When you think of true punk rock, the name Pennywise would spring to mind for a lot of people. The band, who have been around for over twenty years making solid punk rock records and offering energetic live performances, are set to release a new record titled ‘All Or Nothing.’ The significance of the record is that it will be the first release with new vocalist Zoli Teglas, the replacement for the band’s much loved front man Jim Lindberg. KYS had a chat to original member and guitarist Fletcher Dragge to see what the world of Pennywise is like these days.
Some reviews are claiming that the new album, ‘All Or Nothing,’ is up there with some of the band’s finest works, what do you think about this?
I think it probably is, I mean, when you’re in a band it’s not easy to talk about what you think about your albums without sounding egotistical but I’ve always considered myself more of a Pennywise fan than a band member and I think it’s probably my favourite album since the ‘Full Circle/Straight Ahead’ era. It’s one of our better albums and it’s strange to even believe that because Jim’s not in the band and he didn’t write any of the songs, he was a huge song-writing force for Pennywise so for us to make an album that is this good, in my opinion, is pretty interesting. A lot of fans are looking to criticise it, probably, you know, when a band loses a lead singer, the most important part of a band in my opinion, when you lose someone like that you’ve got a lot of people who aren’t willing to take over the reins, with this album we might have proved that it is possible in our case, you know, a lot of band’s have done it, Black Flag did it four times, and Henry Rollins wound up being the most successful Black Flag singer, Dropkick Murphy’s did it, good old AC/DC did it so there are a lot of them out there that have done it and a lot of them out there that have succeeded, Van Halen I guess got bigger with Sammy Hagar even though I prefer David Lee Roth because he’s crazy, but at the end of the day we’re just trying to make music that the fans like and carry on the message that we started with this band. It’s in out nature to do and we’re just happy to be doing it.
Do you think the introduction of a new member revitalised the old band members which in turn made this record turn out so well?
I think so for sure, it’s a combination of things, we saw Jim quitting the band coming a long time ago, there has been a lot of years where that was talked about with him and we really tried everything in our power to keep him in the band so that happening and us knowing that we were going to move forward no matter what, that pushed us and we don’t have something to prove but we knew we had to work hard to make this album good because if it wasn’t it would be death for Pennywise. It’s a big risk you’re taking and that is why the title track and album title is ‘All Or Nothing’ because we are saying we have to give it all right now or just lay down and die. I think that motivated us a lot but having a new singer in there and being able to try different things and utilise his voice, which you know he’s technically one of the best singers in punk rock, that allowed us to really push some boundaries with the record and allowed us to open the lines of communication because nobody really cared about anyone’s feelings, there were no feelings spared, everybody was wide open stating the truth about how they felt about songs and lyrics and drum rolls and guitar leads and it was all out there on the table. It got a little stagnant with Jim and it got to a point where everyone was scared to talk and everyone was scared to speak their mind, including Jim, so when you have that situation stuff is just going to stay in one spot, so the emotions have been freed up and I think that made the album take on a new shape. I don’t think any of us could be happier with it.
Well I saw you guys at Soundwave and you seemed pretty energised to me, how do you maintain that after twenty odd years of playing?
I think it comes back to just doing what you love to do, I think the bands that are passionate about their music and their lifestyles, when they are on stage those are the guys that are feeling it. When you see a band who are not delivering the emotion and are just going through the motions, we’ve all heard that review and seen that band before and you think “why are they doing it?” Jim even said to us that he wasn’t having fun anymore and he was burned out on Pennywise and it wasn’t fair to him or the fans, in my opinion that was happening for a few years and a lot of people will tell you it just seemed like Jim wasn’t there and that is no way to be living. With Zoli he wants to be up there 110% and that makes us feel like damn, he just wants to be up there and isn’t complaining and just wants to give the best show so that reinvigorates us. The reason why we do this is the fans, having them support us, you know, we walked out the at that Soundwave Festival with a new singer for the first time in twenty years, knowing that Australia is one of our biggest markets in the world with some of the best fans in the world so we know we’re on the chopping block, so to see that response and have the pits break out and hear everyone singing Bro Hymn and Fuck Authority full blast it felt so good to know they were behind us. We’re not doing this to get rich and famous, we’ve had our heyday you know, record sales are in the toilet, the music business is shitty these days, we’re doing this because we love it. So we come out there and see that response gives us all the more reason to do it, we’re not slowing down for anybody.
