The other week I sat down with Pennywise guitarist/founding member Fletcher Dragge to discuss… well, just about everything. By now you’ve hopefully already read Part 1 of the interview in which Fletcher holds nothing back regarding Jim’s departure, Zoli, and “All Or Nothing”. Part 2 of this interview is a little less focused, but every bit as intriguing, as Fletcher regales us with tales of dressing room destruction, altercations with LAPD, throwing Fat Mike into drum sets, and the causes and effects of living his punk rock lifestyle. We also talk about Fletcher’s extracurricular musical activities; from producing albums to forming a new band side project with Matt from The Bronx (say what!?). Oh yeah, we also discuss the reasons for the abrupt disappearance of former label mates Deviates at what seemed like the height of their musical careers.
Read it all right here.
I always like to know what the bands I listen to are playing in their iPods and home stereos. What punk albums are you listening to now? Were there any albums in particular that influenced the direction of “All Or Nothing”?
Lately I’ve been listening to Death By Stereo’s album a lot, to tell you the truth. That came out on Viking Funeral and its really awesome. I’m not trying to hype it up during interview time, its just a fucking great record. I don’t really listen to stuff to get inspired when I’m writing other than just the usual stuff I listen to, whether its Black Flag, TSOL, Minor Threat. I mean, every time I hear Minor Threat, I think it’s the best record ever written, its just insanely good.
I just kinda have a plethora of rotating albums in my playlist. It could be anything from Rage Against the Machine to Ice Cube to whatever. When I write music I’m so used to writing Pennywise songs I just pick up the guitar and start playing. But I get inspired by everything. If you put in “Suffer”, if you put in Minor Threat, if you throw in the “Nervous Breakdown” EP that’s just what I love to hear. New bands, sure, I love Rise Against, Only Crime with Bill and Chuck. There are just so many good bands out there.
“The Bronx, I love the Bronx. Most underrated band in the world.”
We toured with them in Australia at the Soundwave Festival and every night, all the members of other bands from Queens of the Stone Age to whoever, were just bombarding their stage. Fucked Up is a great band to see live too. Those guys are really breaking new ground and super cool people as well. Its like a little bit of everything.
Suicidal Tendencies is one of my favorite bands and they were just down in our recording studio in Hermosa, Screaming Leapord Studios, there’s another plug for you. Everything they do is just hardcore. Even 30 years later they’re still blowing up the stage.
For me, I just get inspired by daily lyrics and what’s going on politically or in my life. And musically I just listen to hardcore punk rock for the most part. Throw in some Pantaera in the mix and Rage Against The Machine or Slayer and you get a good stew of inspiration.
A lot of good bands mentioned, but what albums that came out in 2011 are you particularly digging?
The new Rise Against record I really liked. They’re one of the few bands that keep growing as a band. Some people say they’re becoming more commercial, but they’re one of those bands that are so good and so inspirational, and they’re just real dudes. They actually practice what they preach. They might be on the radio but they still give 110% and they’re still the real deal.
As far as the new Authority Zero record, I really liked that record. Once again, we put it out but if you want to know a record I liked, I liked that record a lot. Just a band that gets it as well. They’re doing it cuz the love it. The hay day is gone for most punk rock bands. Rise Against is an exception to the rule. Authority Zero is out there in a fucking van and playing 500 seat nightclubs with Voodoo Glow Skulls touring all over the country, working their asses off and to still put out a record like that, throwing that much passion into it, that’s awesome to hear.
There’s a lot of bands around here, like Local Hate and the STDs. Byron’s brother has a band called Special C and they’re a reggae band. There’s tons of bands that nobody’s going to ever hear and they’re out there putting out split singles and doing what they have to do as far as their scene’s concerned, but its hard to get a record deal. That’s why we started Viking Funeral Records. For bands like Authority Zero and Death By Stereo who are maybe a little too small to be on Epitaph at this point and too big to give up and not put out a record and not have enough financial backing to do it themselves.
We might not make any money, I think I’ve lost a bunch of money on this venture so far, but its still fun to be a part of it. Efrem sent me a text saying, “I’m so fucking stoked you put out our record. You guys are fucking rad.” And that’s what I live for.
