Joe Keithley of D.O.A.: “Being in a band is a really good chance to say what you think about the world…”

Handmade mixed-media art by B.

On this day in 1981, Canadian punk band D.O.A. released their Hardcore ’81 album. Punk heavyweights Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra and Kevin Seconds have all spoken of the impact and importance of this record. It’s been said that the title is the first time the term “hardcore” was used to describe this style of punk outside of a music publication. A couple of years ago their sophomore full-length won The Polaris Music Prize, awarded annually to one of the all-time best Canadian albums based on artistic merit. Hardcore ’81 still holds up today, as a record that is still wild (or as Joe puts it, “rips your face off”), full of conviction and energy. D.O.A. were also one of the first punk bands to tour (North America) independently, setting the blueprint for all the bands that have come after them. Yesterday, Gimmie spoke to vocalist-guitarist Joe Keithley.

On the 22nd of April D.O.A.’s album Hardcore ’81 celebrates its 40th Anniversary; what comes to mind when you think of that record?

JOE KEITHLEY: Lots of things. It’s a unique thing that we came up with, that title, and threw it on an album. It was a collective thing; we had heard the term “hardcore” a few times. There is some argument with who came up with the term but that doesn’t really matter, I think it’s a worldwide movement that came out of a few bands, including D.O.A.

We’re reissuing it on my label Sudden Death Records in August. It will be a special 40th Anniversary edition—it’s a fucking classic record! [laughs]. I don’t look at old D.O.A. records very often, but I put that one on when we were doing the remastering. We added three bonus tracks. I was like, wow! It just rips your face off, so that’s a good thing, right?

Totally! It is definitely a classic. An important punk record. Around the time you initially released the album you would have been around 25-years-old, I think? What was happening in your life or around you at that time that inspired the writing of the songs on Hardcore ’81?

JK: Yeah, that’s about right. Before that we’d spent a lot of time as a band touring. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always been an activist for different causes, we took that on as much as we could doing benefits shows and doing records for good causes all around the world. We’d been around North America [on tour] a bunch and we’d been going to Southern California probably five or six times a year; that became our home away from home. What happened was, I was probably in the van driving up and down the Interstate 5 highway back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver playing shows.

The only thing that I did at home was that I was a cab driver. They didn’t really care about me and I didn’t really care about the cab company. When I showed up, I would drive the car and when I didn’t, some other guy would, probably another musician or a waiter [laughs].

Did you find driving cabs interesting with all the different kinds of people that you meet?

JK: [Laughs]. That’s one way of putting it! I drove for a long time, for three or four different companies, on and off, for about six years. I’d go to the job every time I’d arrive back from tour and be broke. I’d just call them up and start driving again. You’d meet some interesting people; you’d meet some you didn’t like and be glad you never got to see them again. I thought it was pretty interesting, the one thing I really noticed was that, people with not a lot of money, they were the most generous tippers and people with a lot of money, were really cheap. Go figure, right?

Right. That’s usually been the case in my experience too. On the cover of Hardcore ’81 there’s photobooth picture strips of each member; where did you get those done?

JK: Yeah, it’s one of those machines that you go into a booth and they’d take passport sized photos, you get a strip of three or four. Our manager had the idea. The booth was probably in Vancouver, maybe at the Greyhound [bus] Station. We went down there and thought it would be pretty funny. They look great on the cover.

Why did you decided to cover the Led Zeppelin song ‘Communication Breakdown’ on that record?

JK: I can’t remember what the impetus for that was. I remember that there was this guy in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, and if a new song came on the radio… (we lived on a mountainside-type-thing, it was quite steep) he would take his old records, of the songs that weren’t in fashion anymore, and he’d roll them down the hill! When I got into my first punk rock band, which was called The Skulls, we were from Vancouver, I found a hill (this was about ‘78’) and I took all my Led Zeppelin records I had loved in high school and I rolled them down the hill. They got run over by cars and got smashed to bits! [laughs].

