This Thursday, March 9 the play Hard Core Log Live premieres in Toronto, starting a run at the Dance Cave at Lee's Palace that will run through the 26th. The BFL Theatre production will star Al Nolan from Toronto punk legends Almighty Trigger Happy as Joe Dick. Al recently took some time off from rehearsals to talk with Punknews' Adam White about the show.
Hard Core Logo: A Punk-Ass Play is a stage adaptation of Bruce McDonald's cult 1996 film. The play features original music by D.O.A.'s Joe "Shithead" Keithley along with live performances of music from the film.
So you've just been thrown into this thing! You came into the lead for Hard Core Logo Live pretty late in the game. How frantic has the prep been?
Well I think I may be about two to three months behind everybody. The cast (who are all very talented, I will add) is rounded out by Andrew Fleming, who's playing Billy Talent, Thomas Scott, who's playing Pipefitter (a very hilarious character), and Michael Dufays, who's playing John Oxenberger. He's also the director of our fight sequences, to make the show more enticing to you. There's live fights on the stage, which is I think is every band or every fan's dream --- to watch their favourite band beat the shit out of each other. That's also something that we're bringing to the stage.
Ben Rispin was cast as Joe Dick originally. I can't say exactly what he's working on but he's working on something very big that involves him flying back and forth from Canada to California. He called me on Sunday night, very late while I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my time -- because I was in very dire straits -- and he said "I'm going to give up this Joe Dick role in Hard Core Logo live. Do you want to do it?"
And I said "What are you talking about." I have no idea what he was talking about. And then I remember him posting something about it on the Book of Faces and he goes "do you want to do the play?"
…and I'm like "OK sure."
I went to sleep and then when I woke up in the morning there was a message from Seth Drabinsky, who is one of the executive producers and the assistant director of the play, and he asked me if I wanted to do it. There was a list of all the songs and the rehearsal schedule, so of course I said I'd love to try. And I talked to the director, Ron Jenkins, a very talented, very positive, very focused person that afternoon and he said to me "what's going on in your life?"
And I said "Well Ron I have no job, I have no girlfriend, I have pretty much nothing going on, and I'm trying to say all the right things I can possibly say to make sure I get this job." And then he said, "You're hired." So within four or five days of that we met for a table read and it's been 8 to 10 hours every day since then and we open a week.
That's that's just intense. That's an absolutely frantic amount of prep that you've got to do. Now you've been on stage a million times of course with Trigger Happy, but have you done much actual acting or performance art?
In high school I was one of the ones you'd call a theatre nerd, which pretty much gave some direction into what I was ended up doing on stage. I was very lucky to have no musical training whatsoever and every friend and I ended up having ended up becoming a really excellent guitar player, or really excellent bass player, or drummer. I just happened to be in the right company. I guess the music gods just wanted me to bounce around like a pinball in between all these really stable people and they just ended up being with the right guys. But, I don't know, my favourite influence as a kid was the Fonz from Happy Days. I don't know what else to tell you. I always thought scenes needed villains so I would just get a little aggressive and we would play. But I didn't really want any real trouble. It's not my fault what happened! Ha ha.
That's not an uncommon thing to hear from someone who's fronted a band. Really famously Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols has cited Lawrence Olivier playing Richard III as his big stage influence.
One of the masters of course!
One thing I think some of our readers outside of Canada may not realize is what a crazy cultural impact the 1996 film had up here. That would have been in theatres right at the time that you were in the midst of your initial run with Trigger Happy, so when did you first encounter the movie?
