Once upon a time not long ago, the future seemed very much unclear for Lagwagon. The seminal California punk band played occasional tours and festival shows, but the members each had what seemed to be increasingly-mounting outside obligations (perhaps most notably frontman Joey Cape also had his own increasingly busy solo career, he and drummer Dave Raun staying active in Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, former bassist Jesse Buglione leaving the band and being replaced by Joe Raposo, and Chris Rest joining No Use For A Name). Though they never officially went away, there were no plans to record any new material after the band’s 2005 ode to late-drummer Derrick Plourde, Resolve.
But a funny thing happened on what seemed to be the road to Hiatus-ville (or at least ‘Extended Break-town’). The band embarked on a lengthy tour in support of their 2011 Putting Music In Its Place boxed set. Somewhere on that run, the creative juices got flowing again. According to Cape, “something happened during that period of time where I felt like we kinda got re-fired up. A lot of synergy and chemistry came back into the band through that process.” Over the ensuing several years, Cape would begin writing new music specifically for Lagwagon. In spite of nearing the quarter-century mark fronting the band (and his own half-century mark on this planet), the music that Cape found himself writing was arguably the most aggressive, heavy music of his career. “It seems to me like it’s heavier than anything we’ve ever done!” He continues: “I think it’s a matter of where the band is now. We always try to make records that are appropriate to the collective personality the band has at the time. We all grew up on different kinds of music, metal and punk and rock and really heavy stuff. I think that most of the guys in my band prefer the really heavy stuff.”
But it wasn’t just angry music Cape was composing; the lyrics he found himself writing were also amongst the angriest of his career. “But the basic, central theme of the record is just my view of the world that I live in now, that I’m raising my daughter in. This is just a series of rants that (you’d hear) if you were my pal and hung out at the pub with me on a Wednesday night.” Fatherhood may have softened Cape in some ways, but it’s also made him more frustrated in the world around him. “I think it’s a bit cheesy to say that ‘we’ve got to hold on to hope,’ you know, because I honestly don’t have a lot of hope. That said, I’m dealing with what I’m dealing with, so how do I make the best of it.”
The result of Cape’s frustration and, perhaps, lack of hope is Hang. Due out October 28th on their longtime label home of Fat Wreck Chords, Hang is a dozen of the heaviest, most earnest songs that Lagwagon have recorded to wax. While much of the material is no doubt focused on society’s woes, there’s also an ode to the band’s longtime friend and touring partner Tony Sly, whose 2012 death rang loudly throughout all corners of the scene. While you might expect “One More Song” to be a mournful, acoustic number, in reality, it’s anything but. “I had no intention of writing a song for Tony like this because I just didn’t feel in this case that words or melodies or anything would really suffice. I didn’t feel like anything would be deep enough or good enough to represent anything that I wanted to say or feel. And I didn’t for a long time, but that song just kinda came out of the blue one day. I just couldn’t deny it, I had to do it.”
Head below to read our full, in-depth conversation with Cape. It’s a long one, we’ll admit, but it finds the always good-natured Caper in an honest, thoughtful and increasingly candid mood. Be sure to check out Lagwagon on the road with Swingin’ Utters and This Legend later this fall; full tour details here. Who knows…maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch Hang start to finish!
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): What I think was most noticeable about Hang to me from first listen is just how aggressive it is. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, start to finish, it’s probably the most aggressive album in the Lagwagon catalog. Was that sort of a conscious decision to write an album that fired on all cylinders like that right away, or is that just sorta come as part of the process?
Joey Cape: First of all, it’s really nice to hear you say that. It’s interesting. I agree with you, yet, somehow I’ve had different reactions to it. Someone will go “yeah, it’s not quite as heavy as your usual stuff.” And I’ll be like, “really? It seems to me like it’s heavier than anything we’ve ever done!” But you know, you can’t have expectations, but it’s nice to hear you say that.
