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[whitespace] D.O.A.
Head on Arrival: Baldly championing the punk ethos for 25 years now, D.O.A. still shines.

Till the Wheels Fall Off

Even after 25 years, D.O.A. can't, won't and don't stop

By Steve Palopoli

THERE'S PLENTY OF IRONY in the fact that the pioneering hardcore band that took its name from the acronym for "Dead on Arrival" 25 years ago is now quite possibly the longest-running continuously-in-circulation punk band in the world.

But what's truly amazing about D.O.A. is the way they've maintained their punk rock cred in a world of former rebel titans who either burned out, faded away or simply got old and tired. In order to prepare you for the legendary Canadian punk band's show at the Aptos Club Nov. 22, here's a quick quiz. Which of the following have Joey "Shithead" Keithley and company done in the last 25 years: (a) cashed in on one or more farewell tours; (b) cashed in on one or more reunion tours; (c) signed with a major label; (d) changed their sound or politics to reflect current musical trends.

The answer, is of course, "none of the above." Instead, D.O.A. have maintained the kind of gold-standard rep that is almost unheard of in punk rock, and have been recognized for years as Canada's most important punk band. Metro Santa Cruz spoke to Keithley from the road about the epic 25th anniversary tour the band has embarked on, their new record Win The Battle, and the reissuing of their long-sought-after early albums, Something Better Change and Hardcore '81.

Metro Santa Cruz: What message are you trying to send by emphasizing the band's 25th anniversary?

Joey Keithley: Well, our path or philosophy has not really changed over 25 years. I suppose it's become more ... well, sophisticated, for lack of a better word--I don't know if that's quite the right word to apply to a punk band, right? But it's the same kind of thing; my philosophy is think for yourself, try to be your own boss, a do-it-yourself kind of philosophy that's kept us going and me going throughout the years.

And just in the fact that you've lasted about 25 times longer than most bands caught in the corporate machine, you're proving that that DIY philosophy can work as a lifelong career choice.

Well, the title of the album is Win the Battle, right? You can apply that to me and the guys in the band on a personal level, and people can apply that to themselves individually. But, you know, I never thought we would have lasted five years, never mind 25. If somebody had told me that back then, I would have said "Fuck, are you out of your fucking mind?" I'm kind of amazed that it's gone on this long. And we're one of the few bands--especially of this ilk--that's kept going the whole time. I suppose the other one would be the U.K. Subs--we became probably the two longest-standing, continuously running punk bands in the world once the Ramones stopped. You could probably throw the Dickies in there, too, but they stopped and started a bit more.

What's the key to staying relevant as a punk band over a long career?

If people are still able to play and put on a good show, then people will be satisfied when they go there. I think you can get into a bit of a trap that you can only play your older songs--which, of course, is always important. But I don't want to smack of nostalgia, some rock & roll revival where you've got the Everly Brothers.

Or the Sex Pistols.

Well, it's funny, the Sex Pistols were a big influence on music--that first album was to me one of the 10 most influential and great rock albums of all time. But I guess they were at least up front [on the revival tour] and said, "Look, we're just doing this for money." If they'd come back and said, "No, we're serious! Anarchy in the U.K.!" it would have been totally unbelievable, right? Johnny Lydon's a really smart fellow, a complete razor wit. So at least they figured that out.

As long as we're on this topic, I've got to ask you about the Dead Kennedys, 'cause they're playing here the same week as you. You did that kick-ass album with Jello Biafra and of course put out many records on his Alternative Tentacles label. What do you think about all the suing and countersuing between Jello and the other band members over royalties and such?

I think it's really terrible. It's funny, I just saw [East Bay] Ray last night, he came out to our show in Vegas. I've been friends with all the guys. I'm really good friends with Jello and we put out five albums on his label. This is what I'll say: Alternative Tentacles is one of the only labels that ever actually paid D.O.A. They did a lot for us, and I never had any problem, there was never anything dishonest in any kind of accounting method. That's not to say anything about what happened with the other guys. It sort of weird, 'cause Biafra carved out a really strong career for himself, doing solo records and guest spots and his spoken-word thing. The other guys never got the ball going on anything else that was really productive. So you can see that's probably where the resentment came from, at least in part, and they had that big argument. I think it was really poor, because if you think of the two most important U.K. punk bands it'd be the Clash and the Pistols, and the two most important American ones would be the Kennedys and the Ramones. Kids all over the place know the Kennedys and look up to them. Now for them to end up arguing with lawyers ... unfortunately, that's basically the way it ended with the Clash, too. It's just a bunch of fuckin' lawyers having at it. But I wasn't in any of those bands, so it's kind of hard for me to say. All I gotta say is Biafra's a really, really honest guy, but I still like the others guys, too, they're really nice guys.