“Punk rock, whether it’s having bands in the recording studio for free when then need it, or putting out and producing records, has been what I’m made up of for the last 25 years.”
You used to produce a lot of albums. Are there any bands you’ve got your eye on now?
I would love to work with Special C. They’re not necessarily a punk rock band but they’re a really cool group to work with.
There’s a ton of bands that I’d like to work with, like The Bronx, though they’re not “up and coming.” Local Hate is a really cool local band. I don’t know how many records they’d sell, but they are just punk as fuck. Seriously, punk as fuck.
I could give you a list of established bands that I would love to produce but it’s a 10 to 12 hour a day job. I did all the 98 Mute albums, War And Peace, I did 1208, I did the Deviates records and I did them all for free. Back then you were actually getting royalty checks for album sales so you had spare time to spend doing what you want to do. Getting into the studio for 15 hours to produce a record is almost impossible at this point with everything else I have going on.
“I’m trying to do a side project with Matt from The Bronx. That’s the one I’m really looking forward to producing. We’re gonna be called “Free To The People” and we’re never gonna charge for a show, and we’re never gonna play anything bigger than to 300 people.”
It’s going to be fucking mayhem. We have some ideas going back and forth and to me it would be a cross between Minor Threat and Black Flag type of stuff. He’s down to do it but between life and bands its hard to find the time to do any of that stuff.
There’s a band called Fart Barf, which is a terrible fucking name, but like they say, you hear it and you’re not going to forget that name. But they do this kind of electronic live noise rock type of stuff. I’d like to work with those guys. They’re really cool and they’re not punk by any means, except that they’re doing something whacky. I think it would be cool to do something like that.
There’s a band called Hoist The Colors that are kind of along the lines of Flogging Molly. They’re from El Segundo and they’re really good.
If you come to me with a project from a producer standpoint – I look at being a producer as someone who is going to give you an outside perspective and try to bring ideas sonically, lyrically, part wise, choruses, bridges outros, and that’s what Cameron Webb’s really good at. I think guys that just turn the knobs and say, “That sounded great,” or, “Take it again”… You need somebody who is going to push you and tell you, “This sucks.” And tell you 50 times. And if you don’t listen at that point then I always say, “It’s your record. I wouldn’t to this.” And I’ll say it like 10 times and then if they’re adamant I’ll just say, “Alright cool, keep it.” I mean, you have to fight with your producer at that level but for me I’ll come in and say, “You demoed this way and we’re taking all that away and we’re doing it this way and you’re going to rearrange songs.” I’ve had times where I’ve cut minutes out of songs and said something like, “Don’t get mad but this part is terrible.” You have to do that as a producer.
“I really love producing. I got the new studio and I’ll definitely be getting back in there and doing some stuff with bands. Hopefully local bands cuz that’s what I’ve always been about.”
I’d love to produce a Suicidal album.
The band was just in your studio the other night, right?
Yeah, I didn’t do any production, they were just tracking songs for I think a new record. They’re constantly tracking new songs. Those guys have been good friends of ours and we have a cheap studio with killer equipment. Mike Muir is a smart dude, “I’m not going to do it for 1200 bucks when I could do it for 400.” I just got a check from them for the studio and it came from Mike Muir’s dad. Its funny, I said, “So your dad is doing your band’s accounting for you, that’s pretty funny.”
I’d love to do a TSOL album. I wanted to do the Circle Jerks new record, which part way through the middle of that became Off! – OK, there’s another band I’m listening too. Off’s shit is awesome and Keith Morris is one my favorite people on the planet. You’ve basically got an extension of the “Nervous Breakdown” LP with Off!.
You grew up in the South Bay, where a lot of great bands go their start. What was that like?
It’s a breeding ground. I remember the days I’d see I’d see Black Flag at backyard parties literally every weekend. Seeing Descendents on the strand or at high school dances or shit like that, its been a really cool upbringing. And the influence of punk rock, it was such a homegrown punk rock scene back in those days.
“I went to school with Bill and Milo watching them play in high school and then seeing them play huge sold-out shows today, you can’t really top or explain that experience.”
