Interview originally appeared in Mass Movement #32
We (that is myself and Mr. Pickens) first stumbled across Lagwagon in 1994. They were playing TJ’s, supporting the recently released ‘Trashed’, the band they were supposed to playing with (Face To Face) hadn’t been allowed into the UK, and about thirty people turned up to the show, but that didn’t stop Lagwagon. They dropped the door price, played two sets (every single sing they knew including covers) and hung out afterwards. From that night on, I’ve been a fan. There’s been a load of Lagwagon moments since then, my old band supported them, a couple of drug and alcohol fuelled road trips to see them play and a load more stories that I can’t go into without fear of being arrested for gross indecency and crimes against humanity, and doubtless there are a load of Lagwagon moments to come, and thanks to them being at the centre of some of most incredible times, I can honestly say that they are the one band that changed my life for the better. Bearing that in mind, on a cold winter’s evening, I managed to keep my nerve and prevent the inner fan boy from escaping and spoke to Joey cape about all things Lagwagon related…
Interview by Tim Mass Movement
Photograph by Lisa Johnson and appears courtesy of Fat Wreck Chords
MM: Bring us up to speed on what’s been happening in the Lagwagon Camp since “I Think My Older Brother Used to Listen”…
JC: That was a while ago. We did a lot of touring then took a bunch of time off. That’s kind of what we do I guess.. nothing. We took some time off after we made that record; what year was it 2008? Then I think that in 2010 we did a 3 week tour of Europe that had nothing to do with the EP as that was really old then; we just went out there. But we really haven’t done that much in the last few years until we were working on the box set.
MM: What made you want to release this box set? Why the first five albums?
JC: Anything after that was recent enough that there wasn’t the same need. Part of the point of doing this box set was that a lot of the older records were poorly mastered for vinyl and for digital By today’s standards they are not really competitive with tracks designed for mp3 download and just the sound of the files is not right. Making it work for digital download is a good reason to re-master or re-record. Also in the early days we were producing a lot of music so there were many, many outtakes and there was a lot of material. The decision was made later to do them all at once, which is good and bad. It was great, but it made the project much more difficult and longer. It was interesting because every time I found something for that record; I found a track or found some other thing that we had and we kept adding it, then we got to a point when we kind of had to stop because it was too much. I’ve kept almost everything I’ve ever done with Lagwagon, all the memorabilia, boxes of stuff, tapes of tracks in different formats, I have all of it. It was fun though, a labour of love.
MM: I’m sure doing all of that stuff dragged up a lot of memories. What do remember most about the recording of each particular album?
JC: I think that probably the best and most surprising memories that came back were the really early years before we made our first record, the demo. It was just fun to go back and listen to it because we’ve changed so much since then. We put the entire original demo on the new release because it was so much fun to hear it again. When we got together and collaborated and talked about what we were going to do for the first demo, I didn’t write that much music – most of the lyrics and some of the tunes, but most of the music was actually written by our original guitar player Shawn Dewey. So coming back to that was fun for me because it was something I hadn’t heard in 25 years since we made it. Especially because the mixing on that was so bad and I got those tapes transferred, then we transferred them to digital and I got to remix them.
MM: With the gift of hindsight, looking back at the records how do you think Lagwagon have changed, evolved and developed over the years?
JC: I think we’ve got a bit more comfortable over the years. In a way you get more comfortable with who you are and don’t try to second guess everything which gives you a bit more flow and ease when it comes to putting the music together. That in some ways is a mark of how you mature as a band. Also I think as you get older there is some of that youthful energy – when you’re young you’ll practise 20 hours a day, 7 days a week and never get tired- that’s not there any more. Right about the time we made ‘Hoss’ we lost Derek, our first drummer and with the new drummer the chemistry of the band was changed, so some of that evolution was forced. I don’t really think about song writing really, I think you just become more comfortable with who you are as a songwriter and early on it took a bit more effort and was more calculating, whereas when you get older you just write. I learned fairly early on that it was better to write about the human nature rather than the politics of government.
MM: The bands popularity seemed to soar between ‘Trashed’ and ‘Hoss’. Was it a sudden upsurge or was it a gradual growth?
