“It’s just honest music, it’s not like a bunch of dudes in spandex pants, big hair, driving around in limos talking about fucking chicks and doing cocaine, it’s honest blue collar lyrics that connect with kids and I think the world was kind of missing that and it found its place pretty damn quick.”
From release: The mid 90’s were the zenith of the US led punk rock explosion. Pennywise were at the forefront of the charge and in 1995 released About Time an album that refined and defined the So-Cal melodic hardcore sound that spawned a movement and a thousand copy cats. With inspiring songs of positivity and hope like Every Single Day and Try as well as scathing social commentary via Perfect People and Same Old Story, About Time captured the era perfectly and was also the bands final album to contain the invaluable musical and spiritual contributions of the late Jason Thirsk, founding member, beloved bandmate and friend. After 27 years of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) Pennywise’s latest album, 2014’s Yesterdays is a ‘new album of old songs’ proper recordings of songs written in their early days (mostly by Thirsk) that never made it off the cassette they were taped onto at rehearsals and capture the bands original spirit.
Hungover as usual as he put it, we chatted to Fletcher of Pennywise about the band’s upcoming shows in Australia celebrating the twentieth anniversary since the release of ‘About Time’ as well as new music, old music, the band’s sound and why that will never change…
We’re here because you’re heading back to Australia for the 20th anniversary of ‘About Time’ have you got an idea about how the set is going to come together for this run?
We haven’t even talked about it *laughs* I’m assuming, well we’re doing ‘About Time’ in its entirety, so I’m assuming that we’re going to run through the album from start to finish in the order it was recorded, that seems to be what everyone’s been doing and we’ve been holding out a long time a lot of bands have already done different albums over the last years and this is actually the first time we’ve ever done it, and we’re kicking it off in Oz with ‘About Time’ so I’m thinking we’re just gonna come out there and just blaze through the entire album and then go in to another however long worth of music off other albums from everything from ‘Full Circle’ and ‘Straight Ahead’ and blah blah blah, just do a show but the whole front end of it will probably be ‘About Time’, it’s not official, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s going to happen.
You’ve been to Australia a number of times; do you have a favourite or stand out moment from a tour down here?
I do, I’ve talked about it quite a few times, but the first time we ever came down we were on Alternative Nation Festival and we had no idea if we were popular or not popular, we’d heard rumours that people liked us there and we had no crew members, we had one guy with us, one guitar tech basically, no tour managers, no nothing… just got on the plane with our gear and played a show in Brissy and that was pretty cool, it wasn’t completely off the hook but it was a good welcome for sure. Then in Sydney we were in a field on a stage that there was literally three people standing in front of the stage, it was drizzling rain and we were on in like fifteen minutes and we were like ‘well, this show isn’t going to be too good’ and just thinking whatever… and the band Live were playing on the main stage which was over a hill and we couldn’t see them or see the crowd, we had no idea what was going on with the crowd over there we just got driven to that side stage in the middle of a field. All of a sudden we saw a couple of people come over the hill and walking down this big grassy hill and the only thing down there was our stage and we were like ‘huh they must be coming down here’ and I say within fifteen minutes there was about five or eight thousand people had poured over that hill and got in front of our stage and it just went completely crazy and it was an unforgettable moment. It was one of the craziest moments ever because we were totally sure that we were going to play to three kids on a rainy grass field and it went from that to five or six thousand whatever people losing their minds to the point where they broke the barricade down, they had to call in like extra security, cops were coming in on horseback, they rushed they stage and it was out of control and we were like ‘whoa, I guess we’ve got some fans in Australia’, so that was a pretty defining moment I think.
Have you noticed that over your time coming here that your music allows your fan base to take on almost a generational feel with the age range of the people coming to see you?
