Joey Cape

Fat Wreck Chords recently reissuedLagwagon's first five albums Duh, Trashed, Hoss, Double Plaidinum and Lagwagon with remastered songs, a ton of outtakes and demos, and rediscovered photos. For frontman Randal "Joey" Cape, revisiting these albums were visual, audio jaunts to the past, returning him toplaces and faces he had not seen for years.

Punknews interviewer Gen Handley had the opportunity to speak to Joey, who had just returned from an acoustic tour across Europe ("Acoustic tours are really fun - they're so low on stress") and was in the midst of relocating to a new house in his home city of San Francisco ("Moving fucking sucks").On top of the refurbished albums, the two talked aboutthe childhood-inspired band nameand whether or not Lagwagon songs can help mend a broken heart.

So why reissue your first five albums?
It was in response to all of these bands doing all of this "best of" or "greatest hits" albums and the guys in Lagwagon, including myself, weren’t really into doing that. First of all, we don’t really have like, the hits - we really didn’t make it onto radio or do videos. Second of all, I’ve always kind of had issues with "best of" records, especially since the digital age arrived. I feel like that, in a way, it kills that point in time - in history - when a record was made and it makes the deep cuts on an album harder to find and sort of obsolete. If I go to iTunes or something, if I’m looking at a bunch of records by a band I’ve never really heard before, I’m going to the "best of" record and check it out. It’s weird for me having grown up in a world where each record, by a band I loved, represented something for me for that band and that point in history.

So I didn’t like the idea of (a best of) to begin with. I’m not really sure who it was - it was either Fat Mike or Chad at Fat who had this idea about a reissue of a record or a few because we have so many outtakes and demos that are on comps that have gone away, putting it all together. That was the catalyst and we loved that idea because we were able to maintain the original integrity of the record and put everything together from that point in time.

Are you pretty happy with the end results?
Oh yeah. I’m one of those weird guys who saves absolutely everything that I do and I have a basement full of everything that’s ever happened to Lagwagon - it was really fun putting all that together. At some point, it became a total labor of love and we spent almost three years on-and-off working on it - the last year we went pretty heavy on the project. It was funny because when it was all done, it was just this little thing and I was like, "What? But we spent so much time on it." (laughs).

But no, one thing I’m definitely proud of is the sound. A lot of those records are old and back then, there was just one version of mastering for vinyl and digital and it was quiet - it was dynamic, but it’s nice to have the records updated. Also, the artwork is pretty awesome. The processing is just way better now. We were able to take the original film and translate them. Everything really looks good.

If you have a cool enough label like we have, that was willing to take care of that, it’s hard not to feel great about that.

Having revisited these albums, do you think they’ve lasted well over the years?
It’s hard for me to be objective about things like that. (laughs) I listened to our first record (Duh) and I was like, "Oh god." and wanted to throw up. But I know people who like our band a lot and are like, "Yeah, you first record is your best record." The hardcore fans always like the really early ones. I have problems with things they don’t hear like tuning and pitch and timing - those fundamental musician-things are hard to swallow and get past sometimes.

I don’t know how to answer that question when it’s about my own music. I think the key to relating to any record in your life is that point in time when you got into it, when it came out. I know there are a lot of old records, punk records especially, that I love from the late-70s or early-80s that were the first records I got. For example, if I were to pull out some those songs and play them for a kid who had never heard that track before and said, "Hey check it out. This is the stuff I grew up listening to," I can be objective enough to know that I’ve I heard it for the first time now, I might not like it as much, you know? (laughs)

I’m not sure if that applies to Lagwagon, I’m just telling about my view on older records in general - it’s about whether you were into it when it happened and if you have a connection to it. I mean, I dig Trashed and Hoss, but with the first record, I’m like, "Man…." (laughs)

What do you mean? It’s a really good first album.
Cool, thanks. I think there are some decent songs on it, I just wish we had more than three days to record it.

