“No, sorry – we have lots of booze though,” the bartender replies with a laugh.
Joey rubs his now slightly graying beard, looking defeated.
“No dude…I need some coffee.”
The woman behind the bar shrugs.
The Lagwagon singer had just gotten off the road after driving more than five hours from Portland with his other band, Scorpios, an acoustic troupe made up of Drag the River’s Jon Snodgrass and piano player Brian Whalstrom. This is the first Scorpios tour without No Use For A Name’s Tony Sly, who passed away jarringly last August. The band is back on the road to pay homage to their fallen friend touring across Canada and the U.S., performing mellowed versions of songs from all respective bands as well as tracks from the Scorpios’ 2011 album.
Still a bit melancholy about losing his good friend, but optimistic about the music ahead, the ever-affable Joey Cape sat down with Punknews interviewer Gen Handley to talk about his relationship with Tony and what the No Use singer left behind, when we can hear some new Lagwagon and the status of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
Check out Read More to get the scoop.
So where did the idea for Scorpios and this tour come from?
It was sort of a joke. On one tour we were on, we all had birthdays and realized we were all Scorpios and were like, “Woah, that’s great. I guess we’re a band and we should make a record.” [Laughs] In hindsight, it’s not the greatest name for a band, but it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek anyway. But yeah, Tony’s not here and he was a Scorpio and we all love his songs – he was such a great songwriter, lyricist, and it’s pleasure to play his songs. So here we are.
Ideally, this tour is cathartic, but realistically, it can also be kind of painful. I have some really mixed feelings about the tour. Yeah, it’s a really fun tour, but also really heavy because we’re missing him. We did it in Europe and we all had reservations about it appearing that we were exploiting him – at the same time we were worried about playing those songs and it being depressing for us. But playing them in Europe felt really good. It felt really rewarding and I think we all got something out of it – like a little healing from being together and telling stories about Tony and all these great things we went through with him. On this tour, I’ve got mixed feelings because I’m kind of done. Like, I love the songs, I love playing them, but this big focus on him…at some point, you have to let go. It’s hard to do when you’re talking about him all of the time and playing his songs all the time. I’ll always think about him – he was one of my best friends. I’ll always think about him, I’ll always miss him and I’ll stay in touch with his family forever.
How is his family doing?
I think…you know, as well as they can right now. I mean, I’m really amazed by the strength of those people. I just saw them the other night when we played San Francisco – they all came and a bunch of his friends came and that night was just awesome. But not every night’s like that. I think the hardest thing about doing this is the nights when the Tony-songs aren’t really well received. It’s so important to you that sometimes you forget that some towns aren’t really going to get this. [Points at the stage] So when you’re playing the songs and people aren’t singing, I just want to break my guitar…it hurts. That’s happened once or twice, but most nights are really good.
But yeah, his family…they’re so strong and I’m really proud of them.
Are you a spiritual guy? Do you think Tony’s spirit is up there on stage with you sometimes?
I am not a spiritual guy. I wish I was. I always say that faith isn’t a choice. [Smiles] I believe that…I think people who say it is are faking it. You know what I mean? Like, if you have faith, you’re lucky. That’s a nice thing to have. I had a conversation with my nine-year-old daughter about two months ago because she’s starting to think about those things now and thinking about that philosophy. And she was like, “Dad, I know you don’t believe in God, but I kind of feel like I have to because it’s too scary for me to not believe – I have to believe we go somewhere when we die.” That’s so perfectly said from a child, they look at that and they’re scared. So it would be nice to think that “Oh, Tony’s a great guy, he’s going to heaven or some kind of afterlife,” but that’s not a possibility for me – I just can’t find it.
So where and when did you meet Tony? Do you remember?
Yes. Well…there was some debate because we talked about this a little while ago. I believe it was at Gilman Street. We played a show and if I’m not mistaken, it was Lagwagon, No Use For a Name, Pennywise and NOFX or Bad Religion. There was a lot of shows back then and they kind of blur together now, but the first time we played with No Use was there and it was the period when they had a female guitar player (Robin Pfefer) for a little while. So it wasn’t that long ago – the early 90s – and they had been together for a while as had we. I remember meeting him that night and thinking he was really funny. But I don’t remember too much of those nights. [Laughs]
I knew Tony and we had these parallel lives in so many ways, but it wasn’t until we both had daughters, within like a few weeks of each other and they were both our first children, that we started talking more on the phone together. I had been doing some acoustic touring and he sort of said, “I’m kind of scared” and I was like, Yeah it’s scary – it’s fucking weird dude” and we started doing stuff then – that’s when we really started to get close. It was only like nine years ago and we bonded over the element of family life versus being on the road, which is nothing new to a lot of people.