Yeah I mean it’s not something that I give a lot of thought to personally because I think being in a band keeps you young in a way, you don’t technically have to grow it, it’s just one big party and you do see people now at the shows, a guy that was coming to a Pennywise show when he was twenty years old and had a kid and now he’s forty and his kid is twenty and his kid’s at the show, or his kid is fourteen and he’s bringing his kid to the show, and still like at forty years old or whatever there’s still people going off and hardcore for punk rock and if they wind up having kids along the way, chances are those kids grow up listening to Pennywise, NOFX, Bad Religion and the rest of us, and if they like it they’re probably going to wind up at a show. So it’s crazy, you’ll see literally like a fifty year old dude in the front row right next to a sixteen year old and the sixteen year old is singing every word and the fifty year old is singing every word, and it’s pretty cool. We’ve had a couple of shows over the last few years where the crowds were really young, like fourteen to twenty five and in certain towns where it’s younger generations, but it’s really cool to know you can connect with a guy that’s been into the band for twenty / twenty five years and you can connect with a kid that’s fourteen years old because he’s probably dealing with some of the problems in the songs that were written twenty years ago and somehow somebody gave it to him and all of a sudden there’s a connection there and I think that’s what our music is about and what music in general is about connecting with that kid, with that fan whoever it is and just giving them something to grab on to, so it’s pretty damn cool.
You guys really took this sound and scene by storm, was it crazy watching it all blow up in the early 90’s and after that?
Yeah it was absolutely crazy, I started going to shows in 1980, started playing in a band in 1981, maybe even 1980 I don’t know, and punk rock it was such a capsule back then, it was such a small scene, there was only a few clubs to play and there was only so many people involved, it wasn’t main steam and the candle only burns so fast it was like five years, six years maximum of just mayhem and then everyone shut down, no one was making any money in bands they couldn’t support themselves, all the clubs were closing because the cops didn’t want punk rock venues anywhere in the country and it kind of just petered away… like literally if you have a big punk rock show come to town you would just be like a real big highlight because it would be every three or four months something cool would come in and wouldn’t be like it is now where you can go to a show five nights a week in Hollywood or in Australia in Sydney or wherever. So when Bad Religion put out the ‘Suffer’ record we had been playing as a band for a couple of years already and we were like holy shit, this is like what we need, we need to be involved in this, the record was so amazing, production was amazing, we were like we’ve got to be on this label, we’ve got get with these guys, this producer, we didn’t know that the legendary star who produced the ‘Suffer’ album was Brett Gurewitz, Bad Religion’s guitar player and the owner of Epitaph, so by the time we figured all that out we were on the label and we were talking about selling maybe a couple of thousand records you know, maybe two or three thousand and we thought that would be insane, like four million later we had no idea this was coming and radio wasn’t supporting it, there was very few clubs you could play at and it just exploded, it just took off within a couple of years there were bands everywhere, all over the world from Sweden to Germany to Australia to Brazil, people were emulating the sounds of Bad Religion and Pennywise, NOFX and Rancid and it just took off. It’s just honest music, it’s not like a bunch of dudes in spandex pants, big hair, driving around in limos talking about fucking chicks and doing cocaine, it’s honest blue collar lyrics that connect with kids and I think the world was kind of missing that and it found its place pretty damn quick.
Your last release, ‘Yesterdays’ was a great idea of recording old songs, what was it like revisiting these tracks?
Really cool, it took a lot of pressure off because a Pennywise album is a really difficult thing to do, everyone’s very opinionated, everyone wants their piece of the pie so to speak, that’s what makes a pennywise record a Pennywise record, everybody fighting for what they think is best and what they believe in. ‘Yesterdays’ we already did the fighting on those songs twenty years ago *laughs* so all we had to do was go dig up these tapes and demos and band practises and live shows we played relearn the songs and play ‘em, we actually played a small show in our hometown here and all of our friends shows up and played about six of those songs and it was just so cool seeing all of our friends who hadn’t heard those songs for twenty years singing the lyrics. You know we never put out a record they were basically just demo tapes and live shows is the only way anyone around here even knew these songs and that gave us the idea to go in and record them and we did and we just wanted it to be a cool way to get back in the studio without a lot of pressure from the label or a lot of pressure to have a radio hit or any of that. Sonically we didn’t care, we just went in there and had fun, of course there was a little bit of the usual drunk studio Pennywise drama because it’s always going to happen *laughs* but for the most part we literally got in a room and drank some beer and just played those songs and some of the songs on that record are some of my favourite Pennywise songs of all time and it was pretty awesome to be able to get them out to the public for them to hear it you know?
Does that lead into the possibility of an album of new Pennywise material in the future?
