The Story Of Lagwagon: An Interview with Joey Cape

LAGWAGON. Photograph by Lisa Johnson Rock Photographer. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
LAGWAGON. Photograph by Lisa Johnson Rock Photographer. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The things I learned while speaking to Joey Cape (of the well-respected punk staple that is Lagwagon), will reassure readers and fans that the love for the band still stems from a genuine place. For 25 years, we’ve stuck around and latched with what they stand for. In a recent interview with The Aquarian Weekly, Cape reminds us of what that is. After nearly a decade of lull, Lagwagon released Hang last year. Alongside Chris Flippin, Joe Raposo, Chris Rest, and Dave Raun, the dudes are in the middle of Fat Tour—stopping at the Stone Pony Summer Stage on Aug. 14. They’ve been featured in the Descendents documentary, Filmage: The Story Of Descendents/All, who are also their dear friends. And while being busy is an understatement, Cape has still managed to keeping his label, One Week Records, true to his religion concerning the creation of music. In his very own home studio, Cape works with musicians to create a 10-song record in a week—even providing a place to sleep and meals throughout the seven-day excursion of raw recordings. The odyssey of Lagwagon continues with some words from Cape, the frontman since the beginning. Despite his sometimes disconnection from the spotlight, he cares more about the music industry than you can imagine. Or lack thereof.

Readers and fans know that Hang was the first album of nine years, I wanted to focus on the present and future of Lagwagon. Following the release of the eighth album, you’ve been touring. Is there anywhere that you want to explore with the band? Or have you touched base with your international fans?

We’ve been doing the touring thing long enough that we’ve been everywhere that we can go, or [where] people want us to come. I’m guessing there are places that bands just don’t go for a reason. There are places that I want to go personally. There are parts of Asia that we haven’t played yet—and it’s funny, the places I want to go, bands don’t go. We’ve been to Japan and that’s it. I want to go to Vietnam and Cambodia and places like that, that I don’t hear stories of people going there. [I want to] go to Fiji, play on boats.

Are there any certain cities that you revisit and you think, “Woah, I totally miss this city?”

Yes, there’s so many like that for me and I get excited about. Paris—I like that city for a number of reasons: food, culture, and a lot of friends there. There’s a lot of reasons. I like to walk on tour, I like to take long walks. I like when you walk into a pub or small restaurant in a small, remote town and everyone looks at you strangely. I like that kind of thing—a small town with great architecture and old vibes. It’s nice to feel completely out of place. When you travel, you start to feel insecure. But the more you do, the more adventurous you become.

I know you (Lagwagon) are touring for Fat Tour, along with other bands. I was wondering if there were any other bands you want to see?

I’ve seen every band on the tour many times, and they’re all bands I like. It’s a nice thing; I almost like every band on set. It’s kind of a lucky thing. I think there are a lot of people on labels that they don’t necessarily listen to the other bands or enjoy their music, but I’ve been very fortunate. There is a very small percentage of bands that I didn’t really get, but I like everyone. I look forward to being on tour with them, and we’ve also toured with almost all those bands. It’s going to be fun, for sure. It’s probably going to be more fun when the shows are not happening… the after part is going to be a really good time.

I know you’ve heard this question about the film with Descendents (Filmage: The Story of Descendents/All). The fans are waiting for something familiar, I’m thinking you should do a start-up. So many people would donate to the cause.

I’ve talked much about this but, yes. It comes in and out of my mind frequently. The issues are really simple. The few times that we got something going, we’ve hit walls that have stopped the project—to cut footage, and to find money to find someone to do it for you. [Lagwagon’s] been around 25 years. For a lot of time, the band was together, and we filmed videos. And I want to honor the story and the guys that used to be in the band. It seems daunting when I think about it, but then I start working on it—it starts to flow and then… something happens. It’s so frustrating.

[For example] now I have a new album to write. I think that ultimately, we’ve started this process a few times. I think it’s less frequent, not that I think about it, a can of worms I don’t want to open again. It sounds weak, and a bit lazy. But honestly, it’s such a daunting task. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, but I wouldn’t want to do it unless it’s great.

When I saw Descendents’ film, it was such a great doc and really well-rounded. And I actually got to see that doc with the main guy that was working on ours at the time. And when it ended, he leaned over to me and said, “You know we don’t have the budget to do this.” (Laughs) It takes having a crew of many people, and we were just working with two guys and a cameraman. In a nutshell, yeah… we would have to crowdfund and have someone to push it.