For some reason someone in the band suggested we do that song. Nobody could sing it though. Chuck [Biscuits] tried to sing it, Randy [Rampage] tried to sing it, but they were both too high. I said, “I’ll do it!” We put this underwater effect on it, it makes you sound like you’re underwater singing. We were like, “Huh! That kind of works.” The original take actually went on for about another minute, it was longer; at the very end you could hear the sound of a 2-inch tape going off. The ending was kind of perfect.

Why is music important to you?

JK: Music has always been a big thing for me. For one thing, it’s a lot of fun! That’s why you get up on stage, you want to thrill people and excite them and get ‘em worked up. I think that’s the goal of a band. With a punk band, or metal band, or rock band, heavier stuff, you want to see people going crazy, so you have to do something to make ‘em go crazy.

Being in a band is a really good chance to say what you think about the world. I was heavily politicized when I was a kid, with the Vietnam War going on and environmental degradation and the Arms Race between America and the Soviet Union. I joined Greenpeace when I was seventeen. I got into a band, D.O.A. started to take off and I thought I had a perfect soapbox to get up on and say what I thought about the world. That’s why I did my songs.

Before you started D.O.A. you wanted to be a civil rights lawyer; obviously you’ve always cared about people and what’s going on in the world?

JK: Yeah! My goal through Junior High was to be a professional hockey player for the Boston Bruin, to play ice hockey [laughs]. That didn’t work out, I was ok, but not that kind of quality. Then I got into the legal thing. I was involved in protest stuff.

This guy, William Kunstler, the lawyer for the Chicago Seven – there were big riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – he defended them, which I found quite interesting. I thought, I want to be like William Kunstler! He defended Abbie Hoffman [a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”) and a leading proponent of the Flower Power movement] and all the rest of the people that were on trial. I guess it was strange for a kid in high school to have the resolve to be a lawyer [laughs]; a civil rights lawyer, not a lawyer, lawyer!

Yes! There’s definitely a difference [laughter]. Was there a moment you can remember that you realised that music could have a big impact on people?

JK: Oh yeah, absolutely! When I was a kid in high school and even much earlier. You could see people like Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe McDonald, influenced what was going on in the world. Think about the Vietnam War for example, it was a big, big thing when I was a kid, and musicians would stand up against it. It was an interesting transition, at first, they were called “Commie pinko fags” and all that stuff for not supporting the American war machine. Eventually, people in the mid-west, farmers, saw it was an immoral war as well—not that any war is moral. This one was particularly horrible. All of a sudden, people that played music that was saying stuff against it, weren’t so far out there and wrong, and you had the regular work people saying “yes” too. They might not have been buying Jimi Hendrix records, but he was influencing people that were involved. Rather than saying that Richard Nixon stopped the Vietnam War—it was the people that did.

What do you feel is one of your most powerful songs?

JK: There’s a few. ‘World War 3’ and ‘The Prisoner’ [from Something Better Change] is a really strong song. I think the song that a lot of people identify D.O.A. with is ‘The Enemy’ which is on the first record and on the Positively D.O.A. 7-inch EP [with the lyric]: “Ya gotta know who your enemy is”. It’s synonymous with D.O.A. and D.O.A. fans. The line in the chorus, pretty much says it all.

Your band is known for being trailblazers of independent touring, especially in North America, laying the blueprint for bands that came after you. Previously you’ve mentioned that part of why you started touring is because the band were adventurous; have you always had the sense of adventure?

JK: I was a pretty introverted child, I wasn’t really outgoing or anything like that, which may be hard to believe [laughs], it’s very true though. It was one of those things that just started happening, I went to university to be a lawyer. I was there for about four months and then I was in a punk rock band, we got a little bit popular, not long after that we started D.O.A. and that took off right away, within a few months things were moving pretty quick—right guys at the right time in the right place.

