Lagwagon's Joey Cape

BY Greg PrattPublished Jan 22, 2010

Pioneering pop-punkers Lagwagon aren't exactly at their most consistent and productive these days, what with their last full-length album being 2005's Resolve. But that's no surprise: the band has an on-again off-again nature that fans have grown to expect. In the downtime nowadays, vocalist Joey Cape is releasing solo albums; his debut, Bridge, came out in 2008. Now he's set to release his second, Doesn't Play Well with Others. But here's the catch ― Cape will be releasing his new music through his website, one song per month throughout the year. The end result will be the album, which, if you pay upfront and subscribe, you'll get a physical copy of when it's pressed on vinyl and CD at year's end, with some bonuses (Cape hasn't decided exactly what those will be yet). As for Lagwagon, they are definitely in an off-again period right now, and we can only hope that the name of Cape's new album isn't too telling (although he says the album title was mainly a joke, as his original plan for the material involved a large number of guest players).

What are you up to?
Just hanging out with my daughter, putting on a show for her, because I knew you were going to call. So I just got set up. Just kinda relaxing. Nothing special going on. Which is nice; that's rare.

Give me the scoop on the solo album and this one-song-a-month deal.
It's not a new concept, by any means; lots of people do it. The only reason I think people don't just give their music away is because for some of us, like myself, it's still a job, I'm still trying to do it and do it a lot, otherwise I'm just going to have to basically give it up and go back to work. With the acoustic music, it just seemed really appropriate. I write a lot of songs and doing the acoustic thing I can record songs quickly and this way I can get them to people easier. I was talking to a friend and came up with that plan of putting out one song a month.

When did you first start toying with the idea?
It's something I started talking to Lagwagon about doing a long time ago, at least five years ago. I started suggesting that it was seemingly the way things were going and maybe it was easier just to basically sell your music directly to your fans. It was something Lagwagon never wanted to do. And that's understandable; there's some security in having a record label and having people do the press and all that kinda stuff, but nowadays it seems less and less of an advantage to have anybody in between, because you spend so much time dealing directly with people through networking that it seems pretty easy just to take out the middleman and all the bureaucracy.

Is it a one-time thing or do you see yourself releasing more music this way?
If it seems like it's working, I'll continue to do it. It's easy to record one song a month and get a song up, so I can do other things on the side. I can make records with record labels, I can do splits, do side projects. I can stay as busy as I've been but I can sell my music directly that way. And I'll just be putting something out all the time, and have something to talk about.

People could see this as stemming from dissatisfaction with dealing with record labels.
It's a weird thing when you're dealing with the network world and dealing with a lot of people that like your music. They're always asking, "When's the next thing going to come out?" and you really don't even know because you're dealing with a label and you have to wait. You're working on something but sometimes you don't know who's going to put it out or when. It's a tough thing to talk about ― I don't have any ill will towards any of the people I work with, all the labels I've worked with have been great. I think it will be really easy for me to just deal with it directly.

So at the end of this you're going to release the songs as an actual record?
Yeah, we're going to press the record on vinyl and CD at the end of the year and release it like a normal release; whether I release it or release it with a label remains to be seen. I'd like to do it myself but then it starts turning into a real job (laughs). I don't want to run a record label. That's not for me, I tried that already, it's a ton of work and it's just not... it's a painful thing that I don't know if I want to go through again because it's so disappointing all the time. I feel nothing but sympathy for people who run record labels. But dealing with my own music, I don't have to feel bad, like I'm disappointing anyone. I might do it.

Do you think people will actually buy the individual songs?
I know I'm broke all the time but I'll spend a buck on a song if I really like it. It's just a buck, it's one-sixth, or less, of a pack of smokes. It's less than a coffee (laughs). I'll buy songs or download movies and pay for them like it's nothing; stuff adds up, but I'm that kind of consumer of music now ― I buy songs, or I'll go listen to a band if somebody tells me they're great. I'll listen to the pieces of the songs they have on iTunes, and if it sounds good I'll buy it. I'll check out bands like that.

It's interesting to hear you say you just buy one song at a time. I know you come from an era of wanting to hear a whole album. Lots of people I know speak out against this "one song at a time" business. I've seen people talk about your plan and say, "Whatever happened to the album?" Think about some of those old Lagwagon albums. You want to hear the songs together.
Well, that said, everything we just talked about... I come from the old-old guard, the double-old guard. I still buy vinyl records and I still get that ceremony, but I never felt that way about CDs anyway. I do feel that way about albums in general, and that's why I will release this as a record. That's what was so hard about this whole thing for me to begin with, I took the same issue with it that maybe some of the people you're talking about had, and that's my love for the record as a conceptual thing. So if somebody doesn't want to deal with all this, that's fine. They can just wait a year; there's going to be a record.

And how does releasing music this way differ from having a record as a conceptual thing?
When you make music you make it in chunks. There are periods of your life that records represent. There are really good and bad things about records in that regard. And because I feel that way, there's definitely going to be a record at the end of the rainbow (laughs). Otherwise, it's idealistic to think that bands can continue to make records the way they've been making records, because who's going to pay for it? That's the reality of it. If anybody starts to say to me, "Well, I don't get it, why would you do that?" I'd say, "Well, do you have money? Do you want to pay for my new record?" It sounds shitty to say that, but the labels are pretty much... they're done, almost. There's not a whole lot of revenue being generated by music for labels.

