It’s been five years since Joey Cape’s last solo album, Doesn’t Play Well With Others. That doesn’t mean that he’s been idle, though. Lagwagon’s frontman has put out albums and singles with other side projects, such as Scorpios, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and Lagwagon itself. But that’s not all he’s been up to, either. His session label, One Week Records, has, so far, put out seven records – all recorded within one week.

Stitch Puppy, released September 4th, 2015, sounds nothing like Lagwagon’s Hang, released earlier this year, but there is a continuity between the two, a darkness that the two albums have in common. It’s a melodic and heavy hitting acoustic album, voicing concerns over extremely personal topics and society as a whole. It’s not quite a One Week Record, but it’s more raw and filled with gut-influenced decisions than his previous solo albums.

To learn about the darkness behind the album (among other things), Punknews’ Emma Potts spoke to Joey Cape about the new album and the making of the video for “This Life Is Strange”, how fatherhood changes things, and chasing instant with Mountain Dew.

This album is really raw, and on the dark side – some of the songs, I found, were really hard-hitting, especially, for me, “Cope”. Could you tell me a little about the album, and that song in particular?
Well, in general, I write about things that happen in my life, and I tend to connect with the darker element more easily with song writing, lyrics in particular. The last few years have been pretty tough, a number of things have happened in my life, that I would gladly give up and lose the songs, you know? I guess that’s why a lot of the times the music I write is dark. I’ve always been drawn to songs like that by other people, it’s just how I’ve learned to connect truthfully to the lyrics. It’s much more difficult for me to write comedy than melancholic drama.

The song Cope is actually about a friend I’ve known for about thirty years, a very close friend of mine, and he’d been married for about twenty years, and him and his wife had pretty major drinking problems. They were the kind of drinkers who would have blackout nights together, and over the last year or so I was really seeing that he was troubled, doing risky things, getting in trouble a lot… you always see when someone’s flirting with disaster, if you know them well you can see that something’s wrong. Anyway, he was recently arrested for the murder of his wife. Which blindsided all of us who knew them, because other than their drinking, they were really happy and together for a really long time. The problem was that the cops came on the scene and thought that, because they weren’t wealthy people, that it didn’t matter… so, they overlooked any evidence, and he doesn’t remember anything. And he’s an honest enough person that he didn’t ever change his story. And there’s no real evidence that she was hit with anything… she might have fallen. Nonetheless, he got kinda clinched by the media because he’s one of those guys with really long hair and a long gray beard… he kind of looks like Charles Manson. It doesn’t matter, no one will ever know what happened… it’s just one of those things.

There’s no precedent, in my life, for something like this. And I wrote this song about him, and how he must feel. He’s a little guy, incredibly sensitive person… he’s not only lost the love of his life, and it could have been his doing or not. If this was a clear case, and it was an aggravated thing, then of course I would never speak to him again, I would by no means support any of this. But no one knows what happened, he doesn’t even know, and he’s probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison. And he’s tried to take his life a few times in there… and that’s what I wrote the song about. It’s… it’s devastating. So you picked a good one!

Yeah, that’s not really what I was expecting for that question!

Yeah, it is a really exceptional song lyrically for me. I mean, I think about ten years ago, that would have been one that I kept to myself. But, in some ways, overall the years I’ve been writing lyrics, there is catharsis, as they say, to it. I like lyrics, it’s what I do to kind of exorcise demons. I wrote that song without any effort, because it was so inspired. And I’m so sorry for him, and her, and her family… and her family has actually rallied behind him, because they were so close. It’s just one of those things, it’s tragic, and there’s no solution. But, yeah, now a days I kind of just put it all down, and don’t worry so much about the repercussions… I’ll probably end up with no friends.

But my daughter does not like anything with electric guitar. She calls it ‘rock’, very simply. She hears a song, and I go, “Violet, what do you think of this song?” and she hears the electric guitar and she goes “Dad, you know how I feel about rock music.”

