independent record label Sudden Death Records, the singer has penned two books and recently ran for the Burnaby-Lougheed seat in this year’s British Colombia provincial election.

While he finished third, the Green Party representative is excited about the party’s recent coalition with the New Democratic Party (NDP). The recently formed provincial government is dedicated to stopping the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and to holding a referendum on a proportional voting system next year.

Although Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell declared December 21 “D.O.A. Day” in 2003 for the group’s 25th anniversary, Keithley chuckles at the irony of the group’s hallowed hometown status. It’s a far cry from their early days when their shows provoked anger and drew police attention.

“D.O.A. started out fighting racism, greed, war mongers and sexism. And you know what, 40 years later and we’re still fighting the same basic four things,” Keithley says.

“I’m not sure if things ever improved. Some areas they’ve gotten better; some areas they’ve gotten worse. So we’re still fighting against those horrible things that are unfortunately a part of human existence.”

Known for his outspoken political nature crystallized in his slogan, “Talk Minus Action Equals Zero,” Keithley credits punk for being the perfect forum to express the interest in politics that developed while he was in high school.

“A lot of what got me going was environmental causes and fighting against nuclear weapons proliferation,” he says.

“That got me into the politics and when punk rock came along, that just made it a natural thing. Punk was like a protest form of music, much in the same way that folk music is.”

The singer and guitarist credits his punk awakening to The Ramones’ debut album. His passion for the burgeoning genre was cemented when he was among the 600 people that attended the iconic New York punk group’s Vancouver debut in 1977 at The Commodore.

“The venue could fill 1,200 people and they had to give tickets away,” Keithley says. “But it was amazing. We had been thinking about starting a punk band and seeing them live made us think we could do that. There’s nothing like great punk music live. It’s why we still do it.”

Firmly entrenched in punk lore along other genre giants like Black Flag, Bad Brains and The Germs for their contributions in developing hardcore, D.O.A. will have plenty of opportunities to rock the house for next year’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

“We’re recording a new album in early 2018 that will be out in June,” Keithley says. “We’re going to do a worldwide tour which will take most of 2018 and most of 2019. And I’ll probably have a new book out as well that’s about punk rock and politics.”

Oct 11, 8pm, $15-20. The Boathouse, 57 Jubilee Drive, Kitchener. Tickets.