There are a handful of bands over the past couple decades who have been responsible for introducing countless people into the world of punk rock. Bands like Bad Religion, Black Flag, The Offspring, Blink-182, Green Day, and of course, Pennywise. Celebrating their 25th year as a band in 2013, the punk rock veterans now find themselves back with original singer, Jim Lindberg, as well a new release, ‘Yesterdays’. We spoke with bassist Randy Bradbury about the new release and how it feels to have the gang back together.
How was this year’s Soundwave Festival for you guys?
We’ve done it two or three times now and it’s always been the most well-run festival we’ve done. They’ve got it together, great handlers, great people and the crowds are always insane. You Aussies love us and we love it down there, so last time was pretty awesome!
I actually caught your set at the Melbourne date.
Ah the Melbourne one, where Fletcher broke his guitar? Yeah, that was interesting! [laughs]
Yeah, it was. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but some of the songs on ‘Yesterdays’ were written Jason (Thirsk)?
Yeah, there’s a handful of them on there, about five or so I think.
Obviously, you’re excited for the fans to hear these songs that he played a big role in.
He had a huge part in writing the first album, ‘Unknown Road’ and ‘About Time’, as he was a major contributor to the band. With these songs, I’ve only ever heard the band talk about them, and every once in a while you start throwing around, ‘Why don’t we play that one? Why didn’t we play this one?’ So over the years we’ve always talked about doing it, but nothing happened. We were talking about putting together a box set for our twenty-five year anniversary that never happened but when searching through all the tapes and CDs we found an old cassette with all these songs on it with Jason singing them. They were great, they’re a little bit different and I can see why they didn’t play them at the time. They didn’t really sit on the first album, but they were so good. It was our twenty fifth anniversary, Jim [Lindberg] just came back to the band, and we love playing homage to Jason as he did play such a big role in the band. We just thought it was perfect to start over again with Jim but go back to when it was fresh and new and fun. With all these older songs, we figured we’d just go into the studio, knock them down quickly, do it like we did back in the day and just keep it fun and uplifting. It was just the perfect storm for us to put out this record.
After streaming the album, I noticed that this is more laid back and far less political than your later material.
Like I said, Jason would write a lot of the stuff. One of the songs on there, ‘She’s A Winner’ is about his girlfriend at the time. Then there’s a song about a local cop that got caught trying to take advantage of a young girl and he just wrote a song about that. He also wrote ‘Thanksgiving’, which is about ‘think about what you have, not what you have not’ and that’s a pretty positive message. We wouldn’t really do these themes now so much. These songs are a little more bouncy and have a different feel to them as well. So we don’t have to worry about being edgy, or aggressive or tell people to go start a revolution, although there are a couple songs on there like that. [laughs].
Wouldn’t be Pennywise without them man. How has the chemistry between everyone been now that Jim is back in the band and writing again? Does it feel like the old days again?
Yeah, absolutely! That’s exactly what it’s like. Everyone just really needed to talk. At some point, in this long career, people just didn’t talk about things that needed to be talked about. Jim was gone for a while, and Fletcher and him ran into each other and they went and had a beer and talked it all out. That’s all they had to do. Everyone then realised that Pennywise is one of the most important things that we all have going. It’s just too important to let it go. It meant too much to the fans, just with the lyrics, the uplifting and overcoming sense of it all, and it just didn’t seem the way that the band should go out on. So we all mended our differences and then the first time that Jim showed up back to practice, it was like ‘Wow!’ It felt exactly like it used to.
That’s great to hear. Did Zoli’s (Télgás, Ignite) time in the band change how you guys approached writing and recording, or did it remain the same?
Before Fletcher, Byron and I got Zoli in the band, we never wanted Jim to leave the band you know? He was the singer of Pennywise! We were devastated. We have this stubbornness, this survival instinct where we just have to go on. We didn’t think if it was right or wrong, we just had to keep them moving. So Fletcher and I did a lot of writing on ‘All or Nothing’, and then we got Zoli to come in and sing it. It was kinda like he was just going with the flow, but we wanted him to sing like he was in Pennywise, not like he was in Ignite. So for us, we tried to approach it the same way, but for him it was probably frustrating. Because in Ignite he can do so much more crazy stuff. All that said, he’s back in Ignite and they’re touring Europe now and we’ve got Jim back, so I think in the end, everyone learned something. Which is funny, considering what Jason’s song ‘Thanksgiving’ said, ‘think about what you have, not what you have not’ and that’s true for us now. So I think it was a good experience for all of us.
But how do you view the songs that you wrote when Zoli was a part of the band?
Unfortunately, for me, it’s just gonna be left to what it is. I think we just have to leave that album as just something that we did without Jim. I don’t know if we’re ever gonna play those songs, ever. Those songs are the ones that Zoli sang, so I think we just tried to recapture what we had before the band broke up and then just move forward with Jim. Because I think that’s the way we need to do it. It’ll create a positive atmosphere and more of a bonding atmosphere for us as a band. People can enjoy that record all they want, but I don’t think we’re gonna play it.
You guys always seem to play a range of covers in your sets. Is that you guys throwing a Pennywise twist on them or laying homage to those artists and bands?
Yeah there’s that for sure. We always like to throw it back to Black Flag or the Descendants, or bands that influenced us. But when we’re playing a show we’re trying to create a vibe and an atmosphere, so we want people to have fun. So it’s fun to throw in a cover now and then to make it more fun or chaotic or whatever. For us, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Playing something that we didn’t write but something that we like and listen to outside of Pennywise.
I especially love your cover of ‘Land Down Under’, that is fantastic.
Yeah, that is a special for you Aussies! Because we’re from Southern California, the vibe is so similar to Australia. It’s like a beach culture, just like how our lives are over here.
Finally, I know it’s a very personal song for you guys surrounding Jason, but do you ever got tired of ending your sets with ‘Bro Hymn?
I never get tired of it. It just always seems like the right thing to do. It’s like putting the cherry on top of your ice cream, it just has to be. In our whole career, we only did that one time and it just didn’t seem like we were done, like we gotta go back out and play ‘Bro Hymn’ [laughs]. You know, I still get chills when I hear that song so I never get tired of it, oddly enough. I mean I don’t even know what to play after that song, I don’t see how we could top that and it always feels right to end with ‘Bro Hymn’.
‘Yesterdays’ is out July 11 via Epitaph Records