I think it’s a matter of where the band is now. We always try to make records that are appropriate to the collective personality the band has at the time. We all grew up on different kinds of music, metal and punk and rock and really heavy stuff. I think that most of the guys in my band prefer the really heavy stuff and for many, many years, a lot of the songs I was writing were maybe more pop oriented. And I think that’s good , too, but on this record, that wasn’t important to me. The melodies were important, but almost more important was that I really wanted to make a record with those guys that they love and want to play live. And it was more collaborative than our other records by a long shot. I have generally, in the past, had a song written and arranged from beginning to end, and I’d come in with it and of course there’s a lot of discussion and everybody puts their stamp on it and their own imprint on a song. But with this record, things got to the band at a much earlier period of the process, so we were collaborative on this record. And I think it works. In fact, it changed the way I feel about making records for Lagwagon entirely. I feel like I’ll never go back to the other way. It’s much better to develop all the stuff together!
Do you think part of that was because there was such a length of time between albums?
Oh definitely. I’m certain that that had an effect. There’s not doubt that everybody was, what do they say, champing at the bit? People always say ‘chomping at the bit,’ but I think it’s supposed to be ‘champing.’
I think it is ‘champing,’ yeah.
Yeah. So everybody was really anxious to make a record and to record again, for obvious reasons. So that definitely helps. But there was another element. Years ago, we put out this boxed set (Putting Music In Its Place, Fat Wreck Chords, 2011) with all these early songs. And we were touring in support of that boxed set for a few years, and because of that we were doing these old sets. Something happened during that period of time where I felt like we kinda got re-fired up. A lot of synergy and chemistry came back into the band through that process. And for whatever reason, somewhere a couple years ago, it just kinda clicked with me how to write, and what we needed to do; what was going to work. That’s essential; I don’t ever write a record for Lagwagon unless I feel like I know what we’re supposed to be doing, or at least how to start. That’s why we always take long breaks. I don’t want to look back on our history and not be proud of everything we’ve done. In my opinion, it’s worth the wait, and we can do other projects to keep the creative thing at bay. This was just one of those things where it was the right time, and because of that (this record) just came together…it was a lot of work, but it was effortless work, you know?
So it was ultimately that tour around the boxed set that brought it back together? Because I know for a while, even on that tour, you had talked about not really being all that stoked about writing new music for Lagwagon, particularly because… I think in an interview with one of our writers, Hayley, a few years ago you talked about how records don’t sell nowadays, and people don’t necessarily want to hear the new stuff right away anyway…
Well, let me qualify that. It’s not about sales, it’s about them actually hearing the record.
To make a new record and have people not hear it, when you play the new songs, you’re playing songs they haven’t heard. And at some point, when you have a really big catalog of songs, you have more than enough to choose to make four or five different sets entirely. And it just feels like, “well, these are the songs that people want to hear.” Because they’re not with you all the time, they see you once every few years, so they’re very happy to hear the songs that are tried and true for them and that they love. So there’s this point where you feel like maybe the better way to do it is to just record new music every once and a while and put a few songs out for free, you know? Because it feels like nobody’s really benefitting from this monetarily, so we should just keep this pure art. That said, that’s the voice of somebody who doesn’t have songs for their band, you know what I mean?
I mean, when your band is ready and you feel it, it doesn’t matter whether people are going to get it or not get it, or it gets to them or not. Every record you make, if you’re making records for the right reason, in my opinion, you’re very self-indulgent about it.
Right, of course.
You’re doing the record for yourself and for your band. Everybody in your band is making that process and everything about the outcome of it about themselves; about keeping themselves happy. And that’s the only way you can make a record, I think, that kind of rings with conviction, that has that sound that you believe when you hear it. I’m sure when I said that, I felt that way, because I feel that way a lot about the way things are now. It’s a world where it seems like you’re not selling the art anymore; the art is free.
So what you can do is create the art and then if people want to go see you perform it live, you can go tour. And that’s how you’re going to make a living nowadays. Certainly how we make a living is touring a lot. If it’s about that at all. But none of us are trust fund babies !
(*both laugh*) Right!
We can either paint houses or make t-shirts or we can tour, and we still love touring so… When this record was coming around and the original incarnation of all of these songs started happening and we were all on the same page, there was a point where I said “yeah, okay, let’s see what the guys think.” And as soon as I brought stuff to the guys, it was totally on.
You obviously write a lot anyway. Before you brought the stuff for this album to the guys, was it decidedly for Lagwagon or was it sort of “let me write and see where it goes”? Because it sounds like you wrote “an album” rather than “a collection of songs,” if that makes any sense.
