Hardcore punk has an anniversary
Joey Shithead interview by Peter Crigler
What more needs to be said about Joey Shithead and D.O.A.? Hardcore legends; Canadian icons and still going strong with an altered line-up all these years later. In 2022, Joey and the band hit the road to celebrate the belated 40th anniversary of their landmark Hardcore '81 album. Joey also managed to squeeze in his political aspirations into his already busy schedule. We at PSF were very lucky to be able to Zoom with him and talk about the band, the album, the state of hardcore and Canadian politics, even his dearly departed bandmates, including original members bassist Randy Rampage and drummer Chuck Biscuits.
PSF: So first thing I want to ask you is how's the current tour going?
JS: Good. We did a dozen shows down the West Coast, the United States, like Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. It went great- good mix of people from young to old, as you'd expect, 20 to 65 or whatever. So, in 2021, we probably did a total of 50-80 shows, obviously cut back by COVID. These shows on the West Coast were the first real tour that we have been on since then. And we have another 23 shows in Canada between now and then. So not too busy. We're going back. We're supposed to go to Europe. People are asking what's going on to the East Coast, and we'll be going back to the US, to Philly, Boston, New York, that kind of thing once July is over, I'm in a reelection campaign. So that's the priority there.
PSF: Could you talk about your career in politics then?
JS: Yeah, I got interested in politics when I was 18. I went to university [University of British Columbia] to become like a Civil Rights lawyer. That lasted about four months and I ended up in a punk rock band. Never became a lawyer. But later on, maybe like 20 years later, somebody asked me to run for the Green Party in BC [British Columbia] and I said to them, "you know who you're talking to? You're talking to Joey Shithead. I ain't gonna run for no party." And then about two weeks later, I thought "well that might be fun." I came in 4th out of six candidates, got about 500 votes. I ran another four times, provincially or civically, and then my sixth time in 2018, I got elected. So it's been good. Lots of fun, really. Working hard on housing is the big issue. Like pretty much everywhere, nobody can afford it. There's not enough of it. And I'm also the chair of the city's Environment Committee. So I do a lot of stuff with that, trying to make our town a more green and sustainable place.
PSF: That's excellent. I'm just curious how, if anything, have your political views changed over the years?
JS: I guess I'm not the firebrand I once was. D.O.A.'s politics were more on the flame-thrower side of things. The motivations are still the same. I'm approaching the job as counselor in Burnaby as…I try to approach the same ideals I would with D.O.A. And the reason I didn't really get involved because people always said, "well, Joe, you're kind of a cultural politician," some magazines said that. Okay, never really thought about it. And then I took the steps and became a formal politician. And I think that you just have to stick to your ideals and not change up because somebody doesn't agree with you or somebody tries to pressure you to do the wrong thing. I mean, it really becomes 'do the right thing,' just like the movie title. It's really kind of the bottom line. And you've got to stick with whatever you believe in.
And I think one of the things about politicians, when they started out civically, not all, but I think the majority of them and I'm not talking about their political strike, I think they start out with the idea that they want to do something good for their town. You may not agree with everything they come up with, but I think when they get to senior levels of government, like state, federal, they kind of forget that and they know there's no special interests and stuff like that. I try to encourage people that are different, like me, to run because I think you need somebody besides either lawyers or people with political science degrees. I'm not saying those people shouldn't run, but they're overrepresented already, if you know what I mean.
PSF: What do you think in general about the political situation in Canada right now?
JS: Canada is miles than the United States, but we are really influenced by the USA. That always happens. I mean, you're like our neighbor and our best friend, that kind of thing. The majority of people are, I would say, in the center or maybe just slightly to the left. And you do have a fairly strong and upcoming kind of right-wing contingency. You probably heard about the freedom convoy in Ottawa, with the truckers or the so-called 'freedom convoy.' That's not what they're representing. And it turned out a lot of their funding came from right-wing U.S. groups- that wasn't a surprise at all. Some people were shocked. Don't think that they see an opportunity. They try and exploit that. Of course they do. That's the nature of their game. But Canada is like a fairly tolerant country, although definitely we have a horrible track record with our First Nations [indigenous] people because we tried to not be, but the Catholic Church put them in the residential schools and tried to make them not Indians. That's a miserable failure and a lot of tragedy. So we do have a fair amount of racism that we're trying to overcome, as in every country. I would say it's not isolated to one or two, that's for sure.
PSF: Did you ever think you'd be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Hardcore 81 now?
