With a new album out to critical acclaim and commercial success (in punk rock terms), Lagwagon can with firm resolution claim that they are back and better than ever. Along with the new record, their first in nine years, there is also the Hang tour with label mates and fellow elder statesmen of the punk scene Swingin’ Utters. With both of these legendary bands, as well as a handful of great opening acts, you’d be a fool to be a punk fan and miss one of these shows. We caught up with Wagon vocalist Joey Cape to discuss the new album, the tour, and things that rhyme with disco.
Interview by Dustin Griffin From December 2014 Vandala Magazine READ MORE ARTICLES
So the new record is really heavy. It’s kind of a dream for early era Lagwagon fans in that it sounds like ‘Duh’ or ‘Trashed’ but with the production of your later stuff. Was that an organic result or did you guys plan it that way?
Joey: Yeah, it developed naturally, for sure. We never really plan anything when we make music, and I think that’s part of the reason it takes us such a long time to make records. We generally find ourselves waiting to see what it is we should do next, or how. And we always end up just doing what feels right. It’s just a matter of finding a collective identity of the band. But I can say that this was maybe the best collaborative experience that I’ve ever had in a band.
The songwriting process?
Joey: Yeah, it was way more collaborative than anything we’ve done. And it went smooth.
After a few listens to the record, some of the softer elements really start to show themselves. The first couple spins they kind of get buried in the riffs, but as they reveal themselves, the record really shows itself for the great deal of versatility within it. Would you say that’s a byproduct of the collaborative process you’re talking about?
Joey: Thanks. Yeah, I mean the biggest effect it’s had is that it’s an album that everyone in the band is very proud of. And I think for the first time everyone in the band wants to play every song live and is really fired up about it.
Actually, kind of a funny story, after we made the record we went to tour a bit in Europe. And it was the first night of the tour and everyone likes to get drunk and hang out, most nights it’s like that actually. But on this particular night, I happened to have the master of the new record with me and no one else in the band had heard it yet. And we ended up listening to our own record about nine times in a row, over many, many bottles of whiskey. And the driver, he was a new driver we had never met before and I met him the next morning and he said ‘so how many times do you think you’re going to listen to your own music on this tour?’ (Laughs) Which is totally embarrassing and not something any of us do, but we just are really proud of it and I think that’s the difference.
One song that blew me away was ‘Obsolete Absolute.’ Which is really kind of an epic song. It’s six minutes long, which in punk minutes is like twenty minutes.
Joey: It actually used to be seven minutes and we edited it a little bit at some point after the demo and it got down to about six and I was really disappointed. I was telling friends of mine ‘yeah, there’s going to be a seven minute song on the record.’ But six is still really long and actually the arrangement works better. But it was kind of the kitchen sink song. It developed over a period of time and I had all of these riffs I really wanted to use and thought maybe I could make a really epic song. We’ve never done that before.
Cool. Is that Flippin in the spoken word part?
Joey: It is. It’s funny, his voice is perfect for that. I was trying so hard to figure whether to sample something and thinking about all these friends of mine who have deep voices. Then one day we were at practice and Flip said something and I was like ‘dude, what am I thinking. You’re the guys.’ You’re in the band. It’s perfect. And then he came in and nailed it in one take. I typed up some things to say and said ‘just do it however you want with the music.’ And he just nailed it.
Does the placement of the song on the record have any significance?
Joey: I always wanted that song to the be the first song on the record. When I’m writing for a record like this, which is somewhat conceptual lyrically, I was trying to imagine the entire record. And you always think about sequence when you’re writing. Of course it never turns out the way you want it to because certain songs don’t work and you have to think about how the vinyl’s going to split. But I wanted the typewriter to start it off. That was an idea I had for like five years. To have a typewriter that conformed into a rhythm. And ‘Obsolete’ was the song for that because typewriters nowadays are sort of obsolete. And it’s about those things. It’s got a good place in the record though.
The record starts off great still though with ‘Burden of Proof’ feeding into ‘Reign.’