Lyrically that’s definitely true. It’s hard to explain this, but I think I always wanted to do a sort of conceptual record…and much more conceptual than what I did this time. I think I had ideas for years and years of ways to do that. And in some ways, Resolve was that, because it was all a tribute to Derrick Plourde. There were some Bad Astronaut records that got close. But I haven’t really achieved that. As someone who’s been writing a long time, I see so many possible literary devices and so many things that you can do that I always end up saying “that would take five years and I don’t have five years!” (*both laugh*) So what can I do in two years, which is what I did with this record. I had to forgo quite a few ideas that I had because they seemed too time consuming.
But the basic, central theme of the record is just my view of the world that I live in now, that I’m raising my daughter in. This is just a series of rants that if you were my pal and hung out at the pub with me on a Wednesday night, which I often do…weeknights are what I like for drinking, so I go out with my buds on weeknights…and somewhere around one o’clock in the morning I start talking (*both laugh*). And they’re listening to me, and most times they’re telling me to shut up, but occasionally I’ll have a friend say “you need to write a song about that, man!” And I always, over the years, thought ‘yeah, when I’m a bitter old man, that’s when I’ll write that song,’ because it feels that way, in a way. But I realized at one point that the central themes to the things that I talk about are all much more about being (mic drops out). And about disappointment, but they come from a good place. I want elements of the world that I grew up in as a child to exist still. As you get older, you tend to identify with your grandparents, you know?
First your parents, then your grandparents. And the older you get, the more you identify with and feel empathy for them, because you start to see these mistakes being repeated, and you see these things that humans seem to migrate toward as we evolve that are so bad and so obviously bad. And the dangerous part about writing about these things is that it’s easy to seem pretentious. It’s also really easy to come off as ‘hippy-dippy’ when you’re writing about peaceful things, you know? When you’re writing about “this is a much better option” rather than us becoming narcissistic, sociopathic people, if we can just hold on to empathy and have compassion…these are pretty hard things to write about. So it took me a long time to write the lyrics that I wrote. And it’s dark, because these are dark subject matters. But I just started writing down the things that I was ranting about, and eventually I had probably 40 different pieces that I was working on that were all centered around this thing that I just jokingly call the ‘bitter old man rant.’ But these are the ones that felt like they worked together the best.
Do you think it is the ‘bitter old man’ thing…let me rephrase that. Do you think it would be any different looking at the world if you didn’t have a kid?
Definitely! When I had a child, it changed me. It doesn’t change everyone, but I think people feel change when they have something that is dependent on them in a way that you really have to make sacrifices and you have to lose a lot of yourself. You have to be selfless.
Or you should anyway, for it to work.
You should, yeah. A lot of people don’t, we know that. But I embraced it. I always wanted children and I was family-oriented from an early stage. So for me, it didn’t change me a lot, but it did change my priorities and it did change how I started looking at things. It made me braver! It made me braver to say the things I want to say about what’s happening without worrying about sounding like some kind of weakling. I think we live in a world that makes us want to wear badges of strength, and some of those things are xenophobia and hate and fear. Those kinds of things are like protective shells that people move towards because they’re sensitive. Because it hurts. But it’s supposed to hurt! When things are bad… I made that analogy at some point on the record, that if you get stung by a bee, that’s how you learn that you don’t want to get stung by a bee! (*laughs*) It’s not a good thing to get stung by a bee or bit by a spider! It hurts! But that creates a boundary, and it should create a response that’s empathetic. It should create empathy, not fear and hate. This is kind of the core of what I was going for with the record; to say the things that maybe I hadn’t been brave enough to say before. The biggest issue…like I said before, it’s easy to sound pretentious when you write about these things and it’s easy to sound trite, because these are things that a lot of people talk about. But if you write from wherever your heart is, there’s no reason not to do it.
I think also, it sounds to me like you are writing from a point where you’ve been stung by the bee before! There are a lot of people who tell you that ‘you don’t want to get stung by the bee!’ proverbially, but I think sometimes when you actually get stung by it and live through some of those experiences and can identify with them, it makes it more, personal and honest, if that makes any sense.
