"I'll never be Ozzy/onstage when I'm fifty," Joey Cape once sang. But despite being active since 1989, the 45-year-old Cape is still oft seen gracing stages worldwide with no signs of falling apart any time soon. Seemingly content to ride his 'Wagon until the wheels fall off, Cape and No Use For A Name mouthpiece the late Tony Sly released the second installment of their acoustic split project last month. In a two-part conversation, Punknews.org interviewer G'Ra Asim spoke with each of the performers about their contributions to Acoustic Volume 2. The former Bad Astronaut and Afterburner main man waxed philosophical about what he has in common with Elton John and how parents just don't understand.
This past December in a previous interview with Punknews, you mentioned (maybe facetiously) that you keep playing music because you donât know what else to do with your life. Is doing acoustic records a way of breaking up the monotony of doing some of the louder, faster things you built your name on?
Yeah, but at the same time the acoustic records are really just full circle for a guy like me. I always write on an acoustic and I always have, so pretty much all the songs Iâve written began there. Itâs just matter of taking that in to the studio or in front of people thatâs different. So itâs not uncommon for me. It can be just as monotonous in some ways, if not more monotonous, because thereâs almost less dynamic. But I do like that itâs different. I donât want to say that itâs the opposite, but itâs a different experience for sure, entirely, from playing with a band. Which is cool. Itâs a good thing. Itâs more exciting to do different things every once in a while.
In the same interview and on your website, you talked about wanting to write as much you can before you lose your muse. Is a loss of the muse imminent, or do you feel like youâve still got some time? Where would you say you stand creatively now?
I feel I have time because I havenât lost inspiration. I still feel that. On occasion I get inspired and Iâm still writing. But the evidence is clear. You know, you just look at all the people you grew up withâthe artists that you liked-- and to me, itâs just clearly an age thing. It doesnât happen to everyone, though, thatâs the good news. There are exceptions, but if you look at the evidence it kind of seems like just about everyone at some point in their life starts putting out really trite, kind of "been-done" music or art in general.
When you write a song, how do you know when youâve hit the mark? What about a given song makes it clearly a keeper to you personally?
Well yeah, that is a big distinction that is being made there, whether itâs hitting the mark to me. I never know and I never have known when I write something whether more people are going to respond to it than another thing that I write. But itâs strange, sometimes I feel like when I write something that Iâm really proud of, it just feels different from the average song that you write. Thereâs a lot of stuff I throw away that no one gets to hear. Letâs put it that way, because I definitely write some stinkers every once in a while. But yeah on occasion thereâll be something that I write that either the lyrics or the music or bothâand itâs great when itâs both-- where I feel like Iâve really accomplished something as far as what Iâm capable of. I imagine a lot of people have that type of feelingâ¦ Iâve wanted a lyricist my whole life as a songwriter. Iâve been saying it for years: you know, Elton John had a lyricist. Why canât I have one? I just want Blake Schwarzenbach or John [Samson] from The Weakerthans or one of those guys. They can be my lyricists. Itâd be so much easier.
Thatâs interesting to hear you say, because I definitely feel like among people who I know who grew up listening to Lagwagon and even your solo stuff, your lyrics are a big part of what made those projects stand out. So itâs funny that thatâs the part you would delegate to someone else if you could.
I work really hard on the lyrics and I take my time and I make sure that they come from the heart. And you know, Iâm very careful with lyrics, especially. I want to feel like they mean something to me and I want there to be integrity because I really believe that people can tell difference. Also, itâs just that you have to sing those songs. And you never know which songs you have to sing a lot. And if you have to sing a song a lot that you donât really believe in, itâs kind of a crappy deal. That said, thatâs the hardest part of the process for me. It takes the longest. And I guess that makes sense, right? Strumming chords and making up melodies, those things kind of do come naturally. The melody part of a song, I mean, just comes to you. But the lyrics, you have to be inspired and they have to kind of fit together like a puzzle. It has to all make sense. It has to have a continuity from a view of the whole thing so it has to flow and have feeling that works with the song. Itâs a lot of work. And there are people that just write. They just get up in the morning and they write all day long. We call them poets and writers. But Iâm not one of those people I have to really wait for lyrics. I wait a long time sometimes to be inspired to write something. I think Iâve written a lot of things over and over again because the things that youâre inspired by in life are often the same. We all have different issues. One of mine is loyalty. I write a lot about disloyalty.
Iâm curious if any of your songs have ended up affecting your relationships or friendships in terms of what youâve revealed through them or in terms of what you say about people you know.
