Interview – Pennywise
They’re one of the worlds biggest bands and have been for over 20 years. Emerging from the infamous punk scene that embraced SoCal in the late 80s, Pennywise have been doing the rounds and fucking shit up long before many kids reading this were twinkles in their papas eyes! I spoke to Fletcher Dragge from the band about the past, present and future of Pennywise.
Thanks for talking to us today Fletcher!
Hi, How are you?
I’m pretty good, how are you doing?
Haha yeah, I’m good, pretty hung over!
So first things first. You were here for the Soundwave festival last year. But now with a new album in toe, what can fans expect this time around?
The last time was Soundwave, it was a great tour we had a great time, it was the first time we were able to come down and play with Zoli, our new singer. Getting in front of a crowd of crazy Aussies, it was a big huge festival, with big crowds! But we’re gunna take it back to the nightclubs for this first tour on the new album and I think we’re gunna be coming down in August if I’ve looked at the tour dates correctly. And I guess we can expect another bunch of drunken nights in Australia with a bunch of drunken Australian fans going crazy, that’s what we’re looking at!
All or Nothing is your first album released with Zoli in vocals. How big a part did he/does he play in the writing process?
The whole album I think was a collaboration of everybody doing everything and it’s kinda always the way the Pennywise albums have been written. He kinda had to find his way, it took him a little while to kind of figure out the process of how to write a Pennywise song, you know he’s from Ignite, he used to doing things a different way and we wanted to make sure he wasn’t writing Ignite songs, at the same time we weren’t trying to imitate Jim, we were just trying to create something new that still sounded like Pennywise. So he had a pretty big role, you know, I mean obviously Randy and I have been writing Pennywise songs for awhile, and Byron, and so we were the backbone of the whole process but he was able to come in with a lot of really cool parts and a lot of really cool ideas. I’d say the main thing he bought to the table was his voice and his ability to sing the songs with a lot of passion and that was really the key to having a successful record with a new singer is having who wanted to push the envelope as far as possible. So everybody was involved, everybody had a piece of every song.
There are a lot of reviews and fans saying that ‘All Or Nothing’ is like a new lease on life for Pennywise. Would you tend to agree? Does it feel somewhat offensive that people are saying that as I can only imagine you still hold a sense of pride in your older material.
No, I’m ok with that. I think, you know nobody wants to lose a lead singer especially if they’re in a band that’s accomplished as much as Pennywise has accomplished and especially if the singer is good, and Jim was a great singer, a great songwriter. It just got to a point where he wasn’t happy being in the band, he wanted to stay home and do his own thing and we were obviously disappointed that he left, but it felt like for the last few years, even the last few albums it was pretty apparent Jim didn’t want to be in the band, he threatened to quit quite a few times for different reasons and he just didn’t seem happy. And that’s just not what Pennywise is about, Pennywise is about being positive, being thankful, being grateful for what we have and having a positive out look on the future, so we knew that he was probably going to quit eventually, but we also knew we weren‘t giving up, this is our passion, this is what we do, this is our life. This isn’t a job, we take this seriously and we knew we were going to get another singer and move forward.
So it wasn’t that big of an issue except you know, it’s very scary trying to please fans after 20 years of a lead singer being in the band, it was pretty interesting but I think now it is a new lease on life for Pennywise. I think our fans are hardcore, they know what this band is about, what our music stands for, what our message stands for, we’re about never giving up, we’re about following your own rules, making your own path through life. Whenever there’s an obstacle, knock it down and move forward. Jim leaving the band was a huge obstacle, but we feel like we’ve knocked it down and moved forward and it seems like the fans are responding really positively, the critics are responding really positively and we couldn’t ask for more, that ‘s what we were hoping for, that our fans would stand by us through this, they’ve stood by us through a lot and without them we’re nothing, and we know that! So we had a lot to show them, not necessarily to prove, but we had a lot of work to do to keep it alive and keep the spirit there and I think we did it and I think the fans know that we’re doing this for the right reasons and we’re pretty stoked!
So was there a sense of anxiety or hesitance when it came to releasing ‘All or Nothing’ with it, after all, being your first album released without Jim behind the mic?
It was a mix bag of emotions, you know, you knew you had a guy who didn’t want to be in the band any more and you were always scared he was going to quit, at least for quite a few years, and you’re scared what the future would hold if he quit, so there was a scary moment when he quit, at the same time it was liberating cause we knew we cold get rid of a lot of the problems that we had, like not being able to tour, not being able to write songs the way we wanted to as a band, and a couple of other things that were going on, he feels the same way. There are two sides to every story, but we felt free, like anything was possible. We just knew the fans had to believe it was still Pennywise.
So you never thought at any point after he left Pennywise was over and done with?
We hear people say ‘it’s not the same’, we hear people say ‘it’s not Jim.’ Yeah we know it’s not the same, we know it’s not Jim, but you know, it’s three guys that have been in this band for a long time and the message and the motivation is the same, so it was scary, but at the same time it was a fresh start, we’ve always said ‘tomorrow is a brand new day’ whatever happened today, put it behind you and move forward and that’s what we did.
Do you/the band still have much contact with Jim? Did things end on good terms, or is there any bad blood?