So, keeping to the darker side of things here, it’s pretty evident from your music that you aren’t happy with the direction in which society is going. How does this effect your relationship with your daughter?
In some ways, it brings us closer together. I think, you know, the suffering of people you love, of any kind, creates a bigger bond. Of course I love my daughter more than anything I’ve ever loved in my life… it’s different when you have a child… they’re sort of innocent bystanders and they really have nothing to do with the things that have pass before them, and it’s a vicarious thing to look at the world through their eyes. It’s unbelievable to me that someone her age doesn’t just explode. Because I look at when I grew up, and how things were then, and I know it’s relative, and I know it’s easy to say things have gotten so much worse… but I really believe they have. And it’s not that… we still had wars when I was growing up, and there were still people being murdered and abducted… but the media plays a much larger role, now. It’s a much harder thing to avoid in your life, this constant barrage of bad news.

And I also see the dumbing down of people… not the language, but the selfishness and entitlement. There’s a lot less courtesy in the world than when I was a kid. Sometimes I look at my daughter, and I look at her friends, and I think “wow, they’re really getting a raw deal here”. But the important, hopeful side of all that, is that it’s more evidence that it’s better to live in the moment, and that’s really what I do with her, and what my wife does as well. We just teach her not to focus on those things. But yeah, it’s on your mind. And it’s less about how it affects you, than how it affects them. It changes the way you react to it. Because as a grownup, you get a pretty thick skin, and things bounce off at you… but when you’re looking at someone that’s innocent, it’s different.

So, did becoming a father sort of change your world views or opinions at all?
Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t immediate, but by the time my daughter was two, and, you know, all the natural protective things kick in, it definitely changes things… it changes your priorities. She’s eleven now, so that’s sort of the old news… I think you hear a lot of parents who are newer parents talk about how their priorities change involuntarily. Not so much as a conscious decision, but it changes how you see the world. And you kind of become… a wimp. Some sort of sensitivities arise and you become an expert at sheltering and keeping those things down. And that’s all that vicarious stuff that I was talking about before, seeing the world through their eyes, trying to protect them… but as she gets older, and she’s sort of in awe of her surroundings… for example, where I live, it’s very urban and just a simple thing like littering… it’s so common in my neighbourhood.

We see it all the time, people throwing their trash out their window instead of putting it in a trash can. Literally just pouring trash out their window. And it’s almost fun to sit there with her and marvel at the idiocy. Like, “wow, really? Just throw your trash on the sidewalk?”. And that’s obviously a less harmful version of the kind of stuff she sees a lot… some of the stuff I see with her on a regular basis has definitely made her more streetwise, and I think that’s good, but it also makes her terrified. But I love where we live. It’s changing, things are changing. All of those things don’t last all that long.

While we’re on the subject of fatherhood, have you had any effect on her taste in music at all?
Not really. Maybe somehow in reverse? It’s funny, because when she was really young, my wife and I still chose the music that we played. Back when we were able to listen to music at all, on our own. In some ways they just take over. And I remember, when she was about three, she kept listening to this Ramones song, over and over again. I think it was “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”, such a great song. And I love the Ramones, and she just loved that song, she listened to it over and over. And I thought it was so great.

We made it a commitment to not push anything on her, as far as the arts go. We just definitely wanted know her to, as much as possible, to be the person she would become. And that was an early on thing. We saw other friends of ours with children sort of… I wouldn’t say brainwashing, but… you knliow, you get people saying “yeah, my kid only listens to punk rock”. And it’s like… really? Okay, good luck with that. When your kid rebels, good luck with that.

But my daughter does not like anything with electric guitar. She calls it ‘rock’, very simply. She hears a song, and I go, “Violet, what do you think of this song?” and she hears the electric guitar and she goes “Dad, you know how I feel about rock music.” You can’t just judge a whole world of music based on one instrument! Especially one instrument that has played a pretty large role in modern, western, music. But she does like is the acoustic stuff. SHe likes dance music and electronic music, she likes really upbeat, crazy, overproduced garbage, in my mind. On occasion it’s really sweet, she’ll say, “okay dad, I know you don’t like this, I know it’s overproduced, but what do you think of this song? Do you think this song is a good song?” She’s very smart about it. She’s spent a lot of time in recording studios with her dad, I’ve shown her how autotune works… she’s seen it, as far as production tricks go, she knows how it works. She knows it’s not real. But, again, she can listen to what she wants. We do bond on that one thing, the mellow stuff. She likes the sound, and she’s really into lyrics, which I really love. Because fifty percent of people listen to lyrics, and the other fifty percent don’t care, or they don’t register them.

