Lagwagon’s Joey Cape Jumps Back Into The Pit | Q&A

[Editor’s note: the following Q&A has been edited for content and clarity]

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I vividly remember buying Lagwagon’s album Hoss when I was fifteen years old, at a now defunct music store in Lincoln

I was on a “shopping trip” with my mother and sister from the small town in which we lived at the time. I bought it because I saw them thanked in the liner notes of another band’s CD, so I knew they had to be cool (this is what we had to do before the internet existed).  

I remember listening to it and having my mind blown by the musicianship and speed of the songs. They were leaps and bounds ahead of the first punk bands I’d heard. I was dabbling in being a punk rock guitar player, and listening to Hoss made me realize I was going to have to actually learn how to play the guitar instead of just bashing out bar chords.

I had a bootleg tape version of Trashed in my Walkman later that Summer, and I listened while working my terrible teenage summer detasseling gig. That album got me through the horrible ordeal of working for money for the first time.

Lagwagon has always been one of my favorite punk rock bands, so I jumped at the chance to talk to lead singer Joey Cape about the band and their Aug. 19 show in Omaha. They play with Strung Out, The Swingin Utters, Flatliners, Toyguitar and Bad Cop (RSVP here).

The legendary punk band has just always been one of those solid acts that have rarely had a misstep Fans can revisit without any angst about them “selling out” or how their “older stuff is better.”  Their newer albums still shred. I like to think they’re the same dudes who probably skate and are still punk rock even with age and responsibility … like me and my friends.

Interviewing Joey Cape was amazing, and as someone who gets on stage in front of strangers a lot I can tell you that talking to a dude — the man who shaped my early punk identity — was one hundred times more scary/thrilling. Hell yeah.

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Ian Douglas Terry: So you just got back from a European tour, how did that go?

JC: It was good! It was kind of like three tours in one. We did just a normal tour playing venues on our own doing random dates in different countries and then we got onto the festival circuit. The bulk of the tour was festivals. At the end of the tour, we went to the U.K. and did about ten shows with NOFX and Alkaline Trio, and that was sort of the icing on the cake.

IDT: Nice, how does it feel to be, for lack of a better term, an “old dude” playing punk, compared to how it was when you were younger?

JC: Honestly its not very different. I think, in general, it is a state of mind. I’ve spent more than half of my life, much more than half my life, going to punk shows and just being a part of some scene or being a part of that movement…and I love it. I still get excited. I went and saw Bad Religion a little while ago during their Centuries Tour and I felt like I’ve seen them play a hundred times but that night was the best. My friend and I kept looking at each other saying “I can’t believe how good this is!” I just wanted to go into the pit.

Its funny, you can still find that place no matter how old you are. In that regard, it is pretty much the same for me and I’m still very passionate about that. I suppose the other answer is being in a band as long as you still lave what you do and you enjoy being on the road and you enjoy creating music. I feel like I might have the best job that you can have.

IDT: I tend to turn into a bitter old man about a lot of stuff, do you get that too?

JC: Yeah, I do that too. (Laughs) I definitely do that.

IDT: I think it just comes with age.

JC: No doubt.

press photo by Rudy DeDoncker

IDT: We’ll go way back, how did you initially get into punk rock?

JC: I had this friend, his name was Matt (he is no longer with us). He was my mentor. I was fourteen years old and playing drums in a cover band at a girlfriend of mine’s birthday party. Just a terrible band. I think we were called White Rock and had a small banner with cocaine on it that said White Rock…I mean I wasn’t in charge, I was just fourteen (laughs). It was the early 80’s and this guy Matt who I didn’t really know, who was one of the only punks in our town, came to the show with some other punk guys and they all kind of looked like Sid Vicious to me and were kind of scary guys. They asked if I was going to High School next year to Santa Barbara High and basically drafted me that night and said “You’re gonna have to get rid of one of those kick drums” because I had two kick drums (laughs). It was all history after that. I went to High School and joined this band called Urban Assault in 1981 — man I’m an old guy — and that just showed me the ropes. I already knew who the Dead Kennedys were and I knew Black Flag, but he just brought me in to all of the nuances of punk rock like an older brother. I already had an older brother, but this was a different kind of older brother. He showed me the ropes.