That’s cool you bonded over fatherhood…
And music, definitely music. I felt like we had a deeper connection because we were going through the exact same thing at the same time. Being away and touring becomes your livelihood because you’re not really selling records, if you’re a breadwinner for your family, this threatens your relationships. I think if you’re a good parent, having a kid is a little bit like heroine. Like, you need it – you miss your child that much…it’s kind of fucked up. [Laughs] That sounds dramatic. I don’t know, so we had a lot in common and it was really cool and our relationship went to a new place. And then at one point we were like, “We’ve got to do a Lagwagon / No Use co-headlining tour over in Europe and we just got to tell our bands this is what we’re doing. We’re the singers, we write the songs, they’ll do it.” [Laughs] Neither of our bands are like that…there’s no leader, they’re democracies, but luckily that happened and it was great.
What are some of your best memories of Tony?
He was really funny. And he had a different sense of humour from myself – I think I’m a loud person and kind of into absurd statements and I like to be crude. I’m the kind of guy who will say something really bad for a laugh. Tony was not like that at all. He was very smart and he was really clever in a subtle way. It was like he wouldn’t say much, but when he spoke, it was always very important and always very clever – and always hilarious. [Pauses] It’s hard to talk about this because it sounds…words are kind of small, you know? You can’t say things without it sounding trite.
He had a great smile. Hey, and that’s not limited to sexual attraction. When somebody has a great smile, it’s illuminating and it lights up the room. Tony had this funny little smile. [Laughs quietly] I don’t know…he was just really pleasant to be around and he made us laugh and he was smart… [Looks down at the floor]
Did you two ever get into trouble?
I’m sure…yeah. [Pauses] Yeah…but nothing that wasn’t your garden-variety trouble. Like, getting too drunk and getting in trouble with the cops or like, maybe getting into a fight, which just happens when you’re on tour because people are assholes – there’s always a few, but most people are really kind and friendly. But for the most part, not really any trouble. Again, when we started getting really close and we were doing these [acoustic] tours, we were in our 40s. Well, he was in his late 30s when we first started doing the tours, but I’m an old man. [Slaps his chest]
So how did you hear about his passing? Do you remember that?
I do. A mutual friend called me. I had just done a round with him…I was with him the last couple of weeks of his life. We were doing a tour and did some Canada shows in the east – Quebec, went down the east coast – and then he had to go because he had some obligations at home and so we put him on a plane. [Long pause] And he died the next morning. [Another long pause]
I can’t really talk about it because it’s too private and personal, but I’ll say this: I knew it. I woke up at a friend of mine’s house who had been on the tour with us, road managing, and I just looked at my phone and there were so many missed calls – I just knew. And then the phone rang and it was a really close friend of ours and just…yeah.
Fortunately, I was in a safe place and I didn’t have any obligations and I was able to completely lose my mind for a while. But, you know, there’s no upside to that kind of thing.
How did Tony influence you as a musician?
We had some similar aesthetic in our songwriting – we had some similar tools we used and things we loved, but in so many ways we were different. I always used to say, “he wrote this one song and I wrote this other one.” Because when we were learning each other’s songs and playing together, he’d be like, “Oh yeah, that’s a Joey song” and I’d be like, “Oh this one’s going here because it’s a Tony song” – we knew each other’s songs so well. I would say you’re just are automatically influenced by the people you play with because there’s some osmosis that happens. It gets into your brain, it gets into who you are and the more you play the songs, the more they have an effect on you. It’s automatic.
But on top of it, he had a really nice way of crafting… his melodies were really amazing – I think he was really underrated as a songwriter. [Shakes his head] But his lyrics… his lyrics were some of the most honest lyrics, you know? And I’m a big fan of that. I try to write the most honest stuff I can and I’m very careful about being true to what’s happening in my life – I’ll admit everything and put it all out there. It’s dangerous, but more rewarding because when you have to sing the songs over and over again, at least they’re real and they’re coming from the right place. [Tony] was a great lyricist, he just had a really great way and knew how to do that to a depth that was moving.
