Californian old-school punk vets Lagwagon return with another album in Resolve, a heartfelt tribute to the life of their former drummer Derrick Plourde. Interview By Steve Tauschke with guitarist Chris Rest.
Hey Chris, what's up with Joey .. problems with his voice?
"Yeah, he lost his voice. He's not allowed to do interviews because he's not allowed to talk. His specialist has put him on a strict regimen of no talking at all."
You've just come off a European tour … it must get bigger every time over there?
"Right, when I joined the band Lagwagon was at its peak, that was in 1996, and we took a long break around 2000, that was when Joey starting writing the Bad Astronaut record and during that time I think people kind of forgot about us a little bit. But since we started putting out records again the audiences have been getting bigger and bigger."
Was that a beneficial break for the band looking back?
"I don't think so. I mean I was able to do other stuff in the meantime, I was playing with my old band RKL, but it didn't take us long to get back where we were though."
How did Derrick's death last year affect you guys?
"He was a good friend of mine even though I was never in Lagwagon with him, he played with RKL for about a year. He was just a really great guy and it was a really big loss to all of us. Writing the record definitely had its sad moments in the studio, you know, going through the songs, but I think it may have been therapeutic to all of us through the course of the process."
What did you enjoy most about him?
"A lot of it was his sense of humour. He was so smart, he always had something funny to say, even in the most dismal situation. He was just a hilarious person and his humour really rubbed off on everybody around him."
Were there any signs that he was suicidal?
"When he left the band he was having a really hard time but I don't think he was suicidal at that time. But I think in recent years he definitely showed signs of those tendencies. Everyone around him was trying to help him but I think he was sort of just done. His body was pretty damaged, he got hit by a car and he just had a really hard couple of years before that. He was having trouble playing as well as he wanted to and was still struggling with substance abuse. He was just not happy."
So was he receiving treatment for depression?
"I think most of the time he was trying to self-medicate but I'm sure he had seen people in the past. I don't know much about that."
The album is a great tribute to him .. were you involved lyrically, aside from Joey?
"Not so much really, it was mostly just Joey. I think that when he started writing the songs he wasn't even thinking about a Lagwagon record, he was writing down his feelings and it just came pouring out. Once a few of the songs were written it just made sense that they should be Lagwagon songs since Derrick spent so much of his life in the band."
The final track Days of New is quite heart-wrenching .. you playing that one live?
"We have, not every night but quite a few times."
Joey produced this album .. he seems comfortable doing that.
"Yeah, and it seems like we try a different thing every record. But Joey will definitely have a lot more control from now on because he has so much knowledge now of the recording process, he's done it so many times with other bands and been involved with our recordings that it just seems silly to give all the control to someone else."
Speaking of production, I especially enjoyed the fuzzy, fat sound of Double Plaidinum.
"Yeah, it's got heaps of bottom end with all those Fuzz Face and Big Muff pedals used on that. Like any time there's extreme fuzz, it's usually one of those pedals being used. I think that was a little trick Jawbreaker used to do a lot and Joey got into that at the time. I was popping in and out during the recording and I know Ken Stringfellow sang a lot on that record, a lot of backup vocals that I can't even do because they're so high."
You've been a touring muso for quite a few years now … you must have some war stories saved up?
"One thing that was kind of funny was we were leaving on a tour flying out of New York and we were travelling with No Use For A Name and (singer) Tony (Sly) from No Use was deathly afraid of flying so he took a bunch of sleeping pills right before we took off. But about ten minutes into the flight they had to turn the plane around because something was wrong with the engine and so Tony was passed out already. They told us we'd have to try again tomorrow we said 'there's no way, we have to get Tony on a plane right now or we won't be able to go at all because he doesn't have any more medication'. So we managed to get him on a standby flight. He stumbled on board with the help of some friends."
How's the camaraderie in the punk scene these days?
"I wouldn't say there's much rivalry, that's for sure. And it's the same on the Warped tour, everyone just becomes like a big family, although people have their differences sometimes. The Warped tour can be a strange thing because you've got so many people from so many different places on such a long tour."
Has the scene changing a lot in your mind? Obviously various younger bands are adopting 80s pop influences.
"I think the sound is definitely getting darker and the metal is coming back so strongly which I'm not opposed to but I'd hate to see a whole bunch of bands go in the same direction - it's just kind of boring."
Looking back over the last decade or so, do you feel the huge commercial success of groups like Green Day has impacted on other bands, such as Lagwagon?
"I definitely see a lot more young kids at the shows and actually more people are just into punk rock now because of it. But at the same time, the last Warped tour we did it there was a lot of bands on there who were on MTV and we weren't and it kind of made us the little guys on the totem pole and it wasn't as good a tour for us as it has been in the past. But when we do our own tours it's still really good just because there's more kids listening to punk rock."
Do you consider Lagwagon to be carrying the flag for that old school sound?
"We've definitely had our happy moments as far as song writing but I think we've always had sort of a dark theme in our songs over our entire career."