DS Interview: Jim Lindberg on Wraths debut LP, new Pennywise, and remaining a punk rock dad

There comes a time in the life of many, if not most, a punk rock frontman when the tempo starts to slow a little bit, both personally and musically. The midsection starts to expand, the hair starts to grey, the beard moves beyond three-day stubble, and the shirts turn infinitely more flannel. It happens to the best of them, and the best of them do it damn well. Longtime Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg has got other intentions.

On his latest side project, Wraths, Lindberg teamed up with 1208’s Steve McCall and Chris Kranes (also of The Darlings) and Kranes’ Darlings bandmate Andrew Tyler Murphy for a dozen of the most raw, aggressive tracks he’s been a part of in years. The sound hearkens back to the early days of LA or DC hardcore; seminal bands like Dag Nasty and Scream and Dead Kennedys and, of course, Black Flag, have been bandied about in articles and press releases surrounding the Wraths project. “That was a conscious effort,” says Lindberg “We really wanted to be very raw…I think punk rock was meant to be just mic’d up and blasted out. Forget about all the after effects.” The sound is raw, aggressive…and not for everybody, as Lindberg says half-jokingly “my wife is…I wouldn’t say she’s not a fan, but I think she’s ready for me to do my acoustic record!”

Wraths hits hard and fast, as you might expect from a release fronted by Lindberg. But in a style that’s much different than the recording process in his “day job,” Wraths was recorded in effectively two one-day sessions. And yes, that was strictly by design. “It’s basically a live record, and I thought that was a really cool way to do it,” explains Lindberg. Like a lot of bands that helped usher in the glory days of the skate punk era, Pennywise spent a great deal of time crafting and fine-tuning a sound that would become extremely influential in its own right. That fine-tuning has its downside, however. “It really sucks out the immediacy and the realness of the music when you have to do it a hundred times,” says Lindberg, though he’s careful to not step on the toes of his peers. “A lot of people like that, but I just absolutely hate it…Everyone has a way they want to do things, and mine is definitely the exception to the rule.”

Lindberg’s last project, The Black Pacific, came at a time when Lindberg had stepped away from Pennywise after more than two decades fronting the pioneering skate punk band. Wraths, however, is Lindberg’s first side project after rejoining Pennywise, and came about almost by accident. As Lindberg explains: “Steve and Chris played in 1208 together and had been friends for a long time and they hooked up with Drew (Murphy) on the drums, and they probably demoed six or seven songs and asked me if I knew of any singers. When I heard it, I said I’d love to do it, so they graciously accepted my offer.”

Prior to his initial split with Pennywise, the decision to partake in a side project like Wraths may not, necessarily, have gone over well inside the band. “There’s a certain thing that can happen to bands after you’ve been doing it for about twenty years, or eight or nine or ten albums, where you just get in to this thing where it becomes automatic,” explains Lindberg. However, a quarter-century of working together and a vastly different musical landscape have combined to allow Lindberg and his Pennywise bandmates a little more in the way of creative freedom. “Fletcher (Dragge, Pennywise guitarist) did Chaos Delivery Machine, which is a great record…he did that with Jason (Page) and Justin (Thirsk), which is awesome, and he played bass on it, which is out of his wheelhouse…as long as people can be there for (Pennywise) and play shows, why not” do a side project that might breath new life into their main band, Lindberg suggests.

Pennywise will remain busy on the road for the bulk of the remainder of the year, and Lindberg will squeeze a few smaller runs with Wraths into the cracks that his chaotic schedule allows. And while Wraths might be a more aggressive album than Lindberg has been involved with in years, that doesn’t mean the acoustic record isn’t coming down the ‘pike. “I’m glad to have a little reprieve from that before I do that. But I guarantee you that the next time we talk, I’ll be in a flannel with a beard and an acoustic. I’ll just try not to make it suck!”

Check out our full interview with the great Jim Lindberg below, and pick up your copy of Wraths’ debut LP here!

