You already know that Jim Lindberg, former front man of seminal punk outfit Pennywise, left the band last August. You already know that Pennywise found his replacement in Ignite vocalist Zoli Teglas and are currently working on a new album. You also probably know about the brawl that went down between a couple Pennywise members and a fellow band on this summer’s Warped Tour. You know about these things because you’ve read the press releases, or variations of them, fed to you by PR teams. But you only know what they want you to know. Unfortunately, “official statements” are usually nothing more than watered down marketing messages spun up by publicists and designed to suppress controversy and promote a positive public image. Well, that wasn’t good enough for us. We wanted the truth about why in the hell Lindberg would just up and leave a successful band he fronted for decades. We wanted to get a straight answer about when we could expect to see this new Pennywise album they keep talking about. And we wanted to know what Fletcher really thought about the band that got him tazed 5 times and thrown in jail for a night during this summer’s Warped Tour. After midnight, on a chilly night in Vermont we got exactly what we were looking for and more in a surprisingly candid interview with the big man himself, guitarist Fletcher Dragge, and bassist Randy Bradburry.
Check out the interview here and prepare yourself for the real, no bullshit answers you won’t find between the lines of an official press release.
It was an hour after a Pennywise show in Burlington, Vermont that I was finally led up the venue’s backstage stairs to the greenroom where I was told Fletcher would answer a few questions for Dying Scene. I was stoked, maybe a little nervous, but when I arrived the room was empty and Fletcher was nowhere to be found. After a few minutes my hopes began to sink. I had waited a long time in the freezing cold to be stood up, but then the mammoth himself entered with Randy in tow, and quickly plopped himself down on the couch. He looked tired. They had just played an amazing set and I couldn’t blame him so I just jumped right in…
So some of these questions are for Zoli…
Fletcher: Oh, I’ll answer for him
OK. So Zoli has a lot of pressure on him…
Fletcher: Sound like you’re asking Zoli (laughs)
Alright… So Zoli, replacing Jim Lindberg as lead singer of Pennywise, you have a lot pressure on you to fill some rather large shoes. Has that changed your writing style or your writing process?
Fletcher (acting as Zoli): Duhhhh, duhh, what? (snaps back to Fletcher) So you’re asking how is Zoli is working out in the writing process… One thing that a lot of people don’t know, and Jim’s saying the same thing in interviews right now, is that me and Randy wrote a lot of songs; music, lyrics and melodies. Jim wrote killer guitar parts, Randy wrote killer guitar parts, I wrote OK lyrics, Randy wrote some really good lyrics. That was what Pennywise was about. It was a collective effort to come up with a piece of art.
Where Zoli’s at, Ignite is a great band, but we’re definitely not trying to have Zoli sound like Zoli in Iginite, which is super high, Ronnie James Dio vocals. We’re not having him try to emulate or imitate Jim. We’re trying to find a happy medium. Obviously me and Randy have written a lot of songs, so that is first and foremost. We’re gonna be the foundation, and we’re letting him find his way. Sometimes he comes in with horrible, horrible shit, and its really cool to be able to tell him “That’s fucking horrible. What are you doing?” You couldn’t do that with Jim. You’d have to go “Eh, we’re not so sure about that Jim,” because we were so afraid he was going to quit. For Zoli, he’s finding it difficult, but at the same time, he’ll pop in with something super amazing that’s totally Pennywise. So he’s definitely had to change his style, reprogram himself. It’s defiantly way harder than it has been in the past to write a Pennywise song because me and Randy have all the weight on our shoulders, but we’re trying to include Zoli and take advantage of what he’s got going on because he’s a great singer, but we’re missing Jim, who was a major songwriting force in this band, awesome songwriter, awesome front man. He just didn’t really like being democratic.
Again, this is for Zoli… It’s common knowledge, Zoli that you fit, but with an upcoming album has there been any moments of “I can’t fuck this up, its Pennywise!”
Fletcher (acting again as Zoli): uhm, uh, duh, uhh, mmmm duh… (Again snaps back to Fletcher) He is really conscious of not fucking it up. I mean, his idea is to pay tribute to what we’ve done for the past 20 years, pay tribute to Jim, try to do the best he can to not imitate Jim, and sing songs to the best of his ability for a Pennywise fan, getting the same message across. He wants to know what the songs are about, he wants to get in the head of them. Jim actually said Zoli was his number one choice for a replacement in the band. Jim told us “Either do things my way, go on tour when I want to go on tour, or get a new singer. If you guys want to get a new singer, I totally understand. I can’t tour anymore, I can’t go on long trips, I have to be home with my family, and I will help you get a new singer.” That was until he put out songs that sound like Pennywise with his new band, then booked a fucking 33 date tour in Europe. Which I guess made him a hypocrite and a liar.