Well it's very funny you mention it. When had just finished recording I'll Shut Up When You Fuck Off I was having the graphics done because we were releasing it on Sonic Unyon and it was supposed to come on April `96. We had a big tour, one of those SnoJam tours was going across Canada, with likes of Good Riddance, SNFU, you name it from Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords -- and thank God that Pagett Williams from 2112 Records included us in this. Anyways, I was at this graphics place in Toronto called Helios run by Felix Wittholz and this gentleman named Richard Switzer. They were doing the graphics I'll Shut Up When You Fuck Off and at the same time they were doing the graphics for the Hard Core Logo film soundtrack release. Now for this soundtrack they got a bunch of Canadian bands to do covers as if it was a tribute to the [film's fictional] band. So I'm sitting there supervising my logos and all that kind of stuff and they say "Hey Al, you have any blue tattoos?"
And I'm like "well as a matter of fact I have one that's going blue right now." They say, "Well here here's 50 dollars, can you come outside with us?" and they took a picture of this blue tattoo I have on my arm. They said we're going to use this as a CD single if that's ok, and I said, "I don't care, whatever."
So I go back to being in Trigger Happy in my mind and little do I know they had the band The Super Friendz from Halifax do a cover of the song "Blue Tattoo" from the film, and I was the cover model for the single. You may remember them, they were on Murderecords.
"Blue Tattoo" is actually my favourite song in the play. It's a ballad and I don't really get to sing ballads. Going for Trigger Happy it's like you know you're screaming at the world, and then sing this song is very, very nice. So that was my connection to the play originally.
That's a really strange coincidence.
It's fucking weird, and I hated the movie when I saw it dude. I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen because I was in a band that did 32 shows in 30 days in Europe, and then when you when you played the States and Canada you just kept moving and stuff, so I didn't understand why it took a band that had so much wear and tear and influence and experience, why it took them so long to do four shows and have so much happen. But I honestly didn't realize in my career at the time that that shit was just about to happen to us. I didn't think anything about it and I didn't see it as some kind of foreshadowing.
But so I didn't really get hip and mature to the film until a couple of years later after Trigger Happy broke up originally in 2000. So if anything at all the joke of life imitating art and art imitating life… I've had a few moments where I've had to really stop and think about some ways I've behaved in the past when I'm going through the script and the doing the scenes with the other actors.
It's probably one of the most eye opening experiences, and probably what they'd call super cathartic. It's really upsetting sometimes, and really, really liberating. I wish Mark Klucznyk, the guitar player from Trigger Happy, was still alive so I could apologize, or say thank you or, you know, just really appreciate him being there. The relationship between the two main characters, the main parts of the band, if it's not mirroring life it's still pretty fucking scary how close it is.
That was the one thing I really wanted to ask you about. You came from fronting a pretty loud, snotty punk act yourself so it's got to be completely surreal performing a fictional version of a life that you've lived.
Kind of. I know where the dude was coming from and I know the need for relevance, obviously now with the fact I'm 47 and I'm still in Trigger Happy. But I have excellent friends that are helping me either prepare [Trigger Happy] for a better funeral, if not a better tribute, or perhaps a better example of the way it should have been. I'm choosing my words carefully, as I don't want to offend anybody that was in it beforehand or at one time. There have been several kicks at the can for this band. I always have this more desperate outlook of saying that it deserves a better funeral, and then when I read the script for the play there's something similar that in the play. I was like "wow, this is pretty weird" you know?
So I made sure I had the right people playing, and if you don't mind the plug, my drummer is Dustin Campbell from Brutal Youth and Wasted Potential, who are two of the best bands in this country right now. And my guitar player's Lee Stephen Buckland who was in Cutoff originally. He is the gentleman that actually kind of started the whole "An Almighty Trigger Happy" thing if you will. He posted a cover of one of our hardest songs, I saw it on Facebook, and it was exactly the same way Mark used to play it. It was the bends. Mark had pretty unique fingers if you knew him, and Lee could do the bends properly. It was ghost like, as if it was actually happening. I don't mean to get all Marvel Comics and stuff, but it was really weird. So I reached out to him to say I'd like to do this properly, because I had a version for a while called "The Almostly" and it was in a really troubled time in my life. I wasn't doing well. I'd get very, very wasted before we would play and I would make an ass of myself and cause really serious scenes, which is kind of dumb. Some people may have heard some of them. So the condition made with these gentlemen was "Al, you'll be on your best behaviour and we'll do this and we'll do that." So I have the commitment of these fine fellows. It's rounded up by a great guy named Paul Bedel who plays bass for us. So I couldn't be more surrounded by the nicest guys and the toughest players currently and I would I would equate this version of Trigger Happy to be almost as good, if not right beside, the version in 96 / 97 when we were really on fire.
