Written by Don Paul Angelini
Fat Wreck Chords turns 25 this year, and as someone who has been a diehard fan of the label since the late ’90s, I could not be more excited. Why you ask? Well, to celebrate the occasion, Fat Mike is bringing NOFX along with current Fat artists and alumni on a string of anniversary shows in the United States, Canada, and Japan. Just as Fat has a history, Joey Cape of Lagwagon and I share one as well. It has been 12 years since the last time I spoke with him on the band’s North American tour in support of their 2003 album Blaze. It was my pleasure once again to speak with “The Caper” about Fat Wrecked For 25 Years, the key to Fat’s success, Lagwagon’s early years on the label, their newest release Hang, and some of his favorites from the Fat Wreck Chords discography.
Lagwagon’s debut album, Duh was the first full-length released on Fat Wreck Chords back in 1992. In my opinion, that makes it punk rock history and marks the beginning of a long-standing relationship between the band, Fat Mike, and the label. How does it feel to be a part of Fat Wrecked For 25 Years knowing you were there from the start?
It feels great. There’s something really nice about sharing history that way with our label and also having been there for nearly the entire history of it. It’s a good feeling.
It has been announced on social media that Trashed will be played in its entirety at all dates.
We’re doing the Trashed record for the Fat anniversary shows. It’s about right. We have a 40 minute set and it takes us just about that long to play that record (laughs). Perfect!
It is certainly one of my personal favorites along with Let’s Talk About Feelings. What went into the decision of choosing that album specifically?
It wasn’t hard. We were looking at the records and we were thinking, “Okay, this is an anniversary tour for a label that’s been around a long time and it makes sense to do something from the early days.” We didn’t want to do Duh. It’s just a record that…I don’t know, it just seemed like the wrong record to do, so we knew it was either going to be Trashed or Hoss. That was slightly difficult because we would learn them chronologically, so Trashed…it won. It wasn’t much a debate really. We just knew we wanted to do one of those two records. We basically decided we were going to learn them both, so we’re going to do Hoss, but not on this tour. We’re going to do Trashed on this tour. It has a great opener [“Island Of Shame”] that we opened many shows over the years with. The closer is called “Bye For Now.” It’s kind of ideal in that regard.
Can we expect any additional surprises on the setlist such as b-sides or unreleased songs?
If we have any extra time, we might pull out something special, but it’s difficult to pick one song from your catalog. Most likely, it will be a cover I think. I’ll just leave a little mystery there.
What was the experience like when Mike first approached you about signing to Fat Wreck and recording Duh?
Joey: It was cool. It was more like, I approached him. I was out at a small show at a club called Nightbreak on Haight Street. I saw Mike and I had seen or read that he had started this label and I just happened to have my car parked out front. I had a demo tape and I thought “What the hell. I’ll give it to him. It seems like something that he would like.” We grew up on the same stuff. I handed him the tape and he kind of went “Oh,cool. Thanks.” I didn’t expect anything to happen. He called me the next morning and said “I love it.” I called the band and the rest was history. It was cool. We had been a band a while at that point and that was the third demo tape we made. We had done about all we could do in our hometown and we were ready to kind of give up on it, so it kind of saved us in a way. Pretty cool. Good timing.
What in your opinion do you think has contributed to the success of Fat Wreck Chords and why has it personally been such a terrific fit for Lagwagon? It seems Mike really cares about the bands he signs being it is music he is a fan of. The artist roster, past and present certainly speaks for itself.
Well, he’s definitely got a good ear. He’s made really wise choices over the years and in that regard, definitely has conviction. I think he has been very wise as far as how you run an independent without breaking the bank or making wrong decisions. It’s a good thing to be a part of, but it’s more than that. It’s very unfair not to give other people credit. There are a lot of people who played a part over the years at Fat. In particular Erin Burkett, Mike’s partner at the label, who co-owns and runs the label. She’s amazing. All the employees over the years, some people have come and gone but a lot of people have stayed for as long as they possibly can because they love the job. They’re all like family. You have a situation when you’re in a band and you’re with a business like Fat with these people that are more like family than they are a company you work for and your relationship with them is more like a friendship than a business relationship whereas you hear stories of so many people making the wrong decisions and ending up on labels where they get shelved or dropped or just screwed around for years and years and inevitably break up out of frustration because they’re locked into a deal. We’ve had nothing but freedom and they’ve never asked us to do anything we didn’t want to do. They never really commented on the music we’d make. They’d just allow us to do the things we want to do and they’re very supportive and they’re our friends. It’s so good, and there’s no reason to leave that. We’ve been as lucky or as fortunate as you can be.