Randy: He even booked his new band’s tour over the holidays when he wouldn’t go anywhere with us for more than two weeks…
Fletcher: Unloyal. Well either he didn’t like playing with Pennywise, or playing with us, or he really, really hated all of us (laughs). But Zoli is definitely conscious of that, and he wants to represent Pennywise for what we’ve done, and he wants to represent Pennywise for the future. He says things like “You know, I want to write the best Pennywise album ever.” And we’re like “wow, that’s a bold statement. You’re probably not going to write the best Pennywise album ever, like it might’ve been written 20 years ago.” But it shows you where his mind’s at. He wants to do as good as he can, and we don’t really know exactly how good that is yet. We’ll find out. You’ll be able to pass judgment in a few months when we release an album. Obviously he can come out here and sing his ass off. You know that, you just saw it. But he’s a great singer, he’s got great range, he’s got great stage presence, and it’s really refreshing to have someone out on stage that wants to be there, that wants to sing well, that warms up his voice, that wants to interact with the crowd, that wants to hang out with kids afterwards, and that is really passionate about it. Jim lost that. I don’t want to bag on Jim, but it was obvious to fans and it was obvious to us that at some point he took a left turn and didn’t want to be that guy anymore. He was just going through the motions. There’s nothing worse than that. I went up there every night loving life because I love playing Pennywise, but I would look at him and think “well, how good a time is he having up there?” It finally came to a head, and he said “I’m not gonna do this anymore. I’m not having fun, I’m getting burned out on Pennywise, I need a major break.” And he got it.
After watching Zoli tonight, it seemed like he had been the frontman for Pennywise since the beginning. He’s got that energy and the attitude. With the Black Pacific statements and such, do you ever wonder “Maybe this is a new start for Pennywise?”
I don’t wonder, I know it is. We’ve been living in fear of Jim leaving this band for 20 years. A lot of people don’t know it, but he left the band, or we kicked him out, after our first record. We recorded our first album on epitaph. We got our first tour offer in Europe and Jim refused to go, saying flat out “I’m not going. I’ve got a job.” to which I responded, “What difference does it make now?” He said, “I’m getting married, I’m not going on tour.” So I just said, “OK, fuck you. You’re out of the band.” So we got Dave Quackenbash from The Vandals and went to Europe for six weeks. We stayed on peoples floors, slept in squats, rode around in a 1969 Mercedes van on a fucking mattress with six people, and toured the entirety of Europe and had the time of our lives. We came back, wrote on the road without Jim. Me, Randy, Jason singing and Bryon playing drums, wrote an entire record. Went in the studio and recorded the entire thing with Jason singing. He was good, but he wasn’t as good as Jim so I said “We need to talk to Jim and get him back in the band.” When I talked to him, he said “Ok, I’ll come in and check it out.” He came in, re-wrote half the lyrics, all the music was already written and recorded, and he killed it with some awesome lyrics, singing the songs that Jason and I wrote lyrically like Unknown Road, City Is Burning, You Can Demand blah blah blah… he sang all those, did an awesome job, got back into it, started touring, and the rest is history.
