Punk Rock Confidential (Hopeless)
An interview with Joe Queer
by Scott Hefflon
Your new record (and the Everything’s O.K. EP) is on Hopeless, not Lookout!. Is your deal with Lookout! completely finished?
No, I had to agree to put together a compilation of old Queers stuff – old demos and weird shit laying around.
Do you have a lot of old unreleased stuff?
No, most of it’s been released. Just alternate takes and shit like that. We’re calling it Later Days and Better Lays.
There was another Queers compilation of old stuff,A Day Late and a Dollar Short from the Wimpy days. Pretty much the only other Queers record that doesn’t form a sentence (The Queers: Beat Off, Move Back Home, Grow Up, Don’t Back Down, and – kind of a stretch here – Love Songs For The Retarded).
Yeah, actually Wimpy and Tulu, the guys I started The Queers with, are all living up here in New Hampshire again, so we’re trying to get together to do a side project called the Drunken Cholos, and do stuff like A Day Late and a Dollar Short.
Wimpy was doing stuff with the Tunnel Rats for a while, right?
Yeah, I think he still drums for them, but I don’t really follow those guys. They’re kinda like a Polish joke; it’s funny the first few times, but after that… But they’re good guys.
They’re a lot harder and meaner than the punk rock you’ve been into lately.
People think we’ve gone really pop, but we still play all the fast shit. On Don’t Back Down we had “I’m OK, You’re Fucked,” and on Punk Rock Confidential we redo “I Didn’t Puke,” which is an old Queers tune, and Ben Weasel’s “Motherfucker.” When we play live, we’re definitely harder than on the records.
I like the reprise of “Punk Rock Confidential” at the end…
That was going to be the actual chorus, and we were going to do all these Beach Boys harmonies. We had 45 seconds left, so we tried to cram it in. It’s funny cuz when it goes, “…just a punk-,” that’s where the tape ran out. We didn’t cut it off, that’s where the tape ended.
This record has more covers, collaborations, and guests than usual.
Pretty much, yeah. When I talked to Ben (Weasel, of Screeching Weasel and Riverdales), I asked him to sing on the album, but he didn’t think he could. But he sent me a tape with a couple songs on it, and fuck it, we did both of them. And Lisa (Marr of Cub) helped me write stuff, and she helped me on the last album, too. And J.J. Rassler had a loose outline for a song, but I gave him credit anyway.
I’m blanking on where I know J.J. from…
He helped produce Don’t Back Down, and in the late ’80s he played in the band for a little while. About the time we were kickin’ around the Rat and Chet’s Last Call, then we met Hugh, then we broke up, then we found B-Face, and then, through Ben, we got signed to Lookout! and started playing a lot.
You got signed to Lookout! because of Ben?
We’d sent Ben the Grow Up album. It was just a bunch of sessions I had kicking around that I’d done in the late ’80s in Boston. Some English label pressed up about 200 copies and I sent one to Ben because I really loved Screeching Weasel. At the time, they were broken up, so we started writing back and forth. When they got back together and did My Brain Hurts, he was pushing us to Lookout!. Ya know, Green Day was there, Op Ivy was there, so we hooked up with them.
This is going to get me in trouble with Lookout! cuz certain people over there take offense to any slag I make, or even imply, but fuck it. To me, it’s the truth. Don’t you consider that time period Lookout!’s heyday? It was a time when the punk scene was so drastically different it’s almost pointless to compare and draw conclusions, but the records Lookout! released during that time period, much like SST in the early ’80s, was the punk music that mattered.
Definitely. Green Day was still there, Screeching did My Brain Hurts, and we did Love Songs for the Retarded, and that’s when things were really happening. We started touring, first with Screeching Weasel, then Rancid took us out, and from there, we built it up on our own. Today, there are so many bands, and so many of them tour incessantly and think that just by touring they can build it up, but those days are gone. Those days are just gone. You can’t build it up because there are too many fuckin’ bands. Everyone wants to be in a ska band now, just like before, everyone wanted to sound like Bad Religion. By this point, I can’t tell the difference between NOFX, Bad Religion, Strung Out, Lagwagon, or 88 Fingers Louie. I mean, when you hear a Muffs song, you recognize it. Same with Rancid. I don’t mean to slag NOFX ’cause NOFX and Bad Religion started the whole thing, they’re not like Pennywise and all that shit. You could make the argument that we’re just another Ramones-based band, but you’d never listen to us and think you’re hearing the Ramones.