And he wrote differently than I did. We were in Australia on tour and had like four days off in Sydney and the whole time we were there, it was the worst weather – it was just pouring, the kind rain that was going sideways and you couldn’t go outside for five seconds or you’d be soaked. So, we’re just hanging out and on the third morning, he has his trench-coat, peacoat thingy on and one of those flat hats…tons of people wear them. What are they called?
Like a Samuel-L.-Jackson hat, but worn forwards?
Yeah, what’s it called? A bowler’s cap? No, a bowler’s cap is the round funky ones they wore…I don’t know. [Laughs, looks down at the recorder] In any case, listeners, readers, he had great style. So he said, “I’m going down the street to write some lyrics” and we went down there and wrote this song called “Devonshire and Crown” – it’s on his last solo. If not mistaken, this pub was down that street and I didn’t find that out ‘till months later. He came back and said, “I really feel like I wrote something good back there” – he was gone for hours. That was the kind of guy he was like. I’ve done that maybe once in my life. He would channel things and would write about where he was at that moment and just write a whole song.
So lyrically, he was an inspiration…
Yeah. When I write lyrics, it takes forever. I write and rewrite and the all of sudden I’m like, “Wait a minute, what am I singing about here?” Sometimes I just follow the stream of consciousness and then have to make sense of it after. Other times, I write a song and it’s a reaction – reactionary to something. But he could just sit down and write, like a writer, like a poet – that’s rare.
What are your favourite songs of his?
Man…I have so many. Ryan’s been playing this song, “The Answer Is Still No,” it’s the first song on Making Friends, and I don’t know if I ever really heard it the way Ryan is playing it on piano now. But that’s becoming my favourite Tony song. It changes. When you’re a big fan of somebody, you have a favourite song a certain number of months or years and then, all of a sudden, there’s another one creeping up like a horse and then that’s your favourite song – I’ve had many.
Are these covers going to be released at all?
I don’t think so. We’ve talked about doing that for the next Scorpios album; of doing an album of the songs he played live with us. I think it’s a cool idea, but there’s the tribute album coming out on Fat [Wreck Chords] really soon and it’s really good – we did a song for that.
Which one did you do?
We did a few. We did “International You Day,” Jon did “On the Outside” and Ryan did “The Answer Is Still No.” We were kind of involved in a few different projects on it. But there’s so many good bands on it and so many people did so many good renditions.
Maybe someday we’ll do something with these songs, but I think after this tour it’ll be time to do our own stuff for a while.
Is there going to be a new Scorpios album?
Someday. It’s not like a high-priority thing. [Laughs] It’s really just a fun thing, an excuse to get together and go on tour. I think that you can do this kind of tour with so many different people – it’s one of the great things of going acoustic – and you can tour with all of these old friends who are doing it. It’s a great thing, but there’s almost too many people doing it so a joke of ours was like, “Well, you have to be a Scorpio to come on this” because it brought it down to like one percent or whatever.
We actually had a pedal steel player that is a Pisces and he was going to come on tour and we were going to make an exception but he couldn’t come – kind of ironic in a way.
[Joey leaves to do a sound check with Jon and Ryan and after 10 minutes we sit down again]
Alright, where were we...
You had mentioned how a new Scorpios album isn't a top priority right now…
Well, it’s something we all want to do – and we talk about it – but I have other irons in the fire, things that I’ve been working on longer that I need to do first. So for me, speaking for myself, I have that going on and I know Brian’s working on a record and John just finished a Drag the River record and he’s about to go out on tour for that. It’s not one of the best bands where people are waiting and like, “When’s the next one?” Our first one was pretty obscure. There’ll be some point where we’re all not busy and we’ll be talking and we say, “Hey let’s do another Scorpios record.” It’ll happen for sure.
So what are your priorities right now? Your other irons in the fire.
I’ve been working on two records for a while now – I’m writing for a solo acoustic record and I’m also working on a new Lagwagon record.
Nice – finally.
Yeah…finally. It’s taken a long time because Lagwagon’s a weird band, we don’t do things until we…I think that there are definitely people in the band that think it’s long overdue. Our last full-length was eight years ago and by the time this comes out, if everything goes well, it will have been nine years.
So next year then?