We’ll pick this one up sorta mid-stream, after some pleasantries exchanged surrounding yours truly forgetting that Pennywise was actively on tour in Florida at the time…

Jim Lindberg: Yeah, we’ve got our first show tonight. We’re doing some festivals, and then a couple more next week. Just a quick little run of Florida and up the coast a little bit, then back home.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Is that the preferred way to do it now, particularly with Pennywise? A little bit here and there, and a little bit off?

Yeah, pretty much. In September we might do a full tour of the About Time album that would be a little longer. But we generally try to take breaks, because everyone’s got kids now. Except for Fletcher, of course.

Right! Thanks for taking some time particularly to talk about Wraths while you’re out with Pennywise. I really, really dig the album.

Cool, thank you!

I think you talked to maybe Dave from our site about a year-and-a-half ago when the EP came out, but as a reminder to people as to how Wraths came about, it was primarily Steve (McCall) and Chris (Kranes) coming together and sending you stuff, right? Is that how it went down?

Yeah, Steve and Chris played in 1208 together and had been friends for a long time and they hooked up with Drew (Murphy) on the drums, and they probably demoed six or seven songs and asked me if I knew of any singers. When I heard it, I said I’d love to do it, so they graciously accepted my offer. It all just came really quickly. It was easy to jam with those guys, and it was easy to put lyrics to some of those songs, even though it’s a little bit out of my wheelhouse and what I’m used to. It was a really challenge to put lyrics to some of them because it wasn’t what I was used to. That really got my interest because it wasn’t the same old thing.

Do you think that they were sort of hoping that you’d be the one to volunteer, or do you think they were genuinely hoping that you’d help them find somebody?

That’s a good question and I guess you’d have to ask them, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t call me without thinking I could help them out in some way, whether it was with me singing or finding someone that could do the job. I had had asked him to come and jam with me back when I was doing the Black Pacific, and we’d always wanted to work together. He had a band called Pacino a long time ago that was really, really cool and very different from other stuff that was going on. That’s what I liked about Wraths as well. It definitely stands on its own. It’s not like you listen to it and right away start going ‘oh, they’re just trying to be a skate punk band or a melodic hardcore band.’ It stands on its own pretty much.

Yeah, it’s got a real throwback sound to it; a real late-70’s, early 80’s sound…(comparisons to) bands like Dag Nasty and Dead Kennedys and stuff have been thrown around in press releases and stuff, but it definitely has that kind of vibe. Or a band like Scream or something like that.

That was a conscious effort. We really wanted to be very raw. We went in with Patrick Burkholder at Screaming Leopard Studios and we said “look, we just want to mic and play. We don’t want any time of before or after effects going. We want to keep it as raw as possible.” And most of the songs are first take, if not maybe one extra safety take. It’s basically a live record, and I thought that was a really cool way to do it. It really sucks out the immediacy and the realness of the music when you have to do it a hundred times, or you have to spend so many times making sure the kick drum is syncopated every single time. You can end up sounding like a computer.  A lot of people like that, but I just absolutely hate it. As much as I love Pennywise and our songs, there’s a lot of albums I can’t go back and listen to. I know that they sound better live because of the way that we play, there’s different changes in tempo and things like that; changes in how we approach a song. And when you put it on the grid, man, it just does not relate. I think that’s been a problem with a lot of bands from our era and our genre. We got into this rut where everyone wanted everything to sound perfect and all competing with each other on who could get the biggest guitar sound and whose drums could get perfect syncopation. I think the music suffered. The songs are really great, so that wasn’t a problem. But the recording style, I think, really got away from us. I think punk rock was meant to be just mic’d up and blasted out. Forget about all the after effects.

Was there really a competition between bands to see who had the better sounding records, or was that pressure from labels or outside influences, particularly as the scene got bigger in the mid-90s?

