In the 1990s, Lagwagon was the talk of the underground punk scene.
However, the band never attained the mainstream success that contemporaries like Rancid and Green Day did. Nonetheless, Lagwagon is still around; in fact, the band just released a new album, Hang, and will be appearing at The Date Shed on Friday, Nov. 7.
Lagwagon formed in 1990 in Goleta, just outside of Santa Barbara. The name is a reference to frontman Joey Cape’s mother, who drove a station wagon and was never on time to pick up him and his brother from school.
During a recent phone interview, Cape talked about the relative lack of a punk-rock scene in the Santa Barbara area when he was growing up.
“Things were so different back then,” Cape said. “There were a lot of bands in the ‘80s from the Ventura, Santa Barbara and Oxnard area through a scene called nardcore. Mystic Records put out a lot of those bands like Dr. Know and Aggression. That’s sort of the scene I grew up in during the early ’80s. We always had a scene, but it was smaller than L.A., of course. Later, when my band got together … things changed—and punk changed a lot in major cities. It was kind of evolving, and there were a lot of crossover bands. Back then, a band had to get in a van and go on tour to actually be seen. We were never afraid to do that.”
Lagwagon caught the attention of Fat Mike of NOFX, who signed them to his Fat Wreck Chords. In 1992, the band released its first album, Duh, which is still one of Fat Wreck Chords’ most commercially successful albums. Mainstream record labels began trying to sign Lagwagon, but the group refused to leave Fat Wreck Chords, and remains with the label to this day.
“I felt we weren’t as easily accessible as some of the other bands, like Rancid and Green Day,” Cape said. “I had experienced through bands I was friends with (that) … if something hit, there was this frenzy for anything that sounded like it. I saw so many deals go bad for bands that were really happy and creative; they signed a deal, and their record didn’t hit the market the way the label wanted it to, and the band was stuck. They were shelved, and they were sitting there with no chance to make another record. When there was a glimpse of that for Lagwagon, I was totally against it.”
Over the years, the band has gone on hiatus several times, and suffered through the death of drummer Derrick Plourde.
“I’ve never had a moment in the history of this band where I’ve believed we’ve broken up,” Cape said. “There are definitely times that the reality of being in a band is like being in a family, and there are times that you just really don’t want to see your family, because they’re disgusting you. You also go through phases where it’s not really exciting. I never believed in the quick fire/breakup things that bands do, because it’s really easy to just take a break. What’s the point of working hard to get your band to a place (and then) just going, ‘Yeah, we gotta break up’? … It’s so stupid, and I really don’t understand it. Of course, a lot of those bands come back a few years later with their tail between their legs like, ‘Sorry, we’re back!’”
Cape said it wasn’t easy to return to the studio to make Hang, the band’s first full album since 2005.
“Given the amount of time between records, we felt some pressure to knock it out of the park,” Cape said. “This had to be a great record. That’s part of the reason it took me so long to come up with this batch of songs and go for it. But our band has always been one of those bands where if we’re not ready to record, we just don’t do it. I think it’s a great thing in the long run, and we’ll look back and be really proud of everything we’ve ever done.”
What keeps Lagwagon going after almost 25 years?
“As long as we’re in a phase like the one we’re in now, where we love what we’re creating, and we enjoy playing music together, that’s it. It’s a pretty amazing job to have,” he said.
Lagwagon will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7, at The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., in Indio. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-775-6699, or visit www.dateshedmusic.com.