Joey: And those songs were written to be one song anyway. I think we just parted it that way so that, in the digital world that we live in, not everybody would have to listen to the intro.
That’s very kind of you.
Joey: I know, I’m very thoughtful. I’m also very humble when it comes to me singing with an acoustic guitar (laughs). I don’t want to put all the Lagwagon fans through that.
Lyrically, this record’s kind of bummer. I mean the lyrics are great, really well written, but thematically it’s pretty dark.
Joey: There’s always some catharsis to writing lyrics and I think that if you do it long enough, like myself, I mean I sort of have an addiction to it. But you always write one thing at a time. And something happens in your life and you deal with it, in my case by writing a song. So I’ll write lyrics at that moment about that one thing. And that’s normal, people do that in different ways. But this one was different because I’ve over time developed a series of rants. And every once in a while my friend will say, ‘you should write about that.’ And I’ve resisted it because I didn’t want to make a grumpy old man record. But then I began writing this record with similar themes and I basically just made a record about how I feel about the world that my daughter has to grow up in. So, yeah it’s dark, but it’s a dark subject matter to begin with when you look at things that way.
Joey: There actually was, at one point, a song on the record that was actually a really sweet song. A song called ‘Moral Compass.’ And we did record it but it didn’t make the record. And it was a slower, mid tempo song and it had a sweeter perspective. But when you start demoing and recording there are some songs that just don’t quite fit.
The cover’s a little ballsy in some ways, but is open to a great deal of subjective interpretation. Who’s concept was that?
Joey: That was mine. It’s something that just kind of popped into my head at one point. I mean I wanted something that was thought provoking for that reason. It’s a powerful image that has a bit of American heritage to it, or at least it has a connection to my life in many ways. And I also feel like the bees are a good image because I think of bees as a good example of what we’re doing to our environment. But I had this image in my head and I also thought if you could get a real photo of bees flying through a noose on a landscape, it would be an incredible image. Of course your imagination usually far outweighs the possibilities in reality.
But then I called Dena Lonsdale, who’s one of my wife’s best friends and is a professional photographer up in Montana. And I thought of her because she’s done a lot of photos that are similar to this kind of thing. And when I mentioned it to other people, they just thought it was crazy (laughs). Which it kind of is. But it was amazing, I just called her and it was miraculous. She was like ‘oh yeah, there’s a place down the street from my house that sells nooses.’ And I thought, that’s unbelievable, but that’s Montana, I guess. And she learned how to tie it herself. So that’s just funny. And I asked her if she knows of any bees and any farms and she’s like ‘yeah I know of three.’ And then she sent that photo three days later. It was amazing. And it’s perfect. No photoshop, it’s all real. And the band and the label were excited about it. But I did’t expect it to work out. I like it though. I think it fits the record.
‘Resolve’ came out nine years ago. That’s a long time between full length records. Did you guys become disillusioned at all with the bump and grind of recording records every two or three years?
Joey: We really haven’t been away. It looks like we take longer breaks because the world’s a big place, but we continuously tour. And while that’s happening we’re itching to get back into the studio and make music. We just have other outlets. The thing is when you’re ready, you’re ready. And to do what’s going to serve the best integrity and direction of the band. So it takes a while sometimes. But the idea of actually working on a record is probably the most appealing thing to anybody in my band. The wait is harder than the release.
Has there been talk already of the next record?
Joey: Actually as soon as we finished recording this one, two of the guys in the band came to me and said ‘I think we should just go right back and do the next one.’ They would much rather be working. It’s the part of being in a band that’s cool. And the cool thing with us is that it never really had anything to do with record sales. I mean we had our heyday when we sold more records than we do now, but that’s not what created the dynamic in the band. And I’m really happy about that. Because the business can become a cancer when record sales are your focus.
Did you guys get a lot of major label attention in the 90’s during punk’s boom time?
Joey: There was interest, but very little actually, compared to other bands in our scene. I think we had maybe two approach us. I don’t know that we ever had the accessibility that major labels were looking for at the time when bands like Green Day and Offspring were killing it. And then if they did have any interest, all they had to do was look at me standing next to a giant on stage and say, ‘yeah, we can’t sell this’ (laughs).
