This should come as not exactly breaking news, but this coming weekend in Las Vegas marks the twentieth installment of Punk Rock Bowling. Created by Stern Brothers of Youth Brigade fame two decades ago, the annual bacchanalian celebration of all things punk rock has grown into a much larger festival than it originally started out as. Yet somehow it has remained true to the the spirit of the scene that spawned it. It remains a must-see destination for punk rockers from not just around the country but around the world. Like, for example, Joey Cape.
The solo artist-slash-Scorpio-slash-Gimme-Gimme-slash-Lagwagon-frontman is not only pulling double duty at the event this year (he’s headlining a solo gig on Friday alongside Tim Barry – limited tickets still available here – and Lagwagon headlines the sold-out Fat Wreck Chords showcase on Saturday), but he’s been in attendance for all but a small handful of Punk Rock Bowling weekends over the last two decades. And while it’s long been a compelling event for Cape even if he’s not playing, he remembers having misgivings in the earliest years about if the concept would take off. “I’ll be honest, I remember the first year or the second year, thinking that “this isn’t going to last!” I didn’t know that it would work. I was definitely skeptical,” he explains. While Vegas has long attracted people from across all walks of life and garnered a well-earned reputation for glitz, glamour, and debauchery, there was something about the derelicts taking over and throwing a bowling party that might be too much for even Sin City to handle. “I just imagined with all those people, that I was going to enjoy (the first installment of PRB) because it was definitely going to be the first and last one of those, you know!” Cape credits not only the Stern brothers for running a great ship, but the location itself for creating a unique environment that keeps the festival working. “It’s all in one area, and it’s in Vegas, which is just the built-in best possible platform. You throw a stone in any direction and there’s a bar or something else to do that’s wild and fun. That place has always been an escape for adults; like a Disneyland for adults. So you couple that with this kind of music, and there’s the simple absurdity of it that works for people.”
There are a handful of milestone events coming rapidly down the ‘pike for Lagwagon this year, although when your band has been in existence for such a long time, there are seemingly no shortage of such milestones to celebrate. The band’s highly-regarded fourth album, Double Plaidinum, somehow turned twenty last year, while its stellar – albeit shorter – follow-up Let’s Talk About Feelings reaches the same milestone this year. Once Cape and his Lagwagon cohorts return from a fairly lengthy European tour in August, there are plans in the works to hopefully celebrate both albums in a meaningful way, and to tie them into an even larger and more meaningful milestone: 2019, you see, marks Lagwagon’s thirtieth year as a band. Kinda.
“Within the band, we kinda go “is it ‘88 or ‘89?” explains Cape. “There was a band in ‘88 that I wasn’t in that was the band I joined. When I joined the band (Section Eight), I started writing songs for the band, and it was enough of a revamp. I like to think (it was) ‘88, but it’s funny, the one other member that was in the band before me, Chris Flippin, The Big Bitch, prefers ‘89.” Because of the somewhat nebulous origin of the band’s initial formation, the band have blown by several milestone anniversaries in the past – their 25th anniversary roughly coincided with the Fat Wreck Chords 25th anniversary tour a few years back, though even that tour came around the label’s actual 26th anniversary – but whatever timeline you go by Cape and his bandmates seem to realize that this milestone is an important one. “You have anniversaries that you’re married every year, and the tenth anniversary of a marriage is a big deal, so the thirtieth anniversary of a band should be celebrated! That’s five assholes trying to get along! And they’re not even having sex!”
Some plans to celebrate the band’s coinciding milestones are still taking shape, but we do know that Lagwagon will perform Let’s Talk About Feelings in its entirety at Fest 17 in Gainesville this coming October. Album-specific shows and tours have become more of the norm for bands of all genres over the last handful of years, and while that might give one initial pause to jump into that fray, there is a special lure to events like that if they’re done the right way. “I love doing it because I think there is a historic time-stamp that coincides with the release of an album,” Cape explains. “We obviously come from a generation where sequence and the entire album matter and have their own feel. That still matters to us, being old men in a day and age where singular songs and Spotify are the norm. I think there’s something really cool about doing it with a band. It takes playing a whole record to really revisit that vibe and that feeling and that climate that the band was in.”
Stay tuned for more on Let’s Talk About Feelings and Double Plaidinum plans in the ramp-up to Lagwagon’s 30ish anniversary in 2019. And who knows..maybe we’ll even get new music before 2019 is up: it has, somehow, been four years since the release of their latest full-length, Hang, after all. “We’ll probably get back in the studio by the end of the year or the beginning of next year, so we are going to actually follow through,” says Cape. “After we made Hang, everybody agreed and said “let’s stop doing this bullshit, let’s get right back on the horse after tour.” Between touring for Hang and touring for Fat Wreck’s 25th, anniversary, that “tour” lasted for a couple years, however. Cape jokes: “we toured for like two years, and at the end of two years it’s like “alright, I’ll see you guys NEVER! I love you guys, but fuck you!!”
Head below to read our full chat with the Joey Cape. We caught up over the phone on the eve of “Lagwagon Day,” and a long, winding, fun conversation ensued, ranging from details on the band’s history to tidbits about new solo material. And let us know if you’re in Vegas for PRB or Gainesville for Fest!