When you’re the singer of a punk rock band, maybe the perception is: you show up, you yell your angst at the planet into a microphone, you get off stage, and you party. Some of that might be true, but Joey Cape isn’t content to stop there.
Cape’s latest Fat Wreck Chords release, A Good Year to Forget, is out on August 13. The album puts coronavirus, quarantine, loneliness, friendship, family, and music on permanent file. In this interview, Cape details his time creating this music. This is a one-year tale that includes him playing every instrument himself, as well as recording and mixing the songs. He didn’t produce the album himself, however—his dog Mochi ran the show.
“I’m in a town called Santa Barbara,” Cape says. “Central coast, California, with my parents. I moved back here beginning of the pandemic. I knew I was going to be out of work for a really long time. And I was in between places, my mom was like, ‘Well, come home.’ And it seemed a little crazy, but it turned out to be a really good move, just being close to family and all that.”
Joey Cape —from Lagwagon, Bad Astronaut, One Week Records, and his solo work—appears to be non-stop. He appears to be a workaholic. When he’s not writing new music, he’s around the world performing music. Initially, 2020 stopped all of that for him.
“It was tough, man, for a while,” Cape says. “It was a lot of Zoom meetings and Twitch. And just got all into that thing for a while, and had different groups of friends from different parts of the country, or just groups where everybody knew each other. And one guy is in New York, one guy is in L.A., and one guy is in Texas, and that was sort of fun for a while. It was actually really fun, but then after a while, that feels kind of lonely and weird. But I mean, I tend to get along well with the people I work with. Usually, I’m working with them because I respect them.
“So, I want to get a little of that juice from them. I mean, you work with these people, and they have some totally different thing to offer than you have. And they have a different vision and different talents, and it’s super fun when you got something you’re working on, and you’re working on their music and you say, ‘Hey, you want to sing a little bit on this song, or would you like to play a little on this thing? It’s right here.’ And usually, people are really cool about that, that I work with, they’re usually like, ‘Hell yeah. Let’s do it.’ And so, I don’t know. It’s all just kind of cross-pollination stuff that should be happening in a creative place.
“And I’m just lucky. I meet a lot of people that I really respect and they’re great at what they do. And I’m lucky that they want to work with me. It’s a lot of fun. I mean, I have maybe never produced a record where I had a bad vibe, I think I’ve just been lucky. I’ve always managed to hook up with people that were just super cool and really talented. So lucky me, man. I’m going to knock on wood right now.”
A year ago, like everyone else, Cape’s luck seemed to be running thin. As COVID swept into daily life, Cape did what any grown up punk facing the challenge of joblessness would do— he moved back in with his parents to take shelter and build a bubble around those he loved.
“OK. So, their house has this little room way off to the side, it’s at the opposite end of the house from them,” Cape says. “And you have to go outside to get to the room. I think there’s a door to the room. It’s a really old house. So, I’m guessing at some point it was for maids or housekeepers, a guest or work staff thing, or whatever. And so, it’s really isolated. I was alone, but to go into the kitchen, I got to walk across their little courtyard to go in their kitchen, and I see them every day. So it was, of course, just like living with them, but I have privacy. I have my own shower. I mean, it was ideal. I wouldn’t even begin to complain.
“I was so lucky in this town, Santa Barbara,” Cape continues. “I spent some time here when I was a kid, when I used to live with my mom. And it’s always sunny here. The weather’s always in like 70s, it’s just pretty much you wear shorts in January here. It’s hard to beat.”
Although, it wasn’t all walks on the beach and sunsets.
“I mean, at first it was very strange,” Cape shares. “I was like, ‘All right. Well, I can learn how to do some new things.’ And I tried all sorts of things. I tried reading old books that I hadn’t read, and that got boring really fast, and tried crafts, learning how to make things. And I started taking lessons online, piano lessons. Because I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll learn how to play piano at age 54. This would be great.’
“And I even took some vocal lessons, see if I could work on being a better singer. I did all kinds of stupid stuff that really wasn’t getting me much of anywhere, but it was fine because I didn’t have anywhere to be or go. And then one day I kind of woke up and went, ‘Wait a second? You write songs. You should be writing songs.’ I felt really uninspired, though. Because it was no stimulation when you’re just alone and hanging out.”
It was around Lagwagon Day in May of 2020 that Cape remembered he’s a musician, and he needed to do more music. He pulled his recording equipment out of storage, he began writing, and he began recording.
“I have this little room here and I have my dog with me, which is great,” he says. “Took her on a lot of walks. And then I bought a bike, because I didn’t have a bike. And I was like, ‘Wow, I might as well be outside, riding my bike around so I get in better shape.’ I mean, it’s just about everything I could think of to kind of cure the boredom. And then I finally ended up able to write and just started writing, and that was only probably by about May 2020. And then I just did that all day, every day. I took some drives and went to storage spots, got my old studio gear out of storage, and made a little studio.”
He thought of the album’s title and began to bring his thoughts and feelings to the flesh with words.