Congrats on One Week Records by the way.
Joey: Thank you.
Are you focusing on hand picking artists you’d like to work with or can any old Joe just send you a demo?
Joey: I guess a little of both. So far it’s been more of a hand pick. Some people I knew, other people I met on tour or in other ways. But I don’t really consider this to be a record label, I consider it to be more of a session label. The record’s are a one off and it’s sold as
a session, it’s not broken up.
I’m trying to avoid any politics I can and focus on protecting the artist and their art. And once they’re there, they can record originals, cover songs, anything they want. The only requirements I have is that they get to me and get home. And I take care of the rest. It’s really just for fun though, just trying to capture a moment. It’s all about the songs.
I can’t imagine that you’ll ever have a lack of interest as far as people wanting to come and record and do something that purely organic and bullshit free.
Joey: Yeah, it’s one week. It’s one week of someone’s life. It’s not that time consuming and it’s totally fun.
Are you going to do a One Week record?
Joey: Yeah I am. Not until after the tour, at the end of the December. I actually have a list I bring with me on tour that people can sign their email on and I’ll send them the record for free when it’s done at the end of the year.
I want to touch on the tour quick. You’re going out with Swingin’ Utters. Which is really exciting. I think they’re one of the best bands around right now.
Joey: Yeah I really love them. Really good band.
How much of the record are you planning on playing on the tour?
Joey: The plan originally was to play the whole thing. But we played the record release show on Oct. 28th here in San Francisco and instead of playing the record over speakers or whatever, we just got up and played it ourselves top to bottom. And after playing it we all agreed that it’s pretty long with breaks and talking in between. And it would take too much of the set to play the whole thing. But I wanted to do it like an encore. Come back out and play the whole thing. But that would be like a fifty minute encore. So we’re going to play about five or six songs from it. Which is more than we usually do . Usually when we put a record out, we’re aware that people want to hear the older stuff and just do one or two new ones. But there’s kind of a fine line when deciding how many new songs people are going to tolerate or want to hear.
Give the fans what they want to hear.
Joey: Yeah but even then. I mean there are always going to be songs that go over better live than others. But it bothers me a lot to just rest on the same songs all the time. I always think it would be nice to go back and play some of the older stuff we don’t usually play live. But with this new record, because we like it so much, it’s the opposite. We’re trying to figure out what not to play. But we don’t even have a set list yet for this tour.
It’s cool too when you’re playing cities that only a couple hours from each other and you’re going to have people who are going to go to both shows, to have something a little different for each one.
Joey: Yeah I mean once you get going, you do start to have and rely on a similar set, because it helps the band by knowing the changes and timing. But definitely when we play close markets we switch it up a little bit.
Just as long as you make time for ‘Beer Goggles’ every night.
Joey: Oh God. You know it’s funny for years and years that was the song that I just did not want to play. It’s a cool song, musically, but it’s kind of a voice killer. And lyrically it was a silly song that could be kind of seen as misogynistic or sexist and I am so not those things. And then Maximum Rocknroll did a review of our first record. It was our first review and they basically focused on the misogyny in that song. Which just killed me.
So I had a bad taste for a long time. Then a couple years ago I wanted to start playing it again and it’s actually our drummer now that hates to play it so it rarely makes it into a set.
Well, you can’t fault stupid kids for being stupid kids. Look at ‘Milo Goes To College.’ There are some homophobic lyrics on there that are in no way a reflection on the band or who they are today. Or where then even.
Joey: Oh of course. And we all know which lyric it is.
Joey: And they don’t even sing that live anymore. They replaced the word with ‘disco.’ (sings) ‘You f*cking disco.’
Well, I’m all for you playing the record as an encore.
Joey: I wish we could do that. If it was an EP, it would make perfect sense
You also might collapse afterwards.
Joey: Probably would, yeah.
Lagwagon recently just released their album “Hang” which is available on all the regular online stores such as ITunes and more. Plus the band is currently on tour so be sure to catch them live.