Punk and Politics, P2: The Joe Keithley Interview
Legendary Hardcore-Punk Rocker and Activist Talks Shop in lead-up to WinterBlast 2019
By Ferdy Belland
“I’ve taken the same approach to politics as I do with Punk Rock,” says Burnaby’s favourite son Joe Keithley. “Talk minus action equals zero. You’ve got to get up there and kick ass and change the world. I’m just trying to find a way to get both done. Needless to say, that adds up to – I’m pretty busy!”
Busy indeed – and that busyness will take him and his plucky bandmates Mike Hodsall (bass) and Paddy Duddy (drums) to the creaking planks of the Cranbrook Hotel Pub on Saturday, December 7 as the main headliners for WinterBlast 2019 (also featuring Crooked Line and Zero People)!
Joe Keithley has enjoyed a long, highly-praised musical career spanning over four decades, which has seen him make international headlines worldwide not only as singer-guitarist-songwriter-grand-poobah of Vancouver’s ground-breaking hardcore-punk icons D.O.A., but also CEO of his own label Sudden Death Records (responsible for the ongoing resurrection of many first-generation Vancouver punk artists).
Keithley’s long-time political activism naturally progressed into public service on the Metro Vancouver political front; now a high-profile member of the British Columbia Green Party, he also now sits on city council in his beloved hometown of Burnaby.
“Mayor Mike Hurley and I have actually played three shows together,” says Keithley. “For non-profit organizations and such, and the other folks on Burnaby City Council are all good with my other life – they’re more intrigued, than anything else, about my adventures with D.O.A.”
D.O.A.’s adventures never seem to quit, and despite the pressures of his high-profile political priorities, Keithley still finds time to slip on the tattered sleeveless denim jacket (with all the worn-out patches), as well as his trademark beat-to-smithereens Gibson SG guitar (with all the worn-out stickers).
As of 2019, D.O.A. has clocked in 20 album releases, performed several thousand live shows around the world, and has everyone from Swaziland to Switzerland wearing a Talk – Action = Zero T-shirt. And in these hyper-political times, the world needs raucous punk bands like D.O.A. more than ever.
“World domination is always D.O.A.’s ambition!” laughs Keithley sarcastically. “We try to put that together every spring! We’re aiming to tour Europe again next summer, perhaps with some Canadian dates as well – it’s all in the works! And we’re aiming to play a string of American shows in fall 2020, to coincide with their big presidential election…where hopefully we’ll speed up the political demise of one Donald J. Trump! We’re working on new recordings early in the new year, and so when a new album comes about we’ll announce it on our own time.”
Although D.O.A. made a strong and highly-respected name for themselves as being the most politically-motivated Canadian punk band (playing over 300 benefit gigs over the years), Keithley’s mainstream political career began in earnest in the mid-1990s, hitching his philosophical wagon to the Green Party.
In 2001, Keithley received the highest percentage of the vote next to then-party leader Adriane Carr. In the 2017 B.C. Provincial Elections, Keithley ran in his riding of Burnaby-Lougheed and won nearly 14% of the votes (coming in third of five candidates) and was finally elected to Burnaby City Council in 2018.
Keithley makes absolutely no effort to mask or hide his punk rock colours, even if he doesn’t wear a chain-laden leather jacket to council meetings; he is taken seriously by his colleagues regardless of his scruffy past. His frank, blunt nature remains when discussing the results of the recent Canadian federal election.
“I figured Justin Trudeau would remain as Prime Minister,” says Keithley. “Of course, I was disappointed that the Greens didn’t do better, especially on Vancouver Island. I was hoping we would get six or seven seats. But all in all I don’t think it’s a bad compromise in that sense – the NDP doesn’t have the hammer, but they’ve got an opportunity to make sure the Liberals accomplish some socially progressive things. And of course, there’ll be some input from the Greens! So all in all it’s an interesting result. I wouldn’t call the results surprising, though.”
Keithley was asked how the partnership between the New Democratic Party and the Green Party remains in place.
“I don’t like the term ‘coalition’ when discussing the relationship between the NDP and the Greens,” says Keithley. “But we’re working very well together in Victoria, and they’re passing some progressive things, which is always good. I believe the Greens need to keep pressuring the NDP on the climate change issues. That’s on the top of the mind of the majority of people in British Columbia – especially in Metro Vancouver.”
The conversation swings back to the task at hand – WinterBlast 2019, and the sweat-splashing, ear-splitting ruckus the event promises.
“Of course we’re looking forward to rocking out one last time in Cranbrook before life takes us all elsewhere,” says Keithley. “Who knows if we’ll ever be back?”
When told that Kootenay East MLA (and former Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret audience member) Tom Shypitka would be Master of Ceremonies at WinterBlast 2019, a warm, fond smile creases Keithley’s face. Would there be any tension, given Keithley’s allegiance to the Greens and Shypitka’s allegiance to the BC Liberals?
Keithley shrugs. “Tommy’s a good guy. The party doesn’t make the person.”
Vancouver’s hardcore-punk legends D.O.A. kick it out loud and proud at WinterBlast 2019 (Saturday, December 7, Cranbrook Hotel Pub), along with guests Zero People and Crooked Line. Admission: $20 Advance, $25 Door (doors open 7:30 p.m.). Advance tickets available: Huckleberry Books (Downtown Cranbrook), Ray’s Music (Marysville Strip), Sprout Health Market (Kimberley Platzl).
See You There! Don’t Miss Out!