Over the years he’s always threatened to quit if things didn’t go his way, or if we pushed him too hard to tour. We haven’t been able to tour all over the world, because he said we were only allowed to go to Europe for 14 days at a time. We couldn’t go to Spain, we couldn’t go to Sweden. That had been going on for years. We’ve only been to South America twice in fifteen years, one of our biggest markets, because he didn’t want to go there. This is all stuff that’s been under the table. Now we have Zoli coming into the position, and he wants to tour, wants to be out there. He’s hungry, he’s passionate, it is such a difference knowing someone wants to be there. We always had to worry about Jim, “Oh is he mad tonight because someone bumped into him, or because the barricade isn’t there, or too many kids got on stage for Bro Hymn.” I could throw some shit out that I wont, and I’m not trying to bad mouth him. He’s a great singer, awesome songwriter, great lyricist, one of the best I’ve ever seen, but he became kinda everything we were against. He became this parent with three kids, kind of living that cookie cutter lifestyle, while I’m still going to Suicidal shows and spending the whole night in the pit. I’m not gonna grow up, and he became more and more like “Well I’m not gonna do this, I’m not going to say that, I don’t want you saying that on the stage, I don’t want you saying ‘fuck the police’ or ‘fuck authority’ because I don’t want to be that band.” And I was saying “Well that’s who I am. I’m ‘Fuck The Police,’ that’s why I wrote that song; I don’t like cops.” So we started getting told what we could and couldn’t do as Pennywise. And it became more apparent that this guy was taking a hard left, and just didn’t want to be part of that any more. That’s cool, go be this new person, and let us continue down the path of Pennywise, which is “Fuck Authority,” we’re gonna make up our own rules, we’re gonna do things the way we want to do it, and Zoli fits right in that mode. He’s passionate, he works with Sea Shepards, he does wildlife rescue, he does it to the point where it’s almost a fault, where he almost becomes violent when shit’s not happening. That’s a good thing, his passion is what this band needs, and so now we have someone who is really playing the role.
So what’s the deal with the new Pennywise album you guys have been working on. Was it true that Warped Tour delayed going in to the recording studio?
I wouldn’t say that the Warped Tour delayed the album. We’ve been working on it for a while, and we’re not gonna put this album out until we know it’s as good as its ever gonna get, we have a lot of responsibility on this album. You know, Jim’s released his album, which he “needed a major break to work on all these other projects” then he started a new band a week later, and not to go back to Jim, but he’s saying that he had to prove it to himself. He wanted to show everyone that he could write a good album on his own, which was like “ok, who’s asking you?” But for us, we need to get back on track with Pennywise, because we really believe in what we say, and we try to practice what we preach. We’re hypocrites, we’re not perfect, we make mistakes like everybody else, but we really try to do the right thing for this band, for our fans, for other bands, for promotors. For example, for this show tonight, we’ve never been here before. Ticket sales were slow, we fucking cut our money in half. We said “Hey, give us half.” And it was still slow, and we said “Hey, give away 300 tickets, we’ll take less money. Cover our expenses.” We want to have a good show, we want people to have a good time. We could’ve canceled the show, but we just said “Make sure there’s people there, and that we have a good time and good show, and if you were there, it was a great show, and hopefully when we come back, everyone will be there again. That’s what Pennywise is about, trying to do the right thing. So with our album, we want to be in a place lyrically, in a place mentally, where we feel like every song is as good as its gonna get. We’re trying to get away from the politics. One thing Jimmy did was he got really upset with the government. He was a democrat, which we all are, but I would say I am more of an independent party, I don’t back the democratic party, I don’t back the republican party, I think everyone’s fucking thieves. Of course I voted for Obama, but at the end of the day I’d rather vote for Ross Perot or Ron Paul, but we’ve been bitching and moaning about politics and all these different things in world and all the problems in the world and its kind of like preaching to the choir and singing to a brick wall. At the end of the day, Pennywise is all about personal politics, and being the best you can be. If everyone is trying to best they can be, and following their own heart, and their own dreams, doing what they think is right, that’s whats going to change the world. Yelling and screaming about the fucking president, you know, we elected that fucker. We have a song called God Save The USA, a couple albums back. Half this country, I mean, I know that election was rigged, but we elected him. America elected George Bush, now whether you like him or not, I don’t think that’s the issue. I think the issue is the people of this country. The people of this country need to recognize that company’s like Haliburton and BP and all these other fucking giant corporations, and the Federal Reserve, they’re running this country. We have a shirt that has a couple cops with nightsticks and it says “Freedom?” with a question mark. We think we live in a free country, but we can’t ride around in the back of pickup anymore, we have to wear safety belts, we have to wear