D.O.A.'s Joey Keithley Talks Hamilton Protest Shows, #ImagineOct20th, Activating Youth And Pipeline Fever
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Joe Keithley's long time motto has been "talk-action=zero" and it's clear the politically-inclined 59-year-old leader of first generation punk band D.O.A. has no intention of being on the nothing side of that equation any time soon.
Not only is the hardcore musician touching down in Toronto this weekend for a performance at the high-profile Riotfest festival, D.O.A. will also follow in the footsteps of protest singers of yore Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger by performing a show on Sept. 17 at the MANA Steel Plant in Hamilton, Ontario to support the Steelworkers Local #1005 union in their two-year long strike over proposed pay cuts.
On top of the protest-rocking, Keithley's also in campaign mode. He's aiming to run in the upcoming provincial by-election for British Columbia's Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding as a member of the Green Party.
Keithley, whose band's 18th studio album Hard Rain Falling came out in June, spoke to Samaritanmag about all these things as well as the progressive #ImagineOct20th movement, motivating young people and the band's sly new confrontational music video "Pipeline Fever."
Let's start with something that's going to happen close to us here in Toronto. You're going to be performing a show for striking steelworkers in Hamilton, correct?
Yeah, for the Steelworkers Local 1005. I think they've been on strike for two years. I've been a union member for 30 years, the musician's union, and D.O.A.'s always done picket line action-type of event so I thought it was a perfect fit. People need to make a living, a lot of these guys probably have families and houses and if you ask them to take a $10 an hour pay cut that's pretty horrendous. And I'm also the guy who wrote the song "General Strike" so this fits right in.
How's it going to work? Are you going to be playing when the plant's scab workforce gets off from their shift?
The shift change is at 2:30 p.m. so I would imagine it probably takes 10 to 20 minutes to exit. So that's when we'll strike up the band. Something like this, two years, it's outrageous. It's a negotiation, like everything in life you're not going to get everything you want, but you've got to meet people halfway. And I don't know if they're meeting them halfway.
The other thing too is it's also the place where Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger played there in 1946, so I'm kind of thrilled with that because those are two of my idols.
Playing a show for a union brings up an interesting point. Nowadays lots of people equate unions with that transit or garbage strike that's inconveniencing them, or as the people defending that one horrible employee at work who deserves to be fired. What's the flipside to that?
The way it's piled on, especially the last point you made, there's truth to that for sure. But the flipside is if it wasn't for unions we would still be working 12 hour days. That's one. There'd still be way more industrial and construction accidents. You can see on non-union industrial construction sites the safety records are poorer than unionized sites. I think that's pretty obvious and there's not a lot of care taken in it. Having two 15 minute breaks, a lunch break and an eight hour day and a reasonable way to make a living, that's all built on the backs of the early union movement in North America.
We also need to find a way to get non-unionized people's wages up to a living wage. I think this is really important, too. Because you have one-third of the people or one-quarter of the people are getting a decent wage from the union. And you have seniors and people that are getting some help from society. But then you have the other 50 per cent of the population, some of them may be rich, but most of them are working for less than union wages. So we have to find a way to get a living wage within this country.
How did you come up with the idea for the "Pipeline Fever" video?
I grew up in Burnaby and that's the terminus for the Kinder-Morgan pipeline and literally a block and a half from my house we used to go to what was called the TransMountain Line Storage Area. They never had the gates locked and we would go there and they would have a big pond that would freeze over in the winter that we would skate on, they had a watering hole that teenagers would use as a swimming place in the summer up the mountain and it was a really friendly-type place.
It became a really unfriendly place since Kinder-Morgan took over and especially since they wanted to triple the capacity of the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. So I saw protesters getting arrested up there, as they do, and I was concerned about this obviously. Then they tried to use this lawsuit against five different people. It was outrageous, they took five different individuals and hit them with $5.5 million lawsuits each.
So it's obviously something that's just a way of making people afraid to protest, which is really not democratic. Let's just say it's an erosion of democracy in this country for a bunch of different reasons. Anyway, so I went up there and I played at the protests, I took my acoustic guitar and I joined in and stuff like that. I'm well known in my hometown so I was hoping I could give some support. So long story short I thought we gotta make a video of this. So my buddy Marcus [Rogers] the videographer said come on down in your suits. So I go to my bandmates "show up in your suits"...
Did they actually have suits?
They didn't have suits. I had a suit — you need a suit for business, weddings and funerals — so you can see our drummer Paddy [Duddy], he looks like Wavy Gravy from the '60s with that clowny jacket, it looks kinda funny with us spoofing the news guys. And we did it, I think it looks great.
You've been very pointed in your criticism of oil and the pipelines. But what do you say to some guy who moves from Newfoundland to Fort McMurray and all he wants to do is make money to feed his kids back home. How do you tell that guy his job is crap?