JS: No. Back in the day that was so unlikely. My old friend Tim Yohannan, God rest his soul, he used to do Maximum Rocknroll. Obviously, we're doing the show, I think it was Bad Brains, us and maybe GBH at this big place in Oakland. And he came up to me and said, "well, Joe, D.O.A. has been going for five years now. Guys are really a bunch of old farts, you should really retire." He was a great guy but always cynical. I never thought we last like two years. We're, like so crazy. So unorganized. So unorthodox. I mean, Chuck was 15,. Randy was 17 and I was 21 and we snuck across the border told them we're going shopping. For our first show at Mabuhay Gardens [San Francisco], Dirk Dirksen [promoter/MC], God rest his soul, was three and I took a train, Chuck and Randy took a Greyhound at Brad our guitar player hitchhiked on side of I-5- he had a Les Paul, no case, just a Les Paul. When I got to the Mabuhay, Dirk said, "Where's your gear?" And I said, "well, we didn't bring it." He goes, "let me ask you a question. Are all you Canadians this fucking stupid?" I made friends with Will [Shatter] from Flipper. We cut the stuff over to the Mabuhay and then we made friends with the Avengers. Great friends with Jello [Biafra] and a whole bunch of other people and they started up a long, good relationship.
PSF: Since you were bringing up Dave and Randy, what do you remember the most about both of them?
JS: Yeah. Randy when he was born, they broke the mold. That guy was unique. Great entertainer, really funny, generous guy. That was funny because I tried him. I was a drummer and he was okay. And I found Chuck, who was terrific, obviously. And I grew up as a drummer playing twelve to 18 years old and I switched to guitar, Randy played. So I found Chuck. And then I thought with Randy, "I can teach this guy how to play bass, right?" He had this happen. I said, "Randy, don't do this at a show." He couldn't remember how the song went. So before we start the song, he started quite a couple of the riffs to remind him how it went. And I said, "you're giving the whole fucking song away, right?" Eventually, he got it. And then when we did, I got Hardcore 81 remastered, put together. I listened to it. Sometimes you do records, you don't listen to it for a really long time because you kind of like, "oh, how many times can I listen to this thing?" And I listened to it. I was like, "Jesus is his bass playing ever good!" In three years, he transformed from not knowing anything to become quite an accomplished bass player. He was back in the band a few times. He was a little hard. He had a few demons; I said to him, "Randy, I'm not Mick Jagger, you're not Keith Richards. And I don't have the money to hire a full time minder to keep you going, right." Dave Gregg was really interesting because he grew up as his parents were Quakers. And it's straight, believe it or not, right? And he would always say to us when we were talking about like, what kind of song, what's the set list, what should the next record be like? He says, "well, the Quakers, they get consensus, they don't do anything 'til everybody agrees." And we all listened to this and then we just burst out laughing. Dave was with us for eight years. Terrific guitar player, great guy.
PSF: What do you think of the current state of punk rock and hardcore music?
JS: Yeah, I saw the kids have a really good spirit. The underground stuff is still really political, which is like where it started up. It's not really big. I mean, you have bigger and then you have other stuff. Do you still call Green Day a punk band? I got loads of respect for them; terrific songwriter obviously. Blink-182 is starting to play again, right? And that's the same stuff that my daughter, she's 30, she was listening to when she said to me that she was into bands like Alkaline Trio, Blink-182. She said to me, "Dad, D.O.A. would be cool, except you're in it." When we came up with the expression 'hardcore,' I remember put it on the record and it made it popularized. Whatever the story is, we thought it [hardcore] just made the music into a thing that was hard working, uncompromised, straight up punk rock. Because previous to that, most of the people on the West Coast had tried to imitate what was going on in London or New York. And then when this came along because there was some interview in a magazine and I said, "oh, yeah, we're one of the only five or six hardcore bands around." And some people said, "oh, that's the first time I've heard that expression." I don't know if that's true, but we did see a magazine in San Francisco said there's a new type of punk rock called 'Hardcore.' And it included like Black Flag, D.O.A., I think the DK's obviously, right. It named about a half dozen bands. And we thought, "okay, this is like its own new brand of a root of a different type of punk rock." As opposed to the New York style or the various styles in London. Hardcore transitioned into something really completely different. Still got its roots in punk and loud and heavy. But it definitely took on metal in 1986. To me, I kind of blame that on Lemmy because all these punks and metal heads started listening to Motorhead and went like, "no, there's an amalgamation of the two." In that way they kind of influenced almost more bands than almost any bands around if you ask me. They're just scooting the Stones or the Beatles or whatever type of thing. Like Agnostic Front; it was great. To me, that kind of sound is what hardcore is now. But hardcore punk, that makes it a little different.
PSF: Over the years, have you noticed any differences back then and now between the Canadian and the US punk audiences?
JS: No, not really. I think the craziest places to play, where the pit was out of control in the early days, was Orange County, San Diego and Boston. And that was like just we've seen lots but we haven't seen that 'til we got there. Even unconsciously, just like they heard about what was going on here. But we're going to step it up a notch right now. You have stuff now where there's even more violent pits if you get like... I saw this band called Broken Bones from England and did quite a show before us at this festival in Belgium a few years back- they had guys getting carried out. There was just dislocated shoulders going. I thought the idea was "let's have some fun." But as my friend John Elliot from London says, "well, Joey, the reason why older punks don't go in the pit anymore, they just do spoken word. It's a lot safer."
