Hermosa Beach punk stalwarts Pennywise are no strangers to anniversaries and milestones. The legendary SoCal band has been making music fans go wild in the pits since the early ‘90s. Now on the heels of their Australia and New Zealand tour, the foursome return home in preparation of the U.S. leg which commemorates their epic release, Full Circle, turning 20 years young.
I recently spoke with guitarist Fletcher Dragge about his band’s historic run. We discussed playing shows around the world, dynamics within the group, political discourse that fuels artistic creativity, and what makes this particular album connect with the youth today, compared to its release many moons ago.
Did I mention they have a new album coming out in 2018? Find out below!
OC Weekly (Michael Silver): Your new tour celebrates 20 years of Full Circle. What about this album stands out the most to you?
Fletcher Dragge: It’s a really heavy album. It’s fast and really complicated as far as having a lot of parts. When playing it, it’s kind of all over the map. More importantly it’s the first album we wrote after Jason (Thirsk) our original bass player passed away. There’s a lot of meaning and heartache, questions and anger. You know all the emotions you get from someone close to you dying. All of this is wrapped in there at 200 mph. One of those records that hits you over the head with a sledgehammer. Physically and emotionally, at least for me, it brings back a lot of good memories. It’s a roller coaster ride.
Recently the band returned from an Australian leg of the tour. What kind of challenges has living on the road presented? How do you find the balance between band life and family life?
That’s a good question. Being on the road is a nightmare for a multitude of reasons. Most of the band members would say that it’s because of me. Me being on the road, drunk, is a complete nightmare, which I get. I think I’ve mellowed out with age and try to respect everyone’s boundaries. It’s four different personalities and everyone has their nights of craziness. You get used to each other. I’ll be pissed at Randy for two days than we’ll be fine. Then Jim will be mad at me and Byron will be mad at everyone. It’s a rotating door of mistakes being made.
One of your band’s most popular songs is “Society” from Full Circle. How would you characterize the state of our country in 2017 compared to 1997 when it first came out?
Much worse, a much worse disposition now. It’s kind of dumbfounding how far backwards we’ve gone with what’s going on in the White House right now. Even Trump supporters at this point are getting bummed out and the one’s that aren’t admitting he’s done some really crazy shit are just holding on by a thread, you know? You can say the stock market is up, and unemployment is down, blah blah blah. At this point both Democrats and Republicans hate each other. Divide and conquer, it’s the oldest trick in the book. Instead of saying ‘Hey we all live together in the same country, can’t we find a common ground and do something beneficial for all of our citizens?’ We should be taking care of the elderly, our veterans, and making sure people have health care. So where are we at? I don’t know. We’re at a place where we write and play music and scream about it until we’re blue in the face.
I saw you guys play a few years back on the About Time tour, also a 20-year anniversary record. Do you enjoy playing these albums front to back?
Yeah it’s actually really cool. We held off on (doing) it for a while. We saw Bad Religion, NOFX, and other bands doing it. You put a CD back in the day in your car, before making iTunes playlists, and listened to it from to back and knew every song in order. You get a vibe for an album and when a band does that live in the order you know, it’s like your favorite song is number five. You’re stoking out on 1 through 4 but when 5 comes you go crazy and everyone has different songs. The energy that people are expelling at these shows is constant from the first song to the last. It’s non-stop and really makes for a good night of entertainment for sure.
The band has been putting out music since 1992. How do you stay inspired over the years and keep making awesome records?
Like Jim says, just open the paper or turn on the news. Punk rock has always been about rebelling and questioning authority and living the life the way you want and doing what makes you happy. Like you’ve said, the political situation, we’ve always had some political undertones. We’re a band about self-reliance and getting past your problems and obstacles in life. As you get older and become a tax-paying citizen you try to abide the laws a bit more. When you’re a teenager you don’t really give a fuck, I know I didn’t. I was constantly in trouble breaking any law available to be broken and now it’s kind of like, I don’t want to go to jail. Now the band is more self-motivation, and fuck the system. We write song about uniting and fighting the powers that be, that’s all the motivation we need.
Your last release was Yesterdays in 2014. Can fans look forward to a new project in the near future?
Absolutely. It’s already done, just waiting for it to be mixed. We have about 15 songs in the can. One of them is called “American Lies,” if you want some inspiration it’s right there, a song Jim wrote and I think you can probably figure out what the song is about from the title alone. We’ve got a raging fast album that I feel like is our best work since Full Circle and Straight Ahead. We’re able to go back to the old school vibe and that’s hard to do. Bands try to go back and recreate their first or second albums and somehow this time we stumbled across an old formula that really worked. It’s aggressive and has a lot of cool lyrics. We’re looking forward to getting it out there around March. We don’t have a title for it yet but we’re meeting this week to put the finishing touches on it and get another one out there for the masses.
Pennywise celebrates the 20th anniversary of Full Circle at House of Blues Anaheim, 400 Disney Way #337, Anaheim. (714) 778-2583, www.houseofblues.com/anaheim, Thurs. Nov. 30, Fri. Dec. 1, 7 p.m. Sold Out. All ages.
Michael Silver is a journalist and photographer based in Southern California. He covers music, sports, technology, and streetwear. