Interview: Joey Cape of Lagwagon talks Stitch Puppy

Interview: Joey Cape of Lagwagon talks Stitch Puppy

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Photo: Rudy DeDoncker

LOS ANGELES, October 8, 2015 — After his band, Lagwagon, released their first album in nine years, Hang, frontman Joey Cape recorded his first solo album in nearly five years. The album, Stitch Puppy, was released September 4 on Fat Wreck Chords. Recently, Joey Cape took some time to speak with Wells On Music regarding Stitch Puppy, touring, and writing new music.

Interview transcribed by Becca Jean.

Lagwagon just came off the Fat Wreck 25th Anniversary Tour, and at one of the last shows they had the No Use and Friends performance. What did that mean to you as both a musician and a friend of Tony Sly?

It felt like one aspect of closure that really needed to happen and hadn’t properly been done. I don’t think that there’s ever really gonna be closure when it comes to Tony for many of us, but that said, there was Tony and what a beautiful person he was, which is most of it, and there was his music and that’s certainly a reflection of what a wonderful guy he was and what a decent person he was. So, something like that where a label that he had been on his whole life, his whole career life, pays a tribute with all the singers from all those years who were also label mates, singing different songs and the band getting back together with a very early line up of the band with also newer members.

I mean, everything about it was just right and they had done something like this before in Quebec, but it just didn’t feel the same as it did in San Francisco. It’s the Bay Area, this is where Tony is from, everyone was there. The San Francisco shows were really kind of the actual Fat Wreck Chord shows because it included more bands. It was really beautiful and I’m so very fortunate to have been a part of it, and there was a feeling that was like closure, that we had properly paid tribute to this great guy and his great songs.

Looking back over Fat Wreck Chords’ 25 years, do you have a favorite Fat Wreck release that you can pin point?

Yes, I do, and I hardly ever answer those questions, the “favorite” questions, because I feel like you sorta have to choose and throughout your life you have so many things that you love and things that are your favorite for periods of time. For example, I’ll listen to a record for six months straight, I’ll be just obsessed with one record, and that’s happened so many times in my life it’s totally truly difficult to site the ones that have had the biggest impact, but for Fat Wreck Chords, the answer kinda became clear when the Tony tribute was made and it’s just Fat Wreck Chords is so special. I think it’s arguably the best tribute album, well at least in my opinion. It’s my favorite tribute album ever made because so many different interpretations of those songs and those interpretations just solidify to me what I already knew, but to other people, just what a great songwriter he was. A great song can be translated into so many languages and Fat Wreck Chords really showed that. It’s just such a good record. The song choices were really solid and I thought everyone who played on it did just an excellent job, and some of the versions are so different than something Tony would have done that they’re just really beautiful to hear. I love that record, love it!

It’s been five years or almost five years since you’ve released a solo record. You have a new record out this month on Fat. How long have you had some these songs or are most of them recently written?

There were a few of them I had written over the last couple years that were sorta in the giant pile of songs that I had before Lagwagon made Hang that didn’t make sense for the record to me and, lyrically, I don’t think any songs had been written until long after that. I wrote the lyrics pretty quick. When I was ready to make the record, I just sat down and started writing the lyrics. There was one song on the record, called “Spill My Guts,” that I actually recorded about ten or so years ago with a little side kind of project band that I had with some old friends, called The Playing Favorites, and we did a version of that song. I wrote it for that record, but I always had some acoustic versions of songs that I wrote for that record laying around. That was one that I just thought, “Oh, this sounds really cool this way.” So that’s the only one that was an older song. The rest were written very recently.

You’re heading out on tour this month, can you compare touring solo to touring with Lagwagon?

Yeah, I mean, in some ways they’re similar, but in many ways they’re very different. Touring with a band, especially the band Lagwagon that I’ve been in for so long it’s kind of like home, the house that I grew up in. Lagwagon is very much my immediate family. We understand each other in a way that’s very different from when you tour with somebody you know less. And obviously, musically, the music is quite a bit different, different kind of energy, different kind of dynamic, musically speaking, but it’s definitely in some ways a safer atmosphere because it’s tried and true and we know what we’re doing and we travel in a little more style, maybe? [laughs] We have a bus and we have a driver and when we need to we have showers and those things.

Touring in a van is a far more romantic experience because the downside of the bus is that you’re traveling in a mobile home. You hardly look out the window and you’re just always where you are, you’re just in your house. And your bed is there and all those things. And I do love that, it’s great. It allows time to catch up on reading, but being in a van is way more of a sure adventure and we haven’t done that in a long time in Lagwagon. So, I really love those tours and I particularly love that fact that when I do solo tours I get to tour with different people every time that I haven’t toured with all that much. So that’s truly a pleasure. And musically, the collaboration’s different. It’s really fun to learn other people’s songs and to hear different harmonizing, or playing guitar on your song, that chemistry changes the collective identity of whatever it is you’re producing. It’s great. As a musician, it’s rewarding on a lot of levels. I really love it.

