Californian punk rockers Pennywise have been one of the most successful and hardest touring live acts of the genre over the past two decades. Their tenth studio record All Or Nothing, a milestone for the band, shows the latest line up of Pennywise in full force and has been touted as the album which defines their career. Before Australians get to see Pennywise unleash their 2012 live show on them this August, Fletcher Dragge has a chat with me about how things have been going since the departure of original vocalist Jim Lindberg.
Thanks so much for speaking with me Fletcher, how are you?
Good, how are you?
Not too bad! How’s your day been?
I just did…I think you’re my sixth interview, back to back, so it’s kind of busy!
Well let’s get stuck into things! It’s so good to be talking with you, not only about the upcoming Pennywise tour, but also about the band’s 10th full-length album! I remember being introduced to the band when Full Circle came out when I was a kid and now here we are in 2012, with All Or Nothing. Time goes by quick, huh?
[Laughs] Yes! It’s been awhile!
How’s the band feeling now it’s been circulating for a few months?
We’re feeling really good about it. I mean, we were feeling good about it before it as finished; we knew we had something that was better than anything we’d done in a little while. I think, by the time we’d gotten it done, we were definitely feeling like we had accomplished what we’d set out to do. Obviously, with losing Jim [Lindberg] and having a new singer come aboard, it was a scary situation. I mean, Randy [Bradbury] and I had been writing songs for pretty much 20 years, so it wasn’t like we were scared or we thought we couldn’t write a Pennywise album, it was just watching it all come together and the hardships of writing the album and bringing Zoli [Téglás] in. We knew we’d done our part and then we just waited for the fans to respond and they responded really positively. We couldn’t be happier with where we’re at, right now.
I guess, at this point in the band’s career, you’ll all have been through the motions of recording and releasing an album many times before. Considering that All Or Nothing is such a milestone of an album for the band, was there any refreshed feelings of nervousness and/or excitement?
Yeah, it was a mixed bag of emotions, you know? Recording the record was definitely volatile; Zoli’s really outspoken, he’s an alpha male and he’s come into our band and at times, he was very vocal about what he didn’t like about songs. That was cool, but it was also hilarious, because he was telling us what he didn’t like about Pennywise songs and we’d be like, ‘Hey! We’ve been writing these songs for 24 years, so why don’t we tell you what we like and don’t like’. It was actually refreshing to have that fight, you know? Everyone brought their opinions to the table and it definitely created an environment, but it was what we needed. We’d become so complacent, in a way, with Jim; we’d had so many other issues with the band that we’d lost the fight when you wanted to comment on a part of a song or how to make a song better. It just wouldn’t go anywhere and it was like you kind of gave up a little bit.
With Zoli there, it reinvigorated everybody and people were able to speak their mind more freely, because we weren’t scared that Zoli was going to quit the band. We have more in common, I think, and Zoli at the same time was very verbal. He wanted to do things his way because he is now a part of the band and he has to play in it, something that we had to respect as well; after it was all said and done, we sat back and said, ‘Okay, everyone has something on this album. Everybody has contributed something; let’s see what happens now’. The response has been overwhelmingly good; people are saying that this is the best stuff we’ve done in ten years and that’s a huge compliment. Jim was great and is one of the greatest singers in punk rock history, in my opinion, but Zoli definitely stepped up to the plate there, you know?
I would assume that any band who reaches this point in career could benefit from this reinvigoration and this kick up the ass, I guess?
Yeah I agree; I don’t know about people saying ‘Jim quitting was the best thing that’s ever happened to you guys because you can feel that he isn’t there anymore’… We definitely knew that Jim was ready to quit the band for quite some time for different reasons; we knew he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy touring and he wasn’t happy in the studio. He even said that the last studio recording we did was the most miserable experience of his life and I was like, ‘Wow, I had a pretty good time!’, so I don’t even know where that came from! I think it came from us trying to push him, in saying, ‘This song needs a chorus’ or ‘This song needs this’ or ‘We need to work harder’. He would just say, ‘That’s just the way the song goes and that’s the way I wrote it and this is how it’s going on the album’. When you get to places like that, where there’s no collaboration, that’s when bad shit starts happening.
Having him leave was very difficult but at the same time, it’s reinvigorating and it’s very refreshing to be onstage with somebody who wants to be there and wants to give 110% and wants to be in the studio process and really wants to be a part of this band. Now we have someone who’s really, really grateful for everything we get as opposed to Jim, who was kind of jaded and over it. Which is fine, hey more power to you, do whatever you want to do. I can’t say that we’re happy how it ended and we’re not happy he left the band, but in hindsight, we’re looking back and saying, ‘This was a good thing, with Zoli’. We’re pretty stoked.
For sure. In terms of the band’s relationship with the loyal Pennywise fan base, there would only have been so much time before this bad energy started to come through in terms of live gigs, where they would pick up on it.
Yeah I agree, I think it was noticeable. For me, I go out and I play and leave all the fighting and whatever is going on behind the scenes; I let that go and I go out there and do my thing for an hour, I don’t care what arguments we’re having or what the vibe is. I could definitely feel that a lot of the time, Jim didn’t want to be there. He would show up 10 minutes before the show and leave five minutes after the show and go back to the hotel and he wasn’t really hanging out with the group; when that starts happening, things aren’t going good. It didn’t matter what we tried, he was just done with it, he was burned out. He said he was burned out on Pennywise and that he needed to make and break with it, well that make and break wound up with him leaving! We’re sad to see him go, but we’re happy our fans are embracing us. It’s difficult for the fans to give us a chance, but we’re really appreciative and we’re really stoked that they are giving us a chance.
Pennywise is going to be coming back to Australia in August.The last time you guys were here for Soundwave, they were some pretty hectic sets; I would imagine a club tour would be aiming at reigniting this sort of vibe?
For sure. We were coming to Australia for the first time with Zoli and we didn’t know what to expect and the fans treated us with respect and they came out and they went just as crazy as they would have done with Jim. That blew our minds, that kind of support we go for the Aussie fans, was just remarkable. Now, I think when you get into a club that holds 1000 people, you’ve got a really focused energy and those people have tried so hard to get their tickets or they really want to be there and I think, because there’s not 50 bands playing, it’s just one night of mayhem. I think we’re going to come in way more turned up; the volume is going to be full-blast, you know. It’s going to be very drunk, I’m assuming, and it’s just going to be a good night of mayhem, just a party! That’s how we always try to do it, just to make everyone feel a part of Pennywise, because they are. Without our fans, we’re nothing.
Considering you’ve been playing these shows all over the world for so long, how have you found Australian heavy rock fans to be in comparison to some of the others?
I’ve found the Australian crowds to be some of the best in the world! They have the most fun; obviously, you guys speak English, so it’s easy for us to relate and I think we have a lot in common. We come from California, we all grew up surfing and skateboarding and you know, Australia’s a very water-based country; we all feel very at home there and we feel that Australia has some of the rowdiest crowds! The first tour we did in Australia, the security force on the first night of the tour quit! They quit the entire tour and gear got stolen and for the rest of the entire Australian tour, we had no security! We had the booking agent doing stage security and it was complete mayhem! It was completely out of control!
That’s ridiculous! But rock on, I suppose! Well we’re being wrapped up now, so thanks once again for the chat Fletcher. I know plenty of people are keen to see you again, so best of luck with it all!
Pennywise will be touring Australia with Menzingers and Sharks. Visit www.pennywisdom.com for more information.