Resolve (Fat Wreck Chords)
An interview with vocalist Joey Cape
By Tim Den
It’s a shame that a usual cause for celebration – new music from Lagwagon – is overshadowed by tragedy in the case of Resolve. As most know by now, original drummer Derrick Plourde took his own life. The sense of loss suffered by all who knew him and/or loved his playing was enormous. Hit especially hard was vocalist Joey Cape, who’d been playing with Plourde in Bad Astronaut. Resolve is Cape’s grieving process put to music, from shock, anger, despair, mourning, to fond remembrance, laid out bare and raw for the world to hear. It’s the product of one man’s purging in order to move on from the death of a close friend. As a result, it’s deeply personal, unflinchingly harsh in its subject matter, and full of the usual ‘Wagon tear-jerking punk goodness. Though melodically less stellar than the likes of Let’s Talk About Feelings and Hoss, Resolve‘s main strength lies in its words. Cape, already a masterful conjurer of emotions, absolutely scorches. Like a surviving soldier revisiting the old battleground, hearing ghosts of his long-gone buddies.
By the time we reach closer “Days of New,” it begins to feel obvious that Resolve is one breath. One breath that extends over the entire spectrum of pain, of course, but a cohesive, continuous thought that empties Cape of everything he wants to say about Plourde. As “Days of New” upholds the Lagwagon tradition of killer album enders, the pinnacle of anguish reached on the previous song’s (“Infectious”) ending (“goodbye old friend… I won’t speak of all that could’ve been”) gives way to positivity as Cape sings “hey Derrick, maybe somehow you’re listening/today’s mantra is gratitude/you changed my life, I’m sure you knew/I’ll never forget the words that you said, the life that you led/I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget.” Perhaps Plourde’s life “could not begin to be described in just one record” (states the liner notes), but Resolve gives everyone effected the strength to carry on.
You’ve probably had to repeat the same sentiments a million times since the release of Resolve, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Derrick. His involvement with the band, your friendship, a timeline of some sort, etc.
It’s not a problem at all, it’s to be expected. Derrick was in the band since the very beginning. We were very good friends that eventually turned into great friends through touring. You sort of become family through these situations. He was an incredible musician. His drumming was a huge part of our sound.
He always had issues… I’m not going to go into specifics about them, but he definitely had underlying problems that, as he got older, started to surface. Different people deal with them differently: Derrick was having a real hard time coping. Around the first tour behind Hoss, he started to use drugs. It got pretty bad. He was in rough shape. It got to the point where we had to cancel the tour while we were in Florida and send him to detox. He got clean, but not completely clean, so we had to give him an ultimatum. It was either get off the drugs completely or we had to move on without him. Unfortunately, he chose the latter.
I didn’t talk to him for a few years after that, but eventually, he did get clean, and we started to run into each other. We lived in the same town – Santa Barbara is a small place – and realized how much we missed each other’s friendship. We also really missed playing with each other. I’ve always thought of Derrick as my musical soulmate. So we started Bad Astronaut, and those years were great. We made records and had a lot of fun together. But, you know, his issues never fully went away. They would show up once in a while, and when they did, all you could do was hang in there with him. Sometimes he’d disappear for a few months. All you could do was be there for him when he got back and give him emotional support.
Were you in contact with him just prior to getting the news?
We’d spent a lot of time finishing up the new Bad Astronaut record, which I’m still adding stuff to. Afterwards, I couldn’t even handle listening to the stuff, but I think I’m ready now. But yeah, we spent a lot of months writing, playing, and recording, but I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for maybe two months before he died. He’d disappeared again. And I’d moved to San Francisco, gotten married, and had a kid, so we were not seeing as much of each other. We were leading very separate lives.
Were you shocked to get the news?
In the back of my mind – and maybe a lot of other people’s, too – I always thought that one day Derrick might self-destruct. Because his issues were capable of self-destruction. But still, despite what you think, when the “expected” actually happens, it’s a big shock. I was devastated.
Do you know if he was clean when he took his own life?