Hang, in my opinion, was the best record of 2014. Are there any new Lagwagon songs that you guys are working on?

No, I’ve been writing a lot though. I’m always writing songs. Wherever they’re gonna end up or whether they’re going to be recorded with anybody remains to be seen. I’m sort of doing what I do when I do a couple records. In a way, I am sort of starting over, but it’s great because there’s a total freedom in that, always. I think generally when I write a song, I don’t feel any need to comply to any rules, or that any one song has a purpose. Right now, I’ve just been writing a lot. I think for a while there I was probably a bit drained and I wasn’t writing a lot, but just in the last week, I’ve written three songs. We’ll see. I mean, it’s always my hope that they will be songs that will work well with Lagwagon, but until I sit with those guys and start collaborating and seeing where they take the song, which they are such experts at, I really don’t know.

And they always start out on acoustic, so, there’s a built in kind of, you know, almost prejudice that that’s where they’re supposed to remain because they start out slow and the slow sounds nice. It really just depends on the song. It depends on whether those guys react to it, but I’ll wait until I have four more songs to come to the table.

We have talked a lot about trying to follow up Hang, at least relatively quickly compared with the ridiculous hiatus that we had last time. We’re always on tour. We’re always working. People get the impression that we’ve broken up half the time because we take so long to make records, but it’s not true.

I may have been a bit trashed myself, but I seem to remember you saying something at the Fat 25 show in LA about playing Trashed in its entirety in November. Is this true?

Oh yeah. Sorry about that. Here’s what happened. At one point, certain people that were involved with tour happenings asked us if we would do an album. We had a band meeting about it. We were asked so late, we only had one or two days of rehearsal we were going to be able to do. We looked at the albums we knew the most of, and those two albums were Trashed and Hoss, and, well, Hang. We wanted to do an old record because the 25th anniversary, and our initial reaction just led mainly to doing the oldest of the records. So we decided Trashed, and maybe, a more seminal record for the early days of Fat. I don’t know, that’s the way we saw it.

What happened was, we learned the record, we played it the first three or five shows. We played it for a while on tour and we noticed immediately that we only had a 40 minute set. So, by the time we were done with the record, we would have time for one other song, which is really awkward. It just seemed so weird and bipolar and odd the way the set ended.

The other thing I noticed pretty quickly was that the kids in front of us were too young to know the songs. I mean, a lot of them. There were definitely people in front of us that weren’t born when we made the record every day. And so this weird little thing starts, like a rumor mill, and people would kind of whisper in my ear like, “Yeah, everybody’s saying that maybe doing Trashed wasn’t the right move. You guys should do Hoss.” And we’re saying, “Sure, if we had time to rehearse it. You can’t just play a record.” It just started to feel like it was a mistake.

Two or three days before Los Angeles, we put it to the crowd. We said, “We’ve been doing this album, Trashed, and our feeling is it’s not necessarily exciting people as much as we had hoped because a lot of people want to hear newer songs. So we’re just gonna ask you, do you want to hear Trashed in its entirety?” And we’d get a little cheer, it was pretty small. And then I’d say, “Or do would you like to hear a mix of songs from all our records?” And the crowd would go. Obviously, that was the choice. We did that for two or three days and then in LA, that was the first show, actually San Francisco, we decided we don’t even have to ask them. The answer is clear.

So, we all also knew that we had those two shows at The Troubadour coming up in November and we had talked about, after this tour, learning Hoss and then doing two nights, one where we do Trashed, one where we do Hoss, but now that we’ve done Trashed, I think we’re not going to do it. I think we’re going to do Hoss for sure, and we’re gonna decide between one of the other records that’s newer, maybe Double Plaidnum.

You’re killing me. Trashed is my favorite record.

I’m so sorry. I like the record a lot too. Everybody in the band loves playing it. I’m sure we’ll do it sooner or later, but it would be much easier to do these records that way if we had a longer set. It will be because then you can play all sorts of music including a whole album, and it’s not taking the entire set. I think this didn’t work on that front because the set was so short. But who knows? Maybe we will do Trashed and Hoss at those shows. I don’t know. It’s a small show. If we announce the records, maybe it will be more like 50% of the people on the deck will want to hear the record Trashed.

I will be there either way, but if it’s still up for a vote, I would like to vote for Trashed.

Alright, man. I’ll throw it into the hat.

Joey Cape’s Stitch Puppy and Lagwagon’s Hang can both be purchased from Fat Wreck Chords.

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