You have so many projects going on. How’s One Week Records going? I know you have another tour with your label coming up this fall.

It’s great, I’ve done a number of records in four to five months’ time… and I love it. The idea is very fulfilling for me. I like being in the studio; my favorite aspect of the whole music thing is the creative process. I like the time constraint—that we have a week to do that whole thing. I really love everything about the idea, and I’ve been very happy with how the records have come out. The bands get paid well and I love it—small expenses.

We run into some issues. The issues are if you’re not mobile, or have the whole mobile app completely down, you have serious issues. We have to use third-party apps for people to download music on their devices, tell people to get this link and download this app. A lot of people now are so used to having it now… “boom!”… that’s the world we live in now. If we spend a lot of money developing an app, we can send it to iTunes. They’ll be like, “This is a company that doesn’t use us,” and they deny us and not use our app. Almost a legal aspect happening. This idea that I have to offer something new is more difficult than I thought. [I’m] thinking of how I can pivot and change a little bit of our platform and work. I’m a little discouraged, to be honest. But I like the idea I have. I’m going to continue what I’m doing. I’ve just been touring so much, I have to be home. I’ll make more [records] next year.

Interesting you say that because I had a question lined up about your thoughts on music sharing. You’ve been around for the evolution of music. Do you think the industry is changing for the better, or ripping at the seams?

I have two pretty different views about the whole thing, and it’s interesting because every once in a while, I fall back. My resolve is basically, I thought in the beginning that in many ways [music sharing] was a positive thing because new technology means new ways for people to get interested. That’s good because music is art; it’s so good when people care about it. I don’t have a problem with any technology; I’m a little techie.

The downsides are that if there is no income, it’s impossible for labels to survive and make records. The other negative is that there is an elitist status in the arts. It’s so easy with digital tools that hurts the arts a little bit. But the thing is, the way that the mainstream is getting more disconnected from that ground flow… from people seeking our music. What’s left is that the mainstream is becoming more like McDonald’s. The new guy—the hottest rapper who you’ve never heard of—is now everywhere. You’re going to tell people that this is popular, spend enough money to get the Internet presence—and what’s left of the press. It’s so weird.

The thing about sharing is that we have to create new ways to make music so that people will catch on. [And not] people making phony records. Bands have to start touring more often. Now if you want to be in a band full time, you have to tour a whole lot [more] than you used to, which is a good thing because you have to be good to play live. I could take my young daughter in the studio and make her sound great, and she has no pitch at all. And I don’t know if you watched the Grammys ever, but last year I decided to check it out, even though it’s so far removed from my world.

Interesting you say that, I actually don’t watch the Grammys.

And it’s just odd to me. This interesting case. [He calls at his daughter, Violet.] Violet, who’s that guy you like? Sam…

Sam Smith.

I like his tunes, but basically he got sued by [Tom] Petty’s people for that song [“Stay With Me”]. It wasn’t a bitter suit and the melody is similar. And basically what happened, the publishing was owned by Tom Petty and six weeks later [Sam Smith] got “Song of the Year,” or something. And I just remembered thinking how come no one is saying anything about this… not sure, but I think Petty got a Grammy 15 years ago for that song. I need to do the research but that was odd, that was the strangest thing. It was an innocent mistake, [Smith] said it’s yours [Petty]. My daughter likes it, it’s a good song. But I think that it’s so weird that the memory of the people now with the media.

Nothing happened and the media controls your memory. I remember people on social media were fighting over Beyonce not winning. It goes to show people are concerned about mainstream and not treating music as art, just worrying about what’s popular. It’s discouraging.

I agree with that, there were a bunch of artists winning that I’ve never heard of. My daughter only streams music, once in a while will buy music on her phone. But in general, all the kids do the same thing. They don’t go to Spotify, they go on YouTube. If they don’t find the song, then it’s like, “Whatever, it doesn’t exist.” It’s so weird, it’s cheating, you know. Well, I’m getting old, because I heard nothing that I thought was good at all. I like the Beck record, he’s a good songwriter… even though he’s a Scientologist. Isn’t that funny? Couldn’t believe that.

I know, of course he is. Guess we can’t win at everything… So, let’s talk about Hang, actually. I know you mentioned before that Lagwagon songs were dark, but the newest album was particularly dark. Do you think that came along with you growing and maturing, naturally?

