This interview was published in Open Ears Music April 17, 2018.

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The World According To Joe Queer

April 9, 2018

Joe King, AKA Joe Queer, leader and front man of the legendary pop punk band the Queers has been an iconic and controversial figure in the music world since 1982. Notorious for their catchy, fast, and melodic punk sound, The Queers have been a permanent fixture in the punk rock community for over three decades. That is thirty years of punk rock, touring, partying, and sometimes, a bit of unwanted controversy.

Back in late 80’s, the band was an easy target of altercations due to their eyebrow-raising name. More recently, they were involved in some unfair strife due to uncommon political opinions in the punk scene.

Musically, The Queers show no sign of slowing down. They are still touring the world and making new music. Joe in particular is on a permanent hunt of music innovation and always searching for that next killer melody. It is clear that The Queers are here to stay.

After learning that the band is now headquartered in the Atlanta area, I did not hesitate to sit down with Joe at his home for an in-depth chat about The Queers in 2018, the current state of punk rock, working with the Ramones, and weird European techno festivals.

Will: A few years ago, you were involved in some controversy regarding your comment supporting Ferguson, Missouri police officer, Darren Wilson. What was the impact in your life?

Joe: That whole thing was 100% bullshit. And I couldn't believe it, but it showed me that I was out of touch. I didn't know there were so many of these virtue-signaling social justice warriors who find racism in everything.

When we started the band there were a lot of white-power street punks out there. We were dead set against them. We hated their guts. This was in New Hampshire, where we started years ago. Nobody knew us and we hated their guts and we let them know. When we started playing, some of them would show up and I would always call them out. I was really vocal about the anti- nazi thing. And then for these people to turn around and call me one. I was like, where were you when I was getting beat up because people thought that I was gay?

Will: You were clear about your stance on this topic in your first few albums.

Joe: Exactly, we have the song You're Tripping which says “I hate white power”. It is not my most inventive line, but you still get it. It was all forgotten. You know, I am still a liberal like most of us, but I'm a liberal with an open mind. I saw that cop over at Ferguson, and I don't care who is white or who is black, but I thought it was justified. So I hit the like button in Facebook not thinking that it would go into my Facebook page. So it then turned into this whole thing were I hate black people. Hey man, it's my opinion and maybe I'm wrong but certainly I didn't say it because this guy is black and that guy is white. I don't give a fuck.

But people didn't want to hear it, dude. There were even two or three fans and friends who threw me under the bus for that. I couldn't believe it. None of them would talk to me face to face because they know the truth. But they want the virtue signal. These guys would say “are you for the militarization of the police?” and all this stuff. I would tell them, I probably agree with you on 99% of the issues and this is the only one I don't but that is just the way I see it. I don't make a decision based on skin color.

Will: Are you still active in social media?

Joe: Not much at all. After that I stayed off Facebook. Every once in a while I go in to check on messages but I don't go in to update anything because of that.

Will: Do you think that in a way, the punk community has become less tolerant?

Joe: Yes, and you know the other thing? When we were in Lookout Records back in the early 90s (and we were from New Hampshire so we were kind of sheltered) but it opened up our minds to some stuff. And we would talk to everybody and you may not agree with each other but you listened to each other at least. Now you can’t. You know, I'm liberal as hell. I didn't vote for Trump, but Hillary Clinton was even worse. I don't agree with Trump in most issues and I think he is brash. So, here we are liberals, and I thought we were the ones to see through the smoke screen and the fog of hypocrisy and now they are shutting down free speech. Like the Antifa guys at Berkeley. Ok, I don't agree with Anne Coulter and Milo [Yiannopoulos], but let them speak! Go and beat them on their own ground, but don't stop free speech. And Berkeley was the bastion of free speech and now most colleges are like that.

But you are right, it used to be a really cool scene where you would talk and learn. And this guy would have a crazy opinion but you would listen to him. The Lookout [Records] scene was a really cool scene. You would see Blake [Schwartzenback] of Jawbreaker or Tim Yohannan of MRR [Maximum Rock and Roll] and you got all this input from everywhere and you would hear all these crazy ideas. Or at least I thought they were crazy. But now it's weird because these people will not listen. They just say “fuck you and blah blah”.

