by Peter Brizick
On October 28th, Lagwagon released Hang, their first studio album since 2005’s Resolve. The only other release of the band’s material since that time was 2011’s Putting Music in its Place which was their version of a greatest-hits album featuring re-mastered versions of the complete albums from the 1990s plus thirty-four previously un-released tracks. Hang is Lagwagon’s eighth studio album and represents somewhat of a departure from their prior work. It is darker in sound and mood, featuring lyrical content that reflects the world as it is seen through the eyes of an older Joey Cape, the band’s lead vocalist, primary producer and songwriter. The sound captured on the recording is stunning for beginning to end – the drums, vocals and guitars are powerful yet warm and vibrant. A few days ago, I had a chance to discuss the production of the album with Cape while he was en route to an evening show in snowy Buffalo.
Interestingly, the drums were recorded and produced by Bill Stevenson of the Blasting Room and his contribution to the finished-product is immense. “Bill is someone we have worked with in the past. He’s a drummer, himself, and also an engineer and producer. He knew how to capture the tone we wanted,” says Cape of Stevenson’s work.
The guitars, bass, vocals and overdubs were recorded at Orangewood Studios in Santa Barbara, CA with Angus Cooke and Thom Flowers providing the engineering services. I remark to Cape about the warmth and breathiness of the vocal tracks to which he replies, “I can’t think of anyone better to record and engineer vocals.” According to Cape, the sessions went smoothly due, in large part, to the high quality demos the band spent three months recording. In essence, the material was virtually complete before they hit the studios for full-blown recording and production.
There are several effective hooks to the songs on Hang which blend commercial-viability with artistic integrity. The first track, “Burden of Proof/Reign”, opens with a singer/songwriter approach which abruptly changes to a full-out punk/rock sound at the one minute mark. “Poison in the Well” features a stylistic change, again at roughly the one minute mark, with a guitar solo supported by a blues shuffle feel. The unforgettable touch is definitely the sound of the typewriter at the beginning of “Obsolete Absolute” which gradually morphs into the drum track. Cape mentions that most of these concepts were pre-planned in the songwriting process while others came together during recording and production.
Looking back to 2011’s Putting Music in its Place, I was curious if the project met his expectations. “It actually exceeded our expectations,” says Cape. “It was a very rewarding process. There are so many things you forget over the years. This was like rediscovering ourselves and our work; the unreleased tracks, old pictures, memories – it was amazing and I’m glad we did it the way we did it.”
Now that Lagwagon is on tour, I was wondering if they are performing the entire album and, furthermore, do they perform it in true concept-album fashion – beginning to end in order. “It’s something that crossed my mind and we actually have done it once. We showed up to the release party with our gear, unannounced, and performed the album like that. But, most nights we only have an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to play and the album is roughly fifty-minutes long. Doesn’t leave much time for our older material which would upset some fans,” Cape admits. Generally, they are performing seven or eight songs from Hang mixed in between their classic material despite the fact that it was written and intended to be a concept album.
On December 4th, Lagwagon will bring their tour to Philadelphia after several other stops. “We are playing a place called Kelowna, British Columbia for the first time since 1992. Also, Green Bay, Wisconsin. I can’t even remember the last time we were in Green Bay. Tonight, it’s Buffalo and thank God it wasn’t last week with all the snow up here,” says Cape.
After all these years on the road, I ask if he has a favorite memory or story from Philadelphia. “Nothing specific. We always have a great time and we have some close friends there. Great Vietnamese food – I’ve gotten into that as I’ve gotten older,” he shares as our call wraps up. This time around, he intends to visit Old City and take in some more of the historical aspects of the city.
Catch Lagwagon at the TLA on 12/4 with Swingin Utters’ and This Legend.