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Lagwagon | Blaze | interview | punk | Lollipop
An interview with the band
by Tim Den
photos by Pia
It has been a dry, lobotomizing four years in the music world without Lagwagon. Pre-pubescent teens have raped the mainstream with half-assed imitation of the 'Wagon's heart-on-their-sleeves punk, and stirring rock songs can no longer deliver breakdowns and introspection without being tagged as "emo." In other words, we need Lagwagon now more than ever to deliver us from all the sloganeering, the posturing, the empty hooks, the penny-a-piece high school romance garbage. These five men have again and again proven that timeless anthems can be punk rock without being cute; that accomplished musicians in their 30s really do kick more ass than pretty boy MTV puppets.
Blaze, like all Lagwagon albums, is a melodic beauty contest where songs dress up in crunchy guitars and lightning beats, each showing off unique splendors and seductive curves. However, this time around, the age and observation that comes with years of being at the top of the game has yielded some serious lyrical (as well as musical) gems. Aside from the hilarious "we're getting too old for this shit" of "Falling Apart" ("Thought we broke up long ago... good times, just blew out my knee... oh shit, I just broke my back/where's the wheelchair?... osteoporosis, glaucoma and neurosis/the vultures circling above our balding heads"), the 'Wagon actually make some damn poetic political statements as well. "Fanatics on their knees pray for a swift and just revenge/become what they condemn... hands across America, let's catch contact hysteria... colors of democracy, fly from every SUV... they disregard the world beyond the wall." ("Never Stops") Add to this parade of literary prose wailing solos and bitchin' riffage and what do ya got? Intelligent songwriting for the brainy kids, adrenaline rushes for the mosh pit, gigantic sing alongs for the whole family, and bittersweet serenades for those long winter nights. Something for everyone, indeed.
In "Falling Apart" - as well as recent interviews - you seem to be saying "we're too old for this." Are you too old for this?
Jesse: Yeah, he (Joey) is.
Joey: (laughs) Perfect answer. I don't even have to touch that one.
Leon: Right now I feel like I am, but I'll snap out of it.
Joey: "Falling Apart" is actually the only song written by everyone in the band. Leon wrote most of the music, but, lyrically, I didn't have anything good. So we all sat down in the lobby of the studio, and I was like "you guys, I need help." Everybody started throwing out ideas, and within 10 minutes we had the lyrics. I'm really proud of that song.
You must be sick of people asking "is this Lagwagon's last hurrah?"
Joey: Yeah... but that's a legitimate question. The answer has been the same every time - and I sincerely believe this is the truth - I think every band that's been together for a long time goes through a phase where they lose themselves a little bit as far as identity. Chemistry breakdown and such. It just happened to Lagwagon. Speaking for myself, there was a period of time when I wasn't sure what we were supposed to be doing. I wrote a lot of songs in the last four years for this band - and we worked on a lot of songs - but the consensus is pretty unanimous that we all thought the stuff wasn't up to par. But something happened on the Warped Tour last year... We started playing really well together, started clicking again, and the chemistry came back. I sort of figured out "Oh, I think I know what we're supposed to be doing," and started writing. Most of the record was written in a few weeks after that.
During the four-year absence, there were constant reports from Fat, your website, and just word-of-mouth that you were in and out of the studio...
Joey: They weren't lies. We recorded a few times.
Leon: We weren't partying. (laughs)
Joey: I think we tried recording five of the songs on Blaze a while back. The time before that, we recorded nine songs.
While Joey had Bad Astronaut during the hiatus, what were the rest of you doing with your time? Fat's website kept talking about Jesse being a hermit in the mountains.
Joey: (to Jesse) You kind of live near mountains. Sort of.
Jesse: I kind of have to get over some mountains to drive into San Francisco.
Leon: Big Chris (Flippin; guitarist/backup vocalist) and I have been playing in my old band, Rich Kids On LSD. Doing shows just for fun.
Jesse: I worked for Sessions (skateboard and record company) for a while. Warehouse slave.
Joey: It'll all be explained in the liner notes of our live record.
Is that a hint?
Joey: That's the truth. We're doing a live record at the end of this tour, and we'll explain what we've been doing these last four years in the liner notes. A whole storyboard.
Ah! The Live in a Dive comic book thing!
Joey: (knowingly smirking) It'll be the truth. The truth.
How did you (Joey) reconcile with Derrick (Plourde; ex-drummer of Lagwagon and current drummer of Bad Astronaut)?
Joey: He cleaned up his life in more ways than one. He was messed up for a long time. We'd maintained a relationship during the years that we didn't play together. I moved back to Santa Barbara and we became roommates. We decided to play some music together. Bad Astronaut was really just supposed to be a fun project thing, but it ended up being a big nerdy studio excursion. It kept involving more and more engineers. We kept passing (sound) files around. It's not really a band.