Because Vancouver was a real backwater (not these days though, Vancouver is a big town with over three million people). The music industry was in London, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, for us anyway. Obviously, you’d link Melbourne and Sydney to that too from where you are. Those were the centres of attention and where all the bands were getting signed and that they would gravitate towards. We didn’t, we thought we’ll just strike out on our own. D.O.A. was a lot more unique because we weren’t trying to play to get signed to a label, therefore our style wasn’t co-opted from someone from a record label going, “Oh, you should really put more of this in there!” The pressures that bands start to get when they begin to get popular. We blazed our own way!

We bought a van and toured up and down everywhere. In 1979, we went all the way down to California, to Texas, up to Chicago, New York and eastern Canada and all the way back; it was a North American tour. We had a lot of days off because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing! We’d sit around at people’s houses and eat them out of house and home [laughs], ‘til they got sick of us and then we’d try and find another show. That’s all we could do. We were getting a lot of attention.

A big break [in 1981] was that we saw an ad in one of the big English music papers like Melody Maker or New Music Express (they were pretty influential, people in North America would read them too), it said that D.O.A. were opening up for the Dead Kennedys at the Lyceum in London! It was a big, big hall, 3,000 people-type-thing. We looked at the ad and were like, “We are? Nobody told us about that!” We phoned up the promoter and they said, “Sure, you guys can play, but I won’t pay you anything. You have to get over here.” We all saved up about $700 to pay for the air flights and we found some friends to crash with, on their floor. We went to London and played this big show. It worked out because the record company [Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records] released Positively D.O.A. and it became Single Of The Week [in British press]. It sold a lot! We were like, wow! Ok! That whetted our appetite to do more. Eventually in ’84 we came back and did a two-month tour of Europe and the UK.

Before you mentioned that when you were younger you were introverted and now obviously, you’re not; did being in a punk band give you confidence?

JK: It certainly makes you stand out from the crowd. When I got into it, people were afraid of punk rock, they thought it was the strangest type of music that had come out and people were shocked by what they saw; some people were interested in it though, and loved it like me. We were way in the minority.

Being in a band, the first few times you go up there, you might want to get off stage and puke because you were so nervous. Because you have your fellow bandmates there with you, your confidence grows off of each other. You get the courage to get up there and do what you do. If you’re good at it, it will grow.

Another thing that I’ve always loved about D.O.A. is that you always keep moving forward and create new things. You once said, “We still sound like a punk rock band, but we’ve tried to progress with the times.  We try to expand what we can do lyrically.  We sing about what’s going on now.  We don’t hearken back to the glory days of punk.” A lot of people talk about punk like it was a special time that existed in a particular time period. It’s still happening today and still thriving. Punk is an energy, that keeps moving and evolving.

JK: Yeah, I would agree. There’s lots of younger bands around with great ideas and lots of energy. They’re being rebellious, and that’s what it was about it the first place. An older band has to find new ways to keep progressing, to find new ways to express themselves, that’s really important. If you don’t come up with anything new, that’s fine, if you just put out two albums and you go on tour 30 years later and play those songs to fans it’s because it’s kind of a trip down nostalgia lane. With D.O.A. there is a sense of nostalgia because we were one of the early pioneers of the whole thing but you have to keep moving forward, otherwise you become a nostalgia act, which is deadly if you ask me; that’s not where you want to be as an artist, you want to keep writing new songs.

Is there a particular way that songs come to you more often when you’re writing?

JK: If I sat down for a couple of days with my guitar I could come up with hundreds of riffs, they could be good or bad or I could be repeating myself (which happens when you’ve written so many songs for as long as I have). The big thing for me is the lyrics; if you get the lyric, that’s the key. When I have the lyric, I can try to write the music to back its sentiment. If it’s a dark lyric, you want something dark sounding. If it’s a happy lyric, then maybe you play D, G and C. If it’s something evil, dark, maybe you play a B-flat and E-flat [laughs]. Some cues are happy and some cues are mean and tough. To come up with a good lyric is a hard thing to do.

