Chainsaw-wielding punk rockers for peace

For a couple of generations of punk rockers now, D.O.A. has been the best thing to come out of Canada since gravy on French fries.

In the underground scene, one often hears banter of “old school” versus “new school.” But since 1978, when the band pressed its first EP, Disco Sucks (which was later re-released in the eighties with the updated title, New Wave Sucks), D.O.A. have been slapping down the very bricks and mortar of the school with blasting guitar licks and political lyrics that take aim at war-mongering politicians and environmental destruction.

Before D.O.A., the band was called the Stoned Crazies, which singer/guitarist Joe Keithly (a.k.a. Joey Shithead) said scared the Vancouver, BC locals just a bit. They arrived right on the heels of pioneering punk bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, playing in Vancouver’s legion halls and seedy bars before there was even an alternative scene to speak of.

Like any good punk band, D.O.A. has done its fair share of urinating on crowds and getting strangled into unconsciousness by police who raided the punk nightclubs. Keithly said in an interview with Exclaim! that he started the band because “It sure looked like a lot of fun, raising hell…it was rebellion, it was disturbing.”

But it’s never been just about belligerent rabble-rousing. Unlike a number of other punk rock outfits, D.O.A. goes beyond the aggressive, sweaty brutality of a hockey game. They sing about politics, which is fairly common to the genre, but they also live their politics. D.O.A. has played hundreds of concerts for activist causes, including a recent show in Vancouver dubbed “A Night for the Environment,” in which they played with Bryan Adams.

They’ve also released a fistful of benefit singles, most recently a cover of Terry Jacks’ 1969 hit, “Where Evil Grows,” with proceeds going to Jacks’ Environmental Watch Group. Walking the walk, the band’s not-too-subtle slogan is “Talk–Action=0.”

Despite his anarchist ideals, Keithly ran on the Green Party ticket for British Columbia’s provincial parliament in both 1996 and 2001. He also ran for Burnaby City Council and wielded a chainsaw at the debates as an indictment of the profit-driven mayhem of clear-cutting old-growth forests. “I don’t have any intention of running in electoral politics again,” Keithly says. “I can do more with my guitar.” Nonetheless, D.O.A. has reportedly worked the chainsaw and the accompanying pro-environment song, “Unchained Melody” back into the set for their current tour. A chainsaw on stage is not only a not-so-subtle attention-grabber, it also “realizes the musical ‘timber’ of heavy industry, and materializes the grinding mechanical distortion of heavy metal guitars in a new way.”

Interestingly, the members of D.O.A. strongly identify with political musicians of yesteryear like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, who struggled for the rights of unions and the poor. Keithly says that musicians have great power to not only spread ideas, but also to bring about real political change, and incite some modern form of a peasant revolt. “If an actor can become president of the United States,” Keithly says, “then musicians can surely become cultural politicians.”

D.O.A. plays Thursday, June 14 at Jay’s Upstairs with Disgruntled Nation and Gunnar. 10 PM.

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