„After a nine year lag, it’s time to get back on the wagon!“ The California punk veterans Lagwagon are back with their new, long-awaited record ‚Hang‘, which will be released on October 28. Heavy Pop talked to lead singer Joey Cape about the powerful sound of the album, his tribute song to Tony Sly and why the punkrock multi-talent doesn’t like to appear in music videos.
Heavy Pop: It’s been nine years since the last Lagwagon record. How does it feel to be back with a new album after such a long time?
Joey Cape: It feels great. You know, it’s one of those things … we always take a long time to make records. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t want to make a record we are not proud of. I did other records and projects over those nine years and it just seemed like a lot of those songs weren’t appropriate for Lagwagon, but when this record started coming together two years ago the collaboration and the effort were great. There was a lot more collaboration on this record. I don’t know … it’s hard to explain, but I would say it’s maybe even better than ever – the feeling and the synergy within the band. The process was really good this time. So I’m very happy and I think all of us are really proud of this record.
That’s nice to hear. You’ve always been touring together in the last couple of years, but do you think you needed that time to get ready to work on new stuff?
I don’t write a lot music on tour. I normally write at home, because on tour it’s hard to find a quiet place and there are a lot of distractions. Sometimes I write lyrics and every once in a while a riff will come to me, but very little happens on tour for me as a songwriter. I think I have a poor attention span, so I kind of need the quiet. (laughs) But you know, we are not always on tour – we are on tour a lot, but there is definitely a lot of down-time too.
Oh man, I didn’t answer the question well. I didn’t really understand the question. Was it where I write songs? I’m sorry, it’s really early here and I’m only on my first cup of coffee. (laughs)
No problem. The question was, if you needed those years to get ready to work on new stuff together?
Aah, ok. (laughs) You know, the truth is, over those nine years we didn’t make a full length, but we made an EP and I made several other records. It’s not like that we weren’t working on music for nine years.
It’s one of those things. I know when I’m ready to write an album for Lagwagon. There is always a moment for me, where I understand what my band is supposed to do next. Or at least I understand what I think they want to do next. It sort of clicks. It has to feel natural like that for me. Otherwise it’s like you’re forcing the round peg into the square hole. And with this album … it was about two years ago, we were touring in support of the box set. It was all old music. So that kind of lit a fire underneath the van. I think it rekindled some of the passion that we used to have. It’s more and more difficult to do, because we get older. What we do generally as a band when we are not feeling it, we take breaks. We stop.
So a couple of years ago I woke up and realised what I should be writing, what we should be doing with the band. At that same time the synergy in the band was really on an old-time high. The chemistry was great. So we spent about two years working on this record, but the demo process was really in the last four months. It’s interesting how fast time can go by. (laughs) It’s really amazing, but we spent more time working on this record than we have in the past. I think a lot of energy went into this record. It just was really the last couple years.
Did you wanted to make the record “perfect” or was it just a process that took its time?
I think I was more ambitious with ‚Hang‘ in some ways. You know, some of the songs are very long and the arrangements are more complex. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. We definitely collaborated on a much earlier state on this record. In the past I generally would bring song to the band almost complete, you know – the arrangements, everything but the lyrics usually was in my mind kind of set. And with that I would come to the band and the band would have an effect on that. They would put their stamp on it. Each person would add something.
On this record it was different. I decided to bring a lot of material to them when it was just in its kind of infancy. I really liked the result of that. I definitely feel that this has to be the way from now on, because the guys, they are my band. They have been doing this for a long time. (laughs) They have great ideas. So this was much more collaborate and I think because of that the process took a little longer, but we worked everything out together and I think it was worth it.
It sounds like that. I was lucky enough to already listen to it – awesome record, by the way. But the other fans have to wait for two more weeks, so how would you describe the record from your point of view? What can people expect?
No no no. (laughs) I think the lyrics on ‚Hang‘ might be slightly more political than I normally write. There are definitely central themes through the record. So it has some more of a conceptual nature lyrically. On this record it’s the first time I tried to write an entire record that had central themes where all the song related to each other in one way or another. I’ve been talking about that for a very long time.