Please check out: suddendeath.com & D.O.A. on Facebook. There’s also a documentary about Joe and D.O.A. in the works called Something Better Change more info here.

Punk from Mexico! Huraña: “We talk mostly about being a girl, a punk girl, a tough girl, a sad girl sometimes but always fighting against the people who want to hurt us.”

Original photo: courtesy of Huraña. Handmade collage by B.

When Gimmie’s editor came across Huraña from Mexico this year she was super excited, falling in love with their lo-fi scrappy, punchy punk with hints of ‘80s hardcore, layered guitar and reverbed drench delay-laden vocals sung in Spanish. Gimmie interviewed bassist Daniela to learn more about where they live, their community and release Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DANIELA: I play the bass in Huraña. I love cats, big black clothes, tattoos and hair dye. I’ve been playing with Huraña since the beginning, which was like two years ago. I love music, I love playing music with friends, going to concerts and everything that has to do with music. I’ve played the bass for like seven years now and I would say that what I enjoy the most is making a lot, a lot of noise.

Huraña are from Chiapas, Mexico; what’s it like where you live?

D: We live in a small city called Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which is the capital of Chiapas. You can find all kinds of people. The weather is mostly hot, we actually have a song called “Odio el calor” which means “I hate hot weather” because we do hate it a lot. I personally like the city, but sadly there is a lot of insecurity everywhere, police brutality, murders and assaults all the time, that has turned Tuxtla into a dangerous city, but still, not as dangerous as other cities in Chiapas.

How did you first discover punk?

D: I always liked rock and metal music, so that lead me to punk. I got into it when I was invited to a punk band, I was insecure at first because I thought I wouldn’t be as good as they expected, but it came out naturally and it was a lot of fun playing, because before that I only had been in metal bands, cover bands and experimental rock.

How did Huraña get together?

D: We all come from different bands that no longer exist, and we all have played together at some point. We used to have two vocalists but one of them just wasn’t into it, so she left, also we recently got a new drummer, so we are in the process of getting all together again, but it has been very fun and exciting to create new stuff, and also we all enjoy extreme and noisy music so that definitely helps when it comes to understanding each other when we play.

Where did your band name came from?

D: Huraña comes from “huraño” which is a term used mostly when a cat is shy or grumpy or doesn’t like being with people, being petted or any contact at all, it’s also used in people or dogs, but cats are like that almost all the time. We are all cat lovers so we kept the name as a way to express our lyrics, our type of music and our love for cats.

What is the punk scene like where you are? What are some bands we should know about?

D: There aren’t many punk bands here, maybe like three including us, so there is not much to say about that. My favourite local punk band is Cabronas, their songs, lyrics and the attitude of the lead singer are great and contagious, they have just released their material on Bandcamp so you should definitely check them out. I also really like Zoque Caníbal which is more a ska punk band, but the drummer is awesome and a lot of the guitar riffs are very punk-ish.

This year you released 7-inch EP Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas on Iron Lung Records; what was inspiring you when writing songs for it?

D: Our lyrics talk about what we do, what we think, what we stand for. We talk about feminism, women empowerment, harassment in the streets, fake friends and allies, our generation and similar stuff. Sometimes we do funny themes like “Odio el calor” saying how much we hate hot weather and sweat. The lyrics are written by Chax, the guitarist, and Tania, the lead singer. In “Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas” we talk mostly about being a girl, a punk girl, a tough girl, a sad girl sometimes but always fighting against the people who want to hurt us, the fake friends and the danger that’s out there in the streets for us.

Can you tell us about recording it?

D: The recording was very fast, we did it all in a few hours, except for the collaboration with the saxophone which had to be done the next day, but we got it all together pretty quickly. A friend of ours came from CDMX to record us, so it was all chill, fun and natural. I enjoyed a lot.

We really love the reverb on your vocals and the delay on the guitar; what influenced your sound?

