EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Joey Cape from Lagwagon


LOS ANGELES, February 1, 2014 — Lagwagon was the first band signed to Fat Wreck Chords and set the standard for what some may remember as the “Fat Sound.” Born in 1988, the band has released seven full-length albums on the label. Their last full-length release was in 2005. Lead singer Joey Cape has been a busy guy, however, playing in Bad Astronaut, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and also embarking on a solo career. Joey Cape took some time in December to speak with Wells On Music regarding his life in music as well as a new Lagwagon record due out in 2014.

Kevin Wells: What bands initially influenced you to write and play punk music?

Joey Cape: There were so many. I think the first bands that I really got truly inspired by were the kind of late 70s punk rock bands and the mid-70s stuff; Sex Pistols, the Ramones, that sort of stuff. I was pretty young then, but that was the first stuff I heard and it almost coincided with the late 70s stuff coming out of Los Angeles because I was a Southern California kid, and everything that came in the 80s after that whole period. I was really into bands like Motörhead already and I discovered the Ramones and it made sense to me, the simplicity of it and the poppiness of it, but I liked the Sex Pistols a lot too because it was really aggressive and it wasn’t metal. I had listened to nothing but hard rock and metal up before that and I was getting burnt out on that.

So that made sense to me, but then I heard the L.A. bands. I don’t know if it is because I grew up there, but they just totally made sense to me: Adolescents, the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Descendents, of course. And by ’81, I was in a punk band. I was a drummer. It made sense to me on a social level too. There weren’t many punks in my town. It was a pretty small crew and that outsider stuff is pretty appealing when you’re a teenager. I don’t know. I just liked that you could pretty much be yourself and do whatever you wanted to do and didn’t have to deal with the kind of cliques that were going on in my high school. It just made sense to me. It’s such a generic story, but really it’s how simple it is.

KW: Were the drums your first instrument?

JC: Yeah, I started playing drums when I was eight years old. My older brother was a guitar player. The way I see it, it’s his fault I have this life I have, which is a joke because obviously I am very thankful that I found my way in music. He kind of needed a drummer. I think he just sort of said, “You should be the drummer because I need a drummer.” He got me on the drums, of course I was total crap, but I got better and drums were a cool instrument to play. I still play a little and I often say I got cheated out of being a drummer because I had a singer that was an a**hole we had to kick out in the studio and I ended up playing guitar more because drums are too hard to cart around. Guitars you can play quietly in any setting, if you live in an apartment with a bunch of other people. It’s just one of those funny things how you evolve away from an instrument you started on, but that was it for me with drums.

I was eventually in a band with this jerk and we were in the studio making a demo, which was hard earned money from work. Everybody contributed and this guy kept not showing up and so we kicked him out in the studio. The bass player had to try to singing and then I had to try singing and I could kind of sing and I had written the songs, so I kind of knew the songs better and I ended up being a singer because of that. And then I’m in a band that becomes Lagwagon. It’s sort of funny, it wasn’t in the plan [laughs]. I definitely didn’t like being up front.

KW: Are there bands that influence you today?

JC: Totally. There are many songwriters I listen to and get inspired by, too many to name. Nowadays what is influential to me more often than just a great song, there’s plenty of people writing great songs and that’s always going to exist, but what I find more interesting now are younger bands that have a kind of more convoluted style of bands. There’s less of what I actually saw as different genres of music; it’s a much less defined thing.

So, what I kind of think is interesting with newer bands and songwriters is when you hear something, you go, “Wow, I never thought to do that.” I try to still love what I do and I still love music enough to still listen to as much of it as I can. We have regular listening parties at my house, and I mean, me and my daughter [laughs]. It’s not like I’m having parties, but we pull out a lot of vinyl. I still collect a lot. But yeah, I’m still inspired all the time by people.

There’s a guy here in the city, San Francisco, named Jack [Dalrymple] and I can never say his name right because it’s some kind of crazy Irish name, but Jack was in a band called One Man Army and later he was in Swingin’ Utters. He was in a band called The Revolts. Now, he’s got a band called Shiny Toys [Toy Guitar] or something? He is one of my favorite punk rock song writers. He’s so good. Every time I hear stuff he does, I’m just astounded he’s not more famous for being a great song writer.

There’s evidence of that if you listen to One Man Army or you listen to The Revolts EP, which Spike for the Gimmies sings in that band and Jack sings a little. Oh, he was in Dead To Me too, the first Cuban Ballerina, you can hear him singing and hear his songs on that. He has this amazing sensibility for punk. That’s a guy that would be a good example that every time I hear something he’s done, anything new, I’m always just really blown away by what a great songwriter he is too.