I wouldn’t say good terms, you know, no one talks to him in the band. He’s not someone we’re trying to get away from, we’re feeling really positive with our future and our future with Zoli. It feels like old school Pennywise having someone there that appreciates what we have and appreciates everything we’ve been given, all these things we’ve been given, all these fortunate things that have happened to us because of playing in Pennywise.
But you know, Jim did tell us he’d be staying home with his family and wouldn’t really pursuing anything musically other than just as a hobby, then we come to find out he’s started a band and was working in the studio within days of leaving Pennywise which was a real shock to us. When we heard his songs we thought “Oh well that sounds like Pennywise” and it was even more of a shock when we heard the songs and we were thinking to ourselves “ok how can this be happening?” And then we come to find out he booked a very long, extensive European tour, something we’ve been trying to do for ten years and he wouldn’t allow us to do. It was like a five week tour, you know, and for us it was like a triple slap in the face, cause that’s all we wanted, was to tour and go to all the places where are fans are in the world at least once a year and play for our fans, that’s very important for me, Byron and Randy, but for Jim it was kinda like “well how long do I have to be away from home and my family?” and that was always the excuse, right when he’s done a movie, where he talks about it extensively and quits the band in the movie, ‘The Other F Word’ and then he turns around and books 5 week tour. So we were really taken aback by that and we weren’t happy.
So I guess we kind of felt like it was us that was the problem, he didn’t want to be in a band with us, but he was cool being in a band with three other guys and touring the world and whatever. And when that happens, it’s just the nature of the beast, you put four people in a band for 20 years and put them on a bus for 20 years, you’re bound to have some issues. I mean I respect him for doing what he wanted to do, but it wasn’t something he discussed with us, he actually told us the opposite, he wouldn’t be doing long tours, he wouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff or starting a band that was serious. So there’s a little animosity there but you know, he’s still a huge part of Pennywise, he always will be, he just decided he didn’t want to be part of it anymore [laughs].
It’ll be water under the bridge eventually; we’ll have a beer someday. I mean it’s kinda weird, you live in the same town as a guy, and you have your whole life and you don’t see him, you don’t talk to him, you basically try to avoid each other at this point, which is really strange.
Sounds a little bit tense!
Yeah it’s not too tense, I think we just feel disrespected and he has a different way of looking at it I’m sure. I mean I sat across the table from him and said, “you’re not going to be starting a band and touring or anything, that would be really strange if you’re telling us you’re going to quit because you want to stay with your family and then you start a band and tour” and he said “Oh no no no, I’m not gunna do that!” then he went and did that! So we feel a little bit bummed but like I said, we’re pretty much over it, we’re happy with Zoli, we’re really happy that we can be in a good place. It’s just one of those things that’s just going to take a little time to heal, but like I said, he’s been a friend and an important part of Pennywise for a long time and I’d never take that away from him, so hopefully we’ll get past it eventually.
I think the more we realise we’re being successful with Zoli, the less animosity we have towards the way Jim left the band and we’ll just move forward from here and try to keep it positive!
Ok. Enough of the same monotonous questions you’ve probably been answering all day.
Lets have some fun to finish this off.
If you could have a dream tour what 3 bands/artists would you take on the road with you?
Hah, do they have to be alive?
No dead or alive, whoever you want!
Probably, Pantera, Minor Threat and Black Flag.
If you weren’t in Pennywise or a musician what would you be doing? Are there any other dreams or hobbies you’d pursue.
I got a lot of them. I like testing cars and motorcycles, I like doing tattoos. I don’t know, I’d kinda want to be a doctor, I could be a doctor, it’d be pretty crazy for me to be operating on you…
That’d be interesting…
With the hangover, it would not be cool! Or maybe something with kids, I think they’re an important part of the world that’s neglected, kids are the future and the earlier you get to them and start teaching them the ways of the world, the better off. So something along those lines, one of the three you know! [laughs]
If you had the power to make one band stop forever which band would you choose?
Oh gosh, there’s so many! Wow that’s a tough one, but I think it’d probably have to be Justin Bieber at this point.
And if you had the same power to make one not so well known band bigger which band would you choose?
I’d have to say The Bronx. I think The Bronx, I mean they are pretty big in Australia and do well over there. The rest of the world, they’re doing ok, I think they’re one of the most underrated bands, I think they’re really passionate about their music, they’re just kick ass, and they’re just real dudes and I love those guys and I just want to see more for them, so I’ll give The Bronx that one.
So my last question. With this “new lease on life” and being a band for 23 years if all goes to plan and you’re all still alive do you see Pennywise still being a band in 23 years time?
I never really figured we’d be playing for 23 years. I figured we’d do it until they us to go home, but they haven’t told us to go home yet! We just played the other night in Las Vegas at Punk Rock Bowling with 30 other bands and it felt the same as it did 20 years ago so I think we’ll just keeping doing it until we can’t do it anymore or the fans tell us ‘hey, you shouldn’t be doing it anymore’ [laughs]. It’s not a job it’s a way of life and we couldn’t ask for anything better, I mean travelling the world, hanging out with great people, meeting great people, playing the kind of music we like to play and drinking free beer, it’s pretty much a dream job so we’ll keep doing it as long as we can!
Thanks for talking to me, looking forward to seeing a show when you come down!
Well thank you as well!