After 10 releases through Fat Wreck Chords, California-based punk rock legends Lagwagon reissued the first half of their albums with a bunch of new material in a box set called Putting Music In Its Place. Although the band has never had the mainstream success of bands of other California bands like Rancid or Green Day, they have an enormous underground following all over the world. I sat down with frontman Joey Cape to talk about record labels, fan appreciation, and what he’s listening to.
Corey: So let’s start with the obvious. You just reissued Lagwagon’s first five records and there’s a bunch of new material on there – like 140 tracks in total or something. Where did the idea to do this come from?
Joey Cape: My main reason for not doing a record like that is that in the digital age – with downloads and everything – once you release a Best Of record, that pretty much kills your other songs. In a way, all the other songs kind of die because when people go online looking for a band, they run into the [“Best Of”] record right away. It becomes a playlist and you’re basically, in a way, deciding right away for a certain percentage of people that seek out your music that they’re only going to get those songs…or at least you’re deterring them from listening to your band’s history and seeing how you evolved by listening to a record in its entirety.
One of the reissues is your album Hoss. Where did the inspiration for the song “Kid’s Don’t Like to Share” come from? I’ve been trying to figure out the meaning to those opening lyrics for so long.
Is that the one that starts with “And now you’re searching for a new messiah…”
Yeah, that’s the one.
I think I wrote that song around the time that Cobain died or something. I guess the idea was that people don’t like things when they become popular. They don’t like to share. I mean, even kids learning to share is a selfish pursuit because they’re taught that they get something back from sharing. But with music, the idea is that when an artist becomes popular, most young people are not interested in the artist anymore because now the artist belongs to everyone and the person doesn’t want to share. They want to feel special. I think that that’s sad when it comes to any kind of art because sometimes great art gets popular. Sometimes great novels sell a lot. Sometimes great songs get a lot of airplay and get famous because a lot of people identify with them. It shouldn’t be about who is best, it should just be about your muse, your feelings, the reactions that you get from something.
On the point of artists becoming big, there were a lot of bands around the time that you guys were gaining traction in the ’90s that were getting a lot of attention from major labels and radio. It seems like Lagwagon was a little more inconspicuous when compared to, say, bands like Rancid or even Bad Religion when they signed to Atlantic. Was this a conscious decision on your part to keep the band below the radar or did it just happen to turn out that way?
It was a little of both. I’ve never had any problem with labels, big or small, or businesses, big or small, depending on how they operate. Sadly, I think most of the major companies in the world are corrupted just by definition. They run a shitty game.
For us, though, we had very little opportunity to try to be big. There was almost no solicitation happening. But we had a great relationship with Fat Wreck Chords and we never had any issues. They were a small label and they’re still the guys that I hang out with where I live. The people that still work there are my friends, you know what I mean? We were very fortunate. We got with the right label at the right time and we grew with them.
So yeah, there’s not much to it other than it didn’t need to happen for us. It’s fine. We kind of like the “under the radar” thing too. I will say this, though – I made an effort, and my band agreed, that we would not do too much publicity in the way of videos and radio. If you just keep doing what you do and you take your time to create something of quality, you’ll have a longer career that doesn’t get convoluted by all the bullshit that doesn’t matter.
Tell me about the band’s early days. At what point did you realize your band was having a sizeable impact on the punk scene?
Well, it was happening for us earlier in other countries. It’s hard to remember when I realized that things were going well for us in the States. Germany was where things happened for us at the beginning. We had something going in ’92 or ’93 in Germany and right off the bat we knew that we needed to spend a lot of time there just because the shows were immediately growing and they were good. And I think in the U.S. it just took a long time. So I don’t actually remember when I felt that…well, actually, I really don’t know that we ever have, you know (pauses)…it’s so fickle here. There’s a lot of fluctuation. Themes come and go. Yeah, us Americans. We’re fickle people, man. We like to change it up a lot.