Looking back now with how big the Descendents are and how many fans they have… In high school Bill would come into the bathroom while I’m taking a piss and be like, “You going to the fucking show tonight?! You better fucking be there you mother fucker!” Screaming at me at the top of his lungs and I’m a freshman going, “Oh, God, I’ll be there! I’ll be there!” Then he’d run of there in a white jumpsuit covered in fish guts cuz he’d been fishing in the barge. I look at him now and think, he’s in one of the biggest punk bands in the world and I remember him playing in literally a park, or the strand for free, and that’s pretty rad to be a part of. I think that’s why our punk rock morals and how we conduct ourselves is pretty much based on what we learned in the South Bay. We’re still friends with all those guys, and they’re all the same humble, normal people. It doesn’t matter how big they got, they’re not rock stars, they’re just normal dudes who grew up on the beach and like to stir it up.
You mentioned producing The Deviates albums. I loved that band. What happened to them? They just vanished.
“Jesus. Jesus happened.”
What does that mean? They got religious and decided to quit punk rock?
Yeah, they got religion. Basically, I don’t even know what happened other than Charlie, the guitar player, wanted to stop playing guitar. I tried to talk to him and I think there was a show that he didn’t want to play anymore and it kind of imploded from there.
I’m not kidding around that they got born again. Charlie and Brian just started going to church and Bible study and hey, whatever, more power to ya. Whatever floats your boat. I know Brian’s mom was really religious and it kind of turned into one of those things where I don’t know if punk rock and Jesus go that well together. Or something. It was pretty strange and a bummer. I put a lot of time and effort into that band. I remember we had some shows where we needed someone to fill in for Jim and Brian had come up and sung with us. Brian and I had even co-written a couple songs together back in the day, before Pennywise. I asked him, “Can you go do this tour?” and he responds,“Oh, I don’t know if I can do that.” And I was like, “Well, why not?” and he’s like, “I can’t go up there and sing “Fuck Authority.” I’m like “Really?” and he says, “It’s not really in my program now, with my church going and everything.”
I told him, “Brian, “Jesus would say Fuck Authority. This is about saying fuck the man. It’s not a bad song it’s saying fuck the bad people of the world. Fuck the corporate power mongers. This is a good thing. Don’t you think Jesus would be down with that?”
He called me back and said, “Ok, I guess I could do that one.” He had to think about it for a couple days.
He never ended up going on the tour but we always had these really weird arguments. He ended up doing merch for us after The Deviates when he was in the full religion mode and we had a lot of debates on stuff. Some of the stuff was mind boggling what he’d say. I’d come up with these weird questions and scenarios like “If a bunch of kids were shipwrecked on an island and never learned about Jesus but grew up worshipping a volleyball named Wilson because they didn’t know anything else but they were all really good people what happens when they die? Do they go to hell or heaven, because they’ve never been baptized or praised the Lord?” And he says, “They go to hell.” And I respond, “Isn’t God supposed to be a nice guy?” And he’s like, “No, if they’ve never accepted Jesus as their savior then they go to hell.” And I’m like, “Do you understand how fucking stupid that sounds?”
“I mean, I’m in to higher power shit but I’m not into organized religion at all.”
There’s been talk about them reuniting. I still keep in touch with Charlie and I think Brian might have moved to Texas. Damien calls me a lot, the bass player. Donnie just called me and asked me if I wanted to work on any songs. They’re all in contact and they’re all normal. They’re not freaks or anything going around speaking the word of the Lord. I think Brian’s mom was really religious so he rebelled against it hardcore with punk rock and then when he got back into it, it was basically like, “Oh, punk rock isn’t very Jesus friendly,” which is bullshit but whatever, to each his own. But I believe that is why they broke up and its been a real tragedy because they could have been one of the biggest punk bands in the world. If he wasn’t doing that shit, he would have been tried out for Jim’s replacement too. People asked, “What about Brian?” and I’m like “No.” He worked for me for a few years as the manager of my restaurant Los Muchachos so between his management duties and his Jesus stuff I was like, “Nah, no try out for Brian.” Love him, but not what we need right now. We need a crazy Hungarian maniac.
Speaking of maniacs. How many dressing rooms have you destroyed?
“Oh me, I’ve destroyed a lot of dressing rooms.”
