"The guys are getting coffee," Joe Queer says into a cell phone. "I'm standing on the side of the road south of Eugene, Oregon. It's kind of overcast, but we're looking forward to getting out there--we always have a good show [in Cleveland]. But being in the punk rock business and having a cell phone?" He giggles incredulously, "It's all fun!"
Just in time for the holidays, the band is on the road in support of its sixth studio release, Punk Rock Confidential. Queer's message, however, is hardly one of good cheer--at least toward the most recent crop of so-called punks.
"Before it was all one big thing," Queer says of the punk movement, which he entered in 1982 with a smattering of seven-inchers. "You have your little factions now; you've got to be part of a clique. It's kind of this fucking elitist snobbery type attitude. It's like our booking agent said, 'Maybe you could do the Warped tour, or go out and open for the Reverend Horton Heat or Social Distortion.' But you know, our audience, to come and see the Queers, would have to put up with a bunch of fucking boneheads that I don't like, personally. I mean, if we go on the Warped tour, then a bunch of stupid jocks are going to show up and beat up our true fans that are really into the band, so I want to kind of avoid that fucking shit, you know?"
Queer didn't have to be a punk. In the late '80s, when he left the restaurant he co-owned to tour with then bassist B-Face and drummer Hugh O'Neil, it wasn't a career move; he simply wanted to see for himself what had driven his icons, like the Beach Boys and the Ramones. "There was no hope of being any bigger than Black Flag, and that wasn't paying the bills, really," he recalls.
"It's like music is a way of life now--it's a job. Fuck, now they make stars out of these people, but I still like good music, so I'm not going to run around saying, 'Yes, I love every fucking band that's on the Warped tour.' Bullshit! Most of that music sucks, if you ask me. I don't even understand where they're coming from! It's like they think they're so important and so punk, you know what I mean? They're not punk--they're fucking jocks that grew up on heavy metal.
"I'm not talking about Green Day and Rancid and Bad Religion--those bands started that sound. It's the other suck-ups I'm not into. And that's how I feel about the Warped tour. My booking agent is like, 'Jesus, you don't have to shoot your mouth off about the Warped tour.' But you know, I didn't get into the business to suck up to everybody. It's like, this is a good--this is a great--level to be at. It's not like I have to do the little chummy bit with the Warped tour guys to increase album sales. I'm not going to figuratively suck any dick that's dangled in front of me."
Right off the bat, Queer steered his band in the direction he wanted, world-at-large be damned (or join the parade). The Queers' name is the result of an attempt to fluster the do-gooders in Queer's hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the band's official debut album was 1993's Love Songs for the Retarded, followed by the succinct Beat Off. And while many musicians who have been in the biz for more than 15 years may have mellowed, Punk Rock Confidential still rings with the passion of punk youth.
"I'm going to do what I want to do," Queer says, "and that's being punk rock, you know? If I want to fucking sound like the Beach Boys or do shit like that, then I'll do it. That's success, and that's being punk rock, is being true to yourself. We started a punk band because we heard the Meatmen and we were like, 'Fucking A, man, we're better than this and we don't even have a band!' And that's how it all kinda started, you know?"
Queer's original lineup never went far, but within three years of embarking on a tour with B-Face and O'Neil, Queer found himself onstage in Japan, wondering what had happened to Joe's Place, his restaurant in New Hampshire. Sadly, even those days came to an end, and now B-Face and O'Neil can no longer refer to themselves as Queers, leaving some fans unsure whether or not it's still the same band.
"One day, in Europe, those guys were taking off on me and sightseeing, without saying anything," explains Queer. "I was like, you know, they weren't my friends anymore. And I just said, 'The Queers is my band and it always was, so I'm going to play with other people.' We'd just hit a rut where we'd got more success and it started going to our heads, and we just weren't getting along.
"It was kind of scary. Hugh has a brain tumor, so he can't play anyway, and then B-Face just ended up going on tour with the Groovie Ghoulies, and he never really came back. So it wasn't a conscious thing to break up. But you know--aw, fuck 'em. I don't even care. You know, to go see a band because of the bass player--who didn't sing and didn't play a really great bass, not to denigrate B-Face--is like going to see a band because they play Gibson amps. But [the new lineup] came out and the people on the first tour totally accepted us, and this tour's going great, so we put all that talk to rest."
Queer says that his latest version of the Queers--now rounded out by Dangerous Dave on guitar, Chris Cougar Concentration Camp on bass, and Steve Stress on drums--is perhaps the most exciting lineup he's been with, at least in recent years. "Having the new guys," he says, "is like a new lease on life. It's very exciting just to get out there and play as hard as you fucking can."
The newer, younger band has revitalized Queer, allowing him to put out an album that recalls the glory days of punk, when the material never strayed too far from simple arrangements and lyrics about girls. "People ask me, 'Don't you get tired writing songs about girls?' No, I fucking love it. Number one, there's not going to be another Bob Dylan in the world. Certainly I care about the rainforest and I care about racism and I care about all these issues, but I'm not going to get on stage and bore everybody and tell them how to vote on my views of these subjects."
The Queers. Sunday, December 6, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., $8, Ticketmaster 216-241-5555.