I think my older brother used to listen to Lagwagon. In all seriousness though, we were stoked to hear that the California punk rockers were making their way out to see us this month and we were even more stoked that frontman Joey Cape decided to have a chat to us down a crackling phone line before he and the band set off on a US tour. The first act to ever be signed to Fat Wreck Chords, Cape and the gang were vital in crafting the label’s definitive sound and with 25 years under their belts, the time seemed right to whip out the reissues along with a whole bunch of B-sides and rarities. Cape filled us in on the freshly released reissues and how he’s found life bouncing around between skate punk acts and acoustic solo efforts. Tour dates at the bottom!
I wanted to ask about these new reissues you’ve got coming out. I’ve heard that it’s something like 34 previously unreleased tracks. Can you talk us through what we can find on there?
Basically, it’s everything from the period of those five records and we put it all in chronological order. I like it ‘cos it gives you a little bit of the history of the band. Most of the songs they either were released but the issues are out of print, or they were unreleased and were obviously the songs from the original record. Everything got an upgrade. All of the art got an upgrade, all of the music was updated, a lot of those records were mastered for only vinyl or only CD, so sonically, they didn’t sound too great. Also, you know how when an old punk rock song comes on on your iPod and it sounds really quiet? We were able to fix those kinds of things. It took three years to make. There’s tonnes of stuff on that record that I didn’t even know existed, so I learned a lot making that record about my own band [laughs], so it was pretty cool.
Delving into your back catalogue, what do you think of those songs now? Do you still hold them in high regard or did you stop and go, “What was I thinking?”
There’s a little of all of those things going on, you know, when we were doing it and I was going through it all. There was definitely some stuff that I didn’t think I wanted on the records, but the guy we were partnered with to do it, he knew our band really well and he knew all of the material and he liked the band a lot, so it was nice to have that perspective and he rallied my confidence a few times [laughs]. He made a strong argument for the fact that I should be able to hear the stuff that I would maybe have edited, and I think he’s right. I think almost everything on there is good, but there were a couple things that maybe somebody would listen to a couple times, but maybe it wouldn’t be a regular listening experience for them, you know what I mean? But people like that kind of stuff and there’s a few of those on there, and they make me cringe a little bit to be honest, but what are you gonna do.
You were right in the California punk scene when it was flourishing with Rancid, Green Day and The Offspring… What was it like to be on the inside of that and be experiencing that at the time?
Well both Rancid and Green Day are from the Bay area and I don’t even know that they really spent much time together because they were from more or less the same part of Northern California, but they were from such different scenes. We were from Southern California, I mean, the bands that we grew up with are all the LA punk bands. Those were the kind of bands that we were more likely to know, but even still, within Southern California, there were so many different scenes and we’re from kind of a small town too. It’s a weird thing, I mean, a lot of the time I think it’s an easy assumption to make. I’ve done it a million times. Like, with English bands, I’ve met them over the years and been like, “Yeah, it must have been cool playing when The Damned played with blah blah blah” and they’re like, “Yeah, we don’t even know those guys at all” [laughs]. It’s kind of like that for us. We didn’t really know a lot of those people until we started doing shows with them and even then, our backgrounds are pretty different.
I’m also quite curious about your solo work. You’ve worked on a lot of projects over the years, but what was it that made you want to go out on your own?
I think I kind of came full circle. I write on an acoustic guitar, I’ve always played acoustic songs, basically it was just one of those things that I always thought I should do but was scared to do it and I’d also always had mixed feelings about people that did that kind of thing and I knew people would have perceptions that maybe weren’t so positive about it, but at some point I decided I felt kind of incomplete having not played a show by myself since I’d been playing for so long and writing that way and it was so natural for me to do that. The other things is, I think every Lagwagon song that’s ever been written has been demoed acoustically. I have some weird acoustic versions of every one of our songs practically, so the other thing was like, some people would hear them every once in a while and say, “I really like that”, so that got me thinking about making an acoustic record, and I was scared. Really scared when I started playing those shows. It was kind of terrifying, but now it’s like whatever, it’s easy [laughs].