What are your favorite Fat Wreck Chords releases among its extensive catalog?
It’s so tough. I’ve been asked that a lot lately through e-mail interviews and stuff and it’s hard. I can’t do it. It’s like asking what your favorite song is by a band that you love. I would say…all of them? (laughs) Fat has been so consistent for me personally, there’s just been decades now of records that I love that are some of my favorite records. I really don’t have a favorite, but I do sometimes make a list. Recently I was asked to make a list and really the best I could do…I got it down to 25 records. That was how many records I got it down to if I had to choose, it was still tough for me. It’s a good label. There’s a lot of good music that’s been released on that label. Again, so proud to be a part of that but…yeah, it’s a question I just can’t answer. It’s hard.
Yeah, I agree. I got it down to ten myself in a Facebook post and it’s because I forced myself to choose. I understand completely.
Yeah, I mean I could probably do ten, too, but then I would be sitting there for an hour saying “Oh man, I can’t NOT put those guys on.” A lot of it is also coupled with the relationship you have with the bands. A lot of the bands, I really like the music, but I also love the people and that makes it even harder. I don’t even want to play favorites, y’know? (laughs)
Among Lagwagon’s releases on Fat, which one(s) are you most proud of and why? I read an article online maybe a month or two ago where you ranked all the Lagwagon albums and which ones you thought you were the most satisfied with.
That’s a perfect example of that kind of compromise we were just talking about. I remember doing that ranking and I did that REALLY fast and later I thought “I don’t think that’s quite accurate.” (laughs) You’re self-indulgent when you make records I think. In a way, they’re like children you have. I love them all because we worked hard on them. They represent periods of my life that I can draw analogies with. It’s a real hard thing to do, but generally when I look at those records, I think they represent fairly accurately where we [Lagwagon] were at the time. So, in some regard, they’re all sort of a success. Then there’s this thing about when you make a record, you almost always no matter how hard you work…there’s always something you could have done better in retrospect. Generally, if I have to answer the question, I look at songs and I look at it as a songwriter.
There are records that have maybe more songs, a better consistency of either diverse or what I think are some of the better songs I’ve written. For the time periods, they all feel like successes to me. I felt like we did our best at the time. It may be pretentious or sort of obvious in a way that, the current record [Hang] is the one I’m most proud of. I have to say that is true because that record we made and released last October…I like it more than I like any of our other records as far as maybe because I’m closest to it now. I feel like the process was a little different with that record. I spent a lot more time writing lyrics. I had a different approach to what I was writing about and it was our most collaborative record. We spent a lot more time from the ground up on every aspect of the arrangements and the songs. Everybody really participated in that and I think in a lot of ways made it much stronger than our other records. It’s my favorite right now but again my objective opinion I fully realize is biased and some ways not.
It’s a time and a place thing, too. The different eras of Lagwagon.
Sometimes I look at our records and I think of the records as different bands. We have had some member changes over the years but it’s been a long time since we’ve had one. Well, a few years ago actually our bass player Joe (Raposo) joined the band, but the rest of the band’s been together for 16 years. If I look at Duh and listen to it, I don’t know who that guy is singing (laughs). It’s like “Who is that guy? Some teenager’s REALLY pissed. (laughs)
(Laughs) Yeah, [Chris] Hannah’s [Propagandhi] been doing the same thing with How To Clean Everything
I almost put that on my list. I wrote something about that record the other day. Somebody asked me a question about memories you link to a record with early bands or signings or whatever. I told the story of being on tour with NOFX, we were on our way in two different vans up to Winnipeg, and this band Propagandhi was going to play with us who I had never heard. Mike played me a recording which I don’t even know now if it was actually the record they made or if it was demos for the record but, I heard was what either became or was How To Clean Everything. He played me that record and that time, y’know it’s just like , Duh for me or something. I mean, that was such a great record. It was so timely. Everything they had on a record made sense to me. It was just cool, it was so cool and I know the band they’ve become is such an incredible band. Much more intricate and deeper lyrically. I mean we’ve all grown up y’know? At that time, I just remember being so excited about seeing that band and meeting them and thinking that they were going to be label mates and that’s such a cool thing.
