When Joey Cape wrote his 2019 solo album, Let Me Know When You Give Up, he’d come to an important realization. “When I wrote that record,” he says, “I was going through a much-needed phase in my life where I needed to let go of stress and worries. It’s not really something you choose – it just happens. But then that time passed. And I didn’t want it to. Because nothing felt as precious as it did before.”
Little did he know that that moment would find its way back to him, and the entire planet, in the form of the pandemic. In February 2020, Cape was on tour in Australia with Lagwagon in support of their newest album, Railer, when the world effectively shut down. The band made it out of the country, he says, “by a hair,” and he immediately quarantined in a hotel when he got back to the States. Sitting alone in his hotel room, Cape had a lot to contemplate.
“My father had passed away at the very beginning of 2020,” explains Cape. “Then the pandemic hit, and I had also recently separated from my wife. I was on the phone with my mom one day, telling her how I didn’t know what I was going to do, and how I guessed I was going to live in this hotel until I ran out of money and she just said ‘Come home’. So I moved in with my mom and stepfather. It was just a really wild beginning to 2020 for me – I had things I had never experienced before all happening at once.”
The result is A Good Year to Forget, a record that encapsulates all the trials and tribulations of the 12 months that inspired it. “I felt a little strange at my age going to live with my parents again,” he says, “but it just made sense...they’re in their 80s and it was actually quite nice to take care of them and help them, to have that purpose and reacquaint in a deeper sense with my family. It’s actually been lovely.
The time he spent with his parents didn’t just allow Cape to reconnect with them; it also afforded him time to write songs. Because recording studios were shutting down everywhere due to COVID, Cape got creative and turned the “cabana-type thing” he was living in into a home recording studio. “I just decided that if I was going to make a record like this I should make it in full isolation,” he says. “It’s really modest but it turned out to be great. I have a Murphy bed, so every morning I’d push up the bed, pull out the studio stuff, have some coffee or tea, get out my little chair and off I went.”
While his recording setup may have been modest, the result is a beautiful, warm record that captures the pure essence of its songs. Hushed and haunted, there’s an almost Nick Drakeian poignancy to these 12 songs, especially on the wistful “The Poetry of Our Mistakes” and the forlorn-yet-somehow-uplifting “Saturday Night Fever.” “Come Home,” a song inspired directly by the words his mother had spoken on the phone, is a beautifully melancholy, slightly folky tune full of hurt and longing that also manages to be reassuring at the same time. Elsewhere, “Under the Doormat” is a harrowingly beautiful ode to a lost love of the past. “Check Your Ego At The Door” is a ballroom lament steeped in timelessness, while “Fictional” is a scornful take on the false images and lives that proliferate on social media.
Despite Cape’s isolation while writing A Good Year to Forget, his fans will hear much more than just a voice, guitar, and bass on this record. Indeed, he ended up playing a plethora of instruments when recording the album, including electric and lap steel guitars, piano, mandolin, and drums. Additional final flourishes were added at fellow Bad Astronaut band member Thom Flowers’ studio and Sean McCue’s Coyote Road Studios, once everyone concerned had been vaccinated.
“I’d set out to make the first-ever folk record I’d ever made with just guitar, bass and vocals,” says Cape, “but, of course, when I got to the point where it was nearly complete, me being me I couldn’t resist. I could hear all these other instruments, like mandolins and lap steel. And then I got sick with COVID. I got very, very sick for a while. I had long-term effects and it was awful, and that put me down for a couple months. Once I recovered and went back to the record, I’d decided that I was going to put everything I wanted to on the record.”
As such, A Good Year to Forget finds the positive in the negatives to become a record of pure triumphant beauty. “I almost made a solo record alone,” he laughs. “But that great fun you have in collaborating with other people in the studio is just priceless. There’s always something positive you can find – something of redeeming value in an experience where there’s a struggle of suffering. I played everything because I reached a point where I realized that’s something I’d have to hold onto if it was going to be the record I wanted and set out to make. It forced things to be very basic, but I’m okay with that.”
Fat Wreck Chords will release A Good Year to Forget on Aug. 13, 2021.