So that’s what I took from that analogy, which obviously weaves its way in and out of the record…
Life is a brutal teacher, and life has many painful moments. Within every year of my life, certainly through the past twenty to thirty years, I’ve had exceptional tragedies and great heights; lows and highs. There’s always unbelievable things happening, and rather than just coop up and put on the shell and go to a more introverted place, I think the correct reaction is that “this is painful because this is not good…how can I make this better or what can I learn from it?”. And again, that sounds really trite, but that is sort of it. I feel like the part where I joke about the bitter old man thing and where I start talking about the way I see people reacting, the way I see this sort of blatant disregard for history. I don’t know if the media can be blamed for it because there are certainly people that take the bait, but it’s very much a world where there’s constantly these ideologies that are being presented that have to do just with denial. It’s like what young people think is ‘cool’…it gets pretty awful to watch, and it scares the shit out of me! I don’t want my daughter to grow up around this kind of thinking. I want some of the conventional wisdom that exists to carry on! It’s hard not to be alive as long as I’ve been alive and not see a really drastic change.
Does that inspire…and maybe inspire is the wrong word…but doesn’t that lead to a feeling of hopelessness sometimes? Like, “Christ, here we go again, and again, and again…” – making the same mistakes not just once but over and over and over again?
I think it can and I think it does! It has with me many times. But I think that’s an okay reaction because at least it’s sensitive, or at least it’s not insensitive. The question is how do you deal with that.
I think it’s a bit cheesy to say that ‘we’ve got to hold on to hope,’ you know, because I honestly don’t have a lot of hope. That said, I’m dealing with what I’m dealing with, so how do I make the best of it. What do I want to look back on when I was writing this record? Do I want to look back on me writing another whole record about all the horrible things that happened in the two or three years that I wrote the record that I’ve done so much of? Or did I want to try to write a record that encompasses what I see? I don’t know if people will identify with it or not…we’ll see.
Personally I think they will, although maybe that comes from being in a similar space of being in my mid-thirties and having a soon-to-be seven-year-old daughter myself!
So maybe there’s some sort of mutual identification thing going on. When you talked about the high highs and the low lows you’ve had over twenty or thirty years of doing this, do you find it makes sense to write when you’re in the moment? When you’re in the high highs and the low lows? Or do you have to step back from that a little bit and apply context to what you were going through? To let the bad thing happen in order to figure out what it was for?
It depends. A lot of times I’ll write about something that happened in my life that effects me that way when I have a knee-jerk reaction to it. A lot of times that feels like that can’t change; that that reaction was the right reaction and the most pure, straight-to-the-core-of-how-I-feel-about-it reaction. That was the case with Resolve. I wrote the record in about a week after Derrick had passed, and it was all just this knee-jerk, insane reaction in a way. I wouldn’t change a thing. Most of the time, I do think it’s more the latter though. Where you take it in for a while and you process it and you gain some wisdom from it and you can kinda fine-tune your reaction to it and what you learned from it by considering it longer. That would be the case with almost everything on this record, even the song that I wrote for Tony…
I was going to say, even “One More Song”?
Yeah. I mean, really, for the most part, if there’s any kind of angry edge to this record, it’s that there’s way too much lacking in the accountability department for me. When I look at the way people in general, on every level, seem to deal with the problems we create, there’s a big problem with accountability. You can just see it in conversations you have with the average person. People just aren’t holding themselves accountable. But I think that’s what starts sounding like ‘old man’ stuff! (*both laugh*) But hey, I’m going to be 48 in a few weeks! That was a funny thing, I said to my buddy Chris, who’s a good friend of mine that I get together and drink with, he’s one of the main people that says “you gotta write about that! You gotta do it!” We were talking about music and life and stuff and I said to him at one point: “Dude, I don’t want to be some bitter old guy. I don’t want to do that, I’m not into it.” And he goes: “who better? You’re like the oldest guy I know!” (*both laugh*) And I was like: “I guess I am now, yeah!”
Right! At some point you just have to embrace it, right?
Yeah, that’s right, youngster!
But I wonder if that lack of accountability thing is more of a problem now than it has been before. Again, maybe I just identify it more the older I get, but I feel like it’s more of a problem now than it was for the old timers who were saying it to us or our parents years ago.
