The Icebacks Cometh
Interview by JOEY T. GERM
Back in the day, before cell phones and the Internet and DVDs and iPods and all that shit, back when VCRs were top-loaders that ejected tapes with enough force to launch a hamster ten feet across your living room (not that I ever witnessed such a stunt myself) punk bands like DOA were blazing the trail for today's mopey emo kids. Like their American counterparts and brothers-in-arms, Black Flag, DOA rampaged across the North American continent, as well as Europe, living their vagabond lifestyles in smelly breaking-down vans. When DOA showed up, they plugged in and leveled the joint. If you want the full-on version of the events briefly described above, do yourself a favor and read Joe Keithley's autobiographical, I Shithead (perhaps the funniest book title ever) The book is chuck (biscuits?) full of anecdotes that will make you yearn for the days you weren't around for to begin with. And do check out any DOA record of the last 25 years. Bloodied But Unbowed is a must, however, just so you know.
RW: What's the biggest difference between a day in the life of Joe Keithley in 2005 and a day in the life of Joey Shithead in 1985?
JS: Back then I was a part-time cab driver when we weren't on tour. So the schedule during the day would be: waking up at noon and going out to drive night shift or hang out, or be driving to a show. Now I am usually up at 7am. I get my kids off to school and start doing label stuff in the morning, usually a workout around noon, unless we are on tour, then again the daytime is driving to the next town is still the order of the day.
RW: Do you think punk is doing its job today?
JS: Well, sort of. There are a lot of people in the underground that are working hard politically. However, a lot of the "bigger" new bands really just pay lip service to the activist side of punk rock. It's when they get up on stage and yell "Anarchy is cool!" then they might be backstage bitching that the hotel is only three stars.
RW: This is a quote from the Trouser Press Record Guide, from the section on DOA; "punk-rock is, by definition, a marginal occupation, and those who make millions from it aren't doing it right." Do you agree with that?
RW: That was written by the Trouser Press writers.
JS: Let's take activist music in general, say folk and punk. Despite what some might think, you can "do the right thing" and be very successful. Look at Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, even The Clash, The Pistols and The DKs, (despite their inner contradictions) they were all successful in their day at their main occupations which seemed to be stirring things up and inspiring people.
RW: People tend to give Black Flag the lion's share of the credit for blazing the trail as far as punk and independent bands touring, but DOA was known to do some pretty insane tours and to travel insane distances to play shows.What is the longest distance you traveled to play a show or the most fucked up tour route you?ve taken?
JS: Yes, we did as many shows and tours as Black Flag. In the long run actually, a lot more. We used to trade contact numbers with them. Then we would meet each other on the road somewhere and laugh about all the places that had never seen punk rock before and how crazy their reaction was in that 'new' town. The longest trip via vehicle was Vancouver to NYC (3,000 miles), started December 26th for a New Year's Eve show in NYC which was cancelled when we got there and they stiffed us for the dough,1985. We also did a crazy thing that had us in; Thursday, San Francisco; Friday, NYC; Saturday, L.A., 1982. Another was, Thursday, Toronto; Friday, Berlin; Saturday, London; Sunday, Montreal, 1992.
RW: Your first Gibson SG was stolen how many times?
JS: It has been stolen three times. In Vancouver, Portland and Spain, and I got it back all three times. It's one of my good luck charms. You know how B.B. King and Willie Nelson have had the same guitars forever? Same thing.
RW: You sold the infamous DOA tour banner in San Jose, but were able to buy it back. Was that a condition of the sale, being able to buy it back someday?
JS: Yes, that was funny. We sold it for three hundred dollars on the condition that we could buy it back for the same price. The club guy had it decorating the club's ceiling. When we played there about five years later, the club guy said to me after I told him I wanted it back, "Yeah, I gave you $750 for that didn't I?" I said, "Yeah right," and gave his three hundred. The worse part was that I got Craig Bougie (No Means No soundman) to take it down so it had five years of dust and nicotine, probably rat turds as well, falling on top of him as he took it down.
RW: Jack Rabid, of the mega-zine The Big Takeover, wrote the intro to your autobiography, I, Shithead, and he closed the intro by saying that if youwant to hear a funny story, ask Joe about the time his son came home and told him that the kids at school said he used to have a different last name. So, I'm doing as Jack Rabid suggested in your book and asking, what is the funny story?
JS: Yes, my eldest son Jake was in grade six at the time and he came home and said one of his teachers said I had a really funny nickname. I said, "Yeah, it' s Razor 'cause I'm so sharp on guitar!" He said, "no it's not." Just shows you how many times they had bothered looking at DOA albums.
RW: You also mention that the stories contained in your book are only about five percent of the stories you have. Are the best stories in the book and are there any plans for documenting the other ninety-five percent?
JS: Some of the best stories are in there, the majority are not. I am working on a new book
RW: What kind of music do your kids listen to?
JS: It ranges from jazz to new punk, to big band. We all like to listen to everything.
RW: Do they appreciate your contribution to punk rock on this continent?
JS: Yes, and around the world as well. Have they read I, Shithead? I am not sure. I guess I will know for sure when some funny questions are being asked! In reality, I bet not. The two older ones hate reading. They are just into the computer lifestyle.
RW: What's the biggest difference between Americans and Canadians? There are lots, the most important of course is that we almost always wax you guys at hockey! Canadians are generally more polite, the cities are cleaner (just like it's portrayed in Canadian Bacon!) There is more compassion for those who are down and out. We have socialized medicine. Yep, I'm proud to be an Iceback!
RW: What is the best American import?
JS: Gibson and Fender guitars! Martin too!
RW: What is the best Canadian export?
JS: Well, not Celine Dion. Maybe Neil Young.