D: We have different influences and we take inspiration from what we listen to and what we like. I guess we have always looked for a deep, dark sound, something that is not like the other punk bands in our city. We wanted to sound like a hardcore band but also like a goth, post punk band. I personally take my inspiration from goth bands, post punk, death rock, and similars.

Why did you choose to cover a Vulpes song “Me Gusta Ser Una Zorra”?

D: Tania, the lead singer, and I studied together in college, and back in those days we used to love that song and sing it all the time because we felt so related to it. We wanted to form a punk band and play that song, so when we finally got the chance of playing together, we suggested the cover to the band and they agreed. Also is an awesome classic punk tune that we all enjoy, and the only cover we have done.

What’s something that’s important to Huraña ?

D: I think that the most important thing for us as a band is staying true to ourselves. We can’t sing about one thing and do the opposite in our daily lives. Also having each other’s back, and always enjoy what we do. We think that punk should be supportive to us and our community, that it should be honest and straightforward, so that’s what we try to stick to at all times.

Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us or share with us?

D: I could just say that I’m very happy that our music is being played in places that are so far from us, and that we received so many different comments and critiques from different sources. We are very grateful to Iron Lung Records for helping us reach a great audience that are enjoying what we do. We will keep working on new songs and doing what we like to do. Thanks a lot for this interview and for taking the time to listen to our music.

Please check out: Huraña on Instagram. Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas out on Iron Lung and if you’re in Australia get it at Lulu’s in Melbourne.

Massappeal, Wolf Shield & Tralala Blip’s Randy Reimann: “Our practices were just as intense as our performances, we didn’t know half measures.”

Randy Reimann was co-founder and frontman of one of Australia’s most important pioneering ‘80s hardcore thrash punk bands, Massappeal. Their 1986 debut, Nobody Likes A Thinker, is an all-time classic. The band was known for their intense live shows. Today you can find Randy still making music both as a solo electronic project, Wolf Shield – using cassette tapes of Massappeal rehearsals as the starting point for songs – and experimental post-electro pop band, Tralala Blip – started from Randy giving electronic music workshops for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. I spoke to Randy for a couple of hours, this is an extract for a much more in-depth interview where we talk about UFO experiences, spirituality, epiphanies, creativity, of being an outsider amongst the outsiders and more, that will appear in our ed’s forthcoming book.

Why is music important to you?

RANDY REIMANN: You think that I would know the answer to that by now. It’s just such a natural part of my life that I don’t think about it. It has come up a little bit, I have these little gatherings, of my male friends in particular, we have a topic and we chat about it. It’s a topic that has come up that has made me look at my obsession with making music. I think, is it something for my mental health? What would I be like if I didn’t make music? It’s rarely that I go a few days without creating something, playing with sounds. Sometimes I see it as an escapism, as my happy place. It’s something that helps me get completely out of my head, it’s totally non-mental, I just lose myself in the sounds, before I know it three hours has gone by and I was happy. I was in a zone that was comfortable. Sometimes I’ve used it to escape unpleasant things, there’d be a drama in my life and if I go in and do music I just forget about it, I forget about everything, I stop thinking. I think the stop thinking thing is important to me, it’s like meditation. It’s just going to play, I’m fully there in the moment. I just have to.

I’m such a fan too. I’ve said that a lot over the years. I love exploring new stuff and hearing what people are doing. I love going back over stuff that I’ve missed in the past too, I was so immersed in the hardcore scene for so many years and there were other things going on that I totally ignored because I was so into hardcore. There’s always big square packages coming to my house every week [laughs].

Tralala Blip.

Yeah, same at our place too! We’ve become friends with our mailman…

RR: Me too! [laughs]. Here where I live is a small community, I’ll often see him driving down the road, we wave, hi! We know each other by name. He knows when he delivers something to me that it’s either vinyl or boxes full of modular stuff.

It’s the best finding songs that are new for you.