Matt [Fredricksen] from Rancid told me years ago when we toured, “you need a thick skin to play music, even at this level”. People will say this about you. I just think that the punk rock scene is getting dumber when we shut down certain sides of the argument.

Will: Have you seen any of this backlash at shows?

Joe: No. Honestly, none whatsoever. Our fans don't really care. I realized that all the people that were giving me shit don't like me anyways. I was talking to Hoglog [The Queers’s drummer] about that since that happened our shows are being bigger than ever. We haven't stopped since the two years since that came up. It's all about the music. And you know the other thing? I'm in a band call The Queers, you don't take us for that. Come on!

Will: It has always been tongue in cheek?

Joe: Exactly. And the old bands, they used humor to get their point across. They used humor as a tool. They were goofing on themselves. Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, you know. They were goofing on themselves. The joke was on them and they got it. Now these guys are taking themselves so seriously. And I've said “I don't think much of this band or this album” and I’ve got death threats about that. This was years ago. But anyways, dude I still like your band, you don't have to kill me. But now, I think the whole humor thing is gone. You don't go to a Queers show to find out about politics.

Will: Many punk bands became very political after the Iraq war.

Joe: You know, the thing is, the political thing is just a schtick. I doubt the bands even believe half of the corn ball shit they say. I just don't think they believe it. It is a schtick. It's because they have nothing else to sing about. And they are virtue signaling and act like they care. And you know the other thing I got a kick out of about these bands? And a lot of them are my friends and I like them, but everything is a pun. I noticed this a few years ago: Anti Flag, The Press Corpse, NOFX, The War on Errorism, Guttermouth had one too, Shave The Planet. To me, being witty was like the Ramones, “beat on the brat with the baseball bat, oh yeah!”. Or like Screeching Weasel in “This Ain't Hawaii, the fat white ugly parents look like Morey Amsterdam this ain't Hawaii”. That's witty. That's funny! That's when we tried to do Granolahead.

And you know, the other thing though. I always thought, even years ago when I was going to shows, that it was pompous for these bands to get up on the stage and tell us how to vote. Or who to vote for and all these stuff. Being a punk was always about having your own mind. It's OK to have your own opinion. You didn't go to a punk show to find out who to vote for. I always thought that it was pompous when you get these bands like Billy Bragg or The Clash. I love both of those bands, but I didn't like the preachiness of it. I would never get up and talk politics because everyone has a brain. The Queers in the old days, I would speak to the audience and not down at them. I'm not smarter than you. I can play a guitar and maybe write a song, but I'm not smarter than you. I can learn from you and you can learn from me. There is no reason for me to get up and say “I fucking hate Trump, I hate Obama”. Fuck that. Everybody has their own brain.

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Will: Going back to The Queers. Can you tell us what you have been up to in the last 10 years?

Joe: Basically just the same old stuff, you know, touring. We don’t do so many albums anymore because we have so many out. But we are going to start working on a new album soon. After Munki Brain we did Back To The Basement, which wasn’t received that well. The artwork didn’t come out that great. Also, my idea was to go back to the early way we recorded. And don’t have a metronome and not try to make it all polished and slick. And just do one take. In the old days we would go to four hours in the studio and we would just have the tape down. We wouldn’t pick it apart. That’s how Grow Up was made. We just re-issued Punk Rock Confidential. We re-recorded it here [in my home studio]. We dropped two songs, added two more, we changed the cover and called it Punk Rock Confidential Revisited.

Will: Why did you change the cover in that album?

Joe: We don’t own the rights to that mastering. Hopeless [Records] does. And I haven’t been paid from them in years. Apparently I signed the worst deal in the world and I haven’t been paid in twenty years. So I would like to make some money off this album. Let’s re-do it and we would have it under our control and we put it out under Asian Man/All Star Records. It came out great. It was fun recording it. We took a song from Back To The Basement, Everyday Girl, and we redid it for Punk Rock Confidential instead of Pretty Flamingo which is a cover song. I thought it came out really good. It warmed us up for the new album which should be kind of Munki Brain/Pleasant Screams kinda stuff.