Well, I don’t think he was using drugs, but “clean” is a relative term. He was drinking a lot, which is definitely not the answer.
Derrick was an incredible person. He was just such an artist. Anything he did artistically was great. He could play the guitar really well, too. I think his best talent was writing. He kept journals on tour and in “normal life” almost everyday, and through our time together, I was lucky enough to read some of it. He just had a way with words. He was an incredible writer. I mean, for someone like myself, who “writes for a living,” even if it’s lyrics, to see someone like Derrick who could do it so effortlessly, it was astonishing. Just before he died, my wife and I were telling him to really consider being a writer. He used to send me funny letters from wherever he was – halfway houses, jail – and I’d just want to frame them.
It’s safe to say that anyone who knew Derrick was greatly affected by him. He was eccentric, creative, brilliant…
Even from a fan’s point of view, I know of a lot of people – myself included – who were introduced to a new world when we first heard him. It’s funny how someone who you never met could mean that much to you just through drums.
He was a very daring and inventive drummer. A lot of drummers play it safe and don’t contribute much to the songs, but not Derrick. He would always take risks and succeed.
It’s a poorly-kept secret that a lot of your songs have been about Derrick over the years.
I’ve made a career out of writing about Derrick. (chuckles) He’s been, in many ways, my biggest muse.
I remember hearing “Ride the Snake” on Hoss and thinking that it was about him.
That song’s about a heroine addict, but it’s not about Derrick. Unfortunately – in what I do – I’m surrounded by a lot of them.
You wrote Resolve pretty quickly after getting the news, no?
A week, 10 days, something like that. I knew I needed to get those feelings out. Some people see a therapist: I write songs. I told my wife “look, I’m gonna mentally disappear for about two weeks” and started writing. Got some cigarettes, a bottle of Scotch, and stayed up all night for over a week ’til I got it done.
How did the rest of the band take the news? Were they close to Derrick as well?
Jesse (Buglione, bassist/backup vocalist) and (Chris) Flippin (guitarist/backup vocalist) obviously spent years with him on the road, so they were like family. Chris Rest (guitarist/backup vocalist, known to all as Leon) played in RKL with Derrick for a long time, so they were good friends too. Dave (Raun, drummer) has also had some good times with him, so it effected all of us. Everyone felt really good about working on these songs.
Let’s talk about what’s been going on with you for a bit. You mentioned you recently got married and had a child. As detailed in the lyrics of “Violet” on the Acoustic record, no?
Yeah. My life is wonderful right now. I’m married, I have a 20-month old daughter, which is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I know that’s cliché, but those words have never been truer.
I actually wrote “Violet” before my wife and I decided to get married. We’d decided on Violet’s name and that we were having her out of wedlock, but didn’t think we were gonna get married. You know, when you know you’re with the right person, what’s marriage but a legality? We weren’t interested in doing that. But eventually, we thought about it and decided “why not?” I feel like we did it for the right reasons, and not because of outside pressures. So we went to Hawaii and got married, just the two of us. It was really nice. My mom was upset with me, but I think she eventually understood. I have an older brother and an older sister, and they both had huge weddings…
I’m close to 40 now, and I’ve spent most of my life doing no good (chuckles), surrounded by large crowds of people. This was the one event that I wanted to keep private.
How is family life going to play into Lagwagon’s schedule and future?
The only thing that’s changing is shorter tours. I had to have a talk with the guys recently and say “look, I can’t leave my wife and daughter for months at a time, so we’ll just have to do shorter runs.” But that’s okay, cuz Jesse’s about to have a kid as well, and Dave is thinking about it. Eventually, we’ll all have families and won’t be able to run all over the place, but that’s what happens when you grow older. We’ll definitely still tour, because we’re not “successful” enough to just make records and live off of them.
It’s funny, some of my friends have kids who are old enough to reason: “Daddy’s just going away to make money, but he’ll be back soon, okay?” But Violet’s not there yet, obviously. So when we drive up to the airport, she automatically starts crying cuz she knows I’m leaving. She probably thinks that I step out of the car to stay in the airport that whole time, like it’s some giant hotel!