It is hard to believe it has been almost a decade between your last two full-lengths [Resolve (2005) and Hang (2014)]. Hang sounds incredible musically and the production is fantastic. It is obvious the band did not lost any steam having only released an EP [I Think My Older Brother Used To Listen To Lagwagon (2008)] during that period of time. The suicide of Derrick Plourde [former Lagwagon drummer (1990 – 1996)] was the pivotal influence behind Resolve and it generated an album that was beautifully melodic as it was mournful and celebratory. Hang is certainly reminiscent of that considering the tragic death of [No Use For A Name founder, vocalist, and lead guitarist] Tony Sly [One More Song] in 2012. At the same time, Hang comes off as very dark and angry providing commentary on the dismal political [Cog In The Machine, Western Settlements] and societal [Poison In The Well, Obsolete Absolute] shift of the United States and the world. All that being said, what in your opinion were the primary differences between the writing and recording process for Hang versus Resolve?
Well, I like what you said, you kind of nailed a lot of that for me. The process was very different for me. Resolve, for example…when Derrick passed, when I found out, I spent maybe five to seven days in my kitchen with a bottle of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes and I wrote the whole record. It was just totally reactionary in a short amount of time and the band…we were talking daily all day long about it and we wanted to do something special. We were all devastated. We got together as soon as we could and we just whipped that record together. It was like, “This is tribute. This is how it should be. There’s no time to think about it. Let’s make this record. In some ways, I think that made it special and…I can’t listen to the record to be honest. It’s just a little too painful almost, but I was proud of it. We did it and it was cathartic like no other record we made.
Hang was completely different. I had a child 11 years ago. Having a child does change you. It sounds trite, but it’s true. Some of your perspectives change on an apathetic level. I think you gain more empathy and have a little bit more of a vicarious view of things. So many things that are just disturbing to you become disturbing with a lining of hope and more empathy when there’s something you care about more than anything you ever cared about. It’s affected by those things and I started writing probably two and half years ago. I started writing the lyrics and made a decision to write this perspective of mine, this sort of observation of the world that my daughter’s growing up in. I spent more time on the lyrics than I ever spent on any lyrics. I wrote many more pieces for the record, but once we got into the music with the band, obviously there were certain songs that made more sense to do. Some worked, some didn’t, so whatever writing ended up on the record, ended up on the record, but the process of the music was very different, too.
The music was by far the most collaborative. We got in a room pretty early on and we spent…every step of the way from the ground up, we were working on every aspect of that record together. I think there’s so many strengths to the record musically particularly because it was so collaborative. Everybody got into it, Y’know, I play with some really amazing musicians who are seasoned. I really let them in wholeheartedly and I loved the way it came out. Those guys know what they are doing. They’re great players and they have amazing ideas. I like the record. It sounds like my band. It was the record we were supposed to make. I’m very happy with it.
After Fat Wrecked For 25 Years, what’s on tap for Lagwagon for the rest of 2015?
We’re playing Fest again. That’ll be great. I love Fest. So much fun, lots of good friends, lots of good times down there. We’re pretty much touring constantly until the end of the year. It’s lot of overseas stuff. When we put our record out, it’s usually almost two years of touring everywhere and it’s great. I’m happy to be doing it. I couldn’t be more fortunate that I’m doing what I love and I’m still doing it after all this time.
Lagwagon performs with NOFX, Strung Out, Swinging Utters, Masked Intruder, Toy Guitar, Bad Cop at The Stone Pony Summer Stage. Click here for tickets.