It seems like logistical genius. But influential Californian punk rocker Joey Cape says it is serendipity that has seen three of his musical outlets booked for Australian tours throughout October and November.
Cape rose to prominence as the frontman of perennial favourites Lagwagon. But fans of his music can see him perform with shambolic punk covers band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes at the Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle. He returns to the same venue on Wednesday, October 30 for an acoustic tribute to his long-time collaborator – late No Use For A Name frontman Tony Sly. Then Cape is back to the Cambridge again for a show with his alt-pop group Bad Astronaut.
“I guess you could call it lucky,” Cape says of the three tours. “They were all booked at different times and it just came together that they were close – honestly, it was just a fluke. I’m excited about [the Cambridge shows] – it’s great, but am I going to be wearing out my welcome there? I don’t know.”
Despite his prolific output in different projects, Cape appreciates a break from songwriting. “I have to take a break every once in a while because there’s times the well is dry and I’m not feeling inspired to create something with any integrity or conviction,” Cape says. “So the breaks happen automatically – I would rather they didn’t, because you can’t time them.”
Cape admits that playing guitar for Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, who take classic rock, pop and soul songs and speed them up with a shot of punk adrenaline, also constitutes relaxation.
“It’s a total holiday, man,” Cape says of a Gimme Gimmes tour. “There is literally no work – if we had any kind of mantra it would be ‘Don’t try’.”
Even rehearsals don’t factor into the Gimme Gimmes’ plans. “Honestly, we probably should [rehearse],” Cape says. “In the earlier days we took it just a little bit more seriously and actually rehearsed for about four hours. We would run through a set, leaving in all its mistakes and dysfunctional glory. Now that happens usually the first night of the tour – which, in my opinion, is usually the best show. Because it’s chaos and there’s something good about that.”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes released their debut record, Have A Ball, in 1997 and the supergroup’s line-up over the years has included guitarist Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters and bassist Fat Mike of NOFX. Cape is interested to see if there is still love for the Gimme Gimmes when they return to Australia.
“It’s a question of whether it is popular anymore,” Cape says. “There was a time when we did really well, and I think we were more visible because we were touring more and didn’t take so long between records. I really don’t know what to expect with the Gimmes [Oz tour]. I’m completely shocked that the band ever made a record and beyond that were able to tour and play shows – and that people dug it! It’s fun for me and I get that the songs are good songs and guilty pleasures – I get why it works, but I’m astounded that it’s still going at all.”
While Cape won’t divulge many track details, he does confirm that he has just finished recording his guitar parts for a new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes record. He reveals that there will be a cover of Boy George song.
But in stark contrast to the frivolity of the Gimme Gimmes’ gig tonight will be Cape’s October 30 Cambridge show – an acoustic set with fellow songwriter Brian Wahlstrom. The two musicians were one half of indie rock group Scorpios, which featured singer Tony Sly. On July 31, 2012, Sly, the singer of No Use For A Name, died in his sleep. He was 41.
Sly had been a long-time friend and musical collaborator of Cape’s and the upcoming show will be a celebration of the departed frontman’s music. “We are going to do a bunch of Tony songs – we’re going to have a tribute section of the show each night, probably about eight songs,” Cape says. “It’s really hard to put into words – it feels cathartic, of course. It’s tremendously sad every night when we do the songs – it’s really hard to keep it together. It’s really nice to honour him – it feels amazing to play the songs because I’m a huge fan of his. I played so many of those songs with him that they’re engrained [in me] like my own songs are. It’s hard to do though – I don’t want to do it much longer. It’s part of a mourning thing and it’s been going on a long time now. Words aren’t big enough to describe these things.”
Fans of Sly’s music have been coming to the tribute shows and Cape has been keeping Sly’s wife and children updated on the outpouring of appreciation for the songwriter’s music.
The third of Cape’s shows is with his Bad Astronaut project, which will appear at the Cambridge Hotel as part of the Hits & Pits Splits mini-festival – a night that also includes Boysetsfire, Snuff and Off With Their Heads.
Bad Astronaut were a studio project, releasing their debut record in 2002. Before they ever played a live show Derrick Plourde, Bad Astronaut and Lagwagon’s original drummer, took his own life.
“There was this time in Lagwagon where I was feeling that I really needed to branch off as a songwriter,” Cape says of Bad Astronaut’s genesis. “I had felt that way for quite some time. [Lagwagon] made a record called Let’s Talk About Feelings and during that period I was already collaborating with other musicians and thinking of doing something else. But it felt like it was a dirty thing to do, like cheating on your wife – it didn’t feel right. I love music and it’s important to be satisfied with what you’re making. But there’s always this balance in a band between change and serving the collective soul of the band – what the band wants – and also honouring what your fans enjoy. When we made Let’s Talk About Feelings, there was a track where I brought in a piano and a cello player – both guys are in Bad Astronaut. Long story short, it went over ok with the fans but the guys in [Lagwagon] were a little uncomfortable with it and it’s not fair on them. So I decided: ‘I’m going to do [a project] on top of Lagwagon that has zero rules and I can get my yah-yahs out’.”
Cape was working on Bad Astronaut’s third album when Plourde died, making it emotionally difficult for the band to continue. “If it’s possible to have a soul mate, musically, [Derrick] was mine,” Cape says. “Musically, we finished each other’s sentences. So when he passed I didn’t feel like it was ok to keep doing it. Five years passed and I was still friends with the other guys in the band, and every once in a while I’d hear from them and we’d talk about how [Bad Astronaut] never even did one show. I felt like there was some emptiness in that. But now we have the second best drummer from Santa Barbara– after Derrick – and it’s become a really enjoyable thing.”