Interview: Pennywise

interview by kelli skye


After 15 years of playing punk rock and cranking out 10 albums, Pennywise have earned their place in the spotlight. Hailing from So Cal’s Hermosa Beach, vocalist Jim Lindberg, bassist Randy Bradbury, drummer Byron McMackin, and guitarist Fletcher Dragge are showing no signs of putting on the brakes with their newest Epitaph release, From the Ashes. The title seems fitting, as the album is a rebirth of thoughts after the 9/11 tragedy. Following their album release the band hit the So Cal circuit small venue-style to play two weeks ’ worth of gigs for their fans.

Catching up with them on their second night at the House of Blues in Anaheim proved to be a challenge, as just moments before my interview time Fletcher called an emergency band meeting – doors were shut and locked and there was no getting in. Although they didn’t comment on what the meeting was about, when I was finally allowed to enter the only remaining members of the band were Randy Bradbury and Fletcher Dragge, along with a few of their friends and the Pennywise Tech Guy. Bradbury sat kicked back in a folding chair, and Dragge lay sprawled out over the small leather couch. They seemed to be in good spirits as the guys joked that all questions should only be directed at Dragge.

“Don’t even bother directing questions in any other direction but that way,” Bradbury joked pointing at Dragge. “I’m more inclined to answer in the third-person like, ‘Oh Fletcher likes this,’ or, ‘Oh, Jim wrote about that.’ That sort of thing.” Dragge pulls over a chair for me and then grabs my knee with a serious look. He’s sort of a frightening man – but then a smirk appears through his mountain man beard. “Do you want a serious interview or like a kidding around interview,” he asks.

These things always go better unplanned, so we just dive in. It seems that the average lifespan of a band is only a couple years. Bands break up because they can’t handle each other, they get angry, or the pressure of success or failure drives them apart. So how does a band stay together for 15 years?

“By the skin of our teeth,” Dragge says laughing. “Wow, that’s in interesting question. We’ve all just learned each other’s personalities and we pretty much know what makes the other ones mad. We try to not do it – or do it as little as possible. We do, on some level, try to accommodate each other.”
“ With the exception of me,” Bradbury adds. “Every once in a while it doesn’t work that well and you get mad,” Dragge continues. “We yell a little bit, no punching or anything – and usually by the next day we’re over it. Just a little venting. You vent and accommodate.”

Dragge was quick to add that there are days when he just doesn’t want to play anymore, but points out that at the end of the day the importance
of the message in the music is what keeps Pennywise going.
The Pennywise fan base is massive. Their fans come in various ages, shapes, and colors but bond together over the furious lyrical content and quality punk rock music. Pennywise feels that the same factor that keeps them together as a band, and draws their fans to them.

“It’s our message – that’s the key factor for Pennywise,” Dragge says. “Music is music, but lyrics are important and I think kids really relate to what we write songs about, and what Jim’s thinking. It comes back to everyone really relating to the message. Also I think it’s the fact that we try to treat our fans like equals and we have a lot of respect for them. We want them to feel like more of a part of the band than them just watching some rock stars up on stage because that’s not who we are.”

Pennywise are known for including their fans in their live performances, with sing-along songs like “Stand By Me” and “Bro Hymn.” The audience is invited on stage to sing and dance with the band. Dragge and Bradbury agree that although the band has become successful, they still consider themselves extremely approachable.

“Approachable enough that a guy at our Tower signing the other night told me he wanted to meet Pennywise and he was willing to kick my ass to do it,” Dragge says laughing. “He said, ‘Bitch, I wanna meet fucking Pennywise, do you have a problem with that?’ and I said no, and then he wanted to fight me. He thought about it, but then he ran away. Then some other people beat him up a little while later – the crowd at Tower rat-packed him and I had to stop it. I was on the bottom of the dog pile trying to help the guy.”
Pennywise serve as a major influence for numerous newer punk rock acts. Just as Pennywise looked up to bands like Black Flag, the new wave of punkers look to Pennywise.

“I think that bands naming us as an influence make us feel really old,” Dragge said. “I never even think about that. It’s weird to think that we’re an influence to people, when we were so heavily influenced by Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Circle Jerks. I just think everyone should be influenced by those bands because those are the best punk bands in the world.”

Punk-metal Canadians Sum 41, claim Pennywise heavily influences their music, and they even had a chance to play a heavy version of “Bro Hymn” with their heroes at last year’s Annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas. Dragge still considers Pennywise to be the second generation of punk rock. He trails off as he starts naming the “grandfather” bands that influenced his music.

“Kids need to go back into the roots of punk rock to find out what it’s all about,” he continues. “There’s going to be people saying 10 years from now that they were influenced by Good Charlotte – and maybe that’s getting a little far from the truth of punk rock, and it’s still cool, but kids will need to go further back than that.”

With years of punk rock to look back at, Dragge and Bradbury agree that fans of theirs, who are willing to name Pennywise as an influence, need to pick up two essential punk albums.