A lot of it comes down to the strength of the singer. Recognizable songwriting is tough, especially since no one wants to get pigeon-holed, but having a singer you can pick outta the crowd is oftentimes the difference between instant recognition and waiting ’til the end of the song hoping the douchebag DJ will say something useful for a change, like who the last song was by. You have very distinct intonation, a very recognizable voice.
After Move Back Home, I was really bummed because I knew we were so much better than that. So when we did Don’t Back Down, I really wanted to show people I could sing.
Yeah, Move Back Home sounded really apathetic.
Larry Livermore produced it, but he didn’t even want to put his name on it. He even said later he shoulda pulled the plug on that one. The thing is, that album coulda been great if we’d taken another six months and fine-tuned stuff and changed stuff here and there. But I take full blame. I just didn’t have the songs together. I’m kinda bummed I threw some of those songs away by putting them on that album. But then we came back with Don’t Back Down and showed everyone we could still do it.
Tell me about the new line-up.
Well, you know Hugh and B-Face aren’t with me anymore. B-Face started playing with the Groovy Ghoulies, and Hugh got a brain tumor. It wasn’t a conscious decision to work with different people. It was either I sit here and fuck the dog or I find some other people to play. We just got back from a tour, and it was the most successful tour we’ve ever had, and it was with three people I’d never played with on stage before. Chris (Cougar Concentration Camp, from Jon Cougar Concentration Camp, natch) had played with us on one tour with Hugh and B-Face, but that was it. On this tour, we got a really good reception ’cause it sounded like The Queers and we were playing really well. I mean, I’m going to call B-Face to see if he wants to come back and play, but for right now, I’m just having a good time…
Well, that was kinda the point of the Everything’s O.K. EP, to let people know everything is, well, OK…
Right. I think of it like when Black Flag went from “Six Pack,” “Nervous Breakdown,” “TV Party,” “Damaged” and all that shit, to “Slip it In” or “Loose Nut” or whatever, that really slow, dirge thing where they grew their hair long. And while I hated it musically, I admired them for having the balls to thumb their noses at the punks and say, “Fuck you, you’re not going to pigeon-hole us. We’re going to do what we want.” Now that’s punk. While I love the punk stuff we do, I love the pop stuff, too. I’m going to do what I want, and I don’t care if some pimple-face fuckin’ fuck in a fuckin’ leather jacket, drunk in the gutter, says I’m not fuckin’ punk. I never said I was the second coming of the Sex Pistols. We’re the fuckin’ Queers.
“We?” Who’s “we” at the moment?
Well, Steve (Stress), the drummer, is staying with me, and I’d like to get B-Face back… We’ve had some difficulties, but we’re talking again. I don’t know, we’ll have to see.
Someone told me “Get A Life and Live It Loser” (off the EP), was about B-Face…
No, that was about Dan Vapid from Screeching Weasel. It’s just little shit, ya know? He wrote me this nasty letter, and I was like, “Dude, I never said nothin’ bad about you…”
That’s the whole point of “Punk Rock Confidential,” as far as I can tell… The punk scene has become as bad as a girl’s locker room – all these little bitches spreading rumors just to have something mean to say.
And the thing is, if they hear something good, they don’t give a fuck, but if they hear something bad, it’s the gospel truth. I mean, there’s so much shit out there… Joe Queer is buying a house, he’s got a Corvette, he’s got a wig, he’s fuckin’ gay, he’s shootin’ dope… Yeah, whatever. Thing is, I don’t think The Queers are anything great; we’re just a good little punk band. But as you get bigger, you leave people by the wayside, and they fuckin’ resent that and they stop liking you. It’s jealousy, and believe me, I’d be the same way. If I was some little prick on the street corner and I saw someone bigger than me, I’d be jealous. I used to be like that. Now, I’ve traveled the world when I should be bagging groceries at the Shop and Save, I’m in a punk band and I get to do interviews… It’s exciting. On the other hand, I still work on my brother’s fishing boat 100 miles out in the Atlantic. I could sit back and live off my royalties and tours, but I still work a job, and a tough fuckin’ job. This ain’t like pourin’ coffee or ringin’ up shit on a cash register. But I like it cuz it’s got nothing to do with music, it’s good money, it’s healthy, and it keeps my feet on the ground.
