It’s been 40 years since his band D.O.A. put out their album “Hardcore ‘81” and more than that since the band was formed, but the lyrical content of founder, punk icon and Burnaby, B.C. City Counsellor Joe Keithley has remained much the same: challenging racism, sexism, war mongering and vying for human rights.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this hardcore punk classic record, D.O.A. will be hitting the road and playing it in its entirety for the first time ever.
As pioneers of the hardcore genre, Keithley has all sorts of stories of the early days of touring with D.O.A., grinding out road gigs, playing to countless different types and sizes of audiences and staying in less than glamorous lodgings. Today, he needs to schedule the tour to fit around his political life, and attend council meetings from Zoom while on the road.
He said he’s often asked how he managed to go from a trouble-making musician known as Joey Sh*thead to a City Councillor and he explains that he’s always been a “cultural politician,” he’s just now made it formal and become a formal elected politician.
“It works out because I’m taking the same attitude with City Council that I did with D.O.A.” Keithley told the Bulletin over the phone from his home in Burnaby, where a shipment of 600 records had just been dropped off. “You have to come up with ideas that people want, do things that you believe are right and stick to your guns.”
That, plus his love of being busy, his knack for organization and his long-time motto “TALK-ACTION=ZERO” helps explain how Keithley manages to be a full-time politician, a father of three, a touring musician and the owner of a record label.
His label, Sudden Death Records, features predominantly punk artists from bands that influenced him when he was an up and coming punk musician like The Damned, as well as more local bands like The Honeymans, who have roots here in Kimberley.
He said he has a team of people who help with the shipping, graphic design and distribution pieces of the label business, while his main job is to sign the bands.
“Usually what I look for as a label guy is a band that is good obviously, and has some passion and believe in what they’re saying,” Keithley explained. “It can’t just be like phony show business, flavour of the week type stuff.
“That’s what the big labels do, they sign somebody that matches the current trend and try and promote them and who really gives a crap about that, but I’m looking for stuff that’s more real.”
Keithley grew up listening to records from the 1960s, from bands whose songs often contained anti-Vietnam war lyrics. He then discovered artists like the Sex Pistols, who also had rebellious themes to their music, but with a more aggressive delivery.
At 16, Keithley marched out of his high school with 300 some other students to the U.S. embassy, protesting the Pentagon’s proposed testing of nuclear weapons at Alaska’s Amchitka Island, an environmental and human rights disaster that spurred the creation of Greenpeace.
“I have a background with anti-weapons, rock against racism, doing stuff for women’s rights, for First Nations — our current state of the world, well, it’s been better, put it that way,” he said.
“We have a guy who is akin to Hitler running China, locking up people in concentration camps and trying to reeducate them, that is abysmal and I don’t think we should be going to the Olympics, because they are in Beijing, even though I’d love to see our hockey team smoke everybody else. I’m a real Canadian and a real hockey fan.”
There’s certainly no shortage of ammunition for politically-charged lyrics in 2021. D.O.A. doesn’t currently have an album in the works as they’ve been separated by COVID, but Keithley has another solo record due to come out in February or March, 2022. Keithley said this album has more of a roots-focused sound and isn’t a punk rock record and it is very politically charged.
Over the course of his life, Keithley figures he must have written over 300 songs — 17 D.O.A. albums, three solo albums. When they started out they were singing out against racism, sexism, greed, war mongering. All these years later, these themes are still present, but there’s also new emerging issues like rampant misinformation, spread over the internet, which wasn’t a thing in the early days of D.O.A.
There’s also a tremendous amount of divisiveness and debate over the COVID pandemic, people out in the streets protesting lockdowns and vaccine passports.
As someone who has attended or organized hundreds of rallies for dozens of different causes throughout his life, Keithley said he’s been asked what his take is on things like the vaccine passport. He said he was recently asked by a councillor from another city what his take on the subject was, and he was stunned when Keithley told him he’s 100 per cent in support of vaccine passports.
“This is for the greater good, the anti-vaxxers, the people doing the protests they should give their heads a shake. I think the thing is that people have got to wake up and realize this is not some QAnon conspiracy, this is something that’s going to help everybody,” Keithley said.
“And not surprisingly, the facts are that the people that are taking up ICU beds all over North America are the people that haven’t been vaccinated.
“Not in every single case, they’ll make that argument, ‘oh well someone got a vaccine and they’re in there.’ But it’s like, okay, yeah what five per cent of the cases? It’s a false argument. Too many conspiracy theories on the internet and people have no filter and when they believe that stuff they’re proving that they basically have no brain.”
As a long-term proponent of human rights and freedom of speech, Keithley thinks people should have rights to free speech, but mega corporations like Facebook need to figure out better ways of moderating the spread of mis-information and hate speech.
“People are pushing their own personal platforms and for personal gain and fame. Marjorie Greene for example, the Republican congresswoman who is one of the deep state, QAnon conspiracy pushers. People like that are dangerous. You can’t take their right to say that, but somehow we’ve got to come up with something to get the counter information so people don’t believe that.”
With the uncertainty of touring in the pandemic amidst often-changing public health orders, there’s a certain amount of simply having to play it by ear and remain optimistic the shows will go on as scheduled. Tickets are on sale now and if the band is forced to postpone shows, fans’ tickets will be honoured when D.O.A. are able to return.
The 16-show tour includes stops in Kimberley at the Elks Club on October 9, 2021, Nelson, Golden and Rossland and fans will have a unique chance to see the godfather of hardcore, Joe Keithley, and his band, who have influenced bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana, in an intimate setting, playing not only “Hardcore ‘81” from front to back, but their other classics as well.