I think the last one I destroyed was Rage Against The Machine’s dressing room inadvertently at Reading Festival. It happens when its 4:30 in the morning and you’re the only bus left on the property while everybody’s headed off to Leeds. We needed some more alcohol and I knew that they had some left over in that dressing room so we hunted it down. We found their refrigerator full of and then security comes and says we’re not allowed to be in there to which we respond, “Yes, we are.”
“We pushed the refrigerator against the door to barricade it and pushed a little too hard.”
It just broke the wall down and things sorta escalated from there to a free for all of diving through walls and having some fun. So I think we’re not playing Reading for a little while.
Nothing against Rage Against The Machine, they’re one of my favorite bands of all time, but yeah, we’re kinda banned. Our booking agent had sent the big boss at Reading a letter seeing if we could be unbanned saying, “Pennywise will be on their best behavior blah, blah, blah, they apologize and offer to pay for any damages.” And he replied, “Yeah, you know what? I thought about it for 2 minutes. Guess what the answer is.” NOFX, no problem. Pennywise, not so much.
“We’ve been banned from probably 10 festivals in Europe. Been banned from numerous night clubs.”
I know it sounds cliché, bands trashing dressing rooms, but you’re pent up on a bus, you’re at a truck stop, you’re in a hotel room, you’re in a dressing room or you’re on stage. That’s a tour. Every once in a while you go for a walk across the bridge in Amsterdam to the weed shop but you’re kind of like a confined animal in a way. You’re out there for 20 or 30 days and you’re drunk every night and sometimes you just need to let the aggression out. Sometimes that comes in the form of throwing fast ball pitches with oranges at a target across the dressing room and then everything else gets flying like cans of soup and suddenly there’s 40 holes in the wall, windows start breaking, and fire extinguishers come out. It happens in the dressing rooms or in the hotel rooms. You get 5 dudes in a hotel room together at 5 in the morning drunk out of their minds, shit escalates. People are like, “What the fuck?” and you get in trouble for that shit, but its like, Don’t you remember rock ‘n roll? Or let alone, Punk rock? We’re supposed to break shit. We’re supposed to get in trouble with the cops. We’re supposed to start riots at shows. That’s what this is all about.
“At Donnington Festival I smashed up a fucking dressing room and I woke up in the morning to a bill for 9,000 bucks.”
They told me, “We have your money and we’re not releasing it until you sign these papers and authorize the repair expenses.” And I’m like, “I’m not paying 9,000 dollars for a fucking vinyl ikea couch and a mirror.” and they’re like, “Yeah you are.” And I’m like, “Why? Show me the invoices” and they’re like, “Fuck you, we have your band’s money and your merch money so either pay it or…” So we’re banned from that one.
You don’t know how many times I’ve woken up to like a $5,000 bill in a hotel room.
I shot up the seaweed wallpaper in hotel in Japan from a bb-gun war I had with our guitar tech and now there’s like 3000 dents in their special one of a kind wall paper.
They were like, [says in Japanese accent with hands clasped together mimicking a bow] “We need to talk to you downstairs. We have a problem.” And I’m like, “Fuuuck!” They call me pay to play because I come home from tour owing more money than I did when I left. I’m broke and its fucked up.
“I’ll die broke but at least I’ve got some good stories.”
Definitely broken way too much shit in my life. It’s fun.
I saw NOFX play at House Of Blues in Hollywood the other month and Fat Mike announced to the audience that you got kicked out before they even came on stage…
My record time for getting kicked out of a show. Yeah, NOFX is one of my favorite bands of all time, and I was just trying to get backstage with some girl. Fat Mike had given me a laminate but the security guard wouldn’t let the girl with me through and was like “No, go get Fat Mike.” And I’m like, “I’m not going to get the singer of the headlining band right before he’s walking on stage to get a girl backstage. Obviously I have a pass, I’m on the list, I have a laminate.” And he’s like, “Nope.” So I put my hand up in front of him, and said “Come on, Candice, that was her name, you can sit up here.” I mean, I didn’t even touch him and he called the LAPD on me. I just hear, “LAPD.” So I say, “What are you doing?” and he responds, “You assaulted me.” I’m like, “I didn’t fucking touch you.” So, whatever, just one of those me against them things.
“House Of Blues has always been really good to us but was I ejected from the property by LAPD? Yeah.”
