Lagwagon – ‘It’s difficult to refrain from opinion in this climate’

Words: Miljan Milekić

There is hardly a handful of bands that made a bigger mark in the California punk rock scene than Lagwagon. Add in Joey Cape‘s solo albums, his work with more than a few other bands, as well as One Week Records, and you’ll get one of the most important figures in the scene. For someone who grew up listening to ‘May 16,’ ‘Alien 8,’ ‘Violins,’ ‘Making Friends,’ and million others, it was an honor to be able to do this interview. And there are quite a few reasons for it – Lagwagon just released their brand new album ‘Railer,’ while just months ago, Cape released his latest solo album ‘Let Me Know When You Give Up.’ So check it out below.

Lagwagon / Photo: Ilkay Karakurt

Your new album is almost out, and we already had a chance to hear two new songs, ‘Bubble’ and ‘Surviving California.’ Would you say it’s the direction you went with the rest of the album, or we can expect some surprises?
Joey: I assume I am late in answering these questions considering ‘Railer’ has been out for a few weeks now. (laughs) I am not sure anything has or will surprise fans of the band. It was an unusual writing and recording process however, in that it had to be put together quickly. We had a specific deadline. It was a challenge, long days in front of a console, and a computer screen with a direct guitar input, an adjustable click track, and a constant refilling of a cup of coffee. I have never written a record like this before. It wasn’t a calculated effort. It was simply a concise process. That may have affected the songs to be more straightforward. I do feel a strong connection to each song.

I’m a huge fan of ‘Hang,’ however, I got the impression that it was a bit more experimental than the rest of your music. On the other hand, ‘Railer’ seems to be a comeback to the more traditional Lagwagon sound. Is it something you were trying to do on purpose, or it just happen to be this way?
Joey: I imagine it may be because there was little time to experiment. ‘Hang’ was written and developed over a couple of years. I haven’t had time to reflect and see the contrast between the two albums yet.

We already heard it in ‘Surviving California,’ but considering the song names on the rest of the record, it seems like we can expect a bit more political album from you?
Joey: I suppose. I may have expressed an opinion on a few issues. It’s difficult to refrain from opinion in this climate. These days I make an effort to find a balance between rationale and tolerance and the various debate driven by angry voices and identity politics. Occasionally I write something down in anger and commit to it. Lyric writing is cathartic, after all.

You probably hear this a lot, but I’m one of the kids who discovered Lagwagon by hearing ‘May 16’ in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game. At the time, did you have any idea how big will the song and the game become, and do you think it helped your career at the time?
Joey: Absolutely. That was an interesting phenomenon to us. We never expected the reaction the song would have for years and years following the game’s release. We have rarely made videos or solicited radio so, that game putting that particular song on the map was a strange stroke of fortune to us.

I know your band has a legendary status in the skateboarding community all over the world. In your career, how much were you as a band involved in the extreme sports community, and are you still a part of it at this point?
Joey: We were all into board sports when we were young. Surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding. We are fortunate enough to be associated with those movements. Our music was used on many soundtracks to independent videos. As we get older, we all ride less, of course. Old bodies and injuries. Not much we can do about that.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like punk rock, and pop punk music, was slowly dying and getting out of focus. However, in recent years, it looks like people are getting back to it, and even some new fans are getting involved. Do you have the same impression, and what can be the reason for that?
Joey: Well, I have answered this question many times, and always with some speculation. Honestly, as I get older, I do not see the transmutation as clearly. The change varies from scene to scene and town to town. The world is a big place, and people seemingly waver in their passions more frequently.

Your last solo album ‘Let Me Know When You Give Up,’ was released just three months before ‘Railer.’ I guess there was a time overlap in writing two albums, so how challenging is it to work on two such different, but yet similar projects at the same time? Do you know from the start which song will be on each release, or do you just wait and see how it turns out and where it fits?
Joey: I wrote ‘Let Me Know…’ just before ‘Railer.’ It’s not as difficult as it appears to decide which songs are appropriate for which project. If Lagwagon is active, they always get the first right of refusal of my songs and my time. This last year was exceptional in that it was tough doing both a solo album and a Lagwagon album back to back but, in a way, I was in writing mode, and that simply continued after the solo record into the Lagwagon writing period.

Also, just I have to ask you about the artwork for ‘Let Me Know When You Give Up.’ I would love to hear the idea and the story behind it. Would you like to share it?
Joey: ‘Let Me Know When You Give Up’ is conceptually about acceptance and the relief you feel when you let go of your struggle. I wanted a bold and colorful album cover image to support the concept, but it could not be literal. I wanted a casual metaphor for life’s brutal struggle. Something as simple as a mess you will have trouble cleaning up. I have a friend who is a graffiti artist. He tagged the bathroom in a venue. Another friend of mine manages the venue and allowed it, as long as we restored the room to its former look. I used to paint houses for a living, so I was happy to paint. It was a fun photoshoot.

With both, Lagwagon, and your own albums, you go all-in on exposing yourself emotionally and personally. Do you ever have any doubts about giving so much of yourself in your music, or it’s the only way you know it?
Joey: I do have some apprehension from time to time but, the old saying “Telling the truth one note at a time” makes sense to me. You can either bottle it up until you explode or find catharsis in lyric writing. It’s a bloodletting.

I know a lot of people who turn to your music when they are down, depressed, or in a dark place. It’s almost like using it as a therapy. Did you ever expect it can be the case with your music? Do you see it as a motivation for your songwriting, or do you try not to focus on it, and not carry that burden?
Joey: It is great that others identify with my words. Still, I focus on my own issues. Empathy is a powerful thing and important to me. But my love for it never causes calculation in my lyrics. They are strictly self-indulgent and motivated by self-realization.

I had a chance to see you three times – twice with Lagwagon at Punk Rock Holiday, and once with Scorpios in Belgrade, and it was like seeing two different people. Do you have different ways to prepare for a different types of shows, or it’s the music that brings a different kind of energy to your performance? Or do you just have a switch in your head which you hit to enter a different mode?
Joey: I imagine that it could appear I have varying persona with each project but, it is likely just the differing vibe of the music affecting the performance. Every day on tour is distinct, as well. You feel differently each day. Belgrade was an unusual show, by the way.

Apart from writing and playing songs, you’re also producing records. How do you even find the balance between your life and all the different projects you’re a part of? Also, do you have anything else coming up we should pay attention to?
Joey: Whatever I am working on is the current priority. It is not all that entangled. I love all of it, and the change of hats is a nice cure for any boredom brought on by monotony. I am mostly touring now in support of ‘Railer,’ but have plans to make another One Week record in January and hopefully begin work on new solo material along the way.

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