It was all very…what’s the word…tied in to one another. Certain labels had certain studios that they recorded in and got a certain sound from. IT was all kind of incestuous in that way. NOFX recorded with Ryan Greene. All those Fat Wreck Chords bands recorded with Ryan Greene and had that certain sound which I thought was great. A lot of the Epitaph bands recorded at West Beach and we recorded a lot of songs down in Redondo Beach. Everyone kinda had their sound, and there was a little bit of friendly competition, like “look how good we made this sound.” To a certain point, and this is when ProTools was coming out…all of our early stuff was on reel-to-reel and two-inch tape, and then all of a sudden we realized how easy it was to do on ProTools. At the same time, it really computerized it and really sterilized it a lot. A lot of people, especially in my band, are totally going to disagree with that. They like a polished sound. Whether they admit it or not, they do like that sound. And that was definitely an Epitaph thing. Brett and Greg are the ones who really started layering the backing vocals and making the production really good quality because they were stereophiles. They were really into it. They were producers. And they loved bands like ELO and all these bands that have tons of harmonies, which is great. I love all those bands and all that music. But for Wraths, what we’re doing is immediate, and it’s exactly what you’re going to get when you see us live.

Was it all recorded together? I know you did the EP like a year-and-a-half ago, but did the stuff that’s not on the EP come more recently than that?

Yeah, there were basically just two sessions did exactly the same way. When we had six more songs, we went in and did the exact same thing with the exact same person  producing, Patrick, and all the same equipment. We just wanted it to really jive with what we did before so it sounded cohesive. So it was two different sessions, but it was the same thing: we just plugged in, played, and got out of there.

And then you guys decided to put this one out on vinyl through Bird Attack as a small release this time around.

Yeah. That kinda played into it as well. More and more, the longer I’m doing this, the less hype that I like to do for this type of music, in the sense that I look at it like these days, you just put it out there and people will find it a million different ways now. You don’t have to do four months of advance marketing and pre-order and pre-release stuff to whet peoples’ appetites. I think, when I see something that’s out that I think I might like, I want to be able to get it now or else I’m just going to move on. If I have to hear about something thirty times and be baited into it, by the time it finally gets here I could care less. I’ve been wanting with the next Pennywise record to just record it and put it out right away, like ‘here it is, go get it!’ But everyone’s like “you’re crazy, we’re not Beyonce, we can’t do that.” Be it’s not being Beyonce, it’s just having it be a little less hyped and a little more immediate, so that when people want the music, they can go out and get it.

Well at some level, you guys sorta did that with…shit, the one that came out just through MySpace at first, Reason To Believe, right?

Yes, it did come out like that, kind of, but that was like the epitome of a release that was…they hype part in that it was given away for free and that we were doing it through a label like MySpace Records. The cool part was that people were going to be able to download it for free and stuff like that. But I think it almost backfired on us because it seemed like it was kind of a gimmick to get people to buy it. To me, that time and that album right there is when we pretty much lost our way in how to do things. That was kind of the beginning of me having to take a break, because I was like, “this is not how I want to do things. The way we record is so different.” I’m not at all ragging on the guys in Pennywise. Everyone has a way they want to do things, and mine is definitely the exception to the rule, because the guys in Pennywise, NOFX and Bad Religion all want to record that way. They want to go in and fine-tune everything and make it sound as amazing as possible, and that’s great. But there’s another side and that’s ‘let’s just go in and keep it as raw as possible.” So hopefully we’ll have a compromise on the next record, but I was just really, really stoked with how we did this Wraths project. It was so easy. It was really quick, one take of every song. We did the whole album, basically, in two days.

That’s so cool.

Yeah! It’s almost a demo. It’s very organic, to use a hippie word.

Did the writing process take very long at all, particularly after the first batch of six or seven songs that they sent you? How much of the newer stuff was written together and bouncing ideas back and forth, or did you just go into a writing room and hammer them all out together?

This is what I love about this one, about Wraths, is that they came to me each time with the songs almost fully formed. The songs where I wrote the lyrics and the melody lines, I had to bend to what they were doing, which is very different from what I’ve done before. I usually write a progression on guitar and then write vocals over that, or Fletcher will write a progression on guitar and I’ll write vocals over that. With this, the music was already finished and I just had to work the vocals in to that. Same thing with the next batch, they had all these jams that they demoed out and I just had to make it work. But also, Steve did almost all of it on three or four of the the second-half songs. He wrote “I’m A Target” and “Punch Drunk” and I think another one all the way through. It’s cool to have that, and it’s definitely a different thing than what I’m used to.

Obviously the lyrics are probably a little more aggressive to match the music; do you find it just as easy as it’s ever been to tap into that sort of pissed-off, aggressive songwriting style still?