You have to square that because the last thing I want to do, personally or with my participation with the Green Party, is take food off people's tables. That's the wrong way around it. That being said, the oil's being extracted, it's being sold, it's being used. I drive around in a car. I'm about to catch an airplane to Toronto in five hours that's using a lot of fuel, so I'm part and party to this, too, I realize that. The governments have to open it up — because the companies won't — get people working in green technology. We're also talking geothermal here in B.C., wind power, solar panels... I was in Germany this past summer and it's unbelievable how many solar panels they have.
I'm not saying that every oil worker is going to get a job making solar panels and installing them on top of Farmer Jones' barn, but we have to turn the ship around, the ship is facing the wrong way. Going down the channel and it's going to sink if going to continue down this path. So I think through municipal, provincial and federal. Try and foment clean technology and renewable resources and get jobs out of it. Because there will be jobs out of it and they'll last longer.
Being a touring musician by definition you use a lot of gas and such. There's a Father John Misty called "Now I'm Learning To Love The War" where he sings about all the vinyl records pressed in his name and how it probably makes him part of the problem. How do you reconcile with your culpability in all this?
Well, around town one practical thing I do is I work out of my house, that's where I run the [Sudden Death] record company from. When I have to drive I do all my errands on one day. So I don't make multiple trips clogging up the road and using more gas. If there's a practical way to save energy around the house we'll try to find it. Everybody's got to make a little dent in the system. For example, this past summer here in B.C. we had the driest summer on record for I think 110 years. So we had water restrictions. And what we did in B.C. with water consumption everyone stopped watering their lawns and the water level maintained.
It's kind of like the philosophy that I've always had in D.O.A. and that's that real change starts right in your neighbourhood. And when that takes effect in your neighbourhood it goes across your town. And when it goes across your town it then goes across the province, then it goes across the country. If it's a good idea and it takes off, people will go, "Oh yeah, that wasn't that hard."
Let's move on to the upcoming Canadian federal election. Have you paid attention to the #ImagineOct20th movement at all? People like Dan Mangan and Feist doing 'Anybody But Harper'-style concerts. It's good to see high-profile people like them active, but they're musicians of a certain age. Why don't we see young acts doing this? Why doesn't someone like Justin Bieber get political?
I did hear about that the other day. It's a funny thing 'cause I think of how I fell into this and a lot of people in the same scene in hardcore, punk rock and new wave, we were politicized really early on. We had a really small scene. Black Flag would show up and a hundred people would show up to see them. Now people would kill to see them or the Dead Kennedys. But if there were 200 people it'd be, "Wow, there are 200 people here tonight." It was a really small thing. But it was just solidarity with what's going on politically. It's just a different generation. I mean, I grew up and got into politics by joining a Greenpeace protest against nuclear proliferation when I was 16 or 17. In Grade 11 in high school and a lot of people, that was the tail end trail of the '60s, '70s anti-war Vietnam thing. I think a lot of people within the punk movement felt you got to get out there and protest. And I think that's kind of died off.
The younger people of my era, it took like the Vietnam war and Nixon and the arms race between the Soviets and America and the civil rights movement to mobilize people. But right now a lot of horrible things are going on. ISIS is going on, we got a massive migrant crisis in Europe, things are not good, drastic weather change, any number of wars still going on around the world — it would be nice to see people energized by that. I don't quite know what the answer is, but hats off to all the artists that are playing that get it. Hopefully they'll inspire young people.
And on to more local politics, being here in Toronto I don't really know what the important issues are in the upcoming by-election you're part of. What do you feel are some of the key issues?
One thing we want to push is free tuition for all students. We don't want people excluded from post-secondary education because they're disadvantaged economically. This is a big thing. We want to stop the pipelines and turn Canada towards renewable energy and green technology. We want to, one of the things I push is helping small businesses. They probably think every party says that these days. And one of the things particular to my area and this would apply in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, I want to speed up the accreditation of immigrants who have skills. Because I run into an awful lot of people in my riding, a mix of people from Europe, but also a significant amount of people from Iran, China and Korea, and I found an awful lot of doctors and mathematicians and teachers that were working at Starbucks or driving taxis. Nothing wrong with driving a taxi, I've done that, and nothing wrong with working at Starbucks, so that's a job and a job is a good thing, but if you taught math in Iran, well, doesn't math work the same way all over the world? This is the argument.
Numerous studies have shown that strong ideals, strong moralizing actually turns people off. It's "do you think you're better than me?" How do you promote good knowing that?
I totally agree to be a moralizer and being sanctimonious and telling people what to do is probably one of the worst things you can do so I hope I'm not doing that today.
'Cause one of the things about D.O.A. is we're always trying to say things about what's going on in the world, what's right, what's wrong, but trying to do it in a fun way, too. And that's why I think the band is still intriguing to people and still has a following rather than being like an oldy moldy type selection, which is what a lot of acts turn into. You got to approach things with humour right... that's part of my mantra I suppose.
To see D.O.A.'s current tour dates go here.
Watch "Pipeline Fever"
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