RR: Oh yeah. I love that, it’s just endless. I think that’s one thing I found out through my friends, is that I am still so enthusiastic about music! I’m still excited by it. I love it so much. I feel lucky that I feel that way. I see a lot of people that are not excited by anything, they go through life and it doesn’t seem like there’s much pleasure at all, and if they find it, it’s like they had to work really hard to find it. I’ll just put on music and it makes me feel so happy, for that I feel so lucky!

How did you first discover punk music?

RR: In high school, I was really into DEVO, Kraftwerk and kooky things that I came across; this was in the Western suburbs [of Sydney] in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. I had no friends that were into that kind of stuff at that point in time, I was just going to the local record shop and picking up things that looked interesting because of the cover. There wasn’t even many magazines back then, just this one punk magazine. I remember being at school and there was this kid and he had a backpack on and he had on it “Dead Kennedys”. I was like, what’s this? I can’t remember how I worked out it was a band, maybe I saw it at the record shop after that. I dropped out of high school in Year 11 but he went onto 12, we became friends at the end of school. There were three or four other guys that were into that stuff so I became friends with them and then discovered a lot of stuff through them. There was this one punk magazine that you could buy over the counter in this record shop in Fairfield where I grew up. A bit later I’d buy Maximum Rock N Roll and go into the city. Before I discovered all that though, it was definitely via seeing Dead Kennedys on that guy’s backpack.

Previously you’re mentioned that you view punk rock as more than just a genre of music; how so? What has it bought to your life?

RR: It’s more that back when I initially got into it, even before doing Massappeal and then leading into doing Massappeal, it’s so much just a part of my life; I didn’t have these compartmentalise things that I did. Hardcore just seeped into every part of… it was always there. I didn’t want to say that it informed me in deep ways, it sort of did… it was probably because soon after when I did Massappeal it became such a physical thing, I would get completely lost in it. I really felt like it was just absorbed into this “meat suit” that I had. I feel like it’s still there in some way, it’s still in me in some way… it’s not so much as any political thing that people may associate punk with, or anti this or rebellious… maybe it’s a bit of all those things.

When I was at work before I came here, I ran across this person – a new friendship, an older guy – he sort of knows I have this punk history and he’s like, “Do you consider yourself punk.” Aaah yeah… I relate to it. It was the next generation that punk spoke to me, I never really got into the Sex Pistols. I was a little bit too young for that, it was the generation of stuff that came after that; in England it was the post-punk stuff and in the U.S. it was hardcore. I bought the Sex Pistols record and some other stuff but it was just, no! It was like rock to me in a way and it bored me…

Massappeal gig poster.

I think the Wolf Shield project you’re doing now is really interesting. It’s cool how you’ve taken pieces of Massappeal demo and rehearsal tapes and used that to create something new; were did that idea come from?

RR: That came about because people on social media were asking me about Massappeal like, “Why don’t Massappeal get back together” or “Can I get this release?” and “Don’t you like Massappeal anymore?” I was thinking about it, because when someone asks me a question I wouldn’t just brush it off, I’d give them reasons and I thought that thing of writing got me thinking… I hadn’t done anything solo, I’ve always been working with other people and I wanted to do something just for me. After all these conversations I was having with people, it [Massappeal] still lives in me, it’s just how can I express it now? Believe me, I love that period of my life. If I just stop and think about us jamming, I can feel it in my body—so I love it. I can’t explain it but, I have no desire to go back there and do that. I doesn’t seem right. Just no. I just came up with the idea that I’m going to express what I feel now, I still had those tapes… our practices were just as intense as our performances, we didn’t know half measures. We’d turn everything up and just go crazy. I have some practices sessions that are just as memorable as some really good gigs. A favourite part of mine when we’d jam was when there would be feedback, a whole small room just full of feedback and I could feel it, that stayed with me. It gave me the idea to make drones out of Massappeal tapes, that’s how that creative process started. Going through my journals from then for lyrics too. I’m not using Massappeal tapes for the new stuff I’m making. It was good for me to do.

Please check out: Massappeal. Tralala Blip. Wolf Shield.