You know, Iâve been waiting for that to happen for so many years. I generally donât come out and say names in songs that I write, but along the way I think Iâve got braver. Thereâs a little bit less of a curtain between me and the recipient, or the person Iâm writing to. I tend to be a little more direct and I do put some specifics in songs. Sometimes itâs just a matter of the song is not going to sing unless you do. Iâm always against it, but sometimes the song chooses for you. And Iâve been waiting for that forever, I keep waiting for one of my old friends or someone that Iâve re-acquainted with to come to me and say, "Yeah, Iâm pretty sure that song is about me." I did have one experience where I did write a whole record about someone and they came and apologized to me many, many years later. And you know, an "in tears" kind of apology, like "I am so sorry." But it didnât feel very good. It didnât make up for what I had to go through to write it.
But some of the songs that Iâve writtenâ¦I have some very close friends that maybe werenât friends for a while when I wrote the songs, and Iâm not going to name any names, but in some ways, that (they might take issue to old songs) remains a danger. You can always count on the fact that most people that you know donât listen to your music. I mean your close friends, the people who are very close to you in your life, they arenât fans. And you can also count on the fact that most people that you like are not all that vain. I think a lot of people could hear a song that is about them and not really catch it. At least decent people. You have to be kind of a strange person to listen to a song and go, "hmm, what if this song is about me?" But those few songs that Iâve been very, very specific in? There have been times where Iâve been playing and a friend of mine who was, for a period, not a friend of mine and I wrote a song about himâ¦There have been times where Iâve had to cut the song from the set because I didnât want the personâbecause they were there, at the show and maybe Iâm playing an acoustic show and you can really hear the words and thereâs a specific line in the song that says that (the person in question) is the only person this song could be about.
In retrospect, your first split with Tony kind of seems like the tip of the iceberg in terms of modern punk frontmen making acoustic offerings.
It seems that way, but itâs a misconception. I think most of people who have been successful definitely didnât own our record. My thing is that most people who write songs do it on a piano or an acoustic guitar because theyâre quiet and you can do it at night in quiet places. It also has a lot more to do with the climate of the music industry, the fact that itâs gotten a lot harder to tour with a band. Itâs really easy for me to just grab my backpack and an acoustic and play a show. Thereâs no bullshit. I donât have to coordinate a band or a crew, I can just walk out the door. When you play acoustic itâs also really nice to play with people you donât normally play with. Another thought I have about it is maybe some of these people are just getting older. I donât know if I wouldâve liked doing this in my twenties.
What does it mean to be someone who has spent so much of their adult life committed to a subculture that a lot of people who arenât in it have absolutely no understanding of? How do your parents describe your profession to their friends? Do they actually say "our son is a lifetime punk rocker?"
No, they donât say that, which is interesting, because youâd think so. But thatâs a very, very good question and Iâm not even sure I can answer it. My parents, for example, never really knew or had the desire to describe the music that I play. I donât think they really understand it at all. I know they probably heard me define it a million times as loud, fast, aggressive music. And I donât really use the word "punk" because itâs only one element to what we do. Lagwagon doesnât sound like traditional punk to me, when I think of itâ¦ It is weird, because if you play country music, itâs a very defined genre of music. It can be kind of a bummer sometimes that youâre not a part of something that is a very defined genre. The labels that people have come up with to describe what we do are things like "skate rock." I donât even know what that means! People who skateboard that play music? Yeah, sure, thatâs true; we all skated, you know, surfed and snowboarded and all those things. But those things donât really have anything to do with each other-- other than that the music is a good soundtrack for those aggressive sports. Itâs a weird one. I donât know what my parents say. They probably just say, "oh my God, he never stops traveling!" â¦They might prefer the Gimmes Gimmes. I know they like the acoustic stuff. But let me say that my parents were very supportive of what I did. Especially when I started making some money. Theyâre just parents; they just want you to do well and for life to be good for you.
That makes me think of "Sleep" (from Lagwagonâs Hoss album) and the lyrics about "the band will have its first hit song" and "Iâll bring home the bacon bits." Thatâs art imitating lifeâor, at least one or other. Maybe life imitating art.
I was having a really, really good year the year that Hoss came out. I think that was the first year that the band actually did start making money, when that song came out. We did start making a living playing music and we didnât have to sleep on peopleâs couches anymore. We started to pay our rent and those kinds of things. That didnât last forever but it was a really good time. So that song was almost written prematurely in that regard. It was more hopeful than anything else and I also think it was sort of cynical. I was on tour in Japan when I wrote that song. I was being cynical, like, hereâs the way itâs gonna go: weâre gonna have a hit song even though weâre playing this music that will never, ever get near the radio.