I’m certainly well aware that it’s relative. And I’m certainly well aware that many people my age in different eras in this world felt the same way about the youth or the world they lived in and how it was changing. That is definitely a rite of passage thing that goes on, no doubt. But that said, I’m a big fan of history, and I’ve been alive for 48 years…that’s a long time. I think there’s a lot more of us now than there were when I was a kid or when my parents were this age. We have, I think, arguably more threatening environmental issues than they had. I think you can make that argument very safely. There’s certainly always been war and conflict, but I think we have, per capita, many more of those things happening simultaneously. I also think that we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have the kind of media that is controlled entirely by corporations…politicians as well. There’s a lot that has changed and this is a debate that somebody could hold for a week with the finest minds in the world debating it and it would probably never get resolved. Just like religion. Because there’s a burden of proof that exists and you can’t get passed it. But I think things may be a little worse than they were.
Yeah…I agree. Which sucks…
Yeah, it SUCKS!
…particularly having a young kid, knowing that they’re going to have to deal with and try to fix the things that we can’t.
Yeah…yeah…I could keep talking about that… (*both laugh*)
Of course! You obviously had the songs done for a while and have been playing shows since the album’s been written and recorded, but I’ve read that you’re not playing any of the new songs until the album comes out. Is that sort of because of the internet, YouTube-ization of the scene now? Like, so as to not have it spoiled?
I know that that perspective exists and I’ve heard that maybe from people, you know at the record label maybe one or two people mentioned something like that. But that wasn’t it for me at all. For me and for the band, I’m sure, because we’ve discussed it at length, we’re dying to play new music. We really want to so badly! But there’s a thing that happened with this record that collectively, the whole band is so proud of the record. We love it so much. We’re really, really happy with this record we made. So there’s a little part of it where if we premier a song, we can only premier maybe one or two now, so let’s wait and play the whole fucking thing live. That’s the game plan right now. We have rehearsal starting this weekend for the tour coming up and it remains to be seen whether we can whip all of these songs into shape to the point where we can manage. But I have a little dream and I’ve always had this dream that when we make a new record, I’d very much like to do what I’ve seen other bands do which is: “this is our new album, we’re going to play the whole thing in order.”
I really want to do that. So we’ll see how it goes. But the plan is to play all of it.
That would be awesome!
I hope so!
And even the idea of playing the whole thing start to finish, I do think that this is the sort of album you can do that with. I think from an energy level and from a flow level, even though I’ve only listened to it twice, I think that it’s the sort of album that you can do that with. There’s really no let-up whatsoever. Some bands will put out albums where they’re good, but a few songs take a while to sort of understand what they were going for…
But on Hang, I think you just sort of nail it.
Yeah, so I think it’s the kind of album you could do that with.
I feel that way about it too, so we’ll see. I mean, I know we’re going to play an awful lot of this record. If we don’t end up playing the entire record in one swoop, I know we’re still going to play over half of this record live in our sets. It’s not going to be about how people receive it because we just really like it. It’s funny: there is a bit of a balance there. A lot of times when you play a new song live, the synergy isn’t as great with the audience because they don’t know the songs yet. That’s part of it. But you know what? A much bigger part of it is how the band is playing the song! People respond to conviction and integrity. They respond to the energy that comes out. They can see it! They don’t even have to know it; it doesn’t even have to be on the level of …what’s the word I’m looking for…they don’t have to perceive it consciously. It gets perceived anyway. So if we’re playing these new songs, I know that the energy is going to be different than when we play, say, “Violins.”
…or something that we’ve played thousands of times. Which is still good, because we know we have these great fans. They come to the shows and they know the words and they sing, and we’re really lucky. So it all is good, but there’s going to be something to that on this new tour.
Is “One More Song” going to be difficult to play live? Because I will tell you that as such a fan for such a long time of both you and Tony, that song was a total ‘stomach punch’ of a song the first time I heard it, which I mean in the best possible sense. I actually felt myself get choked up, even just looking at the tracklist, seeing that that was the name of the song, I went ‘Oh, I bet I know what this is…’.
Yeah, that’s cool that you caught that. I take that as a compliment. That’s what you’re doing, you’re emoting your deepest feelings, and when somebody reacts that way, that’s better than them saying they don’t get it or they’re not feeling it. But yeah, for sure, it’s going to be hard. There’s a bridge in the song where the lyrics are…well, you know… Yeah, I have to say that when I was doing the vocals for that, and even when I was writing it and working on it just on acoustic guitar and playing it…yeah…some of these songs, it’s hard to get through.