Yeah, because before we book studio time, we need about four months to practice. We’re on tour so much, it’s a weird thing. For me especially with all of the bands I have – I think I did 280 shows last year. It’s kind of hard to get everyone together to work on a record until everyone takes a break. But (touring) is how I pay my bills and I can’t be like, “I’m just not going to work today – I’m just not going to go on tour.” This is my livelihood.
Touring’s become such a necessity these days, hasn’t it?
Yeah…yeah. It’s changed a lot and I make very little off record sales. If I tried to pretend that I could make a living off sales, I’d be living under a bridge. Which I have not problem with, by the way. I have slept under them and they are very underrated.
[Jon Snodgrass walks into the room]
Jon: Well you already wrote a record for it, dude.
Joey: What? Jon: Bridge. You can let the cat out of the bag. It’s a concept album about living under a bridge.
[Joey shakes his head]
Joey: It’s so weird, when I came up with that title, I had a totally different concept in mind, but I’ll go with that – that’s quite a bit better. [Laughs]
Jon: Can I get changed in here? Do you guys want to see me naked?
Joey: No man. Why?
Jon: Because it’ll be funny.
Joey: No dude, just go into the washroom.
[Laughs] So Lagwagon’s new album will be coming out next year. Late next year? Do you have a label?
Yeah, it’ll be late next year, probably fall, and it’ll be on Fat Wreck Chords, as always. We’ll most likely record in late spring or summer and they need a few months to do their thing.
I don’t like to do this because you kind of jinx yourself when you start talking about specific dates, but I’m hoping for an early-fall release because it’s good time of year to put a record out and it’s been too long – and I figure we’ll go on tour forever to support it.
Yeah, I’ve been writing that for a long time and I’ve had all of these mixed feelings about how…I have different ideas of what it should sound like or be. Ultimately, it should sound like something the whole band wants it to be because that’s how you make a good record and everybody should love what they’re doing.
We’re playing better than we’ve ever played before now and there’s this chemistry going on in the band now that I would have never expected to happen. So it seems it’s the right time to make a record. When this tour’s over, I have nothing except for a couple of little tours – in October and November – but I have almost nothing on the calendar and nor does anyone else in the band. So the plan is to start doing a regular rehearsal thing like the old days. We all live far away from each other, in different towns, so we’ll have to figure it out. I have a feeling that when we start working on new material, it’s just going to come together.
Do you have any new songs now?
I have a lot of new songs, but they’re not songs until the band gets them. Because my band will get a song and be like, “That’s cool…but, um, we’re going to do this and make it better.” [Laughs] They might make it a hundred times faster or take out some words, but that’s a good thing – that’s what makes it Lagwagon, when everyone puts their stamp on it.
Any plans for another Me First and the Gimme Gimmes album?
There’s one in the works, actually. But I don’t know where that is. That is the most lazy, unprofessional outfit that I have ever been in. [Smiles] It’s like, once ever four months, Fat Mike or somebody will start an email thread and go, “Hey! Let’s do this!” and then three people will be like, “Hell yeah – come on!” and then the fourth guy will chime in and be like, “I’m busy then.” And then it’s “wah, wah” and it goes away. [Laughs] If I’m not mistaken though, all of the drums are done for the new record.
What’s the theme for this one?
I don’t think I can say. Sorry man. That’s such a lame thing, I know – this happens to me a lot.
Yeah, reggae record – let’s go with that. [Laughs] Wouldn’t that be great? But Fat Mike has some reggae soul…and I guess [Chris] Shifflet does too.
Going back to Tony, aside from the songs, the memories, what else has he left you to remember him by?
I have a lot of objects. It’s funny, just little things like shakers that were his; we’d always bring shakers [percussion instruments] on our tours. There’s one particular one that he really liked and it’s got a Tony Sly sticker on it to know it was his. [Pauses] There’s little things that show up once in a while like a capo at my house – a guitar capo. And yeah, he left us his music – that’s pretty huge. He left his family, his daughters and I’ll get to watch them grow up and hopefully stay close.
Things still show up. I have a basement connected to a little room I built to record records in – you could almost call it a studio, but not really. [Laughs] I’ll be down in the basement, trying to find something in all of the boxes and every once in a while I’ll find something of his like a shirt or something. And I’ve generally offered up all of those things to his family because they should have them, but I kept the shaker. Because the shaker…I still…I used it for a little while on tour and thought, “What am I doing? I’m going to lose it.” Now, it’s a mantle piece in my studio to look at it once in a while. Nobody gets to use it.