This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This Saturday was the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Five Points and after a few years off due to Covid, Columbia, SC and the Midlands were incredibly excited to welcome the jam-packed day of food, drinks, and music back.
I had the opportunity to interview Joe Capati, the horns player for The 502s, one of the bands that performed this Saturday. A self-described “happy folk” band from outside Orlando, Florida, they rocketed to fame in 2020 when a video of a live session of their song “Magdalene” went viral on TikTok - which at the time of this interview had over 250,000 likes and 1.7 million views.
Joining from a sunny room in Florida, this interview was conducted over Zoom, but the infectious excitement about a band on the rise permeated through the screen.
Isabel Stringfellow & Joe Capati
IS: How has your day been so far?
JC: It’s been fantastic, we just got back from a two-week tour about a couple days ago so we’ve been relaxing a little bit but we have a show tomorrow in Tampa…
IS: So you had a bit of overnight success over Covid, after releasing your first album you released a couple of singles and they went big on TikTok, how has that been for you and for the group as a whole?
JC: Well as a whole it’s been life-changing and awesome in every sort of way. Everybody in the band individually has always just wanted to say that we can play and perform for as many people as possible and bring what we love to do to as many people as we can. With these tours, we’ve been able to do it more and more, but it’s not surprising to us. We work really hard, especially through Covid. I can remember every Monday we still got on our calls with the band, instead of focusing on touring we could focus on making really cool music and sharing it with as many people as we can, so that kind of took off. And we released the album but it was only a year later once we really got to share it with people.
IS: On that, a big superstition in the music industry is the “sophomore slump,” but you released your first album, then the second which has singles off of it that are in the millions (number of streams) on Spotify.
JC: Yeah we have this rule in the band that we will never release a song unless every member of the band is happy with it. And so the whole album came out and we really love listening to the album because we love every song from start to finish so it was just a matter of time before everyone else heard that, so that was cool.
IS: That’s super cool. So in terms of the album, you have a larger group so getting everyone to be in agreement on every song probably takes some time, are there songs that you remember that seem to come together a lot more quickly? Songs that took longer to get everyone on the same page with?
JC: Jeez, well that’s a great question. The second album is a modge-podge of different songs, a couple of those songs were supposed to go on the first album but they didn’t make it, that we had been playing and added to the second album.
I’ll give you a little tidbit about “Summertime Singalong Vibe”. That used to be a completely different song we’d been working on while on tour. We recorded it over Memorial Day and we called it “Tom Petty” but we ended up not wanting it [or] liking that version and we worked on it some more and eventually we came up with something we liked, “Summertime Singalong Vibe.” It varies, some we’ve known about for years and some three months to write it out.
IS: Yeah, a range there. I find it interesting when artists that I like release a song after having worked on it for years after being on the back burner for some time when they finally feel like they’re happy with what they have. That’s the complex part of it, there's no manual or guidebook for when a song is ready to be released. The arts would probably be a lot easier if there were!
JC: For sure. There’d be a lot more music out there.
IS: Yeah, there would be. And a lot more bad music probably too.
JC: Haha...yeah probably.
IS: And we’re glad that’s not the case. So my next question is about your songs, but more about your personal songwriting process or how you play a role when you’re producing or coming up with your songs.
JC: So Eddie’s [Ed Isola, lead singer/banjo] is our primary songwriter but it is a communal effort. So like it always starts with the chords maybe or words or whatever’s ready. And then it’s well… Eddie’s gonna hate me for saying this but it comes out in the form of a voice memo sometimes. I kid you not Ed is somewhere in the thousands now with the number of voice memos saved on his phone. Sometimes when he tries to open the app it crashes his phone. But he’ll get on his phone and maybe for me he’ll go “la la la” and sing whatever this part is for me. It’s the beautiful synergy that happens because I almost can feel what it is he was singing in his head and I translate it in my head into a cool little part. And then the piano and the bass and the drum and it all devolves and becomes eventually what it is on the album.
IS: Nice! The collaboration aspect is super cool. A little background on you: when did you start playing the saxophone?
JC: Oh man, I started primarily because I hated piano.
IS: Were you forced to take piano lessons as a kid and then that?
JC: Yes I was forced into it -my mom would hate hearing that- but one day I just stopped doing piano lessons but I saw the saxophone and thought it was really cool. I saw people playing it, and I was like if they can play that then I can play that. I just started teaching myself saxophone then joined bands in middle school and high school. And then I just kept playing after high school and here and there.