But it’s really great that she likes lyrics, because that will definitely cause some sort of qualification, or standards. And she’s got really good taste. She played me a Macklemore song the other day with like… Ed Sheerhan? But she played me this song, and I think it’s called “Growing Up”, and she said “Dad, listen to these lyrics and tell me what you think”. And I had to say, they were beautiful. She really likes lyrics, and I’m okay with that. Does she listen to music that I want to put on? Very occasionally. Once in a while I’ll put on Neutral Milk Hotel or something, and I just kind of hope that when she hears it, she’ll get it. But it never happens. It’s alright. It is funny though.

She does like my songs, which is good. She doesn’t like Lagwagon at all, though, she won’t listen to Lagwagon. Way too much guitar in there. She listens to the acoustic albums, though. I think because I work on those records at home, by the time I’m done the girls are sick of them. I work in the basement.

It’s been five years since your last album, but you have other project, you have a home life. I mean, I’m a university student and I find it difficult to deal with five classes… how do you keep everything balanced?
It’s not as hard as it would seem. I just work on whatever’s in front of me, you know? And a lot of the time bands… well, a couple of the bands that I’m in rarely tour, rarelydo anything. Lagwagon has been doing a lot these days, because we hang out. But everyone needs breaks.

I just look at it like it’s what I love to do, this is my version of a job, and if I have time off with a band, and it’s a few weeks or more, I might as well work on something else. Sometimes I take breaks but it’s not really in my DNA. I don’t know about that term ‘workaholic’, but I prefer to have something happening. And I have such a great, for lack of a better word, ‘job’. I have a great job. I love what I do. If I have time to be creative doing something else, I’m very lucky.

It’s like, when someone says “my favourite record of all time is this”. You must not really love music, because it should change and you should have many, many, many records that you love.

Does the five year gap add any additional pressure when you’re doing a solo album?
You’d think so, but I didn’t react that way with the new one. If anything, I kind of phoned it. I’ve been doing these One Week Records and those records are all done in a week’s time and we don’t do much of any editing and the people have to be able to play and it’s challenging in many ways because you’re trying to get a performance out of someone. In real time you’re really trying to get the best thing out of someone, rather than when yo produce a normal record, you have all this time to do math, and you can produce the same way, but you have a lot more tools to get there. And it loses something. Over the last few years doing records, the people, I’ve started to realize, want to do records like that.

And Stitch Puppy, for a while, was going to be a One Week Record. I was going to basically do a live record. But then I felt like the songs I was writing, I liked them a lot, I felt like I was kind of due for a solo record, so I decided to go th route. But it was recorded in a very short period of time, and a lot of it’s live. And some decisions, I’m sure I’ll regret. And there were many, many times when I thought “oh, that could sound a lot better”. I just decided, I’m sick of this. I let a lot of things fly, in hopes that the natural performance would come through. And I think it came out okay. But it was different, I mean some of myrecords in the past were recorded over long periods of time, one song at a time, because I had that ability, so I could focus on one thing. Here, the guitar and the piano were recorded live, in a day.

And the vocals were a take, rather than making my way through the vocal. Some of the stuff is live, the vocal as well, the initial recording. So it was definitely the opposite of pressure. The only pressure was trying to keep of the voices telling me I was making a big mistake. It was a good experience. And, in a way, I think there could be a lot of gray area… but generally they’re so stressful, they take so long, you get so consumed by them that it’s like they take years of your life. And that wasn’t the case with this one. This one was fast and sweet.

You brought up One Week Records, which sort of leads into another question. You’ve worked with a lot of different people on projects, so what would be your dream collaboration or project?
Living and dead?

