Rank Your Records: Lagwagon's Joey Cape Rates 25 Years Of Melodic Punk Classics (and Also ‘Duh’)

Let's talk about Lagwagon.

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Apr 23 2015, 2:06pm

In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

If you wore board shorts and attended the Warped Tour in the 90s, you are certainly familiar with Lagwagon's catalog. But despite the fact that the band often gets lumped in with the goofier side of the music world, in truth, songwriter Joey Cape is a pretty deep and often melancholy character. Hell, their latest album Hang does feature a noose with bees flying around it for god's sake, perhaps indicating a darker turn for the band.

While the band is on the road to promote Hang, their first release in nine years, we had Cape go through all seven of Lagwagon's full-lengths which feature some of his favorite and least favorite moments but also tell the story of a band who resisted trends in order to stay on their own unique course—and the fact that they're still touring and putting out new music today is a testament to their dedication. Just don't make Cape listen to Duh, OK?

7. Duh (1992)

Noisey: We have to talk about Duh.
Joey Cape: It’s called Duh, which sounds like, uh, a mistake. I don’t even know what to say about it. I remember that we made the record in three days in entirety. Three fucking days! I mean, how good of a record can you make in three days? I don’t know. We played the whole thing live. All we wanted to do was tour and all of that’s awesome. But if I hear that record now, it just sounds like out-of-tune guitars. That right there disqualifies it. It makes me feel sick when I hear it. So there’s that, and then the lyrics, you know? Some of the lyrics are kind of stupid, I think. But that’s me being my worst critic.

I’ve talked to some people for this column and they’re like, “We wish we could re-record this album but people kind of like it, too, so it’s hard.”
Right. You have to reconcile the idea that these are period pieces. That’s what it is, that’s what it sounds like, that’s who you were. As much as you think there are many things you can do to better that record, you wouldn’t because now it’s set in stone. There’s a couple of records I’ve tried to remix when we were re-releasing our first five records. I had trouble remixing that album and every time I tried, I came up with the same result: It’s totally stupid. It’s the way the record is. That is what it was and you have to accept that. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t improve it, but you would change it so in a way that wouldn’t improve it because it’s supposed to be the way it is. That’s it. You have to accept that. So that’s what Duh is.

6. Blaze (2003)

OK, time for your second least favorite album.
So it’s gotta be Blaze next, and that’s just because that was the hardest record we ever made. We spent five years making versions of that record, some of which are out there on the internet. Various versions are completely different. I don’t know what was going on then. My head was just not in the right place to write. I think I was still succumbing somewhat to the pressure of, “It’s been years since this band was relevant in some world. We need to be making records. People want new music.” I hadn’t learned yet that people don’t want new music. They just want to hear the same old shit that you made years and years ago because they don’t spend every day with you, they just hear from you every few years.

5. Double Plaidinum (1997)

What's next?
I would say Double Plaidinum, because I think it’s a songwriting thing again. I don’t love the way that record sounds sonically. There’s a reason for that, we had a lot of trouble with our guitar player at the time, Shawn [Dewey]. He never really showed up for rehearsals and then he quit the night before we were going to record, so I played a lot of the guitar on the record, maybe even most of the guitar. I’m just not the same kind of guitar player so there’s a sensibility of the way the record sounds. [Posies singer/guitarist] Ken [Stringfellow] was involved with the band at that point, he came in as a quick replacement in the studio and was touring with us. That was awesome because we were all really big fans of his and he’s just an exceptionally great songwriter. It was about a breakup that was my big—everybody has their “one,” that was mine. Devastated, wanting her back, etc. I really wasn’t OK, but you know, you’re not supposed to be. That’s how you learn.

4. Trashed (1994)

What's next?
It’s gotta be Trashed. I think Trashed was a much better version of Duh. I think the songwriting was better and there are some songs on that record that I still play a lot acoustically that really work. That’s a good test for me as a songwriter, you know? I also remember Derrick's amazing drumming on that record because he was so good. But there are some songs on there that we don’t really play live. There's a song called "Whipping Boy" that I sometimes played acoustically live and it actually still sounds like a decent country song, considering that I wrote it when I was in my early twenties.

The style of music you guys were playing was exploding then. How do you look back on that era of Lagwagon and punk now?
I remember listening to Green Day and saying, “This band is gonna be huge! Watch what’s about to happen.” It seems like the timing was right, but it didn’t have a huge effect on us at all. We had almost no solicitation from major labels, unlike almost all bands. I don’t think we had the accessibility that you needed for that kind of thing. We were a little too metal and fast. We weren’t pure enough pop or whatever. I always thought it was a good thing, you know, we’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing and in the long run all this other stuff will come and go. Of course Green Day didn’t, but a lot of other stuff did.

3. Hoss (1995)

What would you put next, after Thrashed?
I think Hoss might be the most eclectic sounding record and at that time it was kind of a brave thing to do in my opinion, because there were a lot of different things happening in the climate of music that I enjoyed. I was like, “Fuck it! We don’t need to make a 90s punk Lagwagon record. We can just make a record that has all sorts of sounds on there.” My band was a little unsure, but Derrick was really into it. So that makes me like that one.

Hoss has so many really recognizable Lagwagon songs like "Violins." Do you feel like this one especially connects with fans?
That’s a really good question because that is the record that we play the most live. There are songs off that record that seem to resonate more than any other record. When I make a set list, one of the things I have to be careful of is, “not too much Hoss" because we really wanna spread it out across the catalog. There have been times where Hoss is like, half of our set. I don’t know why that is but I do think it has something to do with the fact that it was a little more eclectic than the early records we made. Also around Hoss and Double Plaidinum, that was the era when the music we were making was selling the most.

2. Resolve (2005)

And after that?
Probably Resolve. It’s an important record to me and in some ways it’s more important than Let’s Talk About Feelings. I think of it as a tribute to my friend [now deceased Lagwagon drummer] Derrick [Plourde]. The entire record was written in about a week’s time, it was all reactionary. The band had a synergy for not a great reason, but we came together on that one and it felt right. Every once in a while I’ll hear the record—maybe I’m listening to records to try and add some old songs to a set list—and when that one comes on it’s a little painful and a little hard to listen to. But I love the aggression in it, it sounds like unified passion. Which it should, because it was about Derrick.

It’s interesting because I feel like the earlier albums have such a sense of humor and this album is so intense and serious in a lot of ways.
Timing-wise, the band was really kind of getting tired of that silly pop persona that we seemed to have. If you listen to all of our records, there really are something like 12 silly songs. [Laughs.] That’s it. But they tend to be the songs that people want to hear live a lot of the time. I get it, but my lyrics and a lot of the music is really dark. I think when Double Plaidinum came out, my mom started asking me, “Are you OK?" That’s the place that I always channel it from and people respond to those things. Of course it was about Derrick, it had to be that way, but it did feel good to make a whole serious record.

1. Let's Talk About Feelings (1998)

At the top…
Let’s Talk About Feelings. The writing era and the way things felt on that record is hard to put my finger on, but I love the way that it sounds. I like it sonically and it’s also really poppy. I like pop music. I feel like some of the better songs I’ve written come from that record.

That’s interesting because you guys went on hiatus after that record, correct?
Well, no. People have always said that about our band and it’s funny, if you don’t tour the States for five years—we generally toured every two or three years, but sometimes it’ll be four or five years—it doesn’t mean you’re not doing stuff elsewhere. I have maybe in my life at times said, “Yeah, there was a little break there," but the truth is, we’ve never taken a break. I’m gonna start defending that now.

Jonah Bayer would like to talk about feelings. He's on Twitter - @mynameisjonah