And the story of how I got into The 502s is funny. I tell it and I just want it to be known here.
IS: Go for it!
JC: When I first joined, they were looking for a trumpet player Kaleigh (the original) ended up having a little baby, a home of her own, and obviously her husband so she couldn’t make it out on tour so The 502s needed a horn player. So I showed up to practice with my saxophone and it’s weird because there was never a saxophone in The 502s [the rest of the band is thinking] how is this gonna work out? But then I went on tour and it sounded nice, people kinda dug it so I kept playing, now I play both. I promised Eddie when I joined that, I have the texts from 2017, 2018 where I said how badly I wanted to learn how to play trumpet…it’s funny now fast-forwarding now that I do and it’s one full circle now.
IS: So when you think of The 502s, what genre would you put yourselves in? I was trying to figure out where exactly you fall. I was thinking you’re obviously still indie, still a little bit of pop but also that kind of “Stomp/Clamp” Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers type genre. How would you describe the music y’all make?
JC: We’ve been saying and are hoping that someday it’ll be a true genre on Spotify but Happy Folk.
IS: Ah yes, Happy Folk.
JC: We’ve heard the Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, but people say that’s not us. That we’re different, we’re happier.
IS: I like that! We’ll sort you into that category, the pioneers of the happy folk movement.
So we talked a little bit about the overnight success, you were a part of the band before that boom. What was it like trying to create music once you knew that you had a couple really strong songs, was it harder to come up with new things? Or did you feel like you were repeating the old sound? Following the algorithm but also making things that are true to what y’all are doing.
JC: Well we like to make happy music, simple music. Not to say that our music is easy, it's just that the feeling when you’re at the show you’re swaying to the beat, clapping your hands, stomping or just closing your eyes and feeling the music. If you have that vibe even if it’s a sad song there’s a it can also bring happiness in the form of catharsis. Different songs hit people in different ways. Just A Little While (which also exploded on TikTok) has been used to relive break or remember vacation whatever it is that was the whole point. Writing songs is about the feeling. It’s always been about the feeling.
IS: I really like that message. You’re happy folk, you come from the South. What influence do you think being from Florida has on your music and yall as a group?
JC: Well, we’re used to sweating really badly. We’re down southern boys, we love the beach, we love parties…not crazy parties but you know a good time, a cookout with your friends.
IS: Yes, the parties that go until 3am and you’re suddenly like how did we get here?
JC: Starting the day with a pina colada at the beach and you end up around the campfire singing along with your best friends singing along thinking could it get better than this? Which is why we named the album Could It Get Better Than This.
IS: On that, do you have a favorite song to perform? And a favorite song of yours personally?
JC: I love all of them but there’s something special about “Hi There Hello” which was on the original EP and then got converted into a new song on the albums so it’s one of those songs we’ve had for a long time but is finally out. When we play it live I think it incorporates everything that I personally love about The 502s, the loud, the clapping, the group singing, the horns, the stomping, the feel-good, it’s like a party anthem.
And then there’s “You Belong” which is a really special song. That song, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve teared up…there’s this 15-20 second interlude with Eddie’s grandpa saying “Go get ‘em kid, You Belong, make it happen” and it’s just that right there will forever have a moment because it’s exactly what we’re doing now. You know, live in the moment, you never know.
IS: I have to say I’m a pretty big fan of Magdalene, the Live version. I’m just a live version fan in general. Anderson East has an album Alive [in Tennessee] that I love, there’s something about the environment there…
JC: Yeah, they’re your favorite songs just live!
IS: So that’s my nudge that you guys should release a whole live album because I think that would be tons of fun.
JC: You know what? I think we might just do that for you.
IS: Perfect! Thank you! In the liner notes you can write “Isabel told us to do this.”
IS: Classic musician question but what are you listening to right now?
JC: Oh man, Allen Stone, which is an acoustic album. I love his vocals, the way his voice sounds. His uniqueness reminds me of the uniqueness of our sound. In singing backup vocals I’ve always viewed myself as the soft voice, kind of the blues and hearing all of the voices blend live.
IS: Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure. We’re always happy to support up-and-coming musicians at WUSC-FM, can’t wait to hear y’all next Saturday!
JC: Thank you, can’t wait!
To see the full interview, check it out here on our Youtube! Follow The 502s on their Instagram to keep up with their upcoming shows, and tune into northern exposure with walden every Friday from 8-10 am!