But yeah, we have just been touring. Philip was playing with me on bass. Dangerous Dave came back. Lurch, from The Nobodys, was on drums. But him and Dave left. Now I have Hoglog, Alex from Teenage Rehab, a Kentucky band who I produced and I’ve been friends with for a few years. He has been playing with me full time on drums. It’s cool because with the The Queers is almost like a solo thing. I got like two or three drummers and two or three bass players so if someone needs some time off someone else can jump in. It’s really worked out well because nobody gets burned out. And then Cheeto (Chris), I produced his band, and he mentioned if I needed a bass player. We tried him out and we did a lot of shows with him last year. Now our roadie, Ginger, we met him when we did a tour with the Svetlanas. We took him as a roadie and he is a killer metal guitar player. We have been utilizing him more on the guitar and I’ve just been singing.

Will: Last year when CJ Ramone played at the EARL, you came on stage at the end of the set to sing some songs. You looked very comfortable singing Ramones songs. How was that experience?

Joe: That was pretty cool. Oh it was fun. You know, I played with Marky [Ramone] and Dangerous Dave on bass. The Queers would open up and then we played with Marky. I loved that. As a matter of fact, just a couple of days ago, I talked to Richie [Ramone] on the phone. He’s back touring and he is going to South America in April. So we were trying to work it out so the Queers jump in those shows but it was just a little too late so we are going to do the tour after this one instead.

People say “oh you shouldn’t do too many Ramones songs” and I’m like “well the Ramones are not there anymore and we are doing good versions of their songs. Who cares? So let’s do it”. Just like we’ll do a Screeching Weasel tune. They don’t play that much and people love to hear it. So we are kind of going that direction.

Oh, I love singing Ramones stuff. I love singing with CJ. I remember seeing him the time before that at The Masquerade. We were singing and the PA was really good and I was harmonizing off him and we sounded really well with no rehearsal. It was great.

Will: Are you working on new projects with CJ or Richie at the moment?

Joe: We have talked about getting together with me, Ben Weasel, CJ and Richie. But the thing is that everyone is so busy and it was just too much. So I just don’t know. Everyone is so busy it’s hard to get everybody in the same page.

We once opened for the Ramones when Richie was the drummer for the band. So we were playing in front of about 4,000 people, and back then we had not played in front of 400. Nobody knew us. We were horrible. Some songs we knew, and some songs we didn’t. Anyways, Richie was there. We got to know them because we were always backstage in their shows in New Hampshire or Boston. That’s when I first met Richie but he didn’t remember us. I remember when we first met him, I was talking to him backstage and he wrote down a list of ten rules on how to drum like a Ramone. He wrote them down for us and we put it in our rehearsal room’s wall for the longest time. And he didn’t remember this story. But for me, it was really cool to know these guys. Joey [Ramone] I knew fairly well. I would call him on the phone all the time.

Will: Joey wrote a song for The Queers, right?

Joe: It’s a long story, but he asked me to work with him on some songs for his solo album. He had this song idea called I wanna be happy and all he had was him with an acoustic guitar going “I wanna be happy, I don’t wanna be sad, I wanna be happy so bad…” So me and Ben [Weasel] got together and ended up finishing that song. I thought Joey would have sang it really well. Unfortunately, by that time he was really sick and actually I didn't talk to him after we finished that.

Will: Was Joey able to listen to the song before he died?

Joe: No He never listened to the finished version because we hadn't recorded it yet. We took the song idea. And we don’t talk too much about him writing the verse because some people may say that we are trying to take advantage of his name but we are not. It was his song idea, his title. We wrote the bridge and the rest. But I think it would have been a great song for his album. I love that song. Sometimes we would still play that song last at shows.

