INTERVIEW: Lagwagon (25/03/2015)

Californian punk rockers Lagwagon have been at this game for a little while now, having released their eighth full-length record ‘Hang’ not too long ago, their first in nine years. The reason for the delay? The band wanted to have a bit of a hiatus, with frontman Joey Cape for one exploring a solo career for some time. At one point, it was unclear whether or not another full album would ever surface.

Alas, here we are, with another Lagwagon album and the band on the road on a UK headline tour to promote the record. Whilst at the Manchester date of their headline run, we caught up with frontman Joey Cape to talk about ‘Hang’, how it feels to be back on the road, and a bit more.

DP!: You released your eighth studio album ‘Hang’ last year. Do you think it’s more of a challenge to write a great eighth album than a great debut?
JC: It’s probably always the same level of challenge. There’s a lot of things that need figuring out, and it takes a lot of time if you want to do it properly. In some ways, the debut album is going to be easier because you’ve generally been a band a long time, so you have this well of material already. There’s definitely songs on our second album, ‘Trash’, that were written before our debut album. They were songs that got re-worked and that were older songs, and I feel like ‘Choke’, that was on ‘Double Plaidinum’, was written before our first record.

I guess all albums have different reasons to have pressure put on them, but the new album, in some ways, you feel a lot of pressure because you haven’t made a record in so many years. I think, for most bands, you can justifiably say that. When they made records later on in their career, they’re not the best records. So you just want to beat that myth, you want to make it a myth. A record’s a little bit like a flyer for your shows, so because of that, the pressure is kind of off. You get more brave, the more years you do this; you get more comfortable about really not caring about what people think, and the goal for this record was just producing something we were all happy with.

DP!: ‘Hang’ was the first album to be released following 2005’s ‘Resolve’. What was the reaction like playing new material after 9 years?
JC: Really, really good so far. We play more material off this record than any previous release so far. I think there’s 8 or 9 songs in the set on most nights. Tonight is a little different though, due to the curfew. I feel like the songs go over really well live, in comparison to older records. It’s that thing, you play new songs and people are just kind of standing there, checking it out. It’s not that they’re not engaged; it’s because they don’t know the songs. The new songs are kind of built for live, they sound good live. They were all just born in the studio with us, just kind of trying things and playing. So they just work, it’s really cool.

DP!: ‘Hang’ is also the first record to feature new bassist Joe Raposo. Do you think introducing a new member has a big effect on the creative process?
JC: I mean, we have a lot of history with Joe. Everyone in this band at one point or another was in this band called RKL, which was Joe’s band growing up. Me, almost not really because I was barely involved with those guys in the very beginning, so it doesn’t count. These guys have always played together in one way or another, and I’ve known Joe a very long time. So, the chemistry with Joe is like the only choice. We thought “if we can get Joe to do this, then he’s going to fit right in”. There was some time that it took to develop the chemistry for him, I’m sure too. But, the thing is, stylistically, we have the same backgrounds and that’s kind of a huge thing.

He’s also a phenomenal bass player; he’s one of the best bass players I know, so he definitely brought a lot to the table. On the new album in particular, he’s been a huge asset because Joe and I have a really nice rapport and we’ve been working on things outside of the band together, like he’s been coming into sessions and playing bass on things that I’ve done. We’re really in sync and I feel there’s a lot of new things on the new album that Joe brought to the table that just kill it. He wrote some things on the new album like he wrote some musical parts and stuff. This might be the first time ever that I didn’t write the basslines on the record.

DP!: You’ve had a few other line-up changes in the past. Is it always the same bringing new members in?
JC: It’s been so long with Dave and Chris, it’s like I can barely remember the early years with the former dudes. They left pretty close together, like that was a couple of really rocky years that we probably shouldn’t have survived, but we did. I can’t really remember the transition that well with Dave, the drummer. When Chris had started, we had tried a couple of things in that interim between Shaun and Chris and it just so didn’t work. Chris, again, was a founding RKL member. This is a band that we grew up with and grew up listening to and same thing, it was just like, this fits. But, I think, when we were first looking, Chris wasn’t available because RKL were still a band and then I think we said “ah, fuck, who cares, we’re going to steal him”.

DP!: You have fans who have discovered you at different moments over your current 25 year career. How do you go about preparing a setlist that pleases all of your fans?
JC: The main thing is to shoot for the best possible performance you can put on. You want to play things that your band wants to play because, if your band doesn’t want to play the songs, it kind of reflects that way. You also want to make a set that fully represents what you have done and, because of that, sometimes you have to play songs off every record, which we generally do. A really good setlist, I think, has a flow. It starts really strong. It has to have high energy and then it can have these sort of lulls and then rise again until it climaxes at the end. It’s like sex. We’re pretty self-indulgent when we make records, but, when it comes to live shows, we try and make a good set that pleases people.

DP!: Did you ever anticipate that you’d still be a band playing headline shows across the UK and Europe 25 years after forming?
JC: I guess not. There’s lots of times when I’m on tour and I’m walking around in some big city, and I think “Jesus, I can’t believe I get to do this”. I always feel pretty fortunate about it. We really like what we do and we keep doing it. I think some bands break up because maybe they should, maybe the purpose they got together or were a band collectively, wasn’t for the right reasons. I do think more bands split up because they’re kind of wimpy. I mean, the first sight of some drama and it’s like, “I can’t do it”.

I can’t believe how many times people have told me over the years why their band has broken up and I just say, “God, really? Let me tell you what happened to our band and the million times we didn’t break up”. People just don’t like any drama and they don’t want any conflict or any friction. The truth of the matter is, you have to go through those things to become closer. It’s like any family takes a lot, you have to have a lot of patience and you have to deal with people’s idiosyncrasies.

DP!: You’re currently touring with Western Addiction and The Flatliners. How were you initially introduced to the bands?
JC: Well, the guys in Western Addiction, I’ve known a long time. I live in San Francisco, where Fat Wreck Chords is located and, everyone in that band, with the exception of the new bass player, Tony, worked at Fat Wreck Chords. When they made their first record, all four of the guys used to work for the label. I love their record and I begged the label to let us take them to Europe and on tour because they were like my friends who I would just go for drinks with and just hang with. The label first said “Absolutely not! We’re just going to collapse if they all leave, you can’t take our whole work force”, so we could never take them on tour. Over the years, the label got smaller, people have gotten fired and people have left their job there. Now there’s only one guy, the drummer, who’s basically running the place. So, I went back to the bosses and said, “can I take them now? It’s been like 15 years or 20 years”, and they were finally like “of course”.

The Flatliners are just a great band; they’re half our age and they have the wisdom and the coolness of people our age. They are really, really nice guys. I mean, they’re just about the nicest people you can hang out with. If you could say anything else about this tour, I mean the music’s great, but, if you can say nothing else about it, it’s pretty much the most fun tour I’ve been on. I also think it’s pretty cool when you have a diverse bill. I think Western Addiction are more of a Black Flag kind of traditional sound, and then The Flatliners are very much like a pop band. I don’t think we sound like either of those bands, maybe a mix of the two.

The band’s latest full-length, ‘Hang’, is available now via Fat Wreck Chords. You can follow Lagwagon online on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview by Kieran Harris