That's great to hear.
I'm not afraid to say it.
So in Hard Core Logo your character, Joe Dick, was played in the Noel Baker's film by Hugh Dillon of the Headstones. There was of course also the character in the original novel by Michael Turner. How much of these two versions of the character informing what you're doing on stage?
There's a comic book as well, a graphic novel, and the play is a combination of all three of them.
I understand the guy and I understand where he's coming from. He was a guy I probably would call a loser as well. I've seen many versions of him, but like I said earlier I catch some really familiar feelings and way of thinking from him. But the thing is he's scammed his best friends. He's lead them in a lie to try to prove his relevance again. It's kind of the story of a family falling apart. I don't know if you've been in a band yourself but sometimes most desperate villains have to keep the story going. So it's the a story of him dragging his buddies down at the same time them all needing some kind of feeling of relevance, and it's gross sometimes how close it is to your own life. I try to maybe bring some kind of feelings that that I've had.
But I'm not doing a Hugh Dillon impersonation. He did his version, and our play is different than any movie or other stage run when it's been done before in Vancouver and Edmonton.
I hope that answers your question Adam, it's a tough one and you caught me off guard. Up until you asked that fucking question I was playing a character and now you've thrown me! (Laughs)
So what can you tell me about the music in the show? There are new songs that came from D.O.A.'s Joey Shithead…
Oh fuck dude it's live! That's what's so crazy about it. The other three guys, God love em, they've not in bands. They're musicians but they've never been in bands really, as far as I know. One of the jokes has been "Well Al, we may be professional actors but you're already a punk rocker so while we have to act like that you have that advantage." Your only thing is you have to memorize lines. So they're committed. There's a ballad in the play, which is really kind of fun, there's a country song, there's a ska song. There's some really rad D.O.A-esque storming kind of songs.
Funnily enough it opens with the band breaking up at Lee's Palace in 1989. And so it's coincidental that we happen to be performing it at Lee's Palace.
It seems like there's a lot of weird coincidences and conversions on this…
It's ridiculous man. It's really, really strange, and I'm just hoping doesn't send me to hell any sooner than I deserve.
So please come to the show please come to the show. Be kind in the comments you fucking bastards. I know what's like on that fucking website sometimes.
I'm just kidding.
No, I know what it's like sometimes…
So yeah come see the show because it's really a serious, honest production. If anyone gives a shit what I think still, I wouldn't be fucking doing it if I didn't believe in it. These are very truthful people want to convey a really cool message. You know there's never really been a lot of like it.
I'm not saying that these bunch of losers from fucking Vancouver know what really punk rock is, because I'm from fucking Toronto and that's all that matters. I just want to get that out there Adam.
Laugh along with me please Adam!
Well I'm from Niagara so I'm not sure how much I'm supposed enable Toronto.
Well you're from Ontario at least, so you understand. When we were younger we were like "Well who cares, they're from Vancouver so fuck those bands." So to end up being the lead singer in a "legendary" Vancouver band was really foreign to me at first, but it was an interesting challenge, you know? I'm not taking the piss, but I am having a good mock and a good rock at the same time to quote the Beatles.
Otherwise I can announce that fucking Dag Nasty, Dragged In and Trigger Happy will be at the Velvet Underground on April 21st. It's goings to be fucking awesome. Dag Nasty haven't played here in 30 years almost. It's like 1987 again, the Descendents are coming again in September! It's fucking crazy.