helmets on motorcycles. Go to Bali, you can do whatever you want over there. Go to Europe, you can smoke hash in a bar, and bring your dog in there. We have become complacent, and this country doesn’t know how un-free we are. We’re under martial fucking law right now, and no one knows it. The borders of Mexico and Canada have been eradicated by bush, he signed paper work, no one knows, when reporters tried to report on it, they got fucking squashed. We’re living in a fucking police state, the minute shit breaks off in this country, we’re gonna be under military rule. The Dollar is collapsing, the Federal Reserve is spending all our money on bullshit. They’re eating up social security, they’re eating up people pensions plans. Look, Wall Street, we deregulate shit, all these fuckers get rich, and middle America loses their fucking ass. It’s a joke. I think our topics on this album are going to be about being a strong person, being yourself, following your own mind, not being a robot, and really trying to take action for your responsibilities. Not just sitting back, watching the next episode of Survivor, while your eating a fucking bag of McDonalds. Whats McDonalds doing? Destroying the rain forest, whats Monsanto doing? What is really going on? Look a little deeper. Watch movies like Food Inc. Watch movies like The Cove. Find out what’s going on. Raise awareness for people to try and get off their asses before its too late, because we’re going to hell in a hand basket. When that all dialed up and we have 200 MPH music to drive it home, our album will come out. Until then, we don’t have a date. We’ve probably got about 40 songs we’ve worked on, but we’re gonna really make sure this one has an impact. We have an opportunity here. Pennywise lost communication, we got to a place where nobody wanted to step on anyone’s toes, espcailly Jim’s. If you fucking pissed Jim off about something, he’s not going on tour. If you fucking piss him off about a song, then he’s not going to help you write your song that you brought in, he’s not going to like it and he’s going to cut it. So, its time for us to embrace what we have, a new beginning, the next generation of Pennywise, and put out, like Zoli said, the best Pennywise album.
Not to beat a dead horse, but there was a lot of buzz about the scuffle that broke out between you and Alesana during this year’s Warped Tour. Do you feel as though the incident makes Pennywise look like a violent band?
Fletcher: We’ve never been a non violent band. We’re not pacifists. Violence is sometimes necessary. If you’re someone who truly believes in what you’re talking about, you’re always gonna have fights. When you’re in Pennywise, and you see a security guard beating up a 15 year old kid who bought a ticket and waited a year to see you, you’re not going to react to that without whatever it takes. A lot of times that winds up in attacking security guards and maybe going to jail for it. We’ve never been a band that hasn’t had physical incidents. Was this a negative incident that happened? I don’t believe it was really a negative incident. I mean if you’ve read my press release, we were in a parking lot with 80 buses, 40 of them have the same paint jobs. We plopped down on the couch and Randy said “I dunno, are we on the right bus” and I said “I don’t know, we’ll see.” And it turns out we weren’t. Those guys weren’t completely innocent though, and they did try to physically throw us off.
Randy: Basically, sometimes shit happens. They got pissed off that we were on their bus. I don’t know if we would’ve reacted exactly the same way, and I don’t think we expected it. It is kind of like a big family out there, and you know, we’ve done 10 warped tours, so we figured we’re all friends.
Fletcher: I was like “Wow, I’ve been on this tour for 15 years, and you don’t know who I am. I’ve just done three weeks. It wasn’t an ego thing, it was more like ‘this is funny, this guy doesn’t know who I am and what I’m capable of, so I’m gonna push a couple buttons here to see what happens,” and those buttons lead to a fist to cuff, and those guys came up short, until I got tased. Then they came up big. Some people got punched, some people got some fat lips, I went to jail for assault, felony assault, for 24 hours maybe. They dropped the charges. We don’t even know if they called the cops. Bottom line is it wasn’t musically related. Pennywise fans wanted to say we kicked the shit out of emo kids cause punk rockers don’t necessarily like emo kids or this new school music but whatever, it had nothing to do with that. We respect any musician who is playing what they want to play. We may not like it, but if your doing what your doing, hey, more power to you.
The only question I have left about the incident is what was Kevin’s [Lyman] response?
Fletcher: Well I got a text from Kevin when I got my phone back working that just said “Dumbasses.” (laughs) He understood it wasn’t that big of deal. I mean, the worst thing that happened was I got tazed five fucking times.
Why did you get tazed five times?
Fletcher: I used to be an electrician so I’m used to getting shocked a lot in my career, and I know what it feels like to get shocked. The first couple were like “What the fuck are you doing” then the third one was like “What the fuck do you want!?” And they were like “Get down on your knees” and I got down on my knees and they hit me again, and told me to get on my stomach, and I was like “great” so I got on my stomach, then they hit me again, and then told me to put my hands on my head. So they wanted to hit me, and tell me to do things afterward. (laughs)
Can we expect a Pennywise song about the incident?
Fletcher: It’s called “Fuck Authority”…