What fan of 90s punk rock hasn’t at least once cranked Pennywise’s 1997 record Full Circle, drunkenly slung an arm over a mate’s shoulder and slurred the words and whoas to the revised version of Bro Hymn?
Fifteen years have passed since the initial release of Full Circle, a record dedicated to the memory of Pennywise bassist Jason Thirsk. The tragic loss of Thirsk in 1996 led to the only lineup change in the band’s then 8-year existence.
Thirteen years later Pennywise would undergo its second change in membership when vocalist Jim Lindberg decided to leave the band in 2009. Both Lindberg and the remaining members of Pennywise released statements with Fletcher Dragge, Randy Bradbury and Byron McMackin expressing their intention to continue on with the band.
In 2010 Pennywise announced that Ignite vocalist Zoli Téglás would officially be taking over as lead singer and that the new lineup was working on what would become Pennywise’s just-released 10th studio album All Or Nothing.
Even before the record was released, the lead single and title track All Or Nothing had caused many to proclaim a return to form for the Southern Californian punk band. Still, despite this resurgence, after 20 years and 9 records with Lindberg, creating an album without Pennywise’s original lead singer would surely be strange. The band’s iconic guitarist Fletcher elaborates.
“I don’t know if strange is the word, I would say stressful would be a better word. It was definitely different, I mean you’ve got a guy who’s been in the band for twenty years and I’d say the last few records of Pennywise were very tentative, very cautious. Everybody is worried about what someone’s going to say…nobody wants to piss anybody off, nobody wanted to tell Jimmy that his song was terrible or that my song was terrible.”
“Then you fast-forward to Zoli and all of a sudden you’ve got a guy who you don’t care about pissing-off because at this point we’ve had enough problems with Jim in the band that we weren’t going to tolerate any more problems from the new lead singer. So it was like wide open on Zoli. He heard the truth immediately…and I think that led to him telling the truth about what he thought about songs and lyrics.”
“So it was kind of refreshing to have that open communication. I think we got a better album out of it, but at the same time it was really stressful, very heated, lots of yelling and screaming and pretty abnormal behaviour, but at the end of the day we’re all friends, it’s all good and I think we put out one of our best albums in a long time because of it.”
A tense climate was exactly the kind of atmosphere in which Pennywise evolved. The early 90s American punk scene saw not only a rivalry between East Coast and West Coast bands but also between Northern and Southern California punk rock acts.
It was during this time that Pennywise were at the height of their powers, writing high-energy songs burdened with political and social conscious. As the conflict dyed down and Pennywise’s records grew more ‘cautious,’ a question arises as to whether Pennywise operate better when agitated.
“I definitely think so. It’s no secret that Jim leaving the band was one thing, but the stuff he did following his departure by starting another band and putting out a record that some of the songs sounded similar to Pennywise and going on long tours was a complete surprise to us, and nobody in the band was happy,” Fletcher reveals.
“I think that definitely fuelled some songwriting. I’d wake up at two in the morning pissed off when I heard the news about something that he’d (Lindberg) done…pick up my guitar and just get in there and write a song; not about Jim, but in general, and I think that’s always been the fuel for the fire for Pennywise; you see something on the news, you hear something, you write about it, you feel it.”
In a strange way, All Or Nothing is a return to roots for Pennywise. The band has tapped back into what made their music so urgent and relevant, with even the cover art being a throwback to their 1991 self-titled debut, and of course 1997’s Full Circle.
“The record cover was actually not even our idea, it was…Steve Martin a good close friend of ours that actually named our band. He said, ‘Here it is, you guys are back to the roots. You know Jim’s gone, but the vibe of the band, the positivity, everything is right back to square one; starting over.’ It really made sense, we’re not trying to have some artsy record cover, we’re just trying to say we’re back and we’re back to good old Pennywise: the days when everything was positive and everyone wanted to be there and everyone had a common goal.”
“I know your critics are going to say, ‘they made the same album ten times in a row’, and that’s kind of a compliment because that’s what we’re trying to do… We’re trying to be that band — when you put on our record, whether it’s ten years old or twenty years old, it sounds like Pennywise. The critics may think that’s boring and shitty, but we’re making our records for our fans and for ourselves.”
Pennywise – All Or Nothing is out now.
The band is tentatively scheduled to head back to Australia around August, 2012 for what Fletcher describes as some “down dirty drunk club shows.”