I was going to say it must have been daunting especially coming from a punk background and going acoustic, they’re sort of at opposite ends sonically.
The thing is, I’m a big fan of the intensity of a song and the guts of a song and you can get a certain kind of intensity out of being with a band, especially a hard edge band like our band, there’s things you can get out of that, but also there’s something lost, you know, sometimes like the soul of the song or the intensity of the emotion that you’re putting forth in the lyrics, so it’s really cool to do the acoustic version because, I don’t know, in a way, it’s almost like – and people don’t like hearing this kind of thing – but I think it’s almost punker. It’s more intense. You get a real depth. One thing’s for sure, the song gets represented when it’s in that setting. I’ve always loved acoustic music. When I was a kid, I loved Simon and Garfunkel and all that kind of stuff, Peter Paul & Mary and Dylan, all of the folk stuff. I loved it. My parents listened to it and I thought it was great. After all, punk is pretty much back to the roots. The folk stuff.
Have you got much in the works for a new Lagwagon album?
I’m writing right now actually, I’ve just started. Very recently I kind of got an idea of what Lagwagon should be. A lot of times it takes me a lot of years to write a record for Lagwagon because, you know, I’m waiting for that epiphany to come and it doesn’t come and I don’t wanna fake it. It takes five years sometimes and I can’t explain it better than that. It sounds like I’m being lazy, but that’s the truth and that’s why I go and do all these other things. I do these other things because I love ‘em too, but I’ve just recently realised what I think Lagwagon’s supposed to be now. We’re finishing up this tour and then we’re gonna get in a room together and start working on new material. We’ll put out a new record next year in the spring or something, I hope.
Have you been keeping tabs on what’s been happening in the punk world?
I don’t really pay attention to that kind of thing. I might listen to music, but I never look at it for a reference. I’ve never really done that. Maybe, if any influence comes from what’s happening in the world, it can sometimes be the opposite, like if something’s really popular at this moment, I might go, “Oh I don’t wanna do that”, but that’s the only time and that’s very rare. Most of the time I think, “Fuck it, I’m doing it anyway” because it’s what I wanna do right now, but I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on. You really shouldn’t. You should really just try and write from the heart and do what you do and you have to be really self-involved in it or else you’re just gonna make a bunch of crap.
I’m not sure if it’s difficult to talk about, but you’ve always worked really closely with Tony Sly over the years and with his death, especially given the circumstances, was that quite a shock to everyone?
[Pause] It’s fine, I’m okay talking about it. It’s fucking horrible. It’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me and definitely the worst thing that’s ever happened to his family and his kids. There aren’t really words to describe it. It’s heartbreaking. He was so young and so talented and such a beautiful person. You just have to read his lyrics. And he was such a good friend of mine… It’s a hole that’s never going to be filled, that’s all I can say. No matter what is going on in that person’s life, whenever people pass at our age, you know, we’re not supposed to be dying.
On a lighter note, since you’ve had such an expansive career, what are you most proud of having done over the years?
At the moment, I think it would be the record that I did with Tony, just because I had a feeling about that, and the Scorpios record that we made together. We made a record called Scorpios with Scorpios, a band that we had with two other guys John Snodgrass and Brian Wahlstrom, and I really like that record a lot. We’d all played on each other’s stuff, you know, four songwriters together, and I’m really proud of it.
Lagwagon feat. The Smith Street Band Tour Dates
Wed Nov 28th – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane
Thu Nov 29th – The Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
Fri Nov 30th – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
Sat Dec 1st – Manning Bar, Sydney
Sun Dec 2nd – Unibar, Wollongong
Wed Dec 5th – Prince Of Wales, Bunbury
Thu Dec 6th – Rosemount, Perth
Fri Dec 7th – Fowlers Live, Adelaide
Sat Dec 8th – The Bended Elbow, Geelong
Sun Dec 9th – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne