Interview by Lisa Root | Photo by Matt Bear
Joey Cape is one of the busiest people in the music business that I’ve encountered thus far. It doesn’t seem like it. He always has time to answer a question, manages to be out at shows, and is always upbeat and happy. But between the solo tours, and the touring of various bands – from Scorpios and Bad Astronaut, to Lagwagon and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, when you put together the recorded output and the touring and realize that besides that he’s been managing his own label all on his own, producing other artists in his basement studio, and finding some time in there for his family too, it kind of blows your mind on how he logistically keeps it all together.
So who are you recording? You said you’re recording someone on Monday.
I am recording Chris Cresswell from the Flatliners. He’s a singer-songwriter and we’re doing a little acoustic record at my house. It’s gonna be badass. I’m pretty excited; he’s a great guy. It’s a one-week project.
Who’s gonna put it out?
I am gonna put it out. But it’s a new thing I’m doing.
Is it a new label?
It’s a new project where I am producing various things. I’ve already done one record. This is the second one. I’m gonna do a third and a fourth one in the next couple months, doing stuff at my home. So yeah, Monday Chris Cresswell comes here to do his ‘one- week record.’ That is why my stuff’s on Fat, because I was just shipping product between every tour. I have a website – joeycape.com – where I was selling my own music for years now and using Tunecore and these things that everybody uses. And not really distributing physical copies other than selling on tour, but the drag of it is that I work alone and I go on tour so much these days to make ends meet, and when you’re in bands they tour. But the orders back up and I come home and it’s always really stressful and I constantly feel guilty because I’m late in shipping and I’m getting emails from kids that live in Helsinki or something: ‘why don’t I have my record that I ordered?’ It’s a bit fucked up all the time, trying to do that on your own.
I was gonna ask you how you balance that and how many days you’re on tour during the year.
Well 2012 I did 280 shows. So there you have it. Pretty fun to run a record label on your own when you’re on tour most of the year. I mean 2013 wasn’t as much. I’ve slowed down a little, but it was a lot, it was still a couple hundred shows or something I think, maybe a little less. But I mean I have to tour, it’s how musicians of my standing or whatever, that’s kind of how we pay the bills and don’t get a real job.
How many bands are you currently in right now?
It’s less than it used to be, in 2012 I would say eight or something ridiculous. It was never eight, but it was like seven. I think right now, Me First & the Gimme Gimmes still tours, Bad Astronaut tours, I do a lot of solo touring. There’s this thing called Scorpios, but I don’t know what we’re gonna be doing in the future. But that’s one of the records that Fat’s kind of taking over and reissuing. And then there’s Lagwagon of course. Which, Lagwagon goes through phases where we don’t do much, but we’re going to soon. We’re doing a lot.
But the label thing I just wanted to mention because I’m so excited about it and I’ve had to keep my mouth shut about it forever. What I decided to do was just do a digital-only label and what I love to do is I love to produce records. I don’t like to package records and ship them. It’s just, it’s not fun. Nobody wants to do that. It’s nice to have physical copies and I would be remiss not to mention I love vinyl. So it’s sad to say that I’m going to do a digital-only label.
But how I justify it is that I’m doing an event-type label. I’m doing a label that’s going to be something like a BBC session. It’s more of an event. I have people come to my house and if they come for one weekend, we do three songs and we call it a ‘one weekend record.’ If they come for a week, we call it a ‘one week record’ and we record ten songs. We sell the record in digital format for half of the amount of songs on there, so a ten-song record’s $5.
They just get an event. It’s really based on my love for demos. All of my life I’ve been getting these acoustic demos from people that are in bands or even these really stripped-down, kind of, not super lo-fidelity but something like Either/Or by Elliot Smith. That’s one of my favorite records. There’s something about when somebody hands you a record like that and you fall in love with the songs and you can’t wait ’til they do the produced record that takes three months to make and all that crap and then you get it, it’s kind of lost something. There’s a little bit of magic that’s gone or something. And that’s something that I think I’m good at getting at my house. I can get people to really perform well. So that’s kind of what we’re doing. It’s a lot of live stuff but there’s multi-tracking too and that’s it, that’s the idea.
What’s the label called?
It’s called One Week Records.
You’re recording it in the Crank Lab, which was as I recall your original label name but evolved into your studio name?
We’re still calling the studio the Crank Lab even though we’re not cranking quite as much these days. And there’s no more crank (laughter). What’s cool about it is if somebody’s on tour that I know and they want to just take a couple days off in San Francisco, I live in a beautiful city that people like and play a lot. They can just stop for a couple days and come stay at my house. I put the person up; I feed them. They aren’t spending money. They just have to get here. And then it’s a 50/50 deal, and it’s truly a 50/50 deal because all these other 50/50 deals out there, they’re not real, because they have too many hidden expenses and deductions. There are no deductions here. I figured out a way to work around all the logistics so we can truly end to end split. So the artist makes money for doing something that’s fun and I have fun because I love producing and recording. What I like most about music is the creative part of it. And it’s kind of ideal. So the Fat Records thing, it’s a win-win. I love Fat. Everything I’ve ever done has been on Fat, until recently in my life where I started doing these solo things. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy with Fat. It was a matter of ‘do I really want to be going to Fat with all these acoustic things and these lightweight kinda projects when they’re really a punk label?’ I didn’t want to bother them with any of that. But it turns out they like that stuff and they really love the stuff Tony (Sly) and I did together. I thought about it a lot, and I thought ‘this doesn’t make sense, I kind of want everything that I ever recorded in one place.’ By doing this, pretty much every record I ever made will all be on Fat. And there’s something extremely romantic about that idea to me. It all lives there. They’re my friends and family. They put out my music and then I can just focus on this other thing that I’m really excited about.
Your talent should not be wasted in going to the post office.
Yeah, I’m way too talented to box records, man. I’m just way above that. (Laughter) You know, I will say this though, boxing records. It’s a little bit like painting houses and I’ve said this many times about painting houses. There’s some kind of form of medication kind of thing in this sort of basic kind of work where your brain doesn’t have to do much. You can think about other things. It occupies the part of your brain that’s stressed out and you sort of relax. I’ve written a lot of decent lyrics while boxing records.
I get that, the catharsis of after putting together the magazine, to spend time mailing the stray subscriptions that come in after issue close. Whenever I do that, the little assembly line, it’s relaxing.
Yeah, you know what I mean. You’re distracted, or some part of you is distracted. I actually didn’t – all kidding aside – I actually didn’t mind doing it at all. The problem was that I wasn’t home enough so the burden was that I was late all the time. I think there are people that, there may even be someone who would read this and say, ‘oh yeah, I ordered something from Joey and it took like two months to get it and fuck that guy.’
What are the releases going to be for One Week Records?
The first release is my friend Brian Wahlstrom, who is a piano player and an opera singer, which is hilarious considering my background. He’s a guy that I’ve known for a long time. He’s from San Diego. He played in a band called Hornswaggled and they were a punk band, kind of an early 90s punk band. It’s just a weird story, I was eating breakfast in like 1995 or something and he happened to be in the same restaurant when I was on tour somewhere and I was with my girlfriend at the time. We were about to pay and the waitress said ‘oh, that guy paid for your meal.’ I look across the room and there’s this band sitting at a table and I see Brian basically like, ‘yeah dude. We got your bill bro, I love your band.’ That’s the only time that’s ever happened in my life. Then the irony of the way Brian and I got to know each other, it’s a good story. Fast-forward, I dunno, fifteen years, I get asked to play this wedding. While I’m playing a show- literally in the middle of a song – there’s a girl in front of me, drunk, saying, ‘Joey, you gotta play our wedding, you gotta play our wedding.’ And I’m there going, ‘oh my god, can I finish this song?’ And finally she goes, ‘we’re gonna pay you $5000 to play!’ I stopped playing and I said, ‘ok is it today, tomorrow, or when?’ And playing a wedding, if you write songs like I write, they’re really sad and depressing. It’s a ridiculous thing to do. I mean I have songs that are all about disloyalty, infidelity. I write about the sad things that happen in my life: overdoses, lost friends, all these things. I don’t know why but that seems to be mostly what I’ve written about, so when somebody asks you to play a wedding, a celebration of the beginning of some idea of… anyway, no more commentary there. I decided I would do it and, this is so funny, they said we have this friend Brian and he was in this punk band and he wants to play piano with you and I was like, ‘aw piano, I dunno.’ I’m half kidding, but long story short, Brian and I ended up playing a song at the wedding called “Wind in Your Sail,” which is an old Lagwagon song that I did acoustic. We just got along really well and eventually he wanted to tour and I took him on tour and we started touring together. In between the tours he would do with me he’s going to China doing operas, and traveling all over the world and now he’s doing Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. The guy doesn’t need to be doing this other stuff. His own music, which sort of falls into this category of, I dunno… he’s kind of all over the place. But it’s so good; his songwriting is amazing. So in a way, Brian is kind of part of the idea. I know people like Brian. They’re not gonna necessarily be heard. So Brian was the obvious choice, the obvious first record. We did it together and I knew most of the songs of his already so we were able to do a lot in a week and it’s so good. I really think people are gonna love it. I think a lot of the other records will be more stripped-down. Chris is second and the third guy is this French Canadian guy named Jo Bergeron that I know pretty well. He opened for us on the Scorpios tour and he’s just amazing. We had this sort of contest where we were bringing local songwriters onstage every night to play one song during our set so they would actually be heard, rather than opening, when no one’s in the door yet. It’s a cool idea, we did it all over the world and Joe was the guy up there that we picked. People would submit these videos and then we had them come up, play in the set, right at the height of the set we bring this local onstage. This guy Joe was just so good and then he gave me his record and it’s amazing. It’s like a great Shins record or something. I was like, ok, no brainer. So I’m gonna do a One Week with him in April It’s cool, so this is a good idea for me because it ties into what I do for a living. I tour; I meet people. It’s about this creative side of it: songs, producing, creativity. For me it’s just a great way to spend my time when I’m home working. It’s better than going and getting some job at a bookstore, which is about the only other thing I’m qualified to do.
Is there anything else you were wanting to cover with the label?
I know I’m supposed to be talking about Fat and the releases…
You covered why you are moving the catalog, and that’s making people aware that that’s gonna be out there.
I mean I love them; I really love them. Those people that work there are some of my closest friends. They’re my family and really good friends and we hang out. So it’s like giving your babies back to your parents, to the grandparents, that’s the analogy. It couldn’t be an easier thing. It’s kind of like, really, you guys will take my releases? Perfect. We don’t even have to talk, there’s no contract or anything. It’s just like, ‘here ya go.’ We know how to do this. They’re great and I don’t even have to worry about it at all. It’s in good hands and they’re just on it. It isn’t about money because the records don’t really sell. It’s a comfortable place to feel like I’m not throwing those records away. Those are all things that I loved and I did. They were labors of love, I didn’t want to just stop selling them or putting them out in the world. It’s a kind of strange thing to be doing your own music distribution, to be honest. Just something kinda weird.
It really shouldn’t be strange. It’s strange that it is strange to do it. That it has to be given to somebody else to handle distribution and marketing and things like that.
Yeah, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Because when I started this, I had come to that realization, that there was a big problem happening with our industry. It’s getting harder and harder to sell records. It’s getting to be the distributors were these people that were getting squashed and the labels were going under. Everybody was having so much trouble and it just seemed natural to me with networking being the way it was and how much time you spend directly communicating with your base- the people that want your music- why are we doing all this? But that’s just it, in a digital atmosphere it totally makes sense, but when it comes to any kind of physical sales, honestly experience matters still. I think my records looked good. I think I shipped them properly, but Fat is a slightly bigger machine and they’re better at it. Just a little bit better than me (laughs). And there you have it.
It seems to be that digital is easily the best selling medium now, CDs are kind of in the middle, but vinyl is the perfect thing to accompany the digital.
