Not Exactly Straight Punk
Joe "Queer" King doesn't think it's weird for a 37-year-old man to perform songs with titles like "Ursula Finally Has Tits." King -- songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist for New Hampshire's the Queers -- is simply another foul-mouthed punk rocker looking for something irreverent to rant about. All in the name of a good time, of course. "The thing I would stress about the Queers is that we have a lot of fun," says King, on the phone from RKNDY, a club in Seattle where his band is preparing to perform. "We laugh our asses off." Not everyone is laughing with them, but the Queers (King chose the name to irk New Hampshire's more macho rockers) are certainly yucking it up right now.
Over a sporadic sixteen-year career (including numerous personnel changes and a six-year layoff in the Eighties), the Queers have produced scads of quirky songs that have affirmed them as masters of free-wheeling, censor-baiting, fun-loving punk rock. To update the band and continue the legacy, King put together a new Queers lineup in early 1998 with guitarist and vocalist Dangerous Dave; bassist and vocalist Chris Cougar Concentration Camp, from indie punk band John Cougar Concentration Camp; and drummer Steve Stress. After working up new material, the quartet recorded a four-song EP, Everything's OK (released last May), and the full-length Punk Rock Confidential (just out) for the band's new label, Hopeless. King says the Queers' former label, Lookout Records, gave up on the group after their 1996 release Don't Back Down. But it wasn't the album that turned the label off: They reasoned that King would be unable to continue after losing both drummer Hugh O'Neill (who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor) and bassist B-Face (who went to play with the Groovie Ghoulies) in 1997. The veteran musician has found happiness, however, with Hopeless Records.
"I could do another album that's nothing but hardcore tunes one-minute-long with the word 'cunt' in every song title and they'll put it out. That's fucking punk. Some of these bands that sign to majors, like Social Distortion, MxPx, or Face to Face, it's cool for them and I like all those bands, but it ain't for me because it would affect how I write my songs. I probably wouldn't give them 'I Didn't Puke,' or 'Rancid Motherfucker,'" he says, referring to a couple of the more aggressive, Ramones-inspired tunes on Punk Rock Confidential. The Ramones' sound figures prominently in the Queers' approach, as do strains of King's other favorite band, the Beach Boys.
It's perhaps understandable that Lookout Records doubted King when his musical cohorts scattered; before the Queers signed with the label, they weren't really a band. When King and company recorded their first seven-inch, Love Me, in a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recording studio in 1982, they were little more than a loose collective of local musicians, more a coalition than a band. They continued with sporadic recording sessions, releasing another seven-inch, Kicked Out of the Webelos, and showed up for various live performances before disbanding in 1984. Yet they managed to attract a devout following that lasted through a six-year sabbatical during which King, by then known as Joe Queer, hit the road.
He traveled to Hawaii and California to surf, and to New York and Boston, "just bouncing around doing weird shit." Then he got a partner and opened a cafe. Around 1990 King talked to drummer O'Neill, and together they decided to re-form the Queers. At the time King felt out of touch with the punk scene, but there was one band that he liked, Chicago's Screeching Weasel. King sent a letter and a tape to the head Screecher, Ben Weasel, who helped land them a deal on Lookout (and later wrote or co-wrote three songs for Punk Rock). "[Lookout owner] Larry Livermore called me on a Friday night when I was flippin' burgers at my restaurant and said he wanted to put out an album," King recalls. "I was just like, 'OK.' And so the next thing I know, I didn't know what the fuck was going on, we did the album and here we are. We didn't have any illusions about touring the world or making money off this, or much less making six albums, but we did it."
Having jumped into the ring for the second time, King has come to the conclusion that punk just isn't what it used to be. "Punk rock used to be something against the edge, something different. But now with the Warped Tour and stuff like that it's all assimilated into the mainstream. It's more like a business." That of course brings opportunities for the Queers to sell more CDs and to make a decent living as musicians, but the anti-big-business, DIY attitude that they share with a few other punk bands, such as Fugazi, remains strong.
"Our booking agent has said, 'Well maybe if you went out with the Reverend Horton Heat, Social Distortion, or on the Warped Tour, it'll help you sell more albums.' But I'm not going to figuratively suck any dick that's dangled in front me to sell more albums. I don't have to and I don't want to. We're on a small label and sell 50,000 or 60,000 albums and make a damn good paycheck, so I don't need to go to a major label. I don't know why anyone would. And if I go out with other bands, I can't control the ticket price, and I can guarantee that Social Distortion is charging a hell of a lot more than the eight or nine bucks the Queers will charge you." Fired up, he continues: "And yeah I wanna fucking make money, and I do make money so it's like I don't have to be greedy and suck dick and go on the Warped Tour to do it. Fuck that. Beside going on the Warped Tour will just attract a bunch of jocks that aren't into the band anyway."
The Queers' antisocial stance assures that it's not just jocks that avoid the band. With song titles such as "I Hate Everything," "This Place Sucks," "She's a Cretin," "Burger King Queen," "Too Many Twinkies," "I Only Drink Bud," and "I Can't Stop Farting," all set to punkish three-chord song structures that range from cheerfully poppy to downright fierce, there's only a narrow section of the punk-rock rabble that truly approves of the band's work. King says his unusual songs are all built from their titles. "We'll be sitting around and someone will say something and then a lot of times we'll say, 'Song title.' Or I'll write down something that appeals to me, or they just come from thinking about goofy shit and writing it down.
"It's not like we sit down and say 'Let's write a song about saving the whales or the rain forest,'" King says sarcastically. "Even though I agree with a lot of these issues, I'm not going to sing about them because it's boring. And besides that, all these bands that sing about all this anti-government bullshit couldn't run a paper route. The way it's sung is just so sophomoric. There's not going to be another Bob Dylan. Besides, for me punk rock is going and forgetting the bullshit in the world and enjoying yourself for two or three hours, and not having some idiot that looks stupider than you up there telling you who to vote for and which hand to wipe your ass with."
In the near future, Queers enthusiasts will have even more opportunities to hear the goofiness that is King's art. In January, in order to fulfill his old contract, Lookout will release a compilation of the Queers' demos and outtakes from the early Nineties titled Later Days and Better Lays. King wants to continue in his current occupation for at least a few more years, so he'll release one more record on Hopeless as well. And why not? He says the band is having fun and wants to continue: "When the show's going good, it's the best job in the world. I'm happy at the level we're at. I never thought we'd get this big."
The Queers perform with opening acts the Gotohells and Buck, Tuesday, December 1, at Salvation, 1771 West Avenue, Miami Beach. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $8. Call 305-673-6508 for more information.
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