Laggin Ahead

Lagwagon resolves to remember a "Sad Astronaut."

Derrick Plourde had been out of Lagwagon for nine years when he took his own life in March 2005. A founding 'Wagoneer, Plourde kept the beat for the fast-paced, melodic punk band from 1988 until 1996, when he left to play in the Ataris. But when news of Plourde's death reached his former bandmates, they responded by hitting the studio to crank out a 12-song album, Resolve. From the time the album's first riff was penned to the recording of the final track, Resolve took Lagwagon just five weeks to make. Naturally, Resolve, the first Lagwagon album in two years, is a tribute to Plourde; it's an attempt to gain closure. Lagwagon's currently on its second tour of the States this year, which kicked off at the House of Blues in Chicago. Vocalist Joey Cape phoned New Times a day later, from Minneapolis, to discuss Lagwagon's current state of the 'Wagon and the unfortunate event that sparked the new album.

"It was really easy to make that record," Cape says. "When you have enough drive, when you're that inspired, the creative process tends to be effortless."

That doesn't mean Resolve was made in haste; far from it. If anything, there was no time to scrape together pointless filler tracks. The album screams immediacy. There's no screwing around with drawn-out instrumentals, no ProTools recording tricks — just songs, delivered as earnestly and, at times, as painfully as they were written. Plourde's suicide was nearly a year and a half ago. And though Resolve helped Cape get through the initial shock, there's only so much an album can do to heal such wounds.

"I think it was a good start for me," Cape says. "I wouldn't want to pretend that by making a record, that it completes things. The interesting thing about doing a record right after something like that happens in your life, that hits you that hard, is that you get to go through all the emotions while you're making the record. The first few weeks were pretty much a roller-coaster ride; it was really intense, but I was writing that whole time. I think it was very therapeutic, and it needed to happen for me. But it's taken me a lot longer than the process of writing the record to work it out. I'll probably never really get over that."

Cape had known Plourde for about two years when they formed Lagwagon in Santa Barbara, California, in 1988. While every young punk band today from Hamburg to Pittsburgh has adopted the Fat Wreck Chords sound (characterized by galloping drumbeats that start and stop at the drop of a pick), Lagwagon was the first Fat Wreck Chords band, after label owners NOFX. Part of the reason the Fat sound is big in other continents is because of Lagwagon's relentless touring — and the band has been touring for as long as many of its fans have been alive. So it's understandable that, for Cape — who has a wife and young daughter — life on the road has lost some of its luster.

"Touring is something we've done a lot of," Cape says. "Even in Europe, we've been touring for about 16 years. I think I enjoy traveling with my wife more than I do with my band. Shows are cool, but you can do shows anywhere. But I think there's always going to be something — I don't mean to be cheesy — but kind of romantic about going out on the road every day. I still enjoy the lifestyle. But I also enjoy being at home with my family."

And there's Cape's other band, Bad Astronaut, a side project he formed with Plourde to explore poppier frontiers (in addition to Cape's other side project, the all-star, all-covers band, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes). Though Bad Astronaut ended with Plourde's death, a posthumous album — Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment — will come out this fall. And yes, that's where the title for the Resolve track "Sad Astronaut" came from.

"I just finished the record two days before we started the tour," Cape recalls. "That was a really, really hard record for me to finish. It was so weird to be working on this record after he was gone. The reason that band started was so Derrick and I could play together again. But I feel like there's some closure there with that record. I think I've done what I need to do to honor that, being that it was his last record... It's the end of an era for me."

Lagwagon is a different story. A few years ago, Cape, in several interviews, hinted at concerns about the band's future. He never said it was on its last legs, but he might as well have.

"Here's the thing — I shot myself in the foot," Cape explains. "For a while, I started vocally saying that Lagwagon's future is uncertain. The truth is, that's just obvious. Being in a band, that's what happens when you get older. I think it's just the way I look at it. It's about art. As long as it's fun — there's integrity, purity to it — then I'm interested. Otherwise, I'd go get a job in a library or something. But since I speak that way about it, it somehow sounded like I was telling people we were going to break up — and now I'm having to answer for that. I just think there's always uncertainty. I can't say if we're ever going to do another record because I have no idea if I even want to do another record. If everybody's into it and wants to go on tour, we do that."

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