It was pretty funny. I was like, “Hey, I don’t know if you guys know this but I play here a lot, all over the country, and I’m probably one of your biggest clients, or whatever you call it.” They didn’t really want to hear it, or even know about it so… It was funny because 3 days later I was back at the show and just rolling around looking at the people who threw me out and it actually escalated a little bit after the show but I made it through the NOFX show and somebody there wrote a letter about me to the booking agent for which I had to do a little bit more repairing but hey, fuck, its punk rock. We’re not out there to sip fucking tea. I’m out there getting smashed and gonna have a good time. If you don’t like it, then too bad.
Here’s an interesting tidbit of information from that show for the readers. Fat Mike had pretended to piss in shots of tequila at SXSW a few years ago, which winded up being a hoax, which was pretty funny.
So I’m just coming off the stage on their last song and I see his lady friend urinating in a cup, and I’m like, “Whoa, the bathroom’s like right over there.” And she says, “No, no, this is for Mike.”
And I’m like “What?” She tells me,“He has to drink this.” He’s into getting a couple little beatings and all that dominatrix type stuff so I’m like, “Oh, I’m gonna go back up on stage for this.” Sure enough, there was not vodka in that cup, it was straight up urine, and she just walks out and gives it to him and he drinks it. He didn’t even say anything about it, it was just part of his duties that night. I’m like, “Fuck! Can I throw him into the drums again?” And she’s all, “Do it now.” I’m like,“Fuck yeah!”
“I snatched Fat Mike up and slammed him through the drums again.”
Afterward, he’s like “Goddammit, Fletcher!” And I’m like, “Your lady told me I could do it. It was an order.” And he’s like, “OK, cool.” And I’m like, “You drank a whole cup of her urine. Awesome!” and he’s like, “Yeah, no one really cares, nobody believes me.” And I’m like, “Well, I fucking believe you, because I saw her fucking pissing in the cup.”
“Fat Mike is one of the last bastions of punk rock. He is a punk rock mother fucker and NOFX is a punk rock fucking band. He’s kinda my hero.”
I think we’re each other’s heroes in a way. We’re not giving a fuck about what people think about us. Having fun doing what we do and keeping the dream alive like a bunch of 14 year old idiots.
In regards to living the punk rock lifestyle, you recently had to cancel some shows due to health issues. Is punk rock starting to catch up to you?
No, that was just bad doctors. They misdiagnosed me, but its still catching up with me. This lifestyle is hard on anybody. You come home, you try and exercise for a couple of weeks and then you go out and sit on a bus on tour and drink beer every single night for a month. You eat shitty food and it is what it is. So that lifestyle definitely takes its toll on people unless you’re one of those guys who are working out every day. When you see them, you’re like “Why are you all in shape and shit?” And they’re like “Well, I don’t drink, I don’t eat meat and I go jogging every day.” I’m like, “Fuck that, I’m hungover and I need to sleep.” So it just depends on what you make of it.
For me that last little hospital scare… I went in there to get checked out cuz I was feeling really bad, and they told me, “You’re pretty close to death. Let’s get you in the PCU and on blood thinners, you have blood clots in your lungs,” which isn’t drinking related, you just either get them or you don’t -something that could happen to anybody. Three days into it I started questioning the doctors a little more and they were like “Let me get the test results and we’ll go over them a little more.” And that’s when it became apparent that it was what they call and “over-read” of a bad cat scan, and within a couple hours I had taken another test and they said, “You know what, we made a mistake. You can go home right now.” I’m like, “You motherfuckers.” I was changing my whole lifestyle. Can’t ride a motorcycle. Can’t get in any barroom fights. I’d bleed to death. Blood thinners are no joke – you bump your head and you’re dead. I was like “Whoa, this is kind of a shock to the system.”
“I was up in Santa Cruz for 3 days and I never turned the tv on. I was just reprogramming my life, thinking I can’t do this, I can’t do that.”
Wow, this is going to be really weird. Going from that to “Put your clothes on and catch the next plane out of here,” I was just like, “You fuckers!”
I’ve definitely got some issues with my health but I’ll still be kicking for a little while. I’ll use that as a wake up call. I went to the gym the last 5 days and that will probably last another 2 more days. There’s always McDonalds on the way home.