The music industry has changed dramatically since you started so what is like for you to make a living off of music now?
It’s pretty hard, at one point I think we all thought we would retire and live off of royalty cheques thinking that kids were always gonna go down to the local record store and buy our CD but the royalty cheques stopped coming because no one is buying records anymore, they are downloading it on their computers and giving it to their friends and once you have something on your computer or your iPod, you pretty much have it for life, you don’t have to keep buying records over and over again like I do. I’ve probably bought Black Flag ‘No Values’ fifteen times throughout my life but those days are kinda gone so making a living off of record royalties, unless you Bieber or Rihanna, for punk bands it’s a hard road. The only way you can make money is from playing live and there is a million bands trying to get up there and play live because that is where they are making their living. Like I said though, we don’t do this to be rich and famous, I’m making a living and I don’t want to go and get another job, I’m sure I could find a ton of jobs that I could make more money in, I used to be an electrician so I could definitely make more money working nine to five doing electrical work for the rest of my life but I hate doing electrical work and I love playing music so it’s one of those things where we are fortunate enough to still make a living and still have our fans and be up there doing something we love, anyone will tell you that if you have a job you love that is the best gift in the world because then it’s not really a job.
I’m 28 now, when I was a fifteen year old kid, Pennywise was punk music, what do you think fifteen year olds see as punk music now?
I think it depends, there is a lot of really good punk bands out there that are underground and you have to seek it out because when punk rock got real popular for awhile and Epitaph had their heyday and the was a movement going on all around the world that was great but that slowly started to fade away. The record companies started saying “we can’t sign your band to our label because we don’t have any money and we don’t need a small band.” My friend and I started a record label recently called Viking Funeral Records and Death By Stereo just came out on it, we’re trying to find a home for these bands who are too small to be on a label like Epitaph but they are still putting out great music, so I think the kids gotta go out and find this punk rock a lot more instead of expecting it to be on the radio or MTV because it’s not happening. We get some radio because we have been around for twenty years and made a name for ourselves but the underground punk rock scene, like Municipal Waste that are crazy good hardcore bands, The Bronx have been fortunate to have some success but half the world doesn’t know about The Bronx but they should because they are one of the greatest punk bands of all time. You just gotta go out and do the work, these bands might sell a couple of thousand records and never be heard from again. I think the punk scene on that level is really cool, a lot of underground bands playing backyard parties and bars but if you’re just going by commercial radio you’re not gonna find true punk rock in that scenario. I could say Pennywise are true punk rock but we have crossed over to commercial territory so how punk is that to be getting played on the radio? It’s not. But we didn’t change who we are or our music to be on the radio, radio conformed to us but that isn’t going to happen for some garage band these days.
So what does the rest of this year hold for Pennywise?
We are going to be everything that we can, obviously that was another issue with Jim as everyone in the world knows, he didn’t like to tour a lot because he didn’t like to be away from his family, and that really put a hardship on us because we’re a band that was only touring four months a year, we’re not Metallica touring for nine months to two years in a row, we had a pretty lenient schedule as a punk band. But now with a singer that wants to tour it’s pretty much wide open, we’re gonna be doing some shows here around the release of the record in California and Ariznona, then we’re going to Europe for festivals for about a month, then we’re gonna take a months off then come back to Australia probably around the end of August for club shows. Get back into the dirty nightclub which will be awesome. Then we’ll visit your friends the Kiwi’s in New Zealand, then Japan, then a full US tour. So basically our year will be packed with playing old and new songs live and going out and doing what we love to do.