There’s always something that you know about the process that other people don’t because you were involved in it. The differences will seems greater than it is to everyone else. It’s different because it took a braver—too big of a word, but—I was doing something different with this record. I was writing something more political and overall basing on my rants with friends. If I’m sitting with a friend of mine in a pub, and I talk about something and rant, he says you should write about—I don’t do that. But I did decide to do that for this record. I had to open up to sing about these things that people have done so well. Took me a couple years to write lyrics because I really wanted to be happy with the record. In that way, it’s darker because it’s a bit of a dark view on the way things are turning out. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. Part of getting older, you know?

I feel you have a sensible view of music and art. You’re going to think things are darker. We can go back to the Grammys. People respond to it that “Music is so great these days.” People aren’t understanding that a lot of these people are entertainers, not artists. I feel we are on the same page. I, too, think it’s darker, while others think it’s an evolution of music.

You’re right. The music industry is a great example of people’s shorter attention spans and less long-term loyalty. The media in general reflects what is safe to say. So many people believe the media, but basically, it’s going to be about ratings. You watch the news and see what you think is credible and whatever. More and more stories are just about wowing people and whatever the latest story is about—the music industry ruins good thinkers, deteriorating a lot of parties. It’s discerning to me that we can’t survive without certain elements, emotions, ways of thinking. Our planet cannot survive, our species cannot survive. It’s not that difficult to fantasize about getting off the grid. I’ve been doing it for years. I don’t think I’m a weirdo for thinking that. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in Greenland, or the mountains, and forged our food? Get away from this broken system? But, you know—not reality, at least not for me.

Do you still have the same guitars when you started Lagwagon? Any favorite guitars that you call your baby?

I love that question. I immediately thought of this Kramer guitar, metal guitar. Those metal guys are crazy. It was just covered with punk rock stickers, Bad Religion stickers—just a really cool looking guitar. But there’s some weird evolution in electric guitars. People will laugh at it, it’s so silly. If you don’t play Fender or Gibson, you’re not playing this, etc. I have a friend that collects those guitars, and I gave it to him many years ago. I don’t think I own any guitars previous to Lagwagon still, most likely because I didn’t have money when I was younger. I gave it away. IF MY BUDDY RANDY READS THIS, HE SHOULD PROBABLY GIVE IT BACK TO ME.

At some point, when Lagwagon was doing well, I probably did most of collecting at that time. I’m very sentimental about these things. Now I don’t sell equipment anymore, even if it’s an instrument I never play—like a xylophone. I keep everything, I feel it’s more like wine. You need to keep these things. You might really wish you had one [instrument] one day and the collection is fun.

You can really pass it down.

Exactly. I have this friend of mine, Jim, a singer-songwriter. He worked on guitars and he fixed one for me. A favor, emergency on tour. The next day, I took him out to breakfast and asked what I could pay him. He said not to worry, and that he had a present for me! At the end, he gave me an acoustic guitar, with a pickup system like an electric guitar, two knobs like an electric. It’s this total beater punk rock acoustic, wired like an electric. He wanted me to take the guitar, use it on records, and when I got tired of playing it—pay it forward. [He wanted me] to give it to someone else, and I did. I used it for months and I gave it to someone else not too long ago. That is a really cool thing that I wanted to do more and more often.

A pay it forward guitar, an art you could spread to people. Not like sharing an appt, but like sharing an instrument, a sound. Such a good idea.

Yes, I think there was some kind of doc where one instrument travels around the world and different people use it to make different records. I feel like there is something that happened with it. If it didn’t happen, it should happen. Sometimes you find a used guitar for $100 from Germany but it plays great.

I think there’s a bit of a random thing that goes on. Instruments aren’t based around what they are. It’s how they sound. My current guitar, a Czeslovakian Archon, is so good. I don’t want to take it on tour, but I’m taking it in September. The last few favorite guitars I had took on tour and plane travel, were so cracked and broken. There is this passing point, the middle of the road where you play the guitar for a long time, it knows you. It shapes in the way you hold it.

You’ve overcome obstacles as a musician and band. Any other obstaclesspiritually or emotionallywith the band?

The obstacles don’t change. It’s getting along and continuing to keep doing what you want to do, travel with the same people for decades. And I don’t think it’s a big obstacle for us because I love what I do, and we love what we do. No obstacles, been doing it for so long that it’s easy and I love it. Sometimes health gets in the way. (Laughs) One too many bottles of Jameson or something. We don’t exactly take it easy… but you know, we wait until our bodies tell us to quit.


Lagwagon will be playing at the Stone Pony Summer Stage on Aug. 14. For tickets and more information, you can visit their website at