Yeah, you know, there’s enough going on in the world and in society at large and dealing with life that there’s stuff to be pissed off about. I don’t walk around pissed off, but if someone gives me a chord progression that sounds pissed off, that sounds like Black Flag, I’m going to write something that can expunge those demons for me. You can hear it in the songs. The last song, “In Control,” is a perfect example. It’s got this slow intro and then it just explodes into this raging hardcore, and it’s like, what are you going to write about on top of that? You’re not going to write about what a nice day it is outside! (*both laugh*) You’re going to write about that guy at the grocery store that pissed you off and you wanted to rip his head off but you can’t so you just have to stand behind him and steam. So that’s kinda what I did on some of the songs. There’s another song, “Back Of The Line,” which is based on how the working class and the middle class has to always be in the back of the line to the 1%. That frustration that we all have of working for the paycheck while knowing damn well that the extremely wealthy in this country are getting huge breaks and shelters around the planet and how frustrating that can be. You’re just working to pay for gas and pay the rent. It’s a rigged system. So when I hear that riff come from Steve’s guitar, I know exactly what I want to write about, you know? That’s what we all loved about hardcore growing up. That, man, you’ve got those aggressions and frustrations that you’ve got to let out somehow and what a better way to do it than in the slam pit instead of driving your car into a wall.

We talked a little bit about the throwback sound and the early hardcore influence that’s very apparent on the record. There’s not a whole lot of bands out there, particularly younger bands, that are pulling influence from the Black Flags and the Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks and bands like that. Is it sort of weird that seems to have gone away, and that it takes a project like this to being that sound and that aggression back a little bit?

Yeah, you know, I think the second wave of punk rock had a huge effect on a lot of people out there. I guess it had an effect on the charts as well with Offspring and Green Day. And the Descendents were a huge part of that as well. But basically, a lot of pop punk was the Beatles played with distortion. Same with the Ramones. Black Flag was really a band that, I believe, played completely different from everyone else. The Sex Pistols, my god…Sex Pistols and the Ramones , their chord progression are the same as the Beatles. They’re pop songs. They’re great songs, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just distortion and velocity added to a Beatles chord progression. Black Flag sounded nothing like that. Their progressions had nothing to do with the Beatles. I’d say, they’re more based in jazz progressions. And they were just so explosive. And the riffs! It almost more like Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. And Steve does that a lot too. A lot of our songs, as you can see, are just a riff, you know? It’s not a chord progression, it’s just him playing some cool riff and then we come in and go from there. I definitely can see how a lot of the punk rock stuff that became pop, whether Green Day or the Offspring or whatever, a lot of people just tried to add to that, which is great. Pennywise did that too. But it is kinda strange to see that not more bands broke off from Black Flag and Dead Kennedys.

You mention the riffs, and that’s I think exactly what makes this record sound like an older hardcore record. Songs like “Oh God,” or “Back Of The Line,” the riffs that carry those songs are real throwback riffs that you don’t hear in younger bands, at least in the last ten or fifteen years or whatever.

Yeah. Blame the Ramones! Blame Green Day! (*both laugh*) And don’t get me wrong, I love that type of music, by far. I’m a huge fan of all those bands. But there’s room for both, too. I definitely wanted to be involved with something that was on the other side. At a certain point, when you’ve written how many albums and songs in a certain style, that’s why you see people trying different things. Like, let’s give something else a shot. I can’t change my voice and the way it sounds. A lot of people, when I did the Black Pacific album, just said “oh, it sounds like Pennywise.” I don’t know what people expected to hear. Was I supposed to start singing in a baritone? Or singing falsetto or something? I have a way of singing and a way of writing. So to have someone else have a completely different style like Steve does, it forced me to alter what I’m doing a bit, and I think that helps.

I was going to talk about your voice…I know that people said that about Black Pacific, do you get people saying that about Wraths too? That it sounds like Black Pacific or Pennywise again?