It's pretty crazy that this has all happened in our time.
I know. I felt like I was a part of the heyday and the end of an industry. I feel like my life's been kind of interesting that way. I'm thankful for that, because you can have a pretty boring life. I consider myself to be as fortunate as you can be as a musician ― I got to tour the world and make records. Thing is, I love making music, so all that business crap aside, this is the way I can keep making music. Maybe scratch out enough dough to pay my rent and keep being a musician, you know what I mean? But it isn't about money; I wish we all lived on credit points. I want to get off the grid, but I have a child. I can't. I don't really want to live in Montana in the mountains.

Not yet. Your beard's not that big yet.
I'm not that crazy yet. What can you do? If you want to make and sell art, you have to make some compromises along the way. But you have to look at the good things about doing music this way. One, every time you're making a record, there's so much work that goes into it. The band gets together, there's five people in the band, they all have to agree on all these different details of a record ― the artwork, everything about every song... it's a really slow process that gets really convoluted and often the record suffers because of details and the purity and the creativity and the flow that gets lost. Now, I write a song, I sit down and envision it by myself. I feel like if I were a painter, I'd finally be painting a picture, by myself. To me, there's a purity in that and not having to worry about artwork and all those things. It's kind of a blessing.

You're just fully focusing on the music, the song.
Yeah, I like it, as far as the craft goes. There's no middleman. I have a studio set up in my house and I just go in there and work on my music. If I finish it it's not like, "I can't even play this for anybody. I have to keep it under lock and key until we make our record, so nobody steals it." I never was good at that kind of thing anyway.

All this stuff aside, what does the actual music sound like this time around?
[Pauses] I wanted to make a joke and say, "Oh, I haven't written or recorded anything yet. I just got a plan, I haven't done anything yet." [Laughs] But I'm not really a good judge of what I do, ever. I'm always wrong, if I try to project what someone's trying to think of my music. I'll come up with these tangible ways to describe my own music and then quickly find out I'm completely incorrect from anybody who likes my music [laughs]. But... I like the stuff. It's very me. I've recorded ten songs that I feel like will be on this... this... can we still call it a record? [laughs] The songs are typical me. Bridge, I spent a long time on, recording over a few years, and I did a lot to those songs, I changed them a lot. This time, every song on the record was written and recorded, and that's that. I got a lot of people to sing and play parts on it but a lot of those songs I put on splits and seven-inches and stuff like that. There's some cello and piano, but it's pretty basic. I like it. I hope people like it.

Give me a quick Lagwagon update. Anything going on?
I... no. You know, I don't even talk to those guys right now. It's not a bad thing or anything but none of them call me. I hear through the grapevine that maybe we're going to do some shows in Europe... There's no weirdness in our band, we're a family, we love each other, I think everything's great, but everybody's doing other stuff, or... I don't know what everybody's doing. But I say yes to everything we get offered. That's all I know. I mean, that's my band. But I'm a musician, so if we're going to be sitting around, I'm not going to be doing nothing. I can be honest and say that I'm pretty sure we don't have a bass player. I think our bass player, Jesse [Buglione]... he would probably sit in a room with me and say, "Don't say that," but he's basically quit our band. He's made it pretty clear that he can't keep touring because he has to have a real job and make a living. He has a child and a mortgage; that's real stuff, I get it. I totally get that, I don't think anything bad about that at all, but that makes it hard for me to be motivated about doing things with the band because there's only a few original members in the band. It's a weird thing when I think about that band. It's hard to give any kind of good answer. It's always just kind of a little bit of sadness. But I'm always up for doing something with that band. I would really be into doing the one-song thing with that band. because making a record is such a drag with a band. It just takes so much time. I think something like what I'm going to do is a great idea for Lagwagon. It would be super easy for us to get together once a month and write and record a song, or do two or three every few months.

It might revitalize you guys.
Maybe if this is something that works for me and is a viable option for being a professional musician, maybe my band will be into it then. Fat would still totally do another Lagwagon album, and that would be cool too. But yeah, I dunno. It gets harder and harder to be motivated about getting everybody together and getting everybody really positive and happy about doing something that's art. It's supposed to be about the creative process and this great thing, and a lot of times when you're in a band it just seems like a lot of work and it's not really supposed to feel that way. But it becomes that and I think that's why bands break up. But I always say to those guys, "I don't believe in breaking up." Because sooner or later you're all going to want to do something again if it was good ― and it is ― and you're going to have to get back together and come back and do a reunion tour. I don't understand why bands do that. If you don't feel like making anything new just don't make anything new for a while.

You guys are notorious for doing that.
That's what we do. We've done it so many times that people are pissed off at us [laughs]. We're the worst when it comes to that; we're terrible. And I'll take some credit for the fact that my band can be dysfunctional. I think everyone in the band is a little funky. We're all a little fucked up in some ways, and I'm probably not the easiest guy in the world to work with, and I know that. But I can't do anything about that, that's who I am. But it is a lot easier to do what I'm doing now.

Speaking of different formats of music, I still have Lagwagon's first two albums on cassette.
Sweet! I just did a song for a cassette, there's this magazine called Lubricated and they put out a cassette with every issue. I love cassettes; my wife and I still have a cassette player in our car. They sound great. They're cool. I think one of the Lagwagon cassettes, Trashed or Duh, was fucked up. Is one of yours fucked up?

No, mine have held up remarkably well over the years. I don't think there's anything wrong with them.
I remember one of them being... I don't know the right word... warbly or something? Inconsistent. You know how some cassettes can be... I don't know, maybe the tape's not wound properly or something. I remember hearing that over and over again about one of our cassettes. People were really upset about it way back when. I don't have any of our stuff on cassette, it kinda makes me sad.

I had Hoss on cassette too, but sold it and upgraded to a CD. I kinda wish I hadn't.
I didn't even know that one came out on cassette! That was right on the cusp when they stopped making them.

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