Punk Rock Bowling interview: Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape

Lagwagon plays Punk Rock Bowling’s festival stage Sunday at 7:50 p.m.
Photo: Lisa Johnson
Chris Bitonti

The Details

May 26, 7:50 p.m.
Punk Rock Bowling, punkrockbowling.com

So, it’s Punk Rock Bowling time.

It seems like it gets bigger every year, right?

It’s really expanded since it moved Downtown. And this year’s festival is sold out, along with most of the club shows. I’m pretty excited for this year’s lineup.

Me too, I’m ready to be disappointed. (laughs) No. I always say that, because we have these really high expectations, you know. I’m obviously half kidding, but the half of me that’s not kidding, it’s just that part where, Oh, it’s going to be the best thing ever! And then somebody punches you in the face. (laughs)

You’ve have played Punk Rock Bowling before, right?

Oh yeah, I’ve played a bunch of times. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have done it quite a few times, at least four or five? Lagwagon, I think, has done it twice. I feel like I’ve been there about nine of the 11 years, or is it 12 years?

This is the 15th, actually.



Okay, so I guess I’ve been to, like, half. The only times I missed it … I mean, I kinda missed it last year on purpose, but I was there the year before and any other time I missed it, it was because I couldn’t be there. I mean, it’s really fun. And it’s nice to play, too. It’s easy. It’s like, “All right, what time do I have to be there,” and you just stumble over there and pick up your guitar and play.

I feel like, in all your Lagwagon songs, you kind of have a unifying phrasing to your melodies that’s almost limerick in nature, the way that you write songs. Where does that kind of phrasing come from?

I don’t know. I mean, I can blame The Beatles or Linda Ronstadt or something, but I don’t know. I mean, I agree with you wholeheartedly, there are some things that happen at some point when you’ve been writing songs for a really long time. And I think that a younger songwriter looks at it and goes, “Oh, I’ve got to be careful, I’m developing my clichés,” or whatever. And then you get older and maybe, I’m going to sound pretentious, but—I already do so I might as well not stop (laughs)—you start to realize you have things that you do that are kind of your style, and you embrace them. And there are some core production things that I’ve done over and over, and my ears always gravitate toward that when I’m writing something. [But] lyrics in limerick … I haven’t recognized quite that. I want you to elaborate. I’m really curious. (laughs)

I just feel like your melodies, when I hear them, especially your vocal melodies, it’s almost like a classic phrasing. I don’t know what exactly to call it, but your lyrical phrasing, the actual flow of it, sounds like classical melodies to me.

Well, good! I suppose that’s a good thing. You could have said something very different than that. I’m pleased to hear that. Like I said, I think that you just write, and sometimes you test things that you’re doing and you learn a little bit about yourself. But it’s like anything else, really hard to be objective. I have realized some things that I do have become sort of a “thing” that I do, and I guess you get comforted by the simplicity of what 99 percent of everyone else is doing, so you think, “Well, that’s okay.” I’m not trying to be a jazz musician, you know? You kind of start embracing those things that you do over and over as your style that you’ve developed or whatever.

It’s justified by all the Nikki Minaj songs on the radio that are just like the kind of stuff that my daughter and her friends listen to. I go ‘Okay, I’m still okay.” (laughs) It’s not quite Beatles time. I’m not quite changing the playbook, but I’m still okay. My dad listened to a lot of classical music when I was a kid, so maybe that’s why, I don’t know. There was a lot of that in my house. That and folk music and ’70’s sad, sappy pop stuff, which I love so much.

Your recent recordings seem to focus on reimagining previous work, whether that’s stripping down Lagwagon songs for the Acoustic records and Liverbirds or amping up your solo work for Bad Loud. Why is that?

Well, I’ve written, like, 40 songs over the last two years that I haven’t recorded yet or I have recorded and I haven’t released, and it’s not because I’m not proud or happy with the stuff I’m writing. I actually feel like I’m writing better than I ever have. But what happens is, some of that stuff is just old, some of that stuff I recorded even back in the early 2000s, and it’s just laying around. It never got released, so then you’re thinking, “Oh it’d be cool to put some stuff out.” Like, maybe you’re doing a lot of those songs live, and someone says “You should record that; it’s a cool version,” and you’re like, “Oh, I already have.” Its f*cking sitting on a hard drive in my basement.