JC: I’ve done so much touring since then really I don’t have that good of a memory. Really though I don’t think we had much in the way of down time in the early days. We were doing upwards of 280 shows a year, we were always on tour. I think it was early enough that there weren’t really that many bands doing what we were doing so there was an advantage there. But we had a good work ethic and that’s all we wanted to do and there wasn’t that much competition. So maybe that’s why things built so quickly for the band. Then we just stayed the same for ever. It had to do with not doing radio or videos or that kind of thing, so we didn’t stand out too much. But we made a good steady career, it’s been good.
MM: When the band became more popular did anything change for you on a personal level? How did it affect you?
JC: It wasn’t that sudden. We toured so much for quite a few years so each time we came back there were more people, but at that time we were coming back often. Yes there were spikes, but it didn’t affect me at all. I don’t think it affected any of us as we were just happy to be in a band that people were interested in. Bands like ours are different to bands who become an overnight sensation and achieve some kind of fame. I imagine it gets to a point where they can’t even buy groceries, we never experienced anything like that other than at some point I was able to not have a job and that was great. That simple fact that we were earning enough money to play music and tour all the time, and that we could afford to have houses and keep apartments.
MM: As you go back to the five albums, do you have a favourite?
JC: Not really. Each one of the records have different reasons why there are regrets. I can say that the record where I opened up the most was Double Plaidinum it was all heartache and I was a mess. I wrote the record in about a week and I wasn’t very happy. Some of the other records, some of the early records, there were some lyrics that when we went back to re-master literally make me cringe. I can’t imagine why I thought at the time, it was good to write it. I think ‘Hoss’ was the most diverse record that we made, I think we just had the courage to do what we wanted. Although the record phonically, consistently sounds one way there is no production value there. I think the best one is ‘Let’s Talk About Feelings’, but I think the record as a whole is too short. We were trying to record about 10 more songs but we reached some kind of deadline which we finally gave in to. It was the only time in our career as a band that we did. We so rarely get into a situation where there is pressure to deliver a record, but when we did ‘Let’s Talk About Feeling’ things were going really great with the band and we really had to get it done. As a result we put out a 10 song EP, but if we’d waited another 2 months we could have got a much better record done. It would have possibly been our best. It’s hard to be objective, but it’s difficult to remember how you felt at the time. Listening to all those records now, there was no one clear record that I thought was the champion. There’s different things about each record that I like.
MM: What’s the current state of play with Lagwagon is there going to be another record?
JC: I don’t know about that. My feeling is that a better idea than an album would be to find a way to release a few songs at a time because of the way people buy music now. It’s just the concept of an album doesn’t seem to work for me right now and that’s really hard to say because I grew up with vinyl, I’m 45 years old. Vinyl died and now CD’s are almost dead, so I really don’t see the point of making a record. If you think of the amount of work that has to go into it and everybody’s schedule; even if you put everything into it, something’s going to get missed and I just think it’s much better to concentrate on producing one or two songs at a time and achieve what you want to with it. So I’m not sure about making another record, certainly I don’t have any material for it, I think I have one song. We’re doing a tonne of touring though this year, 2012 is a Lagwagon year. We need to get out on the road and be a band again and work out how that works before we try to start creating again I think.
MM: With 2012 being so busy how will that affect your solo projects?
JC: Well the reason I have so many side projects is that I don’t like a lot of down time, I like to be busy so if my band isn’t doing anything for a long time I can’t just sit around and suck on a bong, so my answer is just to do other projects. So it won’t affect anything, I’ll just be into Lagwagon this year. I think that the people I work with are the same, they all have other projects, so they understand. I don’t like to work with people with a gang mentality, I think music is something that…That you should play with other people as it helps it expand your views.
MM: You mentioned the tour, is it US, UK, Europe?
JC: Yeah, I think every month we have a tour somewhere. I think in Europe there’s a block based around the festivals which isn’t really a tour, so in June I think there’s a tour where we are doing a lot more dates. I know we’re trying to get on Reading and Leeds in August. Me First And the Gimme Gimmes are touring at the same time so I’ve got to think of a way to piggy back on that and we’re just booking everything in advance. I’m sure we’ll be in the UK sooner or later. The good news is that if it’s later, we’ll be better…