You only had three days to record Duh?
Yeah man. For the Duhrecord we mixed and recorded everything in three days. It’s a punk record, you have to do it in three days. I remember even back then I was like, "Really? Can’t we have four days?" (laughs)

So why the first five albums? Why not all of them?
We looked at it mostly as a sonic thing. By the time our sixth record, Blaze, came out, digital had caught up and mastering wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Also, there was the reality that we didn’t have too many outtakes for later records. We were really prolific and recording a lot of material in the first 10 years of the band. Especially in the really early days, we were always doing something. After Blaze, I think there were only four songs as outtakes, which makes it less-alluring to do it. I did say, though, after we were done, as joke, "Hey! Now lets do the next five albums!" But that won’t happen.

Is it true that Lagwagon is the name of your old touring van?
Yeah. Well, no. Sort of. When I was a kid, my mom used to pick me and my older brother - we’re almost the same age - up from school in a wagon. So basically she was always late and my brother called her the Conductor of the Lagwagon. That was way back in my early childhood and then at some point when we were called Section 8 - that’s what the band used to be called - we had a van and called it the Lagwagon.

How is it having Joe Raposo playing bass now?
It was weird for me for a little while. Not because of Joe - we’ve known him forever and he’s like family so he fit right in. It was weird with Jesse (Buglione) leaving. It’s down to me and the Big Bitch, me and Flip (Chris Flippin) - the only survivors of the original clan.

When Jesse left, I almost didn’t want to do it anymore. And (Jesse) was trying to leave the band for two years and I just begged him to stay (laughs). I think I even drove out to his house at one point, which is a few hours from where I live, with a bottle of whiskey and was like, "Come on man. Let’s drink this and talk about it." By the end of the bottle, he was back in the band for another year.

People get older and have families and get mortgages and shit and it’s not like bands like ours make a lot of money - it’s kind of a hard thing to keep doing it. I just don’t know what else to do with my life, that’s why I keep doing it. I don’t know how do anything else. I’m 45 years old and it’s the only thing I know. I could get a job in a library and read - that would be fun (laughs).

No, Joe Raposo’s a great bass player and it’s been awesome - it’s been a great fit.

Just looking at all of the projects you’re involved with, it’s a fair assumption that you seem get bored easy. Is that true?
It totally appears that way, but it’s not out of boredom at all. There’s a lot of down time when you’re in one band and I just like to work. I’m just really Type A - I don’t like to be idle. During downtime, I’m always writing and then I have a lot of really good friends who play music. When you’re in the same band for many, many years it’s nice to play with other people too.

There’s a funny irony in the band-thing. I mean, it’s a bit of a gang and really, music should transcend those things. In most genres of music, other than maybe pop music, musicians collaborate with each other. You have a short amount of time to do this and if you’re inspired and can do it with integrity, then you should do it all the time and with whoever you want.

Words to live by….
Yeah, it’s an open marriage (laughs).

You say on your website that you want to create as much as possible before you lose your muse. Who is you muse? Your wife?
It changes all the time, but no, never my wife. I think I’ve written one song for her and it’s a sweet little love song with a dark side. My muse seems to be always to real dark crap. I get inspired by things that make me cringe or put a hole in my body. I have always written from that really dark place. A lot of times my music’s been inspired by dead friends and shit like that. Also it’s been stuff like loyalty issues - and lack of - that I’ve experienced a lot in my life - those things are buttons for me.

There seems to be this cliché in rock and roll that old guys’ music seemingly becomes trite and less-edgy. But every once in a while you see these guys who are really old, but don’t lose that edge and are still inspired - it’s so rare. I’m so acutely aware of that having grown up on music that I’m like, "Hey, I’m still feeling things." Your whole life is one big road to becoming desensitized. I’ve had times in my life when I became dangerously close to writing lyrics to a song because I was running out of time and uninspired. I’m happy to say that I’ve never actually done that. I’ve never done it. I’ve instead said, "This song can’t be done and maybe it’ll make the next record." I’m writing music and lyrics a lot, but sometimes I’ll go for year and not write a word.