I haven’t heard one person say that. I think for once…I try not to read the message boards or the comments, because I think you’re getting a certain character of person who just wants to give you shit. But as far as my friends and the different people I’ve played it for, their opinions are saying that it’s different, and that’s a good thing. I know it’s not for everyone. My wife is…I wouldn’t say she’s not a fan, but I think she’s ready for me to do my acoustic record! (*both laugh*) To play something nice and sweet for everyone. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but I’ve been stoked to have it come my way.

It’s funny you mention that because I was thinking the other day that you’re one of the few guys that hasn’t grown a beard and put on a flannel and picked up a Martin acoustic guitar and written that album, you know? Which is cool, and I love all those guys that do it…Joey Cape and Chuck Ragan and those guys. But I was thinking that you’re one of the only guys, particularly as a frontman, that put out an album of harder music than you have in a long time.

Yeah, I know, that is true! And it is kinda funny, because trust me, I have a bunch of acoustic songs, and I’m pretty sure everyone who plays music does, because when you grab a bottle of wine for the weekend barbeque, the acoustic is sure to come out and it turns into a Creedence Clearwater Revival commercial! (*both laugh*) You know, strumming in the backyard! But that’s why I was really stoked when this thing came around. I was like I know that if I do that, so many people are going to be like ‘oh, here we go, Jim is next.” So I’m glad to have a little reprieve from that before I do that. But I guarantee you that the next time we talk, I’ll be in a flannel with a beard and an acoustic. I’ll just try not to make it suck!

Well, I have a beard and I’m wearing a flannel right now, so who will I be to judge…

(*both laugh*) So you’re already corrupted!

Exactly. A long time ago. I think when you have a kid, like you’ve said your wife’s not necessarily into it…what do the girls thing about the Wraths project? Or do they not think about the Wraths project?

Umm…the thing is, I’m not trying to raise a little punk rock kid. I’m not going to send them into Hot Topic and say “you’ve gotta look punk.” I’m totally the opposite of that. I’m not trying to prove to anyone how punk I am. Anyone who saw the documentary knows that. I drove a minivan for years, I go to the school, I try to keep a low profile, because my public profile is not really conducive to responsible parenting. They definitely have their own thing. They like the same music that every seventeen or twelve year old likes. They like popular music, and I’m not going to be like “listen to this Youth Of Today album, it’s amazing!” They’re not 14 year old boys in 1983. At a certain point, I definitely want to share with them…and I already do…but share with them what my songs are about and why I wrote different things. But at this point, they’ve gotta be kids, man. You can’t force hardcore down peoples’ throats, they want to listen to Taylor Swift. But they love the Ramones. They love Green Day. I took them on tour with the Offspring and they loved that. They love pop punk, they love anything on KROQ. I’ve taken them to the Weenie Roast and Coachella and things like that. I think they missed the boat on hardcore! (*both laugh*)

Yeah, well, I feel like there’s a whole generation that’s missed the boat on hardcore.

I think young boys can still get into it. It’s aggro, and young boys like to run around in circles.

Maybe it’s where I live in suburbia now, but there doesn’t seem to be much at all going on…which is depressing… Anyway, given the politics in Pennywise now, and we don’t have to go in to that part, but do you think that it’s easier now for you to do a project like Wraths or like Black Pacific now based not only on where the music industry is but on where the band itself is now? Like if you hadn’t taken that break when you did, do you think this project would go over as well as it has?

Yeah…I think it was time. There’s a certain thing that can happen to bands after you’ve been doing it for about twenty years, or eight or nine or ten albums, where you just get in to this thing where it becomes automatic. You rearrange the words or the melodies, or maybe on your tenth album you a little flanger on the guitar and you think you’ve…

Reinvented the wheel…

Reinvented the wheel, yeah! But you haven’t, you’ve just added a guitar pedal effect to your song. And I think a lot of bands get in to that rut. They can still produce really good stuff, but it’s just the next Bad Religion album. And the last Bad Religion album was great, but is it anything really different from No Control? Not at all. It’s got different words, it’s got great melodies. It’s got awesome guitar parts, just like all the other albums. SO what do you do at that point after twenty albums in order to keep it fresh. No one has the answer to that question, so at a certain point, you start going ‘let’s start doing some album shows, let’s rebuild some of the past glory a little bit, let’s do some things when we play live that will stoke out our fans.’ Because, I’m not sure how many people would have turned up to see the Ramones play the last record they recorded, but all of them would have shown up to see Road To Ruin played in its entirety. That’s just a fact of nature.