And then there’s touring and playing those songs over and over. And like you said you’re revisiting them and revising them, and in my opinion what happens to those songs is they get closer to where they were to begin with. I always wrote on an acoustic guitar, and those songs started out much more similar to that way than they did to the band version. So there’s a lot of that revision stuff that happens, and its not for lack of songwriting.

But right now, I’m finally diving into recording new material. I’m well aware of how long it’s been since my last acoustic record and my last Lagwagon record, and it is my priority right now to actually create some new music or to get it out. It’s funny, you are the first person who’s actually brought that up, and that’s something I think about all the time. Like, what am I doing?

With Lagwagon, I’ve noticed you seem to use a “second chorus,” where a song is structured intro, verse, chorus—which is actually a pre-chorus acting like a chorus—verse, chorus and second chorus which is the real hook and real chorus of the song.

Yeah, dude. Arcade Fire has that song that says, “We used to wait for it/We used to wait for it/Now we’re screaming for the chorus again.” I love that line, because I think it is just so true. I mean, most of the music I grew up on, pop music, some of it was really simple, and all of it is kind of formulaic, other than the few greats. But I always enjoyed it when you had to wait for something. It was much more powerful. I mean you get sick of a song pretty fast if it’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, so I was always a fan of those kind of arrangements, and I wanted to make sure we did that from the very beginning. But it’s just a preference thing. I just prefer songs that hold on to that big hook and unleash it at some point. It seems like the payoff is way better. It feels better to play it live, too. Our most simple songs that are sometimes our most popular songs, you know, it’s hard—you have to play them, like, 12,000 times in your life, and sooner or later you’re like, “God, I wish this song was just a little bit more interesting now.”

You’re also playing with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes in Vegas, right?

Speaking of simple and silly, dumb stuff, yes. (laughs)

Honestly, I listen to those covers so much. It’s my working music. I put it on whenever I have to get stuff done.

I would too. I get why people like that band. I think if you spend enough time working on something you don’t end up wanting to listen to it, but if it were someone else’s band I would probably listen to that band a lot, because I like the songs a lot and I like the idea of the butcher, the reinterpretation.

Yeah, and early punk music kind of took those early ’60s pop songs like The Beach Boys and sped them up and distorted them.

It’s a thing that me and [Fat] Mike were saying to each other for years: You hear a song that is totally outside your genre and go, “That would be a great punk song.” It’s just a thing that you end up doing, like spotting cars on the road and license-plate games and that kind of thing.

Chris Shiflett and I were living together, and we made this like massive list—it was on our refrigerator, and it was really long, and it was almost all ’70s songs. And originally our idea was, like, “Let’s do like a punk band, but we’re gonna record all these old Barry Manilow and John Denver songs.” So that list was basically the entire first record. And at some point Mike was like, “I got this idea.” And I was like, “What? We had that idea, [too].” And then it was kind of like, “Maybe we should all do it together. You’ve got a record label.” It’s a no-brainer.

I’m kind of excited to see who’s actually coming [to Vegas]. The band is different all the time. I think Mike will be there. It’s pretty much me and Dave Raun and Spike [Slawson] every time. I’ve only missed one show I think. But Mike doesn’t come sometimes; sometimes we’ll have Eric Melvin on bass. And usually the guitar player is Scott Shiflett, who plays bass in Face to Face, but every once and a while Chris Shiflett will have time off from his side project, the Foo Fighters (laughs).

Any new covers Me First will be debuting?

There’s an album in process, but I’m feeling like I’m not supposed to talk about it. I mean, I haven’t even played on it yet, and I don’t even know what songs we recorded. I put in a list of songs that I thought were good for it, and then I went to Europe on a solo tour. Ya know, it’s like, whatever. It’s that kind of band, loosy-goosy, very laid back. But anyway, there is a record being made and sooner or later. I gotta get to LA and put some guitar on it. But I don’t know much about it and what I do know I shouldn’t say. (laughs)

Anybody at the festival you’re excited to see?

I wanna see Flag. That’s the one that I’m most curious about. I mean, I love all those guys, and I think they’re all totally capable of making it bitchin’. And obviously they have the catalog to rely on, so I can’t imagine that that’s not gonna be killer.

Devo, I’m excited to see them. I’ve never seen any of the Devo reunions; I just missed all of them. And The Damned. I’m staying all four days. I only have two shows, but I decided to stay all four days, because there’s just so many good bands playing.


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