I mean, you know it’s one of those questions you have to qualify like that because there is a person who’s not alive anymore that I would like to work with, and that would be Elliot Smith. I mean, there’s so many people. Living, there’s John Brian, a producer, musician, songwriter that I would love to work with. He worked with Elliot Smith and a bunch of other talented artists, and I think he’s one of the best, as far as traditional producing goes. I think it would be amazing to see what happened if I worked with a producer like that. I’d love to see what I’m capable of under the guidance. And then there’s a million other musicians, of course. But Elliot would have been good.

So you’ve been involved with the music industry for quite a while now, how would you like to see it progress and change, or what’s your ideal future of music?
Well, I know that there’s a lot of people, you could almost call it a silent majority, not sure they’re the majority anymore, but the silent listeners of the world, that don’t really care about the integrity of the songs they listen to. And I don’t think it’s conscious, but I think that when you hear a really beautiful performance, or a really amazing, inspired song, I think that most people, I believe this, that most people still are drawn to that. Even in this world of the Nicki Minaj’s, all these millions of people that are making these completely derivative songs, and publishing has changed where they allow this, using the same songs, just changing the lyrics.

Guys like me that have been around for a long time… I’ve heard songs three or four times that are sung by different artists with different lyrics. And I know. And that kind of thing just breaks my heart. I guess what I’m hoping for is labels, maybe a little like One Week Records, where bands come in and play, live. And it’s recorded really well, like an actual album can be recorded. And that we keep honouring the song writer, rather than this boyband, where there’s some songwriter, and it goes into the arms of the producer who has maybe no musical knowledge at all, and then to the poor engineer, that has to work this soulless job to create… y’know, the kind of music we hear on the radio.

And I’m not old and bitter about it, because you definitely hear songs from modern artists every once in a while and I think, this is good. This person is really, really good. And that happens fairly often, all through my daughter. It’s just that I hope that we maintain some of the traditional respect for great songsmiths that write their own music, and great musicians, and traditional instruments. It’s pretty easy to create just about any sound, I could certainly bring anyone into my studio, they don’t have to be a musician, and I can make them sound great. That’s where we are, you know? So here’s hoping.

So, I know this is a difficult question, but what is your favourite album of all time, and do you think it influenced you as a songwriter?
Wow. I think it’s impossible. I have so many. I mean, there are eras of my life, you know? There are eras of my songwriter… for a long time, when I was young, my favourite album was Goodbye Yellowbrick Road, an Elton John record. And now, y’know… just saying Elton John, it’s kind of like… what? That old singer than wrote singles for kids movies? Because people don’t know. But that record was a double record, and it was just full of amazing songs. And before that, it was a Beatles record. And many years later, in my twenties, it was Elliot Smith, but it was either or for a long time… and to this day, it’s probably still in my five favourite records of all time, there’s just so many great songs. More recently, Neutral Milk Hotel, Airplane Over the Sea. I mean, that’s one of my favourite records ever made. You know how it is with music, sometimes you just listen to one record for six months. And that’s how I do it.

I just get really into a record, and then there’s… I say this a lot, but it feels like there are thousands of records available to me, at my fingertips. For any mood that I could possibly ever be in, right now. And I used to make this joke, I would say: “We can stop now. Stop everybody, we don’t need anymore music. We’re good.” Because it kind of feels that way sometimes. Long answer, but I can’t pick one.

It’s like, when someone says “my favourite record of all time is this”. You must not really love music, because it should change and you should have many, many, many records that you love. I mean, it would be like if I had children, more than one child, and I said “she’s my favourite”. It seems like that to me.

It is a good question, it’s tough to answer. Out of curiosity, do you have a favourite record?

That is a really difficult question. I mean… Quadrophenia has always been in my top five…
Yeah, that’s a great one. That is a great record.

Um, new records… the Death From Above 1979, The Physical World, I’ve been listening to that a lot lately.
That’s a good one, too.

Whenever I get asked that, I always kind of blank on things.
Oh, me too. The worst one for me is those “top five”. And you just blank. At one point, and it was my old phone, like three phones ago, I had a little note on my phone, that had my top ten songs and my top ten movies, well thought through. And every time I got asked that question, I could go “hold on a second”, and I can just check and go, “yeah!”. Yeah, I blank all the time.

