The Queers have never had a problem grabbing their audience’s attention with tongue-in-cheek humor and catchy, infectious riffs. Their ability to seamlessly and authentically combine elements of hardcore and bubblegum punk has kept hold of our attention for forty years. The music might be fun, but their speed is mean, and they tour as much as any band in the business.
In the van after a performance, from somewhere in the mountains between Chattanooga and Atlanta, singer/guitarist Joe Queer [Joe King] was punk rock enough to give The Paper. a late-night interview. The final western leg of The Queers’ 2023 hundred-plus-show tour will stop at the Launchpad in Albuquerque on Nov. 8.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
The Paper.: The Queers are an essential punk band and undeniably part of the canon. Your first full album Grow Up dropped in ‘90. But you had some material released in the early 80s. Can you talk about the evolution of the Queers’ music?
Joe Queer: We started in the eighties. Wimpy [John “Jack” Hayes] was a drummer and then a singer, and Tulu [Scott Gildersleeve] played guitar and he was kind of a Bob Dylan Freak, but also loved punk rock. I was a guitar player, but I used to play trumpet in the band. We wrote maybe about 30 or 40 songs in the old days and it was short-lived. We played a few shows, but never thought of touring or anything.
In the mid-80s I started hanging around Boston and we would play The Rat. It was our version of CBGB’s really. We had met Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel and that’s when we talked to Lookout! [Records]. Musically we went from the early punk Black Flag TV Party-type thing and segued into bubble-gum sixties-type stuff—Beach Boys, Ramones, you know?
A Day Late and a Dollar Short was some of the first punk I ever heard.
That was done in someone’s basement. This little shitty basement studio, this guy Mike Christie out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was next to the furnace with laundry hanging up and we had to put plywood down and a carpet for drums. It was very rudimentary. But yet you listen to it, and it sounds really ballsy. I love those songs. I’m really proud of them. We still do the fast stuff to this day.
You’re the only original member left in the band, correct? Is it part of your nature to essentially have a solo act?
Wimpy is still living in New Hampshire and when we go up there, he will sit in with us and we’ll bang out a bunch of the old songs with him on lead vocals. But he doesn’t tour. He’s actually a scientist, a soil scientist. I carried on.
I play with different guys, it keeps it fresh. Trite as it sounds, people get burned out with music. I get guys that wanna play, and wanna go on the road and tour. We’re all into it and we’re still excited about doing the next album. We run it democratically. As far as songwriting though, I’m kind of the main guy. It sort of is a joke, “We’re a solo act, kind of.”
Your shows tend to be shorter than other rock acts, but you play a lot of songs. What are some of the limitations or advantages to playing your music so fast?
We always joke, “That’s in our contract, 32 songs or 32 minutes, whatever comes first.” When we played with the Ramones the first time, we played [for] like an hour. We didn’t know what we were doing. We were horrible. Joey took me aside and he said, “Listen, when you open up for bands, play your best 22 minutes and get off stage. Just do that.” I kind of never forgot that shortness. That’s the advantage, I think. We don’t wear out our welcome.
We don’t use a set list so we kinda wing it. We let the crowd dictate where we go with the set. So if they’re into the poppy stuff, we’ll kinda go that direction. If they’re into the harder stuff, we’ll go that direction.
Are The Queers a hardcore punk band, a bubblegum punk band, or perhaps something else that doesn’t fit perfectly into any category?
Beating people over the head playing fast songs, that’s easier to do for me as opposed to doing a well-crafted, bubblegum, two-minute pop song. We’re somewhere between hardcore-type punk and bubblegum. People kind of dismiss [bubblegum] yet most of it was just so optimistic. We’re always walking on the sunny side of the street. For an hour, we would go see the Ramones and we’d have the world by the balls. Everything could suck, but when we had that hour, everything was OK with the world. I try to keep that idea. Just look at a rose because it’s pretty, you know? There’s not a huge message with The Queers, but you go have fun and know people are in a good mood.
You’ve gotten some political backlash from both the left and the right throughout your career, something that many artists try to avoid, but you don’t seem to shy away from addressing those who take issue with your music or beliefs. What makes the Queers, or Joe Queer a target for so much criticism?
Oh, probably because I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m so far to the left I’m off the cliff, [but] even I get called a Nazi. We’ve gotten attacked physically by Nazi punks because they think we’re gay. I always thought I was kind of bulletproof, but I wasn’t.
We get attacked by the left liberal guys because they don’t like our name. We’re always pro-gay, if anything. We’ve gotten death threats, for crying out loud. They got crazies on both sides but sometimes I just don’t recognize where I come from as a liberal. I’m surprised that more punk rockers are really quick to judge.
In the age of cancel culture, do you find it difficult to be creative and take risks with your subject matter knowing that artists are facing more scrutiny from the public than ever before?
No, because I realized the people attacking me weren’t Queers fans, and they weren’t really punk fans. Our fans have a brain, they don’t need books edited, they don’t need words edited, and they kinda get the joke. I know what you’re saying, but I have not let that affect me. I just write the same old songs. It does suck because a lot of this stuff is obvious satire.
Is there room for political correctness in the punk scene?
No, I think it’s just ridiculous.
In the old days, let’s face it, bands would get their point across through humor. We’re in a band called the Queers, we’re laughing at ourselves. Circle Jerks, they were laughing at themselves. Dead Kennedys weren’t taking themselves too seriously and that was our kind of attitude. They were goofing on rock and roll. That’s what I got out of punk back then. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Great life-lesson.
Find this show
November 8, 2023, 7:30pm, $17
The Queers * The Venomous Pinks * All Thicc * Smoking Dolls
618 Central Ave SW
ABQ, NM 87102