Photo by Lisa Johnson
Lagwagon has been a band for 25 years. One year, they played 284 times. Somehow, it took me a trip to Mexico City, over a decade after I constantly listened to their Live in a Dive album, to actually see them play a show...and it was awesome.
Lagwagon played to five hundred Mexicans singing along to a band that most of the crowd probably listens to every time they go skateboarding or break up with their boyfriend/girlfriend. It was their first time playing Mexico City. It was so disgustingly sweaty in the room they were performing in that I needed to duck out to the street every few songs to drink beer with my friends, who didn’t have enough money to get in, but hung out front anyways.
I assume everyone within ten years of either side of my age is familiar with this band, but in case you’re not, they’re a 90s Fat Wreck Chords punk band through and through. They probably played on a Warped Tour stage about ten thousandtimes. They wrote a whole bunch of sing song-y pop punk anthems about things like growing beards and being heartbroken. They’re like, a softer version of the Descendants.
Some people are probably embarrassed to admit that they still or ever liked Lagwagon; I’m singing along to “Violins” while I write this.
In the interview below, which took place in the venue’s green room while the rest of lead singer Joey’s band smoked weed and smashed beer bottles, we talk about their new album, Hang, touring forever, Mexican food, and meeting your punk heroes.
Noisey: What's your name, how old are you, and where are you from?
Joey Cape: My name is Joey Cape, I’m 48 years old. I’m from San Francisco, California, and I play in a band called Lagwagon.
What’s your burrito?
That’s tough, man. I go through moods, you know? I mean, it’s San Francisco. It’s a burrito culture. The burrito counter was really invented at La Cumbre.
I don’t think I’ve been to that one.
It’s literally the very first of the burrito bars. San Francisco obviously didn’t invent the burrito, but they sort of invented this burrito bar which now exists everywhere in the world. There are chains, we all know them. So it’s kind of interesting. But La Cumbre is pretty rad. But I don’t think it’s the best burrito ever. I think the thing is, with burritos in San Fran, you kind of go through phases because they taste different. For me, I go through phases, I like El Farolito. I also like La Coroneta; a little cleaner, a little less greasy. You can get the tofu vibe going in your burrito. It’s full blown, maybe it costs a little more money. I haven’t quite figured it out. It’s pretty weird, the taquerias. It doesn’t matter if they’re clean. The dirtiest ones that you’d eat at in east LA are the best ones. You’re like, “I’m gonna get food poisoning,” and then you have the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life.
A cool thing about eating here in Mexico City is that everyone reaches their hands into the bowls of limes and shit. I ordered a beer earlier at this bar near the punk flea market, El Chopo, and I tried to take a sip out of it but it was completely frozen. So the guy gave me a new one, and put the cap back on the one I tried to drink and put it back in the cooler. It’s nice to not be around a bunch of uptight germophones. Five second rule, you know?
I hate my life. I finally get to Mexico City and I get the worst fucking cold ever. Spent the whole day in bed.
That’s terrible. Have you ever been here before?
No, I’ve never been. I’ve been to Cancun and Tijuana.
We drove from Austin to here, saw the whole fucking country. This is pretty much the coolest city I’ve been to, maybe ever.
I think Tokyo. Sao Paolo, Brazil. Way up there. Sao Paolo has more people than Mexico City but they’re very similar. I feel like it’s either Mumbai or Tokyo, one of those two. I mean, I don’t know. These are fun little facts. I’ve been drinking.
So let’s talk about your tour. You’ve been touring for a really long time. How do you keep doing this shit?
Generally, I get up late. It depends what kind of tour you’re on. Sometimes you’re on van tours, and you have to leave earlier on van tours. But it’s similar to a bus tour. Sometimes you’re on a bus and there’s a driver, so you can do whatever the fuck you want. You literally have to work, like, four hours a day. Sound check, then a couple of hours off and then the show. Anyone that has ever complained about touring on a bus is a fucking liar. Or a total pussy.
Or a little bit of both.
Honestly. It’s incredibly easy. I actually prefer the van tours because they’re a little more romantic. Here we’re flying. My least favorite kind of touring is where you fly every day. You kind of gotta go early, if flights are delayed or whatever.
And you have to finish all of your drugs that night, because you can’t take them with you.
Exactly! In the van on the way to the airport, smoking as much weed as we can, but here it’s “meh” so we can’t wait to get rid of it. We got spoiled in California. We have really good weed. Yeah, I think the best kind of touring is old school touring. Driving a van, seeing the largest ball of yarn, Mount Rushmore, stupid shit along the way. Giant dinosaur diners.
Do you drive the van?
I own one that I call “The Blue Valentine.” It’s a blue Eco 350, and I love it to death.
Do you work on it?
I do not. I’ve got a guy. I mean, there was a time where I used to work on cars, I think at some point you feel justified to take it to your buddy. I take it to my buddy Ray, who likes my band, likes the music I play, my friends. He knows what I do, he understands it, so if I take my van to him, he will completely dial it. He’ll make it tip top.
Speaking of people from California who tour in Econolines, are you friends with Mike Watt?
No, we’ve only met a couple of times. I don’t know him at all. He definitely has no idea who I am. I have definitely been inspired by his enthusiasm. I dig him.
Who are some of the grandfathers of punk that you’ve met through the years that you’ve found to be inspiring?
That’s a tough question. I feel like I’ve met a lot of the people that I grew up seeing in some idolatry way. More often than not, I’m mildly disappointed. But the more I’ve toured, the more I’ve realized, this is what happens. When you’re young, you meet people and expect them to just be like, “Wow!” because your one night is their one night. Your one moment is their one moment. You don’t realize that they have real life issues, too. They might be beating a drug problem. They could have a whole list of dramas. Sometimes it's just diarrhea. We expect more of them, so the disappointment comes from, and I’m guilty of this, thinking that because I’ve listened to this guy over the years or love the way he thinks, you’re going to be friends right away. I’m pretty sure what it really comes down to is that you have good days and bad days. The only way to meet someone, ever, is when you have a mutual friend and you have dinner. I’m convinced this is the only way to do it.
You didn’t really answer the question though.
Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, fuck, a bunch of people.
Your new record's been a long time coming. What was the writing process like? What were you trying to do with it?
I think there’s some kind of point in your life when you’ve been in a band a long time where you realize that in the old days, when records would sell almost instantly, within a year, the people that liked your band would know your songs. When you’d play new songs live, it was a little uncomfortable because people want to hear the old songs. This new record’s new. It’s cool. We’ll play some of it on this tour. And then a couple of years from now when we tour again, people will be like, “Yes, I saw you guys play that song and I always liked that.” But they’re lying. Because they didn’t like it, they wanted to hear something old. At some point I started to think, you make your music to make yourself happy, but you should just do other projects. That was my thing for a long time. Almost ten years for this band. I was all about doing other things. There was no consequence to it, so why not do things that I want to do artistically? Rather than just keep making records. “Here’s our new stuff that you’re not gonna really like.”
It’s like that Neil Young live recording from right before On The Beach came out. He was playing an acoustic show and everyone was yelling, like, “Play 'Southern Man!' He was playing the most beautiful and sad songs that have ever been written in the history of rock n’ roll but nobody even gave a shit because they had never heard it before. It’s tremendously sad. It’s tremendously sad if you’re not in the band. When you’re in the band, it’s not so sad, because you just get it. You just understand.
In one sentence, what did the show feel like tonight playing in Mexico City?
A lot of people in a small place. Into it.