Joe Queer chats to Ikimasho! about Japan, maki rolls and writing songs for Joey Ramone.
I love The Queers. Yet despite them touring my home country of Northern Ireland in 2004, 2005 and 2008, I always somehow managed to miss them due to me being in different parts of Asia at the time. Fast forward to 2013 and I was back in Asia again… only to find out they were playing not far from my house here in Tokyo the very next night. Finally, after ten years of missed opportunities, I got to see The Queers. And it seemed only fitting that it should be in the continent that had prevented me from doing so three times before.
In a special two-part series, Joe Queer talks to Ikimasho! about his love for Japan, and what the future holds for The Queers. In the next part, he’ll pick a bunch of his favourite tunes. Over to you, Joe-san.
If there’s one thing The Queers do, it’s tour – a lot. Do you even know how many gigs you have played now? How many times have you played Japan?
I think we’ve been to Japan 7 times? Maybe 6. I don’t honestly know. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. Not sure how many shows we’ve played thru the years. I’d like to find out. I never thought I’d be doing it so long but it’s how I support me and my wife. I’ve been really lucky to be able to do this. I have so many friends around the world it’s a dream come true. From Tokyo to Boise,Idaha to Sao Paulo Brazil I have friends. It’s really awesome.
Many people may not know this, but your wife is actually Japanese. Does that mean you can speak a bit of the language? It must be a nice feeling coming to play in a country you already have a strong connection with…
Yeah my wife is Nihonjin. Mihoko is her name. I’m lazy so I don’t know as much Nihongo as I should. Watashi wa Nihongo ga skoshi wakarimas. Demo mada jozu ja arimasen. ( I’m not sure that was spelled correctly or it’s grammatically correct but hey I try) We love Japan. It’s like being inside a pinball machine. You can be walking down the street, look up at a building and there will be a giant kani (crab) or some other weird being on the side of it. It’s pretty cool. I love hitting Tsukiji, Tokyo Fish Market. Over here in the US and actually Europe most of the sushi and maki rolls are covered with mayonnaise and all sorts of weird sauces. It’s hard at times to just get basic maki rolls without all sorts of crap on top of them. They’ll put fruit on them or cream cheese inside. I hate cream cheese in maki rolls. I often stick with sashimi over here cos the maki rolls are all rice. The miso soup will often suck in Japanese restaurants in the US. Most sushi restaurants here aren’t owned by Nihonjin. I always say Nihongo ga wakarimaska? Or Anata wa Nihonjin desu ka? They usually have no clue what I’m saying. A lot of the people running these sushi places are Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese.
So what do you think about Japan then – the food, the cities, the landscape, whatever… What do you think of the country as a whole and the people that come to your shows?
All of us in the band love Japan. It’s great how safe the country is on the whole. I know some of those Yakuza guys are trouble but mostly it’s safe. I love the fact everyone is polite on the trains and in public. And there’s no graffiti on the trains and city walls. I hate that stuff in the US. We have a small but rabid fanbase in Japan. It’s really been a dream come true to be able to tour there. We don’t make much money but it’s one place we’ll play for free if we have to.
Do you have any funny or memorable stories from touring Japan?
None I can tell ha! Someone made a video of our tour over there with The Smugglers years ago. The promoter was the biggest idiot I’ve ever met in all my years touring. He completely screwed up the tour so we didn’t get any of our guarantees for us or the Smugglers. And to top it off the asshole did a mini tour diary thing and made up a ton of bullshit about me. It was all negative shit taken way out of context. Like we played a live little thing in Tower Records. Just me and our drummer Hugh. Kind of an acoustic thing. When we left I was talking to Hugh and saying eh we’re not really the kind of band that can do those gigs cos we’re just so used to our amps and a crowd going nuts. That was it. I wasn’t screaming or making a big deal of it at all. That asshole made it seem like I was a rockstar and a complete jerk and I was bitching that it was below us to play in Tower Records which wasn’t true at all. It was 98% lies. I never saw that clown again thank God.
The Queers are 33. Unbelievable really… What’s your proudest moment/fondest Queers memory?
We’ve really only been an official band since 1994 when we got on Lookout Records. Before that was just fucking around playing a few shows here and there. A few times we didn’t even play 1 show in a year back then. One of my fave memories was when Joey Ramone said he liked a couple of my songs. It’s a long story but I sent him a cassette tape with 4 songs on it. About a month later The Ramones were playing right near where I lived in New Hampshire. I bullshitted my way backstage by saying I was Richard Hell’s cousin haha! When I got there Monty said he’s not Richard’s cousin but I told Joey who I was and he ok’d it. He laughed when I told him how I got backstage. Anyway the story was the Ramones wanted to cover Love Love Love. We did talk to a lawyer for them but apparently Johnny didn’t want to do any covers. So I got backstage a month after sending Joey the tape and when I told him who I was he immediately said he liked Goodbye California and Love Love Love. I knew he’d listened to them because I didn’t say the song titles. Just said I was in the Queers and he whipped off the song titles. He said he really liked the songs and for the first time I kind of got some confidence in writing my songs. It really made a big impact on me.
Years later Joey asked me to work on some songs for his first solo album. I’ll never forget that. He’d sent me a verse to a song called I Wanna Be Happy. Just a verse. So me and Ben Weasel sat down and wrote the rest of the song. It was supposed to be for his solo album but he was too sick at the time to record so it never happened. It sucks cause that song would have been a great one for his album.
What’s next for The Queers?
Shit we have so much stuff going on it’s amazing. I’ve lived my life the past 18 years just like this. I’m always planned out a year ahead. I just got home from the Dwarves tour tonite. It’s after roku zi gozen but I can’t sleep cause I’m on west coast time which is 3 hours difference from here. So now I’m trying to finish my book and write some songs. September 25th thru October 11th we’re touring with The Dickies and Richie Ramone’s new band. I’m coming out with a solo album early next year too. It’s all songs I’ve sung lead vocals on for other bands. Honestly almost all the songs are really good. We’re re-recording our Punk Rock Confidential album and filming a dvd of the session. We haven’t been paid in 15 years from Hopeless Records so we are re-recording 2 Hopeless albums and issuing them on Asian Man Records which is our label now. It’s going to be a blast. We just finished Beyond The Valley. PRC is next! After all that we’re going to do a new Queers’ album.
We’ve kicked around the idea of doing a side project band with Ben Weasel on vocals,me on guitar, Dangerous Dave our usual bass player on bass and Richie Ramone on drums. Last night in Los Angeles at The Roxy we played our regular set and then Richie came on with us and we did a tribute set to Tommy Ramone. Richie sang lead vocals on all of them. 9 songs. It was really rad and the fans loved it. As a Ramones’ fan it’s great to see Richie playing again cause we all wondered where he was. We all really respected him because he wrote songs for the band and he was such a good drummer. Then I don’t know what’s up. Probably a short little solo tour where I’ll play a lot of slower poppier Queers’ songs that we never do onstage. At live shows they always want to hear the faster punkier songs. So if I do a solo tour I can play what I want. Thanks for the interview.
For tour dates, photos and other shit from the road, check out The Queers facebook page here.