The Furies & D.O.A: Together Again

Not too old to chase pigeons, not quite old enough to feed them.

Great news: one of Vancouver’s first punk bands, the Furies, will open for DOA on February 10th at Richard’s on Richards. Furies’ frontman Chris Arnett made his last appearance here as part of the Shades, at the much-hallowed Vancouver Complication gig. Though there were some technical difficulties—Arnett had leapt into the air, tromped on his guitar cord and damaged it, so that the sound occasionally cut out—I was blown away by the guitarist’s exuberance as he steamed ahead.

“Chris is kinda like a guy on fire when he starts goin’,” Complication organizer Joey “Shithead” Keithley tells me. “It’s like when you get scrunched up inside in the gut, and you’re slightly sorta bent over—kinda like the way Iggy Pop is, except you’re playing a guitar? He’s just like, YEAAAAARGGHH (indicates explosive leaping outburst): this weird kinda kinetic energy/rage type thing, right? Yeah, it was totally crazy. I was goin’ like, ‘Holy fuck, these guys mean business!’ The band played fine, but he was great—he’s got a lot of spontaneity to him, that’s what makes him really interesting.”

The Furies were Keithley’s first taste of local punk, before he founded DOA’s precursor, the Skulls. “I was just 18 or something like that, in June of ‘77, and they had this big ‘Punk Rock!’ poster on the wall, and it said something like, ‘You Won’t Believe It!’ or ‘We’re Out of Our Fuckin’ Minds,’ and it said, the Furies and the Dishrags. And I was goin’, wow, punk rock! I had heard about the Ramones and the Sex Pistols a little bit, and I thought, wow, this kind of stuff’s in Vancouver, is that ever weird!” Within a few months, the Skulls were opening for the Furies at one of their legendary Japanese Hall gigs.

“I was really influenced by the New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and that kinda stuff,” Arnett tells me. “We just wanted to go out and create musical mayhem. We had no ambition to record, that was the furthest thing from our minds. We just thought, fuck, we’re not gonna get into the rock establishment, we’re just gonna play anywhere and just blast people. We were always dissing popular acts, ‘cause we hated them! Vancouver in those days was sort of a fat, wealthy, lazy city. It was enjoying a big economic boom, and there were a lot of self-satisfied sixties fallout types who were happy smokin’ lots of dope and stuff. There was this complacency in the whole city, and then we started playing, crankin’ the volume and playing lots of bar chords and just rockin’ out!”

One memorable gig was a face-off with the Beatles cover band the Hornets, at the Blue Horizon Talent Show. The Furies had won the love of previous audiences with their raw energy, but the final round turned into a “disaster,” Chris says.

“Things were getting behind schedule, and the crowd was getting antsy, and we were drunk, and finally we got on, and there was this big table of jocks, and we played a few songs and they said, ‘we’re gonna fuckin’ kill you when you finish your set!’ And I’m just goin’ ‘Okayyy…’ And after we did our set, these guys were still not leaving, so we did a 45-minute version of the Velvets’ ‘Sister Ray,’ and literally drove everybody out of the whole fuckin’ pub. These guys were still hangin’ in there about 20 minutes into the solo, and I had the guitar on the floor and I was whacking it with my foot, and Jim (Walker, the original drummer and later PiL member) was just pounding away, and they left, and most of the pub left. Needless to say, we didn’t win the contest. But it was fun!” When I tell Chris a 45-minute “Sister Ray” sounds pretty good to me, he laughs and says, “Be careful what you wish for!”

The text of my complete interview with Arnett is viewable on my blog, He’ll be joined on the 10th by original Furies bassist John Werner and former Payolas drummer and Shades member Taylor Nelson Little.

Live Furies and Shades recordings are out there somewhere. I talked to Joe about the possibility of releasing some lesser-known Vancouver bands on Sudden Death. Dale Wiese had suggested No Exit, while I’m hoping someday for a reissue of the Spores’ Schizofungi—a neglected classic.

“All those guys are great,” Joe says. “If I had a bit bigger staff, we could take something like that on, but I’m finding now that you spend almost as much time on a CD that sells a hundred copies as you do for one that sells two or three thousand. That’s why I’m trying to pick and choose a little bit. It’s really about having the time to get the job done; it’s not really the money. I look at these things, kinda like, if they break even, that’s good enough for me.” Of Sudden Death’s non-DOA local punk reissues, only the two Pointed Sticks CDs are in the black, mostly thanks to the Japanese. Keithley would love to do a Slow CD, but nothing is currently planned.

In addition to practicing up for the February show, Keithley is putting the finishing touches on a solo project, the Band of Rebels, featuring DOA drummer the Great Baldini, keyboardist Chris Gestrin, and Kevin Kane of the Grapes of Wrath, as well as a guest appearance by DOA bassist Randy Rampage. Says Joe, “It’s upbeat—it’s not punk, but almost verging on it. It’s got acoustic guitar, but it’s very lively, and it’s got ska in it too, and a little touch of Eddie Cochran. It’s a funny, rockin’ mix, but I’m happy with it.” Side label JSK media also plans to release its first CD, by a band called Once Just, a young “rock-pop-ska” band from Calgary. With all these projects on the go, I asked Joe which was more demanding—his old life of constant touring with DOA, or his role as label manager.

“Oh, this is way harder,” he laughs. “All I had to do then was drive to the show, drink beer the whole way, do the show, and drink a bunch more beer afterwards. Then show up at the next show. There’s no comparison. That was livin’ the life of Riley in those days!”

DOA celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2008. “There’s a pretty good probability that we’ll have a new album out by then,” Shithead tells me. “Holy fuck have we been playing a long time!”