Interview With Joey Cape

by Jack Diablo
Joey Cape is the singer of Lagwagon, an icon of the California punk scene during the mid to late-nineties. He also plays guitar in the cover band / supergroup, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. After years of playing punk rock, Joey is now on tour performing solo acoustic sets. In anticipation for his upcoming show in Jacksonville, EU spoke with Joey about his music, the changing industry, and what lies ahead in his career.

EU: You started off almost twenty years ago in the California punk scene and now here you are doing acoustic music. How has that transition been?
Joey Cape: It’s not really a huge stretch because I always wrote music on acoustic guitar. I always played guitar so that’s just the way all the songs began. No matter what kind of music I’m playing, that’s how it always starts. It’s actually almost like reverting to something a little bit easier because you’re not dealing with the dynamic and chemistry of a band. So in a way it’s kind of like giving up. No, I’m just kidding. It sounds kinda weird but it’s actually easier for me to play songs on acoustic.

EU: I was listening to one of your songs, ‘Who We’ve Become,’ and it seems to be about getting older and all that. Is that what you’re feeling more of these days as opposed to the punk stuff from back in the day?
JC: Well for me it’s two totally different moods, you know? Besides the songwriting being the same and the craft and all that being the same, it’s kinda like what mood you’re in. If you listen to a lot of music and really love music then you understand you put on different kinds of music for what mood you’re in. That’s kinda the thing about writing acoustic songs from scratch. When you’re writing a punk rock song there are some limitations. You feel like certain things aren’t necessarily going to work live and a lot of times a song like ‘Who We’ve Become’ might sound pretty wimpy as a punk song. So in some ways you can get away with a lot more in punk and in some ways you can get away with a lot more playing acoustic. They’re both different but you’re less limited in the songwriting aspect. But yeah, I’m 42, I’m not a kid. I started listening to punk rock in the seventies but I’m not always in the mood for punk. That’s just part of the thing. I think when you’re young, you just want that dynamic all the time but as you get older you slow down.

EU: So is this just a different side of Joey Cape or is it a little bit more personal?
JC: Well I think for sure when you’re by yourself you can get closer to who you really are with songs. But yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really know who I am in that sense, you know what I mean? Like sometimes I feel like what I did for years with Lagwagon completely defines me as a person and a songwriter because I put everything I was into that when I was doing it. And I’ve done that with everything that I’ve done, so in a lot of ways it doesn’t really feel any different to me because it’s always whatever’s in front of me, I put everything into. But yeah, there is less of other people involved so in one sense it’s easier to just kind of put your heart on your sleeve when you’re recording acoustic music. I always wrote on an acoustic so, it’s funny – it’s like every song that I ever do in my band Lagwagon, the original incarnation of that song was an acoustic version anyway that I would bring to the band. It’s kind of like a full-circle and it’s hard for me to really see the differences.

EU: So it’s not something that, as a younger guy when you first started playing punk, was inconceivable at the time.
JC: Not at all. In fact, before I even heard punk rock, my house was very musical growing up. My parents listened to a lot of The Beatles and Creedence and Simon & Garfunkel was a big thing happening at my house, so there was a lot of that sort of acoustic music happening much earlier than the first time I heard The Ramones. I loved The Ramones the second I heard them. The Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, all those early punk rock bands. But the other stuff preexisted in my life. Again, I’m old. [Laughs] Old man.

EU: You’ve been with Fat Wreck Chords going on twenty years now and there’s not too many labels that maintain the same roster for that period of time and not too many bands that stay with the same label for that period of time. Why have you and a lot of the other bands on Fat Wreck Chords stayed on board for the whole run.
JC: Well I think that the most important reason or the most influential reason for a band is that the label does really well. Obviously, if you are on a label that is doing really well, there’s no reason to leave. But I think that people might have still left even if the label had been doing well and the second part of that is that everybody who works there is really cool. There’s definitely a kind of a family thing going on. It never even crossed my mind to leave because our relationships were so good with Fat. I live in San Francisco where Fat is and so, for the most part, through the years, these are the people that I hang out with. For me there was definitely never any question. It’s pretty fortunate when you’re in a situation where your friends are the people that work there on top of the fact that they did really well in the heyday when things were going really well. Of course, everything’s different now.