“I started doing outlines of all the things that I wanted to write about” Cape says. “I do that every time I write lyrics, I kind of look at an album, the older I get, I look at it more like I’m writing a book. And I try to really get organized for the lyrics, say, because it’s too easy, when you just write all the time, to repeat yourself or forget parts of the equation. And I wanted to make sure that the album, when it was done, I wrote something like 30 songs for it, but I only put 12 on the record because I felt it kind of covered it, that covers it all. Yeah. And that was cathartic for sure. It’s always nice if you have a way to get things out, even if it’s just for you, it’s almost not about other people it’s just about, I don’t know. It’s like therapy or something.”
Not everything was work, work, work. Cape got COVID, along with his family, and at its worst he was down hard for at least 10 days.
“The only time things got shady was when I got sick, and my mom got sick, and everybody in the family got sick” he says. “We all got COVID. And then everything just got really bad for a while, but other than that, it was pretty much like a nice, forced holiday.”
Eventually, Cape got it all out and down on a hard drive, on its way to being held in wax on vinyl. The album is a solid recollection of events. It’s in many ways relatable.
“What’s kind of cool about any record is there’s a historic timestamp to it,” Cape says. “It’s like, whatever was going on in your life, that’s what it was. I like to kind of try to honor that and leave things alone. I mean, I have re-recorded songs before, just because some arrangement will come out of me that I think, ‘Well, this is cool.’ I’d like to put here this. And so, I’ll re-record something, but I never try to fix a record. I remember Ozzy Osbourne, I was into metal when I was a kid. I loved all that kind of stuff. And at some point, there was some kind of lawsuit. I think two dudes that played on the first two records were no longer in the picture, and maybe even one of them passed away.
“And so, Ozzy did this thing where he re-recorded the drums and bass on those records, remixed them, and put them out with the newer guys. And it was so lame, because you’re used to that album, and it sounds that way. And you can always write more music, Ozzy. Just write more music. You don’t have to stop writing music. I don’t know. I think you have to kind of respect it. And this one for me, especially, I played everything on the record, because I had to. I couldn’t get together with people, and there’s something cool about that, that I’ll always feel good about. The real question is, do I want to keep hiring people to play on my records when I can play it myself? And there’s a part of me is like, ‘Maybe I’ll just make all my records like this…’ But it’s pretty lonely. So, I don’t think that’ll happen.”
Cape was able to demo some of the work live, albeit in front of a different type of crowd than you’d find on a normal day at FEST, Ratio Beerworks, or a local venue. He shared it with the smallest of intimate crowds in California.
“Only with my mother and a friend of ours, Carol, a friend of my mom’s that comes over,” he says. “There were a few times where we’d sit, have dinner, and then maybe my stepdad would be in there, and we’d sit there, and we’d be drinking, having some drinks together. And they’d say, play some of what you’re working out there, I’m like this mad scientist in that room. And I come in and play something for them, and everybody would cry, and that was nice. I didn’t really want to share anything with my colleagues, or friends that I work with, or the label, until I was done with the record. I kind of would tell people, ‘You got to wait.’ I want to wait until this whole thing is done, so I can just go, ‘This is what I did in that year.’“
Cape’s audience gave him their perspective on the hits. He’s got some different ideas.
“I would play a little bit for the,” he says. “There’s a song called ‘Come Home’ on the record. This is the last song on the record. I wrote that about being here at this place, at my mom’s home. And I gave her the lyrics and played it for her. It sounds a little cheesy. We were just holding hands and crying. It was kind of beautiful, actually. Then, Carol, she was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is a hit. This has got to be the single.’ I’m going, ‘I think it’s a little too sad, Carol.’ I think we’ll go with like a little more upbeat, fun one for that.”
In 2020, Joey Cape had a year like many on this great blue and green planet. His reaction was like so many — go home to his roots, take shelter, hug the ones you love. However, he never stopped to eat a bowl of cereal on the couch watching late night T.V.— he went back to doing what he does, making music.
And let’s be honest, there was likely some late night T.V., and a few beers too.
“I’ve kept busy,” Cape says. “I think it was some point, maybe 15 years ago, where I kind of figured out something that a lot of people don’t really, they don’t do. If this becomes your full-time job and you don’t have another job, you should be doing it like you have a full-time job. I mean, people go to work every day, and they work five, six, seven days a week, and their whole life is that, that thing to take care of themselves or their families. Musicians notoriously have this thing where— I mean, I tour, and then when I’m home, I just hang around and suck on a bong and drink beer, or just do nothing. And then when it’s time to write, maybe I just found the song, I write some songs— it’s a cycle thing. They end up having more than a good portion of the year, they’re not doing anything. I always looked at it like, ‘Well, that’s such a waste.’ I mean, I don’t have another job, so I’m going to just start projects that’ll keep me working, keep my chops up, and keep me progressing. I don’t see any reason to stop. I know I’m not going to live forever, and I want to get as much accomplished as possible.”
It took a global pandemic to slow Joey Cape down. COVID stopped him completely for a moment in time, but when he got back up, he made a chronicle of the events. It may be that 2020 is aptly a good year to forget, but A Good Year to Forget, the album, helps put many universal feelings and thoughts into context for a bigger audience. It was a lonely year, but music held it together for a lot of people, including a workaholic Cape, who did his best to stay busy while doing his best to stay sane.
“I think there’ll be someday when I’m able to look back and say, ‘All right. Well, I did my best,” he concludes. “That’ll feel good.”
Watch the video for “It Could Be Real” here:
Photo courtesy of Joey Cape and Athena Lonsdale.