Interview By Gen Handley |
Joey Cape is a very busy man.
On top of his multiple successful musical projects, Cape is also a devoted family man, juggling the two roles with the grace and honesty one would expect from an artist with such an illustrious reputation in the punk scene.
“Any chance tomorrow is better?” he says in a text when rebooking the interview for a second time. “I’m only asking ’cause I have to drive my daughter to a dance recital at 11:30 today. I can still do it, but it might be a bit hectic.”
With Cape, having patience is always worth it. The incredibly sincere solo artist, frontman of the legendary punk band Lagwagon, and founder of One Week Records is as amiable as it gets for a singer-songwriter who has recorded as many influential albums as he has.
Life is about to get even busier for Cape. He released his brand-new solo album, Let Me Know When You Give Up, on July 5 via Fat Wreck Chords, and Lagwagon are preparing to release their much-anticipated ninth album on a yet-to-be-determined date, adding more to an already full plate.
What’s the meaning behind the album title, Let Me Know When You Give Up?
Well, the short explanation of that is that it’s about letting me know when you’re tired of the debate going in politics, religion, etc. and you want to go grab a beer—that’s the long, casual version of that. I just want to have a nice conversation that doesn’t involve tons of stress regarding the administration and world issues. I think I got to a point a couple of years ago in my life where I felt the better half of my life—more than that, just discussing these issues and debating with people, it feels like a strange thing for a person who’s not spiritual and is an atheist, so I feel like now’s the time to enjoy your life and get things done. I’m just reflective of having a child as well—not to preach or sound lame—and want to enjoy life.
It’s an idea of letting go of the debate and letting go of the current issues in the world. It’s about the basic functions of being a good person, a kind person, a compassionate person, living your life with respect for others. As simple as it sounds, and I kind of sound like a hippie with that idealism, it’s really just a matter of sanity.
I got really into that thinking. I’d be out for dinner with friends, and they would start talking about Voldemort, or Trump, and I’d pull out my headphones and put on some music, trying to do it inconspicuously. My friends would start to figure it out and were like, “You’re always doing that.” [Laughs] Yeah, I’m just not that interested anymore. I’m taking a break. I just want to enjoy myself.
I started writing songs that reflected that, and I had the idea of Let Me Know When You Give Up as a title for hope and just kind of went with it. I’m still trying to stay there. There was about a year of my life that was very blissful, and I was really living in that philosophy, letting go entirely. I didn’t skip my duties as a citizen and not vote, but it’s OK to take a breath—but then I kind of lost it for a while and got really stressed again. [Laughs]
Has there ever been a time when you’ve given up?
Of course. I think all of us have. Maybe some people don’t, but I think there’s many times in your life when you feel defeated and you feel the only recourse is just letting go. But those are small things and seem to be related to problems that you have that you can’t seem to rise above or can’t fix. Sometimes those are just passing things that you just need to move on from or get through to learn from. The album is a bit more philosophical than that.
A big part of me was leaving social networking, because it makes it a lot easier to be not surrounded by everyone’s opinions at all times and you can find freedom in people not knowing where you are at all times or you not knowing where other people are at all times. That was huge a thing and helped a lot.
That’s good advice.
I like it. It’s like going off the grid and made it a lot easier to adopt the philosophy that made my life blissful. It was a lot easier when I wasn’t constantly bombarded by information or opinions.
Kind of a detox.
Yeah, a little bit of a detox, and sometimes it’s important to remember that these things are more simple than they seem—we make things far more complicated than they actually are. We have science, we have the ability to learn, and we do have facts. It gets more and more difficult to see those things, and I think more and more people get desperate and they feel destitute, so they’re forced to grab on to waves of belief that make them feel alive again. You watch it happen over and over again, and sometimes, there’s little to no information behind the feelings they’re riding, you know? I think that’s a good reason to take a break for your own well-being. To spend more time with your family and the people you care about.
You’ve always seemed like such a positive guy. Where does that positivity come from?
Maybe it is now. I’ve rarely been called a positive person, so thank you; that’s nice to hear. I try to at least be polite and not bring people down—I try to. I think my close friends and my wife would disagree with you. [Laughs] I think it’s other people in life who manage to keep me holding on to some positive thinking. I really credit them. I have some really good people in my world. Some of my oldest friends are just really great people, and I’m very lucky.
Is there a song on the album that means a lot to you? I know that’s like choosing your favorite child…
Oh boy. Originally, when the album was done, I was connecting to “I Know How To Run,” because, in a weird way, thematically, it felt like a quintessential song on the record. In words, it really captures the defeat I was feeling and then the feeling of freedom and then, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to play this—I don’t have to play this game. I can run.” I felt like it encapsulated the idea of letting go of these things, of paying attention to the important things in life. Early on, I really felt like we nailed it with that one.
I write with this guy named Asher Simon, and I have for years. He’s much younger than me, but he’s incredible. When you’ve been writing songs for as long as I have, it gets more and more difficult to feel like you’re saying something you haven’t said before that matters enough or is important enough to actually put in a song. I think it gets more and more challenging for anyone who’s been doing anything for so long. So, I started writing with Asher a few years ago, and the lyrics really started to come back. I worked with him on Hang, the last Lagwagon album, and Let Me Know When You Give Up, and then the more recent Lagwagon album.
So, is there a new Lagwagon album coming out?
It’s done. I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it. [Laughs] We just completed it, and it’s all wrapped up with a bow just waiting for the bureaucracy to catch up.
Any title or release date yet?
We do, but it hasn’t been announced, so I’m going to be the good guy and be secretive about it. I don’t want to get in trouble.
I’ll respect that.
I don’t want to get chastised later for this. [Laughs] All I can say is it’s coming.
As a punk artist, you’ve managed to age quite gracefully, and your music has stood the test of time. How does one age gracefully in the punk scene?
I certainly don’t have the answer, but I like to believe that if you do something you love and if you try to surround yourself with things that you enjoy, it definitely helps. I feel like a lot of the people I know in music, they live a pretty tough life. They travel for work, they don’t get a lot of sleep, and many of them do a lot of drugs and a lot of drinking, but somehow, when a lot of them started turning 50, a lot of them look a lot better than the kids who went down other paths. So, I don’t know what that’s about, but maybe there’s something to it. There’s something to doing what you love and just enjoying yourself. I feel pretty good for my age, and I feel so lucky to be doing this.
Photo by Alan Snodgrass