“They need to get Minor Threat’s ‘Minor Threat’,” Dragge says without hesitation. “It’s the best album ever. But you can’t really narrow me down to just one. If you told me I had to survive with only one album, I wouldn’t be able to pick just one.”
“Definitely the Adolescents’ self-titled, or the ‘Blue Album’, as it’s referred to,” Bradbury adds. “It’s So Cal punk at its finest.”

After years of venting and accommodating each other, Pennywise press on unafraid and unapologetic about what they present. They feel they’ve accomplished a great amount, but how have they grown as a band?

“Well about 10 inches around the waist,” Dragge laughs. “I don’t know if I’m just hallucinating but it seems like my penis is getting smaller. Maybe it’s just my body getting bigger. For some reason I can’t gain weight in that area. But it was a decent size to begin with so it’s not that big of a tragedy.”

Dragge takes off his trucker hat and places it over his crotch to keep Bradbury and myself from checking him out.

“I don’t think we’ve grown much really,” Dragge continues. “We try to keep the same formula. We have a way to do things and it works in our favor. We don’t want to be the band that changes our sound so drastically that people listen to it and hate it. We want the kids to say, ‘Hey, it sounds like the same old shit.’ If we turn our backs musically on our existing fans, then they’ll turn their backs on us as fans, and we don’t want that. We like to be the same, but add a little salt and pepper in every once in a while. ”

“When I grew up I wanted to play the fastest, most melodic, punk rock you could possibly imagine and if we keep perfecting it we’ll be better,” Bradbury adds. “To change it wouldn’t be fun. Even if there are a hundred people who review the record and say it’s the same old thing, we won’t care because we like it. We’re going to keep playing it and hopefully get better at it.”

The new Pennywise album, ‘From the Ashes’, represents the “same old” Pennywise sound, with powerful messages of hope, loss, sadness, government issues, and so much more.

“From the Ashes symbolizes a type of starting over, and learning lessons from major events like 9/11,” Dragge explains. “Every album we have done is a sign of the times. The older we got, the more political we became because politics started to affect our lives more, and it wasn’t just about a big party every night. The last album was a real attack on government and authority in general, and this album has a melancholy vibe to it because we’ve been talking about this shit ‘til we were blue in the face, and the only people listening are our fans. It’s not like the Senate is listening to Pennywise.”

Even if the government isn’t listening, the fans are soaking up Pennywisdom as the band’s website is continuously flooded with the independent thoughts of their fan base. The lyrical content on the new album gives listeners a lot to think about.

“I want them to listen and walk away pissed off at American policies,” Dragge says. “If they don’t walk away pissed off and start protesting and educating themselves, then there are going to be people that are going to die because some maniac that hates America is going to figure out a way to wipe out five million Americans. Until the American public takes responsibility for what its government is doing overseas, we’re going to be looking at a world of hurt. Hopefully our little bit of babble changes something somewhere along the line. Hopefully a Pennywise fan ends up in office one day and makes a change in the way things are run. That goes for all governments around the world that are fucked up, we don’t just single out America, but we focus on it because we live here.”

Dragge admits he’s read bad reviews on the new album, but remains unaffected.

“The bottom line is that we try to put out the best album we can put out,” Dragge says. “I consider myself more of a Pennywise fan than an actual band member.This album sonically, turned out really well. Song-wise. I’m always into the songs, but sound-wise I’m picky. Darian Rundall did a fantastic job making this album sound great.”
Although 9/11 fueled the fire for the lyrics on From the Ashes, there is another factor that continues to weighs heavy on the hearts of Pennywise.
“I think Jason, our old bass player’s death, was a pretty profound moment,” Dragge offers reluctantly. “It made all the stuff we wrote about, and the stuff Jason wrote about all that more meaningful. Like life is short and live your life to the fullest while you’re here. All that stuff we had been writing for years really got shoved into your face and ‘BOOM’, this is reality, and he’s gone. The words he wrote become twice as meaningful when he was gone. It was a defining moment on how to live and how to take advantage of life because you could be gone tomorrow.”

Though he finds it difficult, Dragge continues to discuss former bassist Jason Trisk, Trisk’s battle with addiction, and struggles to fill the void within the group.

“It was difficult to replace Jason,” Dragge goes on. “Randy was the obvious choice. He had already been playing with us, and him and Jason had been friends. We did think that maybe we shouldn’t have gone on because Jason was such a huge part of the band, but would Jason have wanted us to do that? It was everything we stood for – conquering hardships in our lives, moving forward and not giving up. That was a big part of Jason’s lyrics, and by us calling it quits, it would have been us totally fucking over everything he ever said. So we decided to get through it and move on. We keep playing Jason’s songs and kids are still singing his lyrics, and it makes it even more heartfelt.”

With 15 years of the good, the bad, and the ugly behind them, and a new album to tour on, can fans expect a 20-year Pennywise anniversary?

“I’m into it,” Dragge says. “Basically as long as we’re having fun doing it and not up there faking it, kids are coming to shows, and buying our records then we’ll be there. Will we be around forever? I doubt it, but only because we’re going to have arthritis so bad from playing our instruments so fast. We never try to predict the future; we’ve always just gone with the flow. Right now the future looks good, we have a new album out and we’re happy with it, and we’ll take it from there. Hopefully we ’re here for a while.”