Musically I think there is a lot of music on this record that is a throwback to earlier sounds of the band. But I also think that we tried new things and by new things I mean we just did what we wanted to do entirely. In some ways we always do that, because I think it’s important that you are honest to whatever state your band is in – collectively when you make a record. This one might be the most honest record that we ever made as far as everyone in the band really did what they wanted to do. It represents who we are now.
It’s difficult for me to be objective when I think about what the record sounds like. We have to leave that up to other people. (laughs) But I know that it sounds like honesty. It sounds like the right record that my band should have made and because of that I’m very happy with it. Everyone in the band has expressed to each other that they are the most proud of this record from any other record. All of us feel that way about it – so something has to be right, you know. It feels very good.
I think partly – but that’s just my impression – you sound a bit more serious and darker. Maybe a little bit heavier some time…
It’s interesting, because it’s – I don’t want to say a misconception – but I do think that Lagwagon has provoked some reputation for being a band that has silly songs.
I’m sorry. That’s not what I wanted to say.
No no, it’s ok. It’s not you. (laughs) I just mean that in general. The truth of the matter is, if you listen to every record and every song that we produced, you’re going to find probably about ten funny songs. Ten kind of up-beat songs, but there are always one or two of them on a record. At the same time you’re going to find that the album covers always produced a little bit of that hilarity as well. You know, if you can’t agree on an album cover, the one thing you can always agree on as a family is humor. (laughs) You are locked in the van or a bus everywhere you tour for years and years and years and the one thing that you almost always have in common is your sense of humor. So every time we came to the point where we had to make an album cover, we talked about it and it was like: “Fuck, I don’t know what to put on it!” Somebody would joke and then another person would make a joke and eventually there is something that we all laugh at and we think: “That’s perfect. Let’s just put that on the cover.” (laughs)
So I think there is a slight misconception or misrepresentation of our records, but the truth of is – if you really listen to the lyrics of Lagwagon songs – 95% of the music we produce is really dark. It’s very melancholic and sad. I wrote predominantly about loyalty, death, loss and heart break. The only difference I see in the new record is that there is no hilarity. Everything on the record is pretty heavy, pretty dark and because of the themes that reoccur throughout the record I think it makes the record as a whole darker. Not to mention the fact we did put a rope on the cover. The image on the cover is not funny.
Yes, the sound of the album and its cover really coincide. One track that stuck in my mind was ‚One More Song‘. Can you tell me more about that track?
Well, it’s a dedication to Tony Sly. The title comes from a sort of chant that was at the end of a song that he had, called ‚Liver Let Die‘.
That’s a song I played live a few times and there is something about that song that seem perfectly appropriate to what I was writing about. I had not planned to write a song for Tony, because sometimes it feels like words and music are not enough to express the way you feel. That was definitely the case for me. So after a few years I was just like: “Well, I’m not going to write a song.” But then it just came to me one day and I couldn’t deny it. I had to go with it. I kept hearing that phrase “one more song” and it’s actually perfect, because before he passed away I was on tour with him. I guess the last days of his life I spent on tour with him. There was a day – we were in Brooklyn – and he was working on a song in the hotel room we shared. He played me the song and it was beautiful. It was really amazing. He scribbled lyrics on a piece of paper. It was really hard for me to think about that after he passed. It was like: “What happened to that song?”
The truth is, it’s not really about the song. It occurred to me, if Tony could be around to write more songs, Tony could be around to have more conversations. And Tony could be around to be in our lives – what is much more important. All these things started coming together and that’s what the lyrics are about like: “What happened to that song? I wish you were still here so we could hear the song. Not because of the song, because we want you to be here.”
The other thing about that song is that I think there is some omission or guilt, but this is a normal part of losing. Every time you lose someone you love, some part of the grieving process involves some guilt which has to do with that feeling “What should I have done differently? Could I’ve possibly changed the outcome? Should I have made that phone call? Should I have …” – you know, whatever. So it’s a really, really heavy song for me.
I think it’s a really beautiful song and I love the idea behind it. Maybe that’s why I remembered it from the first hearing.
Thank you. That’s so good to hear. That’s how I want to write songs. Hopefully other people identify with them. That’s the thing about those sorts of themes. Almost everyone can identify with losing someone.
Yes, and I think that’s what music is about – touching people and giving them something they can relate to.