EU: How have you seen the scene change from those early days? Like I remember the old Physical Fatness compilations were really great so how have things changed since then?
JC: There was definitely a time when we first signed to Fat, we started at ground zero and then it was a very gradual, natural swell upward and we kinda grew with the label. There was definitely a period of time, I’d say in the mid-nineties, where Fat was just killing everywhere and it felt really good to be a part of it. As you mentioned, those comps, everybody had them everywhere we went in the world on tour. That was just an awesome feeling. I always considered myself really lucky to be a part of that. And you know, now, even a legacy like Fat Wreck Chords, it’s difficult to see whether it’s going to be remembered because the industry is so different now. There’s almost no room for legacy anymore. The obvious change is all these record sales and everything and being able to get exposure through the internet, through networking and it being less about any kind of position of power for a label to get exposure for a band. I mean there’s those obvious changes but on top of it, now it’s gotten so convoluted, I almost feel like ten years from now, those who made a huge impact in the old way aren’t going to be remembered because things are so different now. It’s actually an incredible thing to watch.

EU: I think the last Lagwagon EP, I Think My Older Brother Used To Listen To Lagwagon, really summed it up.
JC: Ha, indeed. I’m pretty cynical about it now. I don’t think that anyone in our band feels bad about it or is sad about it. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves because we know how lucky we were. All you can do is really have a laugh at the way things have changed and the way they’re going to continue to change. If you were in a band that was able to make records for as long as us and travel the world and stuff, you have to feel lucky. But yeah, it’s a trip. I have no idea what’s going to happen. The one really positive thing I think about everything that’s changing in the industry is that people that are still making music are making music because they love it. And that’s great. Because for a while there it was so excessive and it seemed like everybody’s sister had a band.

EU: So are your other bands, Lagwagon and Me First and the Gimmee Gimmees, still together and active?
JC: Yeah, I just got back from a Me First and the Gimmee Gimmee’s tour. That’s a shameless, holiday band. [Laughs] That’s just fun. It’s nice to have it, for sure. But no integrity there.

EU: So in that band and even in Lagwagon, you’re doing your own thing and some of the other guys are doing side-projects. Is getting together a convenient thing or is there a plan in play?
JC: We have no plans. Enough of us are doing different things right now and I don’t know, it’s funny – I’m certain that we’ll do something but we have no plans. Just to give you an idea of how far we are from doing anything, we’re always getting offers for shows and festivals and tours we’ve never done before or places we’ve only been once and really good money. It’s funny but nobody in the band really wants to do anything right now. We just got a bunch of offers and whoever they come through, that person emails everybody else like, “Hey, what do you think?” and pretty much everybody’s just kinda like “Nah, not now.” I mean that’s the luxury and the curse of being in a band this long. We can take it for granted that we don’t have to do anything unless we really want to and at the same time maybe we just don’t really care considering how things are anyway. We’re not working on momentum, we’re not like kids anymore. When we’re ready to do Lagwagon again we’ll do it because the stakes aren’t very high, it’s what we do for the love of it. It’s a good thing but because of it we lag, we’ve always been like that. I kind of don’t understand my own band, isn’t that funny? I have no idea. [Laughs] We’ve never really been that good at momentum, that’s for sure.

EU: So what’s in the future for you personally?
JC: I’m still doing a bunch of this acoustic touring. I’m leaving Friday again and I’ll be in Jacksonville pretty soon. I’m still doing this. I’m getting pretty bored with it but I get bored easy and I’ve been doing it since December so with a little break and the short little Gimmes tour I just did, I’ve pretty much been on tour ever since December and with doing the acoustic thing, I think I’m ready to rock again. I’m thinking about putting together this band I had called Bad Astronaut. I’ve been trying to put together a version of that band to tour. I’m hoping that works out. And then Lagwagon eventually will do something. I’ve been working on a new record for the solo acoustic thing but this time I have a drummer and musicians. I don’t know, I’m scattered, I’m all over the place. I’m just making music because I like it. I could definitely be a little more focused though.
Check out Joey Cape doing his solo acoustic set at Jack Rabbits on June 23rd where he’ll play with Jon Snodgrass of Drag The River and Cory Branan. Tickets are $10.