IDT: My story is a little similar, but a decade after you. I grew up in a very small town in the middle of Nebraska so my first punk rock was seeing Green Day on MTV and that lead to me buying the Lagwagon album Hoss a few years later and I clearly remember feeling like you guys were the next level of punk rock, musically and lyrically. How does it feel to be in a band with amazing musicians (unlike the more rudimentary punk bands)?

JC: It’s nice! They are really good and I’m very lucky to play with such great players. What’s nice about it is that I feel I can write just about anything and I don’t have to worry about the level of difficulty because if its something that I can play, they can easily play it. So there’s this nice element of being able to count on those guys to take the more difficult things that I write and the more complex arrangements and [they] sort of look at them with humor like “That’s cute Joey, let’s see what we can do with that.” And then they make it much better and interesting. So it is really nice, I imagine it is something like back in the old days when you’d have a pick band of seasoned professional guys like The Wrecking Crew that can just come in and kill it. So yeah, I’m very fortunate.

IDT: Absolutely, you guys also made me and everyone I knew playing punk rock have to step up and learn their instruments.  

JC: That’s all those guys (laughs).

IDT: So on this upcoming U.S. tour you will be playing the album “Trashed” in its entirety. How does it feel going back to that album?

JC: It feels great! Its awesome because on the Fat tour we’re about to do we only get a forty minute set, so because of that there’s just about enough time to play the record. There’s something really amazing about playing one record from start to finish and that being your set. We are focussing on that era of the band, and it sounds good…it sounds different obviously. We’ve changed a lot since then. It’s sort of a different rendition of the same band. I’m ready to play these songs live.

IDT: Let’s talk about your new album, Hang. I’m sure people have asked about how it is seemingly darker than your other albums with the cover art and the lyrics. How do you feel about how it’s been received so far and what were you trying to get across?

JC: If I describe it in the most general sense, it was my perspective and my view of the world that my daughter is growing up in. Sometimes I jokingly call it my “Bitter Old Man” record. My daughter is eleven now so I’ve had eleven years of a slightly different perspective. I think when you become a parent you start living vicariously through your child and it changes you. The things that always bothered you might bother you more, or you might have more empathy for other people. I don’t know, it is difficult to explain. The things I would rant about while sitting with friends and having a beer at a bar, those are the things I wrote about on this record and in the past I had always chosen to steer clear of those things. It just wasn’t really my style to write political lyrics that way. It just felt right, it felt like the right thing to do and I like the way it turned out. It took a couple years to write the lyrics, there are a lot of pieces that didn’t make the record because at some point music becomes a part of it and you have to pick the strongest material and whatever the band connects with the most.

I say this all the time now, I think in some ways Lagawagon has been slightly been misunderstood as far as the levity on past records goes. I think if you sit and listen to our music, ninety percent is melancholic. I generally have written about some pretty painful issues in my life, I just always felt that was the easiest thing to get closest to. The dark subjects. We always traditionally have a few fun songs on each record. Out of sheer indecision about what to put on the each album cover and having five people in a room joking around sooner or later someone says something funny and we all laugh and that’s the album cover. That changed with Resolve because we’d lost [former drummer] Derrick Plourde and the record was written entirely as a tribute and homage to Derrick, so that cover was darker and more serious. I think right around that time, we talked about it and decided to not do this funny stuff any more. We had a little misstep with I Think My Older Brother Used To Listen To Lagwagon, but you know we’re serious people.

We haven’t worked any less hard as we got older. Its an odd thing when people point out that Hang is so serious and so different, I feel like I need to make them a mixtape of our old stuff like “What about this song, this song is about a dead guy!” There’s some pretty sad stuff throughout. I will say this, it was definitely the most collaborative album I’ve made with my band since the first album. You start getting into cycles when you make records so you’re writing the whole time but you may not have time where the band all gets together. This record, we took our time and really collaborated on every moment. I feel like it’s a stronger record because of that and that it will never be any different with the band and how we do it going forward.  

IDT: Definitely, you guys have not missed a step. Compared to your older albums it holds up and is one of my current favorites. I’m amazed because a lot of bands kind of lose a little bit of steam and get questionable in their direction but your new album is awesome.