So you already released three songs from ‚Hang‘ – ‚The Cog in the Machine‘ and ‚The Burden Of Proof/Reign‘ which are actually two songs in one. I heard that there will be videos to those singles, but you guys will not appear in those clips. I was wondering why?
That is the plan, but we haven’t found the right director for any of the videos yet. The reason for not appearing in the videos – and that’s just my personal believe – is I don’t get it. I don’t get lyrics with performance. The second I see a band performing in a video, I just change the channel or turn it off. (laughs) I think that’s something I can see when I see the band live and this is just a video, never mind the song. I much prefer a small short film that is conceptually allying with the lyrics which is of course a much more difficult thing to make. I also like the idea that video is film and it is another medium of art. For band at our level that doesn’t have a lot of money to spend, it’s really difficult to find people that are creative and willing to work for less than a fortune and make some kind of piece of art. I don’t want to be involved in that piece of art. They’ll have the lyrics of the song, so they’ll understand what the song is about. They’ll have the dynamic and the music of the song. It’s like with a film soundtrack. Normally a film is made and then there is a person that does the soundtrack to that. The soundtrack fit with the film. For me, it should just be the reverse process with music videos. It should just be: “Here is the song. Here are the lyrics. What do you see as visuals for that?” I just don’t like the idea of a video with the band in it. I think it makes it kind of superficial.
Yeah, I know what you mean.
And with this record … I really love the lyrics on this record. I worked really hard on the lyrics and I like the concepts of the songs. I feel like they could be really powerful imagery. The thing is you wouldn’t make videos if there wasn’t the great opportunity to do an extension of these concepts. Imagery is obviously as powerful as lyrics and it would be nice if you could find people who would interpret the lyrics, but it’s more difficult that I imagined. (laughs) We’ll see.
Yeah, I’m not a fan of videos with appearance. I think it’s a little bit opportunistic or something like: “Look at us!” If people want to see us, they can come see us play live.
You’re totally right. Speaking of playing live – your tour starts in November. Are you excited to play the new songs live?
Oh, yes! (laughs)
How does it feel when you’re playing a song live for the first time?
I love it! I think everyone in the band loves it. You know, when you’re in a band some of these songs you’ve been playing for years and years and years – maybe even thousands of times. The inspiration behind the song kind of comes and goes. We are always thankful, but it depends on the audience and the synergy between us and the audience. An old song can still be fun to play, because of the audience’s reaction to it. That has a lot to do with how it feels to play it live.
That’s that, but playing a new song is more rewarding and enjoyable for anyone. It feels fresh and inspired. It’s cooler, because you’re not tired of it. You just feel really inspired and that’s a great feeling. In the past, when we made a record, we had to be selective about what songs we play live. I mean, you have this initial period when you decide: “Ok, maybe these four songs. Let’s try these out” Or maybe we pick five, when we think they’re going to work live. Generally only two or three songs will actually be great live songs and you might go back try a few other songs. Eventually after years you have two or three songs of that record that always work live, that people respond to. It’s a little bit of a process to figure it out.
This is the first record that we ever made where everyone in the band agrees: we want to play all of it live – almost in an entirely self-indulgent way. We’re so into the record. We like it so much. We are like: “Fuck it! We are playing it live, because we want to play it!” I think that is such an important thing, because people respond to conviction. I believe if you see someone playing a song and they love it and really feel it, that’s what you want to see. When the tour starts in November the plan is to start out with playing the entire record live. Maybe not in order, I’m not sure – we are rehearsing this weekend and will discuss that. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe by the time we get to Austria we won’t be playing the whole thing. (laughs) That could be a little bit much for the people who come see the shows, but we’re going to try it out.
You’ll see how it goes, but I think it’s a good idea.
So you were talking about Austria and that brings me to my last question. When are you coming to Europe?
Right now we are in the early phase of planning the tour that will start in March. Honestly, I have no idea what dates we are playing. (laughs) But of course we will play in Austria. We always play in Austria when we are doing a Europe tour – almost always. We love it! You know, my favorite venue in Europe is Arena. That’s my favorite venue in all of Europe. I think a lot of the guys from the band feel that way. It’s just a great place – incredible. The people that work there are working there because they love it and they are all so friendly. They treat bands so well. The shows are always amazing. I love that place. I always have such a good time there. So there is no doubt, there is going to be a show there.