KW: What made you want to start performing as a solo artist?

JC: It’s not new. In a weird way, it’s something that kind of pre-existed a lot of what we do in bands. I always wrote songs on an acoustic guitar. I didn’t play piano, so that was my accompaniment when I was writing. When you write songs, you try ‘em out on people. You play in front of people all the time and you get more and more comfortable with it. Especially with your band, you sit down with them or you make demos. I did demos for almost every song I have ever done with every band. There is an acoustic demo of it. The only thing I hadn’t done was go on an actual stage and make an actual record.

I think the reason I took so long to do it is that I just didn’t really like the idea of it. I was younger and I thought, much like many people think, that there is no reason to do something like that, I’m in a band, you know? I do these things in bands and they’re loud and cool and acoustic’s for wimps and I’m not gonna do that, you know what I mean? The reality is, I grew up on Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel and Creedance, and all these bands that use acoustic instruments. I loved all that stuff. I love the Beatles stuff. I’m an old man, I like that stuff. I see it as kind of core songwriting stuff. I was a huge Elliot Smith fan. I like most of the more important artists of those genres anyway or singer-songwriter stuff.

For me, it’s sort of a closeted thing. At some point, you just come out. Not to be using that analogy too much, but it is a little bit like this is a big part of me that I just hadn’t done anything. I had so many times in my life where I recorded acoustic demos and played ‘em for someone and said, “What do you think of these songs?” Friends of mine would say, “You should put this out. This is really cool. I like this actually better [laughs]…”

That’s a taste thing, obviously that’s more often not the case. A lot of people don’t want to listen to that. I just felt it was a rite of passage and that I needed to do it for my own fear of it. Kind of like skydiving if you have a fear of heights or something. I just needed to do it to feel complete. I felt like it was something I never wanted to do, but I always felt like it was a missing part of being a musician. I wasn’t really a musician because I hadn’t actually sat there on my own. So when I did it, it was a bit of a relief. The stress of it was the first record I made. I put way too much time into it and I was too worried about it being perfect and in turn, it kind of suffered.

Now I look at it, I’ve done enough of it, if I record something and I think it’s nice, it’s whatever. I’ll let people hear it. I’m not as stressed out about it. It is nice because when you record with a band, there’s more people in the band than just you and you can either be a dictator or you can do the right thing and let everybody put their stamp on it and there’s a collective sort of soul of the band or whatever, for lack of a better word, and that’s the identity of that thing. When you do solo stuff as well, you get a little bit of your true art. You get to be one person painting the picture.

KW: Why do you think so many guys from punk bands have started going this route?

JC: I sort of have theories about that. I think three things. One, I think that records stopped selling and a lot of people started touring more and a lot of people started going back to real jobs. It wasn’t the heyday of sleeping on your friends’ couches and just being in a band. There was a little more reality involved. So, I think that there were people, you know, often someone who is a songwriter is really a lifer that dedicated to this thing. It’s what they do because that’s actually their art and what they know how to do and they’re passionate about it. So, I think there were some people that sort of said, “It’s a lot cheaper for me to put my backpack on, grab a guitar and hit the road. I’m gonna start doing this too.”

I also think there’s an age thing. A lot of these people are older and they’re going through that same thing I went through. Maybe they’re saying, “You know, I’ve always felt that I should do this.” I don’t know what they feel, but I think that has caused a lot of people to start doing it.

A combination of those things and the fact that a lot of these people always did this. It may seem to the general public maybe that they’re just doing something new perhaps being opportunists about it, but I think that’s more often not the case. That’s my take on it.

KW: When you write, do you try to write for a particular band or does that get sorted out after a song is written?

JC: It does depend a little bit, but in general, if I write a song or if I am writing, I just write. I just, in some capacity, just sit there with a guitar. And actually, that’s a really good thing to bring up because it has an effect on the acoustic thing, as well, happening. I have always written a song sitting down with a guitar. There has never been a time in my life where I plug into an electric guitar amp and cranked it up and [heavy distorted guitar mouth sounds] and I know that there are guys that write that way, but I think that’s funny. It was about the melody and the chords behind it and the lyrics came later. Or, I have lyrics that I’d written, some kind of journal or whatever, and then I went, “Oh, I have to make a song out of this.”