JC:  Thank you very much. I think it is very easy when you’re in a band for a long time to succumb to the pressure of momentum. A lot of bands think “Oh, its been a year or two and we really need to produce a new record,” so they get comfortable in the schedule and they also get comfortable in the compromise of that.  Other bands react radically and explore too much. They completely change what they do and it becomes derivative. It drives me crazy. I prefer the bands I follow that keep putting out similar things instead of the bands that are like “We’re Jazz now!” and it’s like “Why are you Jazz now, can’t you just be kind of more jazzy?” (Laughs)

IDT: You’re one of my favorite solo artists, and I know you have a new album coming out in early September, what can people expect from the new solo album?

JC: It’s different from my other solo stuff as well. I think it’s impossible to be objective about it. I can be somewhat objective about Lagwagon because it’s five guys and I can look at what we’ve all done and I can see what we could have changed. When you’re on your own that process is really hard to analyze. People seem to like it which is good. I just make music and for better or worse I do it to please myself, and if people enjoy it makes me happy.

I started this digital session label a few years ago called One Week Record. [We have] people come in from around the country with just an acoustic [guitar] and we spend one week making a ten song record. It’s a total marathon. We’ve spent seventeen hour days on some of them but it’s fun because it is basically live with no overdubs and no auto-tuning or editing. It is just pure performance, which is a reactionary thing to me, seeing what’s been happening to records and production. I feel like some of these small anomalies or imperfections that make artists the artists they are are going away. Maximum compression, loudest record possible, perfectly in tune vocals, drums edited to a grid in perfect time. This is the opposite of that, and by doing that, I was inspired to record a new solo record. We didn’t use click tracks so its almost all me and a few others just playing the songs live. I think that sonically it’s a little more lo-fi and it’s definitely more natural sounding.

IDT: I’m looking forward to it. So this interview is [to preview your show] in Omaha on Aug. 19. Here’s something I was trying to figure out because I am from Omaha and mostly grew up in Omaha but I could not recall if you guys have ever played in Omaha.

JC: We’ve never played there, I’m almost certain. I always say we’ve never played a place because I think we never have but then someone will say “Nope, you were here in 1993. You played in a barn.” You know, because we’ve played everywhere. I’m fairly certain we’ve never played Omaha and I think that’s why we were drawn to it. These shows tend to be the best shows. If you’ve never been to a place before, people tend to come out of the woodwork if they like your band and you end up having just a really energized and great show. So I’m looking forward to that show, in many ways, more than any other show on the tour.

IDT: I only have one more question, and it’s about The Fest in Gainesville. You guys are one of the headliners this year which I’m extremely stoked about because I’ll finally be able to see you live. I’ve been going on and off since Fest 4 so I’m all about that festival.  How excited are you to have Lagwagon playing it this year?

JC: Like you, I’ve been going to Fest since the fourth year. I went almost every year but missed the last year or two. I’ve played it a lot doing solo stuff and it’s just great. I have a lot of friends that go to it so its always really fun. I’m excited, I’m really stoked to be doing it….there’s no better word than “stoked” for a person from Southern California. I’ll try and say things like “I’m really excited” but it just sounds insincere. I’d much rather say “I’m fucking STOKED”, you know? It doesn’t mean anything unless I pull out my California dialect. It’s just one big giant party so I’m stoked.

IDT: Make sure you check out the comedy shows at Fest this year…

JC: Yeah, I should. I gotta tell you this, there are certain festivals that have comedy, and it can be really good. I have this thing about comedians, it’s not that I don’t love comedians, I appreciate a good joke. There’s this thing where someone will say “Hey, we’re going to see a comedian tonight.” and I’m like “Oh no!”. There’s something about sitting in a chair and being locked into a comedian, and if you don’t think they’re funny its a terrible situation. You can’t get up and leave, you know? I guess at most festivals I imagine people doing comedy while everyone is drinking and talking, which is fine when you’re a band, but imagine a guy telling joke while no one is paying attention. Sounds like a disaster! How are the Fest comedy shows, are they any good?

IDT: The shows we’ve been doing there for four years are fantastic, I’m a comedian by the way…

JC: Oh nice, yeah I’m just expressing empathy for the gig. Stand up is like the hardest thing in the world to me.

IDT: Yeah! I was basically in punk bands for a decade and then had a few dark years but eventually started doing stand up comedy for the past five years.

JC: That’s awesome. I really like the Louis CK perspective of stand up comedy. How awkward he is and everything. I’d be that kind of comedian. I have a ton of empathy for comedians, and I do love comedy but I would rather watch the performance on my television than sit in front of them because I think I get too dissociative and uncomfortable. We’ll see, I’ll give it a shot at Fest!