You don't think there will ever be a tour?
Joey: Even if we wanted to tour, we couldn't afford it. You can't get seven people and all their equipment into a van. And we have no money. But we might try to play one show in Santa Barbara in July. We talked about doing some acoustic shows with me, Angus (Cooke), Thom (Flowers), and Todd (Capps) - who all sing - for radio shows or something. But I don't see any reason for it, cuz kids would be really bummed if they saw us. Plus, it's Lagwagon time. We've got a new record, and I'm the kind of person who cares about whatever's in front of him. I'm not thinking about Bad Astronaut at all.
Does it bother you to know that Bad Astronaut will probably never break out of its association with Lagwagon's "punk audience"? Or that it might never be accepted by either the indie rock crowd (who thinks it's pop-punk) or the punk crowd (who thinks it's too slow)?
Joey: I never expected Lagwagon fans to like Bad Astronaut. Some of them dig it, but I'm not concerned with that at all. With journalists, they're not willing to see past the association. 90% of the reviews that Bad Astronaut got on our first EP were basically "Lagwagon Lite" commentaries. But I knew that was going to happen. This isn't aimed at you personally, but I don't take the critics very seriously. In the long run, it's about the music you make.
When people first hear music, they hear style. People have to associate music with style cuz it's just easier: Especially music journalists, who can't put music into words. They have to use categories. But as a listener becomes familiar with a particular piece of music, he or she starts to pick up on things missed earlier that transcend style. So if you're in a band, you realize that after you make a record - after a certain amount of time - people will understand it or appreciate it more. But I'm not saying "Oh my god, we're geniuses, people aren't gonna get us 'til later..."
How does it feel to return, four years later (and ten years after your debut), to a mainstream dominated by watered-down, half-assed "punk" bands singing about girlie bullshit? No Use For A Name opening for Sum 41... Bad Religion opening for Blink 182!!??
Joey: We've met the guys in bands like New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, and they're all cool guys. Their bands do what they do, and I like some of the songs... but we probably won't go on those kinds of (big mainstream pop-punk) tours. It's just a choice. Not because we have any disrespect for the bands at all; it just isn't the right thing for us.
You just have to hope that your core fans will stick by you and grow up with you through the years. Like myself. The first time I saw you was with 7 Seconds...
Joey: In Florida!
Joey: I remember that show well.
How do you remember specific shows after 10 years of relentless touring?
Jesse: Little associations that you make... We might be playing a club in five days and I'll have no recollection of it whatsoever until someone mentions the blue statue in the lobby. Or the bathroom really sucks.
Joey: It could also be a band association thing. We've only played a few shows with 7 Seconds, and that's the one I remember.
Jesse: I remember Gus opening, cuz I really, really like them.
Whoa! That's right! I didn't even remember that!
Jesse: I love that band. I think they're great. I've got a couple of their 7"s. I remember maybe five or six shows from that tour, and that's one that really stands out. The house we stayed at after the show, that's another way I remember it.
Joey: Oh my god! That was the worst house we ever stayed in. (everyone in the room gets excited and starts shooting off anecdotes) Brian and I were debating who was gonna get this fold-out futon, so we pulled this thing out... and I swear to god, thousands of dead roaches.
Brian: I'm gonna go with millions.
Joey: They had their fucking refrigerator duct-taped shut. With signs on it that said "DO NOT OPEN THIS."
Jesse: (to the others) Remember we all went to the beach the next day?
Joey: We were all swimming, and the crusty punk who we stayed with was passed out in a lawn chair.
Jesse: His name was Gary, he wouldn't go in the water.
That's a lot of details to remember!
Jesse: I remember the next morning thinking "Oh wow, we really blew it," cuz we had two other offers for places to stay. One kid's Dad was super rich and had a huge house with all these extra bedrooms, and another kid's Dad owned a mattress warehouse that was closing the next day. "Come over, you can all have your own beds!" "Well... you know, this gutter punk kid wants to party... let's go hang out with him!"
How were you guys able to tour so much? What about rent and bills?
Jesse: Fortunately, we started touring when I was 16. I still lived with my parents. (laughs) I lived with them until I was 20, then I moved to Santa Cruz.
Leon: I live in San Francisco, which is just as expensive as New York. But it's getting better now, with the dotcom fallout.
Were there any moments that you thought "Lagwagon's probably over?"
Jesse: Oooooh yeah. All the time...
Leon: For years now...
Jesse: We're always teetering on the edge of breaking up... but we never do. (smiles)
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