Do the creative drivers vary from project to project or do they overlap?
It’s funny, it’s both. The original or, for lack of better word, genesis of a song is always the same - I just write like everybody else. But which format that falls into is totally up to the song and the feel. Depending on the band, the time signatures might be different and I’ll try other things - but those are afterthoughts. So for the most part, it’s the same process for me, but whenever I’m working with whoever, that’s what’s on my plate and I get my head into that mode, looking into my vault of ideas.

Fortunately for me, I work with a lot of talented people who are really good at what they do and working with what I do. I get a lot of great input from the people who I work with, which is cool.

And that changes it up obviously…
Yeah, they’re all little democracies and they have their little players.

One of those players that comes to mind is Tony (Sly).
Yeah, but we have actually, ironically collaborated not all. It’s really weird how him and I work together. We’ve talked a lot about working from the beginning on something, but everything we’ve done so far has come to the table basically finished. Then, we kind of produce each other a bit with suggestions for harmonies or other stuff. But yeah, almost everything we’ve done together has been recorded elsewhere and then brought together to one studio to be recorded.

I’ve done way more collaboration with Jon Snodgrass and other people, but it’s not by choice - it’s just the way it is. I think it’s easy to get that misconception because of all the splits we’ve done.

Is it surreal looking back at all you’ve done since 1989?
Yeah, it was surreal doing this box set and I was so closely involved. Like when I was mixing the first demo, the Section Eight demo, it was hard to not think, "Where was my head when I was writing this?" or "Who was I dating at the time?" It was trip - that was a real journey making those records.

I don’t have a real good memory. I’m sort of blessed and cursed with this lack of long-term memory - I don’t remember things from my childhood and it’s been a problem forever. That said, music’s pretty strong and all of those old songs that I’d forgot about, brought me back to all kinds of weird stuff. I was disconnected. If it’s more than five years in the past, I couldn’t remember it and I didn’t keep journals, I just wrote down lyrics.

Our original drummer (Derrick Plourde), journaled every single day of every tour we were ever on. Somewhere in this mess-of-a-world those journals are floating around and I would love to see them. I think they would be amazing because he was a great writer and he wrote every single day. I know he was writing, "God, I fucking hate these guys." (laughs)

Do you know where they are? Somewhere in a basement maybe?
Well, he passed away, but maybe one of his parents or some girlfriends - there are certain people that have them. I don’t know, they’re not people I talk to regularly enough and there are politics there that I can’t get involved in.

I guess the point I was trying to make is that I wish I’d written more and kept notes, but I did keep every memento I could keep along the way and I still do.

All stashed in your basement, right? What kinds of mementos are down there?
It’s insane. Now, most of it’s living at Fat, but I have this one part of my basement that’s moved every time I’ve moved for 10 years and it’s a bunch of old boxes full of random shit - passes, flyers, magazine stories and pictures. There are tons of photos. I think after I combined all of the photos into one (box), there was a couple-thousand photos. That was really great for us because we had a lot of material to work with this time.

What are examples of the weirdest shit you have?
Weird things like wrist bands some kid gave you at a show at some strange part of the world and you look at it and suddenly you remember the whole night. It just comes back at you and it’s crazy.

Most of it isn’t that weird. You find old lyric books and the pictures are obviously pretty cool. You find pictures of people you used to hang out with. Every era of my band has had different crews with people who have come and gone and others have died. It’s a trip.

I recently broke up with my girlfriend. Which Lagwagon album do you recommend I listen to to help get over the heartache?
Oh man, I’m sorry. I don’t know man, maybe not Lagwagon (laughs). So many are inspired by heartbreak.

There’s record that was inspired by all of that and for me it was Double Plaidinum. I was in a super dark place and I hated everything and everyone for quite some time - I was really angry and I don’t think that would be a good idea for you. I would recommend some Brett Dennen or something. You know who that is? He’s a San Francisco guy and writes really uplifting, Peter-Paul-and-Mary stuff. I’m only half-kidding.

But no, I don’t think any of my records will make you feel better.