Yeah absolutely, we’re working on stuff right now as a matter of fact I was just driving around in my car singing into my iPhone which is really disgusting because my voice is terrible but yeah its one way I write, I play the music back through my car stereo and then I’ll sing into a recording device and then drive around and yeah… Jim’s got songs, Randy’s got songs, we’re actually using this month to learn how to play ‘About Time’ because we haven’t played all those songs, some of those songs we’ve never played in our lives, so we’ve got to get ready for Down Under to deliver a proper show and at the same time demo out some songs for an upcoming album for which we’re trying to get into the studio as soon as possible but trying to possibly get Bill Stevenson from the Descendents to produce the record so got a couple of scheduling issues and then we’ll see what happens, first we’ve got to write the songs, but it’s definitely what’s on the agenda is a brand new Pennywise album for 2016.
Music has had its ups and downs over the last two decades, has this had any impact on the way that Pennywise makes music?
No absolutely not, I mean this is one of my big pet peeves in music and with punk rock a lot of the bands realise they weren’t making a living, they weren’t getting on the radio or MTV and they try to change their style to try and bring in more fans and change their appearance and try to conform and I just never understood that. When I went to a Ramones show I wanted to see The Ramones, and I didn’t want to see some other band you know? We’ve always stuck by that, and we’ve taken a lot of hits from the critics saying it’s the same old shit and same old deal, nothing new here, and in reality every album we do there really are a lot of different things going on and a lot of nuances but you’d have to be like a real fan to know it. We go to great lengths to make sure that there’s fresh stuff in there but at the same time we’re gonna make sure it sounds like a Pennywise record and I think when you look at bands like NOFX and Rancid and Bad Religion and the list goes on, Bouncing Souls, it’s like the bands that stick to their guns and they don’t try to conform and they don’t try to find what’s hot for the minute they seem to have the longevity and most bands don’t experience and I could name a lot of other bands that tried to jump ship and go and do what’s cool, all of a sudden so and so is playing ska music because ska was big and now pop punk is cool so we’re gonna sound more like Blink 182 but at the end of the day I think it’s all about taking care of your fans and if you have your fans that respect you and enjoy your music then you want to make them happy first and foremost and I think if you can do that you can have a long career and a loyal fan base and that’s what it’s all about, without your fans you’re nothing, you’re just a band playing bars. One minute you’re playing stadiums and selling a million records, the next minute you sell a thousand records and you’re playing at the local bar once every three months and I think that’s what can happen if you’re not careful you know? Number one, give them what they want not what you want, not what the mass media or mass system what’s cool wants, just give your fans what they want and you’ll go alright.
So are there any other bands out there today that you feel are flying the flag that way?
I look at bands like The Bronx, they’ve been around for a while but they’re getting the recognition they deserve especially in Australia, something like that really makes me feel something, it’s just like I don’t know, it’s like Plague Vendor those guys, they’re on Epitaph, they’re doing something new, they’re putting a twist on what’s been done before and sounds really fresh, really cool, I like that. Like when The Transplants came out with their stuff, to me that was fresh and original and wasn’t really trying to copy anybody and it was just a lot of elements that just came out and made you feel something. I just went to see Rise Against last night, they’ve done a good job of keeping it pretty real, the guys in the band are super cool, the music is pretty consistent I mean it’s not like their first album or first couple of albums but they definitely stay true to their roots and although they’ve had huge commercial success, they appreciate their fans, they know what their fans want and they give it to them time after time, so they’re a band that just gets it done you know.
So what I like to do with everyone is get them to look ahead and predict the future, so finish this sentence for me… In 2016 Pennywise will…
put out a new album and come back to Australia and play the new album for our fans as long as there’s plenty of cold beer for us to drink and I’m not talking about Fosters…
PENNYWISE with guests Anti-Flag
Wednesday, September 23: The Tivoli, Brisbane
Thursday, September 24: The Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
Friday, September 25: Panthers, Newcastle
Saturday, September 26: The Roundhouse, Sydney
Monday, September 28: 170 Russell, Melbourne
Wednesday, September 30: HQ, Adelaide
Thursday, October 1: Metropolis, Fremantle
Tickets on sale now
Presented by Destroy All Lines, Chugg Entertainment and Bombshellzine Present
From: Hermosa Beach, CA, USA
Band members: Jim Lindberg – vocals, Fletcher Dragge – guitars, Randy Bradbury – bass, Byron McMackin – drums
Latest release: Yesterdays – (Out Now – Epitaph)
While you’re there, pick up ‘About Time’ too to get ready for the shows!