I gotta tell you this before I forget, vinyl is what I like. That’s what I collect. I have an entire room, it’s not really a big room, but there’s what you would call a dining room in the house I live in. And that room is a record room. It’s just all vinyl, just like everybody’s house that likes music; a lot of people have that. I’m super into vinyl, been collecting it my whole life. I couldn’t have done this idea that I’m doing without vinyl being involved because I can’t take that, that’s like denouncing the Bible when you’re a Christian or something. I dunno, whatever. I don’t know why I’m using religious references; I’m totally not religious (laughs). The point I’m making is this: the coolest thing about the thing I’m doing is that I allow the artists to manufacture the vinyl on their own. They can do it. All they have to do is give me a copy. It’s actually in the contract, it just says you can make vinyl with anyone, but you have to give me one copy. And I love that, that’s my favorite thing about it. Because it’s not that I have anything against physical copies. I could really care less about CDs, because they’re almost not big enough in size to be romantic and after all, it’s just digital files. They’re the same. I never cared about CDs. But vinyl matters. And people want to press stuff because they want to sell it on tour, too.
Exactly, that’s kind of where it needs to go too. A record label’s important because it gets into stores and stuff but that’s kind of almost on a downside thing. The two biggest things you can do are digital and then having tangible things on tour.
Yeah. And it’s so easy to distribute digitally now. It’s just so easy to do it on your own or with the help of an online distributer like Tune Core. So that part’s easy and putting the burden of the artist taking the music they recorded and having license to go make records with whoever they want is a pretty kickass idea.
It’s what I would want, as a musician this is what I want. I want you to handle the distribution of the digital, make it super easy, blah blah blah. I don’t want to spend a ton of time making the record. I just want to do something, put it out. There you go. And then I would like to be able to have vinyl, because I like that.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the Gimme Gimmes record.
So, yeah, so you’re gonna put us on the cover, that’s pretty awesome. I heard you’re putting us on the cover of New Noise.
Yeah, I’m pretty excited about it.
Me too. We’re a very photogenic band. Some of us are a little portly or shapely, but you know, can’t help it.
But we got a hot singer. Our singer is a hotty.
Seriously, that is a hot singer.
His haircut is the best haircut in the Bay Area. Every time I go down to Punk Rock Bowling and I see everybody from Southern California- kind of baggy clothes and everything- and then you see Spike walking by and I’m like, ‘that’s my team right there.’
Ah yeah, ‘cause you’re talking about Spike. See I was talking about Spike in drag. But if we’re talking about Spike, Spike is a handsome man. He’s so hot.
He is a dapper man.
You’re right, he is a Dapper Dan. His deal, in my opinion, is that he is not afraid to be European. And think about that next time you see him. Check out those pants.
Yeah, he’s got a real tailored look to him. And he’s a guy who can pull it off. A lot of people would try to do that and it wouldn’t be cool. But Spike looks great. I went to a wedding in Italy and it was on the Swiss-Italy border. It was on the water and this place; it was seriously majestic. It was the most beautiful place. Our friends Andy and Dina got married and Spike was dressed in this powder blue suit and he was playing a ukulele song on the water, in front of the water. It was sunny and I remember looking at him and going, god, that dude, he’s a special guy. He’s handsome. I was really attracted to him at that moment (laughs).Oh I know. He’s always so tailored.
Tell me a little bit about the Gimme Gimmes record. It’s Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!?
Well I don’t know how much we’re allowed to talk. We’ve always got this weird top- secret kind of thing to it, which is funny, but I assume that people will know.
The press release went out.
That tells you how involved I am. Yeah, so it’s divas, female artists. There’s a lot of really good, powerful female performers and great songs. If you’re just doing something called Divas and you gotta pick twelve songs, it’s not hard. The hard part is what do you do because there’s thousands of great songs. But you know, Barbara Streisand’s on there and there’s some newer stuff as well. There’s a Lady Gaga song and a Boy George song for good measure. It’s good; I like it.
I’m looking forward to hearing it. And then you have a new Lagwagon record coming out too. In fall?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t know what the release date is, I think they’re talking about October or something, but I think, I get a little freaked out when people start talking about release dates before I finish writing a record. You know what I mean? We’re set to record at the end of May, June, somewhere around then. I can’t even look at those dates because I get all, ‘oh shit, I haven’t written all the songs.’ But I’m writing now and I’m sure most people hear that and go, ‘what, you have months.’ But months are like days, they just go whoosh, they’re gone.
Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! will be released May 13th.
Get your hands on Joey Cape’s solo stuff here.
Stay tuned for more info on One Week Records.