I can imagine. Was there ever a thought to keep that one for a solo song, or an acoustic song? Or was that destined to be a Lagwagon song?
That actually was a song that I hadn’t planned to write at all.
I had no intention of writing a song for Tony like this because I just didn’t feel in this case that words or melodies or anything would really suffice. I didn’t feel like anything would be deep enough or good enough to represent anything that I wanted to say or feel. And I didn’t for a long time, but that song just kinda came out of the blue one day. I just couldn’t deny it, I had to do it. And then the lyrics were tough too, because I had a number of ideas of how I wanted to approach it and I ended up kind of doing all of them in one song. I had that…ultimately it’s still not enough, of course, you know? But I didn’t want to do another record like Resolve. I can’t handle the idea that there’s any exploitation involved, you know? When you care that much about somebody and you lose them, it’s a really private matter. You don’t always want to share. I don’t know why Resolve happened, I just know that it had to or something. It was cathartic in some way, so I had to do it. And I’ve certainly written lots of songs about friends I’ve lost and about those subjects. I think that’s a much harder thing to do. It is painful, and that song, when it first started coming to me, you’re right, I was thinking “I think I’m going to do this on acoustic.” It’s a little bit of a lower level and a purer kind of performance, like I would perform it live or something. But then, I don’t know, I just started hearing it as a Lagwagon song and it made sense to me to put in on the record because loss is a big part of who I am and the way I view things. So I felt like it had to be on the record. When I brought it to the band, they were really of course into it. They all were close to Tony too. They wanted that.
And I think what might save it from being…frankly, I think if you were to play it just you and an acoustic, I don’t know if anyone would be able to listen to it all the way through without being moved to being…
…to being almost inconsolable.
I think the energy of the song and the fact that it is a full-band, balls-to-the-wall Lagwagon song elevates it and makes it a little more of a celebratory thing, even though it’s not a celebration, if that makes any sense.
It’s interesting, I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t know that everybody in the world thinks and feels as deeply about it as you do, and by the way, kudos for that…that’s amazing. I’m on board with everything you’re saying…it’s all true. There’s an interesting little fact about that song. The intro and the outro, the guitar riff thing that happens where it goes heavy after the intro and then the outro of the song…that was written by Little Joe and Chris, the kinda both had this part they’d been working on. They snapped it on to the beginning and the end of the song. When I first heard that, I said “that’s a little too happy for me writing a song about one of the best friends that I ever had in my life passing away.” I was kinda taken aback. I went “whoa, this is like a circus song.” Somebody in the band said “just sit with it for a while,” and I said “okay.” But I pretty much felt 100% that I did not want that in this song! (*laughs*) And I did sit with it for a while, and I did realize that it’s good that a little bit of an uplifting, hopeful element existed in the song, because otherwise it would be too dark. Life is both things, you know? I’ve written songs before that are just all devastation and people like them! (*both laugh*) But I think you make a really valid point that had I done that stripped down, I would not have had anything but just the absolute black environment in it.
To pull up a Tony reference, I think if it were just dark and just acoustic that way, that’s “Toaster In The Bathtub” song. Just so dark that there’s no way you can listen to it…it’s too dark.
That’s an interesting example too, because that song’s got that swagger to it!
And it sounds like a drinking song, like shaking your glass, your big mug, back and forth (sings the melody). It’s got that sort of Irish or English folk sort of thing to it. Yeah, but the lyrics are like “Holy Jesus!” I know, you’re right. But he was a master of that, you know?
That guy is, in my opinion, one of the best lyricists ever. I mean, I’m always saying that. I think his music was amazing, but his lyrics were just incredible.
Agreed, although I will say that forever I’ve always held you and Tony as #1 and…well, the other #1, because saying #1 and #1A because to me, you guys were sort of like that pinnacle, lyrically, that not a whole lot of people in the old skate punk scene necessarily got to. To me, even before you teamed up on albums, you guys were…I don’t want to say interchangeable because I feel like that cheapens it and you’re both very different, but like I said, #1 and #1.
I appreciate that, man. Thanks. That’s good company.