Lagwagon's Joey Cape

BY Keith CarmanPublished Aug 28, 2008

In the world of SoCal pop punk, Santa Barbara’s Lagwagon are an institution. Renowned for their quirky, hyperactive, hook-laden songs teeming with tongue-in-cheek humour, ’Wagon albums such as Double Plaidinum and Let’s Talk About Feelings are genre legends, adored years after their initial release. It’s the flippant outlook that’s so appealing. Realistic and dry, it only gets better with age, exemplified in the title of their latest EP, I Think My Older Brother Used To Listen To Lagwagon (Fat Wreck Chords). Yet while such a moniker would seem self-deprecating and somewhat depressing, front-man Joey Cape is quick to point out that after two decades of wry wit and edgy attack, fans should expect nothing less... or more from himself, guitarists Chris Rest and Chris Flippin, bassist Jesse Buglione and drummer Dave Raun. Gearing up to tour Canada in support of the new EP, Cape chats with Exclaim! about life in an aging punk band, unleashing more of that candid humour.

I hear the Lagwagon line-up are going to be somewhat altered for the upcoming Canadian tour.
Yeah, we have a fill-in guy on guitar for the Canada tour called Scott Shifflet. Our regular guy Chris Flippin can’t make it for legal reasons so we’re gonna rehearse with him and get some chemistry going.

How heavily does a temporary line-up change affect band dynamics?
I don’t know. We’ve only done it once before. That’s an interesting tale though. Scott is the brother of Chris Shifflet, who’s in Me First And The Gimme Gimmes. Scott was in Face To Face and has been playing for the Gimmes for six years too. Years ago, Chris filled in with Lagwagon. It’s very incestuous. Now Scott’s filling in and his brother’s the only other guy who’s had to fill in for Flip - it’s complicated.

Anyway, those Shifflets are unbelievable. I gave Scott the 24 songs he has to know for the Canadian tour and 24 hours later he was playing every one perfectly. He’s on another level. They’re the guys you want filling in for you. Anyway, we’ll rehearse for four days so it’ll be fine. They have an older brother Mike that we need to have fill in with us once. Then we’ll have the hat trick. It’ll be fun but I don’t want Flip to feel bad. He’ll be sorely missed... but fuck him! [Laughs]

Sounds like your current status relates to the EP title: I Think My Older Brother Used To Play In Lagwagon.
Yeah! That should be the name of the tour [laughs].

Do you think people appreciate the EP title’s humour?
I hope so. Really, it’s more of an homage to bands that have been around for a long time. It’s an obvious inside joke. When you’ve been around for as many years as us, you know that comment firsthand. It’s the lesser of evils from comments you get. You stop at a gas station and hear, "Are you guys in a band?” When you tell them the name, that’s the direct quote you hear. We’ve had it a million times: "I think my older brother used to listen to you guys in high school.” Sometimes it’s worse though: "Yeah, you guys! I had that record you made,” and they name your first or second record as if it’s the only one you’ve ever made. "Oh, you’re back?” Yeah...and we’ve made nine records since that, man. But what are you gonna do?

That sounds somewhat discouraging. Is there any validation you can obtain from instances like that?
For sure. You just have to look at the big picture. You have to remember how fortunate you are to even do this; to be around as long as we have been and make as many records as we have. The majority of people that like our band know us and our records. We’re plenty lucky. That’s just one part of it that’s funny for us and it’s getting to be more common. We’ve never had a big overnight sensation part of our career. When you don’t have that in your career, you get a lot of that sort of thing. The benefits still outweigh that though.

Most overnight sensation bands have a pretty steep career curve while you’re pushing 20 years at this. I’d assume you’d want that over stardom, no?
Yeah. Besides, that life is super-stressful and not real. Most of them admit that when you talk to them: it was crazy and they did amazing things like play Wembley Stadium but then it was gone. Most of them aren’t the Foo Fighters or R.E.M. It’s a quick ride and painful for them. No thanks. I’ve never been in a situation where I can’t go to the grocery store. I’m thankful for that. It doesn’t sound fun and I don’t care about those venues or experiences. To me, they’re not as memorable as the floors with cockroaches you had to sleep on. We had a lot of down and dirty years that were great. We’ve played festivals and been in buses but I won’t remember those like I do the darker days. The point is: when you’re a band doing the things the way we do—and there are a lot—there’s more consistency to it, less rollercoaster ride. It’s easier to keep your integrity and love of music when you do it this way.

What’s the transition in your live show been like over the course of two decades?
We’re not nearly as good as we used to be [laughs]. That’s the downside of being a band as long as us: playing the same venues you did 16 years ago. We had a lot of that on the last European tour. It’s the same packed club but you look out and realize there are faces there that were at your show back in ’92... but you’re not onnpar with that ’92 show. You’re not kids anymore. Kids have more energy; they’re better. There’s certainly a maturity aspect that comes into play like more soul or better chemistry and things we’re better at but I’m 41. I’m not gonna pretend. I can’t do the things I did when I was 20. There’s an element of that but the good news is we recognize it and we’re humble. As long as you have those things, you’re alright.

Surely you’re given graces for getting older. The fans are older too so they don’t want/expect to see 40-somethings acting like kids anymore.
That’s true! That’s good to think about. I’ll focus on that. You try to do the best show you can every night and remember people are only coming to that one show even if you’ve done 20 before it. When you’re having a bad show you feel it but we’re pretty consistent. We’re aware of that.

Having said that, do you have any more words of advice for fans coming to these Canadian shows?
I’m not gonna bring my wheelchair or my walker to Canada...I’m goin’ for it! [Laughs]

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