Although they never achieved (or pursued, for that matter) commercial success, Lagwagon was a force to be reckoned with in the '90s punk rock scene. The first band ever signed to Fat Mike's Fat Wreck Chords label, Lagwagon has released seven studio albums and three EPs on the label over the course of 20 years. To commemorate the longevity, the band has just issued a box set of its first five albums. The set comes with b-sides and rarities, all dusted off and remastered. Speaking via phone from his San Francisco home, frontman Joey Cape recently reflected on everything from the band's recent show with all of its original members to Bill Joe Armstrong's onstage breakdown.
What's it like being back on tour with Lagwagon?
We've been touring quite a bit lately and it's good. It's nice. I think we're in a really good place right now. There's always an ebb and flow with a band that changes over the years. For periods, it'll feel like you're working really hard, and then there's periods where it's effortless, and it feels really good, and we're at one of those stages right now in the band, so it's been really fun, the most fun it's been in a long time.
You played a special show in San Francisco last year that featured all of the original members. How did that feel?
Oh, it was a great night. We actually did the show twice because we had so much fun the first night that we tried to replicate the night and film it. But when we tried to redo it, it wasn't good. You know, that's how those gigs are; you can't recreate them.
You're all in your forties. Are you guys still as energetic and as enthusiastic in your performances as you were 20 years ago?
I think so, in a way. Obviously, we're not in our twenties anymore. I mean, there's a difference. I was doing things all day long back then that would injure me now. But that said, there's different kinds of intensity, I think, in what your emitting on stage. It just changes how you address it and how you find that intensity. There are nights now where we have shows where I think, "Wow, that was one of the most intense shows we've ever had." It depends, though. It depends on the night. For the age of the band members, I think we kinda kick ass.
How do you feel about the notion that your fans from the '90s may have outgrown your music, or punk rock, in general?
Well, I mean, I think it's a reality that anybody has to deal with. If you stick around long enough, there are always gonna be some people that their taste changes, and that's good. People are supposed to evolve; people are often being slightly dishonest with themselves if they don't evolve. Or they're maybe not that bright. So you can't have a problem with that, and if you do, you're being highly unrealistic.
Since 2008, when the last Lagwagon album came out, you've focused on your solo acoustic music, and now you're back on tour as a loud punk band. Does it feel like you have a split personality?
Not at all. I don't do anything differently in the things I do. For me, it's all the same thing, and there's no change in my personality or the way I approach any of those things. I don't have the talent to be that good an actor. I can't do it. I've never really enjoyed performing. It's not something I really wanted to do, ever, but I just grew to kind of enjoy it a little. And I think I got pretty good at it after a long time of having to do it. But I much prefer the creative side of things in the studio. But as far as the difference of playing an acoustic show and a Lagwagon show, if you just take those two things, it's really a matter of "I just move less." There's still an intensity to it, you know?
Why did you opt to release a box set of your first five albums and b-sides and rarities, instead of just releasing a greatest hits album?
Well, I have a problem with the "best of" records. I feel like that they're kind of like a doormat to your home that's full of goodies. It's like a one-stop abbreviation of your career, and it takes the deep cuts out of the record, especially in the digital world; if somebody's going to seek out your music, they're going to go straight to the "best of" or the anthology because "well, that's gotta be the stuff I should check out first, right?" I don't like that. I don't like the idea that the history dies. There is a stamp on every record; it's a period of your band's life, and you get to see the evolution of a band if you actually listen to the records. If I really love a band, I have their whole catalogue. And I celebrate that.
I've heard you say that some of the content in the box set is pretty embarrassing. What in particular makes you feel embarrassed?
Well, you become more professional. I never really considered myself to be a good singer, but I certainly learned to sing closer to in tune over the years. And I don't know, little things, being out of tune is probably one of the main things; but more importantly, sometimes the lyrics. I cringe at some of the lines. Oftentimes, I think young people when they get political, they sound kind of immature. But it's hard to be objective about this stuff, talking about my band. I did this thing with this guy Chad, who works at Fat Wreck Chords, and he was with me the whole time, and it was great, because he loves the band. And it was very cool for me to have a guy to check the "cool-meter," you know what I mean?
Do you guys have any plans to record anything new in the future?
Yes, actually. I'm finally writing for Lagwagon. All I can say is that when you're in a band as long as we've been together, I think at some point, bands start succumbing to the pressure of having to make new music, and they just make it, and the compromise gets in there. One thing I'm so proud of about our band is yes, sometimes we take five years or longer to make a record, but hey, man, I've never done anything with that band I'm not proud of. And that feels great, and it's much more important than the momentum.
What did you think of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong melting down onstage?
I thought it was like, kind of nothing; I don't get it. People are always looking for a reason to freak out about things. I don't know, there's part of me that thinks, well, if you look at old punk rock and some of the things that people did onstage before there was YouTube and everybody had a cell phone with a video camera on it, and that stuff was kinda glorified. It seems to me we don't have the whole story there. Maybe somebody yelled at him, "Yeah, fucking Justin Bieber" and maybe he was really not enjoying the show. I've had shows before that I've played where I haven't stormed offstage, because really, that's kind of unprofessional and I don't respect it. I wouldn't do that. But that said, I've had times where I've played shows and somebody said something to me in the crowd and I was in the wrong mood, and you know, I wanted to fight. It happens. You know, you can't always be having a great time.
The album came out two days after the video went viral, so the cynic would say it's a publicity stunt.
It's not cynical at all. We live in a world where like TMZ rates so high in the television charts; people love a train wreck. This is the world we live in. Young people now especially, that's a big part of the thing; everybody's a photographer, everybody's a musician, everybody's an artist, everybody's a critic. Also, their favorite icons [are those with] a little drama. I mean, no one's safe anymore. It's not just Paris Hilton talking about how gays are disgusting anymore. I'm just waiting for Meryl Streep to have some dirt, you know; there needs to be dirt on everybody. But a lot of times, it seems like something put together by the machine. And I don't give a shit about any of it, to tell you the truth. If they make a record I like, great; if they make a movie I like, great; if they write an article I want to read, great. Even if this thing with Billie Joe isn't calculated and it happened, and he is very realistically upset, I'm still not interested in it. I'm an old man; I don't have time for that. I have my own problems.