Interview: Joey Cape

Joey Cape - Photo courtesy of Joey Cape

Joey Cape - Photo courtesy of Joey Cape

It’s a Saturday night in early October and Joey Cape is sitting backstage at Lido in Berlin, restringing his guitar and reminiscing of his past attempt at the normalcy of a college education.

After spending three years during the 80s majoring in English literature and psychology, he quit to pursue playing in bands instead.

“Music was the demise of my education, over and over again,” he said with a laugh.

But for someone who picked the rock and roll lifestyle over a college degree, admittedly, Cape hasn’t done half bad for himself.

His full-length solo album, “Doesn’t Play Well with Others,” which was released in June of this year, is only the most recent example of this. Meanwhile, it was the follow-up to 2008’s “Bridges,” his first public foray into writing, recording and performing on his own.

The choice to pursue a solo career is no doubt an interesting one, considering Cape is most well-known for playing in punk bands Lagwagon and Bad Astronaut, as well as being a contributing member of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, the Playing Favorites, Afterburner, and more recently, new project Bad Loud. Prior to 2004’s split album with No Use for a Name frontman Tony Sly, Cape wasn’t someone anyone could have pegged for a solo artist. But since then, he’s released his fair share of splits and singles, in addition to the albums.

Part of the reason for paving a route on his own has to do with staying relevant by always changing.

“That’s the way it goes,” Cape said. “You have to reinvent yourself if you wanna continue to be appreciated for your creativity. You have to.”

Additionally, he explained that recording albums with bands involves a lot of juggling and a lot of compromise, due largely in part to having so many people collaborating on one project and trying to make it fit a specified time frame.

“My experience with working on records is that you have a lot to do in a little bit of time and you’re focusing on so many elements…but then on top of it you have this overall continuity of a record and things get missed, you know?” he said. “It gets so convoluted that I think every record that I’ve ever made there’s at least, you know, there’s like a 10 to 20 percent ratio of sort of disappointment that just is inevitable in the realization of a song…[and] when you record by yourself, you kind of alleviate all those problems.”

This time around, Cape also took a detour from the standard of coming out with an entire album all at once, instead opting to release the songs one-by-one throughout 2010, before compiling them all into the packaged album.

In part, the approach was a marketing technique, an experiment in an ever-changing record industry.

“It was able to grow,” he said of the upside of his decision, referencing the way each song was released.

Not only did Cape sell each song individually, but users could purchase the option of a subscription package, which was even available retroactively.

And although he shared that it sometimes was a struggle for him to find the time to record and release songs when he was always on the road, Cape explained that releasing individual songs just seemed to make more sense to him.

“I don’t imagine a painter would paint 12 pictures at a time…they’re gonna focus on one cause that’s where their heart is,” he said. “[But of course] that completely contradicts the traditional ways that record labels release music, so it wasn’t an easy sell…I think it’s really hard for old-school musicians to lose that romantic relationship with the album.”

Cape was recently on the road with Scorpios in support of this new batch of songs, alongside Tony Sly, Jon Snodgrass and Brian Wahlstrom.

The concept behind Scorpios is the four musicians playing one another’s songs over the span of two-and-a-half hours. Rather than having four acoustic sets back-to-back, Cape said the purpose is to make the performance of these solo songs interesting and varied.

“We decided that it was just much cooler for people to watch us working together…[so] the only real goal is to kind of realize the person’s song and try to make it as nice as possible,” he said, also highlighting how it’s different from playing in a band. “It’s also nice not to have to sing every song, you know?”

Meanwhile, with Lagwagon on hiatus, Cape continues to create regularly, which comes out of a need as much as a desire.

“I write a lot,” he said. “I write on tour, I write at home, I write all the time.”

And in spite of the fact that not everything he begins to work on is ever fully realized, Cape said he is continually inspired, whether it’s from going on road trips alone as he often did in the past to write Lagwagon and Bad Astronaut lyrics, or from finding himself in lucid, dream-like states and tapping into that creativity.

“I actually think that my best lyrics come in the middle of the night when I wake up…or if I stay up all night,” he said. “I swear, that’s my time.”

And over the years, although the well hasn’t run dry, Cape shared that he thinks the source now is different than it used to be, or that perhaps the filter is no longer there.

“I’ve gotten more brave with the things I say and less and less at all concerned with what I’m saying,” he said of his lyrical content. “It’s like the older I get, the more it matters to me that it’s the purest thing from me, regardless of whether it’s universal or cliche, you know?”

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