Joe Queer: "Bands Sell a Few Albums on Warped Tour and Think They Cured AIDS"
Joe King (AKA Joe Queer) hates everything except punk rock, and even that pisses him off on a daily basis.
The punk-rock guitarist and vocalist has built a cult legacy for himself with his long-running (20-plus years, on and off, sober and not) punk band the Queers. Alongside labelmates Screeching Weasel, Joe and a regularly entering-and-exiting stream of backup players rose above many of their Lookout! peers. They did this by spearheading an entire genre around reiterating, modifying, and experimenting (as much as one can with such basic, conservative building blocks) with the raw, dumb, and poppy blueprint drafted by o.g. glue-huffers the Ramones. But despite the acclaim and the success, King has maintained an unwavering position of surly grouchiness.
In the lead-up to the Queers' taking the stage at Respectable Street this Friday, County Grind shot Mr. Queer some questions to get to the root of his rage.
County Grind: Do you ever get sick of Ramones-style pop-punk? If not, what about the genre allows it to have such replay value for you? Are there any new trends or waves through the expansive "punk" genre that you've been really into lately?
Joe Queer: When it's done good, it's great. But usually, a lot of bands suck at it. Trends and shit in punk have all been done a few times. They go in and out of style every few years: the greaser Social D thing, Irish drunken ex-racist thing, the ska thing, the garage-band retro thing, the pop-punk thing, the lame mainstream pop punk à la All-American Rejects or Good Charlotte thing.
The stuff that gets me excited these days are some of the unknown punk bands that no one will ever hear of that still play music 'cause they love it. They're not trying to "make it" in the biz. They love punk, and they're playing it win, lose, or draw. I produce a lot of unknown bands, and they almost all have great energy and some really good songs. One band I did recently is from Huntington, West Virginia, called the Nakeds. Three young kids, covered a Germs song, and their originals were really great. Fit right in with that Germs cover. They'll probably go nowhere, but it's a classic punk album.
What inspires your lyrical antagonism?
Eh, usually day-to-day stuff, to be honest. We'll be on tour and something will piss us off. We'll write the title down and make a song out of it. As far as lyrics, I think it's arrogant and conceited to get onstage and talk about politics like you have some knowledge that us other poor idiots couldn't possibly have figured out. All that political shit for punk bands is just a schtick. Just a reason to crawl onstage and make as much money as they can. Most of them probably don't even believe the corny shit they spout off about. To go to a punk show to find out about politics is pretty pathetic. Most punks I know can't tie their own shoes, and I'm not really interested in their political views. (Gotta save that line for a song).
On that note, Queers songs are weirdly political in their consistent combativeness. It's not really about a position or platform, but to offend so frequently and seemingly so frivolously does seem like a sort of ideology.
Ha, yeah, I guess it's a weird stance. I guess you could say it's our schtick. I always loved the old punk bands who got their message across with humor. They'd say some great stuff, but they were always goofing at themselves and never took themselves too seriously like so many punk bands today. Christ Almighty, these bands sell a few albums on the Warped Tour and they think they have the cure for AIDS. They're doing us all a huge favor to jump onstage and spew their useless bullshit. I like to get onstage and make everyone forget the BS we all go through and enjoy ourselves for 45 minutes.
The recession and the internet have not been kind to the midlevel DIY punk label. But it seems like Asian Man is silently chugging along; you guys make it down to Florida every year or so, etc. How is the nationally touring pop-punk scene's infrastructure doing?
It's permeated by money-grubbing whores parading around as hard-core punk rockers. No integrity and honesty in the scene among any of the bigger punk bands. In the old days, all those bands would have been beaten and attacked and sent off to sell cars, wash dishes, and deliver pizza. The smart ones would work the drive-through window at Mickey D's. Luckily the Queers have a loyal following of like-minded individuals who show up to support us and have a good time. So we keep on keeping on. Asian Man is the best label we've ever been on. Exactly what I thought a punk label should be.
When you guys released an album-length cover of Rocket to Russia by the Ramones, what was the motivation? Was it the principle of rerecording the album, the concept alone justified doing it? Or did you want to impart a particular sonic imprint on the album's frame? It sounds like a collection of pretty faithful renditions.
The only reason we did it was at the time we needed more stuff to sell on tour. I thought it was a retarded idea, 'cause you can't top the Ramones. They did those songs as good as they could be done, in my opinion.
Which Queers era partied the hardest and how/why?
Me, Hugh, and Bface probably. In the early to mid-'90s. Me and Hugh were fucked up on drugs most of the time, and Bface was drinking. I was outta my skull trying to run the show, and it was a clusterfuck. I don't miss those days one bit. Nice to be sober, and I enjoy myself way, way more these days. Hugh passed away from cancer, and Bface doesn't play anymore. Funny bastards, both of them, and we all had a great time for a while.
How many times have the Queers made it down to South Florida? Any particularly good or bad experiences?
Oh man, I can't count all the times, especially in the early days, when we were still drinking and drugging. I would say 50 times at least? Fuck, man, I couldn't begin to tell you, but it's a lot. Love it down there. Usually we have really fun shows there and haven't really had any bad shows or huge trouble down there.
When we first came to Florida, Chuck Loose would always book us. Great guy who drifted off the map, for us anyway. When the Queers started doing better and drawing more, a lot of the early promoter punks wandered off and we never saw them again. I would rank Chuck in this crowd, though I'm not putting him down or anything. We weren't trying to make it in the biz: We just drew more kids in after a while. A lot of the "punker than thou" people we thought were fast friends abandoned us never to be seen again.
Anyway he drifted off, and we would use a pal of Chris Barrows' from the Pink Lincolns -- can't remember his full name. Guy named Fred. After the first couple of years, we got a booking agent and I stopped dealing directly with booking.
That dude Grant Hall would always do the West Palm/Miami/Fort Lauderdale shows for us. Great guy. Local bands would always bitch about him, but he would always push the shows and get the word out we were coming. I always liked the guy and wish he was still around. Uptight motherfucker and would hardly ever smile. I got a big kick out of him throwing his weight around at shows in the parking lot. No denying the guy ran a tight ship, and we all made money with him. Shows never got shut down by the cops for stupid shit either.
We didn't really pay much attention to little local factions in different cities. I remember Lars from Rancid asking us to join some gang in Berkeley. What the fuck was the name? Can't recall. Anyway we asked just what the gang did. He said we would just sit around and be a gang and it was cool. I shit you not. We were laughing our asses off and wondering how old the dude was. God damn, that was funny. Yeah, sure, Lars, we'll join your gang and hang out.
Like Groucho Marx, we wouldn't join any gang that would have us.
The Queers. With the Knockouts, Caffiends, and the Merkins. Friday, November 18, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets cost $13 at the door, $12 in advance through Respectable Street.
Get the Music Newsletter
Find out about upcoming concerts and special offers happening in the South Florida music scene.