Published on November 17th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Interview: Lagwagon’s Joey Cape
California punk band Lagwagon are a bit older and wiser these days. As they release their new album, ‘Hang,’ we chat with frontman Joey Cape.
In the early 90s, a glossier take on punk rock became popular in the mainstream, with bands like Green Day and Rancid hitting the airwaves and developing legions of fans. California’s Lagwagon formed in 1990, and while they shied away from major label attention their peers were getting, their album ‘Trashed’ was successful (remember their cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl?’).
Around 25 years later, Lagwagon has just released their eighth studio album, ‘Hang,’ which showcases a band that is maturing in the good sense of the word. The album delves into deeper and sometimes more political territory than usual, with central themes revolving around everything from loss to being disenfranchised with the system. Giving the finger to the man isn’t new for punk music, but Lagwagon are approaching it with both guts and intellect. The Feedback Society sits down with the band’s frontman, Joey Cape, to talk about the state of the world, Black Sabbath, and Lagwagon’s journey.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: You’ve got a real timely album on your hands. It’s obviously not a weird thing for punk music in general, but why the move towards more political leaning lyrics?
JOEY CAPE: I’ve always written about human nature, human issues. The sort of traumas in my life. I’m usually inspired by something in my life. This was more like an observation of the world that my daughter has to grow up in. I wanted to write something that was somewhat conceptual in that sense. Something that had central themes. That’s something I’ve never really done because I felt like it was something that you’d do writing a novel. Something that will take years. I felt like it was easier to write when you’re inspired about one thing. So I think that’s why it has a different feel to it, because there’s central themes, you know?
TFS: Does this mean that you had to do a ton of research? Into world affairs and that kind of thing?
JC: I didn’t need to do a ton of research. It was really just a series of rants that I’ve had for years and years. The kind of things I would say to friends. You know the kind of conversation you’d have with friends over a beer, talking about the things in the world that really bother you. You kind of have a rant that develops after awhile, an opinion about it. But it’s not something I normally write about because I do sort of steer away from those sorts of politics. But I started thinking more and more that there is a way to approach it that’s more human at its core. Ideas like, the importance of empathy and the fact that it feels like it’s dying. The importance of not being a narcissist. Things that I see happening to people in the world in my time, while I’ve been alive. And, you know, what kind of scares me about it.
TFS: And did writing this all out make you feel better in some way?
JC: It’s always catharsis. I think that’s a good question and definitely is the answer. There was something like 30 or 40 pieces I was working on and those 11 made the record are basically the ones that kind of work together and felt most developed. I wanted to get it right, so I spent about two years writing the lyrics, which is a lot longer than I usually do. Usually they just write themselves. I think that’s what gives it a political feel, like you pointed out. That’s what makes it different than the rest of our records.
TFS: How has the sound changed, not just on the new record, but over time?
JC: There’s always a thing about releasing an album, or writing music together as a band, that [the sound] is always depicted by the current state of the band. What is the true collective identity of the band musically? People evolve individually. Bands evolve. As it happens, it happens slow and in different directions for individuals, so it’s kind of difficult to know exactly what the right thing to do is at all times with the band. I think that’s part of the reason we take so long to make records. First I have to get my finger on the pulse then the band has to also be ready. I like it though, because we’re not making records that we’re not proud of. But as for change, it’s really difficult to see or be objective about when you’re in it.
But we did some things differently. It was the most collaborative record we’ve done. In some regard I feel it’s the purest Lagwagon album, in at least that everyone’s involved in it and how everyone feels about it. I don’t know that we’ve ever made a record that everyone in the band is collectively as proud of. It’s the kind of music my band wants to play, not just one guy in the band. A lot of times in the past, I wrote the music and arranged the song top to bottom. I’d bring the song almost complete to my band and they’d kind of add their signature to it. But this time around was completely different. I came to them with a lot of ideas, but it was completely a collaboration from the start.
TFS: Another reason there’s space between albums is that you’ve been doing solo stuff. How do you determine what’s for Lagwagon and what doesn’t fit?
JC: I write all the time. I’m fairly prolific. Writing is something I just do. I can’t turn it off. A lot of the things I write, ultimately, Lagwagon gets first right of refusal, but sometimes I don’t even bring things to the table because I can so clearly see, this [song or idea] isn’t for my band. And I don’t want to put something on those guys that I feel like they won’t enjoy playing. Everything I think is right for Lagwagon goes into a little folder. And when it’s Lagwagon time again, I have hundreds of little riffs and ideas.
TFS: How do you know when it’s Lagwagon time?
JC: Mostly it’s a synergy thing. We were touring in support of this box set we put out called ‘Putting Music in its Place,’ made up of predominantly older material. The first five year, all the outtakes. By revisiting all those old records and playing those songs live, it kind of sparked something. It reminded us where we came from. And then, out of that, started to develop the next step. It was really interesting; it was almost like a light switch. It just happened one day. I just kind of knew one day. It just made sense.
TFS: We’re all getting older — how do you keep the stage show fresh and alive?
JC: That’s a good question. I dunno. We start tour in two days. I know we’re facing years of touring with this new record. It seems like, at my age, just because of the things I’ve done with my life physically, I’ve never been much of an athlete, or taken care of myself, in that way [He Laughs]. I always kind of think, ‘well, let’s see what happens on this tour.’ There are bad backs, I’ve got a really bad knee. Every other week, there’s like a new fungus growing somewhere on my body. Like, I don’t know — it’s so fuckin’ crazy. I just look at it and say, ‘we’ll see how it goes!’ Maybe somebody will actually break this time.
Think about someone like Sabbath, who are still going. Ozzy Osborne and all those other guys, you look at them and they just sort of clutch on stage, and you think, oh boy, we’re really not that far from that.
TFS: Funny that you mention that! I saw them awhile back as well, and while I thought they were great, it was funny to see Ozzy do this weird, old man grandpa shuffle across the stage. It was almost…cute.
JC: It is! It’s cute! I took my older brother for his 50th to see that and we were kind of laughing. Holy shit, is he gonna die? He’s shuffling around with those tiny little sliding footsteps hunchbacked around the stage. You kind of get the feeling that everyone else on the stage is like, don’t look, you took all the money, man. It is funny. It’s like the ghost of Christmas future. We’re on the cusp of that sort of situation. It was never important to me before, but I’ve started taking longer walks, doing a little bit of stretching and stuff like that, every day on tour, trying to stay somewhat in shape. And, you know, we don’t move as much as we used to. It’s that simple. If I see a video of our band from the early 90s, we’re jumping up and down, the whole time and it’s kind of like, can’t do that anymore.
TFS: Does this mean you’re less booze-soaked than when you were young men?
JC: We may actually be more booze-soaked now than we ever were. It’s bizarre, I don’t know why. I’ll say this — to play live shows, to do a good live show, the most important thing is that you play well. We’re playing as well as we’ve ever played, so, you know, in our world, you count a lot on the audience. If there’s a synergy between you and the audience that’s working, then you don’t have to move around that much, you just have to be intense. Get into it with them and enjoy the experience. It doesn’t have to be about acrobatics, it can just be about intensity and connection. You’re kind of good at any age as long as that’s happening.