Continuing on the line of conversational questions… what’s the most memorable cup of coffee you’ve ever had?
Oh boy. That’s even more impossible. I’ve probably had a million cups of coffee in my life. At least a hundred thousand or something. For the better part of my life I’ve been a three to six cup a day coffee drinker. Until much recently. I’m having a cup of coffee right now, and as you can see, I’m very talkative. I don’t know.

I do have a memory, and it’s not quite the same as coffee, but this is one of my favourites. Back in ’93, I think, or ’94, we were on a US tour and we were playing somewhere in Florida… I want to say it was St. Pete’s or Tampa, Florida. And Derek and I, our old drummer, were really tired before the show.

And a lot of the times, we’d get a couple things, like alcohol, and instant coffee grounds, like Folger’s. And we had Mountain Dew soda, which is pretty much pure sugar and caffeine. And we had coffee grounds. And Derek and I, before the show, I don’t remember who’s idea it was, but we decided to do a full tablespoon, just a heaping tablespoon, and chase it with a Mountain Dew, right before we went on stage. And it’s a wonder we didn’t both have explosive diarrhea on stage. That would have made the story way better. But what really happened… I mean, were twenty-two or something. It was like we did meth before we went on stage. Or what I imagine meth is like. So… I guess that’s a coffee story.

It counts! Derek just played… I mean, we always played really fast, but he played faster than usual. And I had no problem with it. And I was so out of my mind on caffeine I think I was forgetting lyrics, and couldn’t stop moving… and I remember one of the guys turning around to Derek going “slow down!”. It was awesome.

Back to Stitch Puppy, can you tell me a little bit about directing the video for “This Life Is Strange”?
Well, I’ve made a bunch of videos for solo songs of mine, and I don’t really care much about the rules that a lot of people have for what technology you’re using… the most basic editing tools and any kind of camera are good as long as I can get it in my head and play around. But that stuff I don’t worry about. But I do think, being a fan of film and videos most of my life, I have a pretty good idea of what I would like to see. It’s really more about editing and your vision than it is about tricks. So I started making videos a few years ago, and my daughter is really into that.

I mean, there are all these apps for phones, so many shortcuts. We did the stop animation with one of her apps that she uses, so it was really easy. For “This Life Is Strange” video, having come off of trying to make videos over and over again, with the directors… one director was in, and we really liked his work, and he was about to do it… and then we got a call from his assistant, and the assistant said “oh, we moved the project over to one of our other agencies director’s, but he’s great, you’ll be happy”. And I was like, are you fucking kidding me? Fuck off. Like there’s no art in it. It’s like Walmart for videos.

And I got really fed up with that, so I asked the label if they’d mind if I made the video… and I made the video in two and a half days. And I liked it. And it was really fun to make.

Alright, I have one last question: is there anything you’d like listeners to take away from Stitch Puppy?
Um, no. I never have any sort of calculated idea. I just write about my life, and hopefully… I assume that if people can identify with the songs, and these issues I have in my life, that’s good. That’s one of the reasons that sad songs are timeless. People draw their own conclusions from lyrics, and I know I do that. When I listen to a song I really love I kind of imagine it as being my song. People should be enjoying it. So far I haven’t had anyone say that they hated it, so that’s good, I think.

I think you’re definitely successful with writing relatable songs, I mean, when I asked you before about “Cope”, your answer wasn’t really what I was expecting, because it’s a song that I related to.

Can I ask what your interpretation of the lyrics were?

I wouldn’t say I had a specific interpretation, it was more that some of the lines caught me. I tend to relate with individual lines.
Yeah, me too. Sometimes one line in a song I just love so much, and it really touches me, like you said, and I’ll make up, in my head, what a song’s about, and I’ll find myself talking about the song, saying “yeah man, I’m pretty sure he wrote the song about this…” And then later I read the interview, and not even close. It happens to me a lot. And I selfishly think to myself, “well, you know what, as far as I’m concerned, the song’s about what I thought it was about”. And “Cope”… no one’s going to guess that. I try not to be specific, but I’m going to be somewhat specific.