Joey told me about his solo album. He said “I need stronger songs”. He called me up on a Saturday at my folks house in New Hampshire. He wanted to play me a couple of songs from his solo album. It was Maria Bartiromo and What A Wonderful World and I was like “the Louie Armstrong song?!” And he said yeah. I said “wait a minute ... I don't get this”. But he played it and I couldn't believe it. His vocals were so killer. But he knew that those songs were at a different level than Mr Punchy and the other stuff. And he said “I need stronger stuff”. I wished I could have worked more with him on other songs. That guy was all about the music. It was not about drugs and chicks or any of that stuff. We would just talk about songs and music. I was really so inspired by him. Joey man, he was into the music. Joey was smart enough to talk to people and get their input. He was very open. It was a real lesson to me.

Will: You mentioned CJ Ramone having great new music out there but it's not as popular as a lot of new indie rock bands. Seems like they are the ones getting a most of the attention in the mainstream media while pop punk bands don't get as nearly as much attention as they did back in the 90s.

Joe: Well, I think that one of the big things is that there are not that many great people doing great pop punk music. CJ, in his case he has been around for a while. People may have not given him a chance. But a lot of other bands are not doing that well. They don't write great songs. They believe their own bullshit. You know, when we write our songs, we tend to look at Green Day and the Muffs and Screeching Weasel and Mr T Experience as the bands I have to compete with. I have to write those types of songs. Otherwise I'm not going to put it out. So, a lot of other bands think they can put out stuff because they think people will buy their albums.

Will: What can we expect for the Queers live shows this year?

Joe: We did two shows last week and we were really rusty. But the cool thing with us is that we are so tight that we don't have a setlist. We have kind of a set of songs that we know we’ll play and we will wing it from there. I just yell out something and the guys know the song and sometimes the next four songs. But I think we are going to start doing more instrumentals and I'll sing more and Ginger will play more the guitar.

Will: Do you like playing at the Star Bar [in Atlanta]?

Joe: I like the Star Bar because they have that punk feel. I like the EARL too.

Will: You never thought about retiring?

Joe: No, people used to ask me how long I was going to play. I'm like Dusty Watson or Marky or Richie [Ramone]. If I'm alive, I'm playing. That is my life so I don't even think about stopping because that is what I do for living and I would miss it.

Will: Do you like playing at big music festivals?

Joe: No. The problem is the logistics. We once played a festival in the old East Germany. It's in an old air base and it's all techno bands. The first year we played there was the first year they had a punk bunker. And they have the huge PAs that were constantly going. They might get like 20 thousand people in there. People show up for two or three weeks. Anyway, we went there and everybody wanted to stay. We played at like 9:30pm for 40 minutes. We got out of there and I took my stuff to go back to our hostel, but the other guys were going to stay to party. I walked to the headquarters to find someone that speaks English. I asked if I could get a ride in one of the shuttle buses. Everyone was smoking pot and drunk. I waited for about an hour and a half. Finally I get to this place and this guy gives me a key and says “there you are”. But I tell him “no, you gotta help me find the room’. We couldn't find the room. We tried the key in all the rooms. We had to go back to the headquarters.

Finally, we find this big room with about 15 bunk beds. And they said “Joe, just stay here until some German rock band comes in”. So I figured that they would be cool with it. I climbed in there at 3am, I shut the light off. ten minutes later, there comes the German rock band and it's about 9 of them. They were shit faced and they were like “who the fuck are you? We got someone here! Your band is The Queers? Are you gay? Hahaha” and all that shit. They were singing and screaming that song by the band Fun. “Tonight… We are young!” They sang that thing for 5 hours straight. I had to get my earplugs. It was non stop.

And that's how a lot of these festivals are. Those festivals are usually a nightmare logistically. You are dealing with these people that are drunk and stoned and you feel like you are drunk and stoned.I came back the next day and I get on of the shuttles that is dropping some people off. I walk to the van and there is one guy from one of the bands we are on tour with and he says “Joe, don't leave me!” And I said “What's up?” And he said “Someone gave me a beer and I took a sip and there was LSD in it”. And he never tripped before and he didn't know what was going on and he said that the worst thing was the techno beat in these huge PA systems tow miles around. I've done acid a couple of times and it's terrifying. So I was right there with him. I don't enjoy any of that hallucinogenic stuff.

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