D.O.A. leader Joe “Shithead” Keithley is known for his driving work ethic. “I’m a pretty hard-working guy,” he tells the Straight in a phone interview. “My dad was a workaholic and a fanatic. Like, when I was a kid, all the other kids would go out and have fun on the weekend, and I was working around the house building cement walls. It’s not that I didn’t have a childhood, but that work ethic, he really put it into me, whether I wanted to absorb it or not.”
Keithley’s high expectations have meant more than a few lineup changes during D.O.A.’s 30-year history, for which he makes no apology. James Hayden, D.O.A.’s newest drummer, “gave me this new handle”, Keithley says. “ ”˜Yeah, Shithead, he’s the Tony Soprano of punk rock.’ I just laughed, right? I don’t see myself being quite as brutal as Tony Soprano, but I guess if you’re not going to get the job done the way I think it should be done, then it ain’t happening anymore, type thing.”
The latest change may come as a shock to some, however: original bassist Randy Rampage, who has played “around 100 shows” since rejoining D.O.A. in 2005, will not be appearing at the Commodore Ballroom show Friday (September 19) to mark not only the band’s 30th anniversary but also Northern Avenger, its 12th studio album and 44th release total.
Rampage tries to sound casual about the situation when the Straight calls him. “At this time, I can’t go too deep into it. The new album sounds great, and I’m ready to play, but I can’t get into more detail right now. Let fans, followers, and friends know that I’m sorry I won’t be at the show.”
“I don’t know what’s the best way to say it,” an uncharacteristically soft-spoken Keithley tells me. “I agree that at times him and I had great chemistry on-stage, and he’s a great guy—I really like him a lot. He’s got a heart of gold and when he’s on his game, he’s topnotch. And the record’s really good, so that’s something he can be proud of all his life. But it just wasn’t working, personality-wise, between the two of us. I think that’s probably the best thing to say. It’s the third time around with him in D.O.A. And it’s going to be the last.”
Another big change for D.O.A. is the presence of star producer Bob Rock at the helm of Northern Avenger. “It came up because of the film that Susanne Tabata is working on about the early Vancouver punk scene. Bob agreed to work on the soundtrack to that, because they’re taking old recordings and trying to revitalize them. I was helping with the film, too, and there was somebody from some newspaper going, ”˜How come you never produced a D.O.A. album before?’ And Bob went, ”˜Well, they never asked me.’ And he did it in a pretty droll type way, right? So it’s funny the way it came out, and I thought, ”˜Boy, Bob would be great to produce the record—the guy’s got a terrific ear, and it’d just make for a really tough-sounding record.’ ”
The album was coproduced by Jamey Koch, who worked with Rock on the Tragically Hip’s 2006 release World Container and produced Copyright’s last two albums—and who has his own history in Vancouver punk. “He was, I think, the original bass player in the Bludgeoned Pigs,” Keithley says. “He was about 16, and they opened for D.O.A. at the Buddha. He said it was just completely frightening, the crowd hanging out there and the whole scene. It’s like, ”˜Holy fuck, these people are weird,’ right?”
The hardcore pioneer knows that, for some, the decision to work with Rock will be controversial. “Bob’s a great guy and he’s one of the best producers in the world. But you know what? I don’t like all the bands he’s worked with.”¦Like, I’m not a Mí¶tley Crí¼e fan, and I can’t stand Bon Jovi. Guys like that were the antithesis of punk rock, if you ask me.” As for Metallica, which Keithley does like: “I know that there’s grumbling. I’ve heard all sorts of fans going, ”˜Oh, no—arrrgh—Bob!’ Y’know? But I don’t really care.”
Keithley says his favourite track on the new album is “Human Bomb”, a catchy piece that opens the disc on an almost radio-friendly note. (It is not, Keithley says, about suicide bombers, but “getting justice”.) Like “Police Brutality”—the most overtly political and aggressive track on the album—it will be no surprise to fans of classic D.O.A. Less typical are the album’s venture into ska; “Poor Poor Boy”, an uptempo sketch of life in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; and the muscular “Set Them Free”, one of the tracks Rock and Koch reworked. “They added on the whole beginning, which we didn’t think of at all—it’s got that kind of dub start,” Keithley explains. “It was my idea where to bring in the horns and the keyboards.”
As for Rampage’s departure, Keithley concedes that some fans will be disappointed. “Randy is a good guy,” he says. “I never thought otherwise. I guess we never would have gone through this three times if I had.” Former D.O.A. bassist Dan Yaremko—last seen playing at the 2005 gig where he graciously stepped aside to let Rampage take the stage—will be back on bass at the Commodore. He’s played a half-dozen gigs with D.O.A. since his return, and will be joining the band on a tour of China in January. For his part, Keithley promises fans coming to concerts that “they are in for a great show by one of Canada’s best bands.”
D.O.A. plays the Commodore Ballroom on Friday (September 19).