PSF: So what's next for your Sudden Death label? And how does it feel to have such a long-running label?
JS: We almost capsized quite a few times. We struggled with the record distribution between 2006 around then when CD's just started dying, which was the bread and butter for distributors. Big labels, small labels, right? We had a bunch of distributors who just went bankrupt. And then we get letters going like, "oh, yeah, you're entitled to line up and get somebody, a creditor after the bank has got all the money back that they own the company." Okay. It could take like three years and like we'll get $10 type of thing. The banks always get theirs. That's just how society has always been.
I guess I've gotten so focused being a counselor now that I haven't really signed like a lot of new bands lately. I started it out as a way to distribute D.O.A. stuff. It still is doing really good at that. We're reissuing Pointed Sticks, Waiting for the Real Thing, which is compilation of their singles from those guys, like punk guys from Vancouver who were friends of mine. So that's coming out and yeah, doing pretty good. Next year I'll have a solo record kind of thing. Not political but not loud and brash like D.O.A..
All I have time for now is the label, right? Like I'm still intent on playing music. My big inspiration here is Pete Seger. I had the great fortune to play with him twice. The second time I met him, he was so kind to say that he even remembered me, twelve years later. Because I think a guy like him, he stood up for civil rights, he stood up for all sorts of great causes. Anti-war guy. When folk music was dying, he revitalized folk music. He played banjo on instructional videos. Still chopping wood on his farm basically until the day he died at 93. If I could do ten percent of what Pete Seeger did, I'd call that a pretty good career.
PSF: Now you're talking about your own plans for the label and for your solo stuff. But what about D.O.A. though? Any kind of plans after the tour thing?
JS: We're working on a documentary. I work with Scott Crawford, he's a filmmaker. He did Salad Days and the one about Creem Magazine, he's the director. Then Paul Rachman, who did American Hardcore, is the producer. So it's a doc. It's more about me transitioning into politics than it is about D.O.A., even though they're really interesting and there's a lot of bands. Great docs were made. Well, there's also a million of them, too, right? Like 15-20 years ago, it was unique to see a music doc about a band that was gigantic type thing. So that will be out in 2023. Because they have to film the election that's coming up this fall, that's October 15, election date. So that footage is obviously going to flesh out the film. So once that's out, then we would go on an extensive tour all over the place, supporting the film and all that. And I would think at that point, I'll sit down, start writing some D.O.A. songs. I kind of put that aside right now. Just like too busy, starting tour again. But I haven't forgotten how to do it. We'll see if the songs are any good. I don't see any reason why we would stop. And people still seem to enjoy ot. So I always say people go, "Joe, how long ago you gonna go?" Well, one of these days, I'll get to a venue, unpack my guitar and zero people show up and I'll go, "well, I had a pretty good run, but it's over."
PSF: All right, so one last question. I probably should have led with this, but what the hell? Where did the name Shithead come from?
JS: Okay, that's the funniest story. We're all about 19, these old guys I went to elementary school and high school with. So Dimwit [Ken Montgomery] , rest his soul; Wimpy [Brian Goble], rest his soul, unfortunately. And Jerry Hannah of the Subhumans. And Brad Kent, rest his soul. A lot of my old bandmates aren't around, obviously. But the Vinyls went up and got hired at a hotel to play this weekend thing as a commercial rock pathway like Steve Miller. You're talking about '75-'76. We went up there and the guy who ran the bar fired us after one night, ripped us off. We were supposed to play three nights, we drive back to Vancouver. It's like 300 miles away. And we stopped and we sort of reflected on our great rock and roll career, which consisted of two shows by this point. And we said, "I don't think this rock and rolls cracked up to be. Why don't we start a punk rock band?" That was Dimwit. He said, "I got an idea for name. We'll call it Joey Shithead and the Marching Morons." The name came from there, said that there's two bands called the Marching Morons, but we never did adopt it. But the Shithead went on.
The funniest thing about that... We've got an awful lot of press because we were the third punk rock band in the Vancouver area. But we got notoriety quickly. There'd be articles in the newspaper. And my mother read the whole thing with D.O.A.. And then she gets to see... And then Joey, before she wouldn't say 'Shithead.' She pulled the paper down and look at me and said, "I don't know why you don't use your real name; I don't understand."
PSF: Where was it where you guys played the two shows?
JS: It was up at Merritt, B.C. Subsequently renamed it 'Demerit.' They had a baseball tournament that weekend. The owner said, "I'm doing you a favor by firing you- you'll get fucking killed this weekend." And after that, these guys came up, three huge guys and went "turn it down or we'll tear it down." And I started arguing with them. At the end of the set, I said to the audience, "the problem with you people is you don't have the balls to except this kind of music."
PSF: That's a great story. That's quite a debut.
JS: That was our initiation to rock and roll.
D.O.A. 2020; photo by Colin Smith
See the website for D.O.A.'s label, Sudden Death
And see Peter Crigler's website
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