I always start with a pretty slow, mellow kind of thing and often those songs just can’t make the change. They just can’t make it through the band fax machine or whatever that f**kin’ completely changes the sound. I mean, the song doesn’t survive it sometimes, but I think it’s a nice way to write because if you can pick and choose from songs and the song is of some quality that it can exist in that simple dimension, then it’s more often going to be a better song any other ways. But I didn’t write for any of the bands in particular.

What I did do though, and what I have done, is when I am taking all my songs and am working on a record, and whatever record’s in front of me is the priority, and so I say, “Okay, Bad Astronaut. I gotta get weird with these songs.” [laughs] Then it’s, “How weird can I get?” There’s no rules. Then I think about the band and the instrumentation. It’s the same with Lagwagon. I think, “Well, this is what we kind of do.” But, you know, the songs make the decisions in the long run. They just want to go where they want to go no matter how you format them.

KW: There has been word recently on a new Lagwagon record in the works. How far along are you on that?

JC: Lagwagon, definitely. I’m writing and I have been for a long time for it. We’re just now starting to get together and work on the new material. We have plans to record next year and we have stuff like deadlines and we have all that set up. It’s all really easy stuff to meet. We would have to severely blow it, which we can because we’re good at that, [laughs] but I am really hoping we don’t live up to our name once again. There’s definitely plans in the works. I don’t like to get too specific about it because it always feels like I’m jinxing it or something, you know? It’s just weird. So, that’s happening.

Bad Astronaut, we have plans to release three of our records on vinyl on Fat [Wreck Chords] and there’s a whole bunch of songs that never got finished from the Derek years. We need to get together and figure out which ones are worthy and finish ‘em up and I think we’re gonna have a bunch of bonus material, I think, that will come around with those records. I don’t think they’ll end up being on some of the vinyl because it’s just too long, but it could be like a 7” thing included with each of the records or maybe downloads. There’s work happening in both camps, but right now, I’m just all about Lagwagon. That’s what I’m doing.

After I finish the Lagwagon album, I’m gonna have my usual 500 leftover songs [laughs] or whatever because it is really specific what makes it through the cut. [Lagwagon] gets the best of the best stuff. Well, [Lagwagon] gets to choose, it’s certainly a subjective thing, but whatever’s left over, I’m gonna try to make a solo record. I haven’t made an acoustic record since 2010, really. I like doing those. That’s what’s going on for me.

KW: Bad Astronaut just finished an Australian tour. Are there any plans for touring either solo or with any of your other bands in 2014?

JC: We’re gonna try to do a couple little things. In 2012, I did 280 shows. In 2013, I think it’s gonna come to 200 shows. So much touring in the last couple years. The 280 shows in 2012 is as much as I did in the early days of Lagwagon. So, that’s a bit much, but that’s how we make a living if we don’t want to go get a real job. I’m trying really hard to keep it this way, but right now 2014 is pretty open. I have a few tours, I think it’s like four right now, and hopefully not too many of those blanks will fill in. I want to make music, you know? Every once in a while, you have to stop and just say, “Okay, it’s a making music year.” You can write on tour, but there’s always someone in the way or you’re thinking about the show you’re gonna play. It’s hard to really get creative with a band on tour, I think.

KW: When you’re on tour, is there a food or restaurant you always look forward to when visiting a particular city?

JC: Oh my god! Yeah! Every town, pretty much, every town! I mean, this is the most natural thing that happens to just about anybody. There are some people that are somewhat immune to this and don’t do this, but I think almost everybody that does what I do naturally becomes a foodie, but in a way more like Anthony Bourdain, just looking for the poor man’s version. I’ve eaten at some pretty fancy restaurants too, but I’m not really that psyched to $200 on a meal, but yeah, for sure, man. For me, right now, the last year has been all Vietnamese. I’ve been addicted to Vietnamese food, so I just use my Yelp and various apps on the phone and I just try to find the best one. Wherever the venue’s located, you stop there. Sometimes it’s in the afternoon and you’ve got hours and hours to kill. That’s what I do, I go food.

KW: What city on tour has the best food for you?

JC: Well, if we’re talking about Vietnamese, my favorite Vietnamese place is in Adelaide in Australia and it’s called Adelaide Pho. It’s just pho, it’s just soup. They have a full menu, but that’s what you go to get there and it’s just amazing. The broth is like crack. [laughs] I don’t know, that’s kind of an impossible question to answer. It’s like when people say, “What’s your favorite band?” I like to eat a lot. I have a feeling as my metabolism slows down, I’m gonna be a great big man. Alittle man, but I’m gonna be very Santa Claus round.

Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News and also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music, and food. Kevin plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball

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