So having little side projects…Fletcher did Chaos Delivery Machine, which is a great record…he did that with Jason (Page) and Justin (Thirsk), which is awesome, and he played bass on it. That’s totally out of his wheelhouse, so he can just sit there and play his part. Although I’m sure he tried to get his way as much as possible! (*both laugh*) And drove Justin crazy in the process, but they put out a really great record! And that was good for both of us, because right when he was doing that, and then right after I started doing Wraths, it’s right when we were going to be under the pressure to put out some new stuff and I just don’t think we were ready. You can’t force it. This is what it calls for…the blueprint of how to be a skate punk band in 2016. So it’s kind of liberating to be out of that system. To say “hey, when we’re ready to do some songs, we’re going to do it, but if someone’s got a cool side project they want to be a part of, go for it.” As long as we can still be there for the band and play shows, then why not? So I think it’s been a good thing for the band, by far.

Is the goal to hopefully take Wraths out on the road for a week or two here and there like you do with Pennywise? Or to just kinda stick to California and the West Coast?

We had an offer to do some shows with TSOL that I couldn’t do because I was busy with Pennywise stuff, but if something like that comes up, to do a support run that I could fit in with my already ridiculous schedule, I of course would do it. Right now, the plan is to do some one-offs in Southern California, and whatever we can get as close by… I mean, if something comes up and they want us to go play Groezrock, we would go do it. But right now Pennywise is pretty stacked up for the rest of the year, so it’s going to have to be in between. Luckily, the guys are really cool with it. They have different things they’re doing as well.

Yeah, I hope to see The Darlings on the road again soon. I really, really like that band.

Yeah, they’re great.

I  saw them a few times on a big tour they did with Face To Face a few years back, and I totally fell in love with them then. Buddy is a hell of a songwriter.

Yeah he is!

They don’t get the kind of credit that they should in my opinion.

You know what? They have a really cool Social Distortion vibe, and if they could have been taken under their wing, or similar, I think it would have helped them out a lot. It is difficult. They’ve written some great songs, and I think they’ll keep plugging away. That last record is really good. But it’s tough these days. There’s so many styles of music, so many bands, so many record labels, so many YouTube videos. I’d hate to be starting out right now. Some people say it’s a great time to start, but there’s a lot of challenges out there that new bands face.

Do you find yourself even in a position to offer advice nowadays to younger bands, or is the game so much different that it’s almost not even comparable (to when Pennywise started)?

I’ve been asked by so many people to help out, and I’ve tried to help out certain bands that I really, really believed in and thought would be great only to have the door slammed in my face. People have said “hey, Jim, we’re glad you like it, but we’re not feeling it.” I guess I’m not the right person for that! I even tried to start a label with Vans. We did Vans Records. We had this band that was called Western Waste that was so fucking good. I think you can still get their record out there. It was such a good record, it sounded like Rise Against before Rise Against. It was just as Rise Against was coming out and I really loved that band. It was kinda crushing for the local punk scene to just slam it. They said it was terrible. Then the thing with Vans didn’t work out. It was so disheartening. Similar to that band is The Darlings. They’re a really great band and they don’t get the respect they deserve. It’s impossible to predict that.

So whenever I give people advice, all I can say is you’ve gotta be constantly writing and constantly playing, and your audience is going to find you. If it was meant to be, the audience will find you. You’ve got to have a lot of great timing and great luck. And a lot of other bands get by on just having a great manager who shoves you down everyone’s throat. There’s a couple songs I’ve heard on the radio, and I’m like, this is obviously who’s tried to write a song that sounds just like Mumford & Sons, and they came up with a ridiculously hooky chorus, and it sounds so hollow and lame, but they’ve got a management company that thought they heard a hit and they’re just gonna push it down our throats all day long, until it makes you think it was a hit song. But it’s because they have a manager or a record label that leveraged all their other hit bands… I hate to sound bitter about the industry, but when there’s bands that don’t get the respect they deserve, it’s disheartening.

 


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