You've really kept the integrity of D.O.A.'s music and philosophy together, which I suspect is why the band's reputation is as solid now as it was two decades ago--no easy feat in the notoriously fickle culture of punk rock.

We try to. We really emphasize the politics and humor. I think with the new album, there's political stuff on there--like the song about the WTO and "Warmonger," and I also have realized when I write these things that you've got to come up with the funny side, too, the sarcastic humor, which I think is a really important angle of D.O.A. too. 'Cause you don't wanna become dry and boring, right? D.O.A. to me combines the politics and the humor with loud, obnoxious guitars, and that's kind of what makes it work. I also think it's really important for bands to identify where they're from, so we always have something about Canada. I think that's part of what made us unique in the first place, that people went, "Wow, I think they're lumberjacks or something, but they started a punk rock band!"

How have you seen punk rock evolve over time?

When I first started out, everything was so lumped together. In Vancouver there were only so many bands, and they'd have punk bands and New Wave bands and sometimes reggae bands in there, too. There was a real criss-cross--you'd have three bands with totally different styles in one show. Everybody was kind of all together in those days, from '77 to about '81 or '82, then they kind of split after that, and then you got the crossover happening in about '86 or '87, when punks started liking Motorhead, and you had bands like D.R.I. It just keeps splintering. There have been excellent examples of all the permutations--NOFX was really, really good at what they did; Bad Religion. Those two and Descendents were the primary influence on what you see in punk these days.

But then you got a bunch of people ripping that sound off, which gets boring fast.

Well, it's like if a musician can go out and make a living I can't really fault them, 'cause I know how tough it is. But I think that kind of originality or verve or spark or real rebellion that was there for the most part is not there in a lot of the newer bands. This is not to say they shouldn't go out and play this music, but with some of the bands it's definitely a little bit of prefab rebellion.

You've also just put out reissues of your first albums, 'Something Better Change' and 'Hardcore '81,' which are both legendary at this point. Listening to them now, I hear some influences I never heard before. Like, the Clash wasn't hardcore per se, but I hear a lot more Clash now on 'Something Better Change.' Were they a big influence?

Yeah. I grew up listening to Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath, and on the lyrical side a lot of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. but when we got going in punk rock, we played with the Clash in 1979, and that was a big, big thrill for us. We definitely got influences out of them; they had a lot of politics, so that's there. The melodies we use are kind of different, but there's something there that's kind of close.

One issue the Clash seemed to have trouble with was that they were passionately anti-militaristic, but also deep into the tough posturing of punk. D.O.A. also balances antiwar songs like 'Warmonger' with violent imagery in songs like 'Dead Men Tell No Tales,' though you put a lot more humor into it. Do you ever have trouble reconciling these two seemingly contradictory aspects of punk culture?

There's always been kind of a dangerous aspect to punk that's partly what made it punk rock, I suppose. We definitely walk that line--you want people to go crazy at shows, that's part of the thing. The anti-militarist stance, that's an important thing, too. We're in a funny sort of philosophical time for people you might think were on the left, in the post-Sept. 11 period we're in. Saddam Hussein doesn't deserve to be a dogcatcher, never mind running a country of 20 million people. But there's a better way to change governments--a people's revolution, that's the kind of thing to foment. There's a lot of consequences throughout the world if George Bush went in and said "OK, now we're going to take over Iraq." It's just not that simple. You know how it was relatively easy in Kosovo and a few other places recently--short wars. I don't think this one would be that short, and the consequences in the Arab world would spiral for many years.

Do you think you've got another 25 years of D.O.A. in you?

We could probably keep playing for a number of years, and we may do, I'm not sure. But when you go to a town, you have to approach it like, "This could be the last time I ever play in this town." I've been down to the Santa Cruz area 10, 12, 13 times, I can't even remember. But you have to put that vitality into it, rather than approach it with a workmanlike, punch-the-clock-type attitude. People were attracted to the thing in the first place because it had a lot of passion in it, a lot of feeling. You've got to try to put that into every show. That's the key thing.

D.O.A. performs Friday, Nov. 22, at the Aptos Club, 7941 Soquel Dr., Aptos; 831.688.9888.

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From the November 20-27, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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