And there’re no show biz egos in the middle of the ocean…
They don’t give a fuck. I bust my ass, I ain’t rich, I’m no smarter than anyone else, but I can probably tune a guitar faster than most.
Just out of curiosity, how many times have you seen the Ramones?
Well, we’ve played with them six times, and I’ve probably seen them close to 100 times. I’d see them six or seven times a year, whenever they tour. I saw them so long ago, I remember being really drunk and getting back to the dressing rooms at the Club Casino on Hampton Beach, where we eventually played with them, and telling Joey Ramone that I love the Ramones, but Black Flag was better. I was completely shitfaced, but he was really cool about it. Now that I’m in a band, I meet drunk kids like that all the time. They mean well, and fuck, that’s how I was once…
I notice on the back cover photo you’ve got yourself a little X on your hand… Are you staying sober these days?
On the back… Oh, yeah, that’s funny, that’s the hand-stamp for the club we were standing outside of. But yeah, I’m totally straight. I don’t even drink coffee. I’m more excited about the band, I have more energy, and I’m more into what I’m doing without all that. I mean, it was cool for the band for a while. We’d play a show on a Tuesday night and 15 people’d be there, fine. But then we’re drawing 4-500 kids, and these kids are paying $6 for us to puke on each other? That’s bullshit. But the thing is, a lot of people still want us to be drunk all the time and have beer bottles on our covers. But that was a phase. They treat you like a clown, but I have my personal life, too. It was just time to move on. I’m not gonna condemn anyone or preach or anything, but back when we were drunk all the time, chicks’d have nothin’ to do with us… Now we have girls all over us. I’m like, Christ, this couldn’t’ve happened to me when I was 19? I got a hard-on out in the Atlantic ocean when a jellyfish floated by…
Seeing as all the members of your band are in other bands, who do you think is staying, or who are you talking to about coming in?
Our roadie, Jeff, hooked up with Chris and Dave (from JCCC) after The Queers tour, so it looks like they’re revving up their engine for their band. If they can’t play with The Queers, I wish them luck cuz they’re great guys. I’m also gonna talk to B-Face, as I said…
And Steve is from Darlington…
Yeah. I like those guys. They came up to the studio when we were recording, and we almost did “Judy Jetson” on this album. I kinda wish we did, but we already had so many cover tunes… Steve didn’t play on the album, Chris, who’s listed as bass player, actually played drums. I thought Darlington was breaking up anyway. Man, I thought that album [Girltroversy] was great!
Definitely. I interviewed Cris or Christy or whatever last issue. I mean, how could I not? The guy writes the catchiest, silliest songs… “This song sounds just like the last one…”
“…And the next one and the one after that one…” Yeah, I love that album. I hope he moves up here. See, I’ve always recorded with Mass (Giorgini), and while there’s never been a problem, I really want to move on and try other people. [Earl] Mankey’s out in L.A., he’s worked with the Beach Boys, Elton John, The Dickies, and on the last two Cramps records, so I’m pretty psyched to work with him.
Speaking of classic names… you cover a Manfred Mann tune. That’s different from doing one of Ben Weasel’s tunes…
Yeah, that’s a great song from the ’60s that lots of people don’t know. I was gonna cover “Sunday Morning” by the Velvet Underground, but we did “I Enjoy Being A Boy” by the Banana Splits instead. I just love that ’60s stuff. I don’t know why people can’t love Ricky Nelson and Lesley Gore and Black Flag. We used to have parties where we’d play The Supremes and then the Ramones, “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore and then the Sex Pistols. It was all good, ya know? Now everything’s pigeon-holed: punk, Oi!, ska/punk, pop/punk, West Coast vs. East Coast… One thing that pisses me off, when kids say we’re wimping out, I mean, did the Ramones get called wimps when they did “I Want You Around” or “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend?” No one called them pussies. And I’ve talked with those guys, and they said that people’ve been telling them “punk is dead” for 20 years, but their audience always stayed the same, or it got bigger. They never noticed the difference, and on our little level, neither have I.
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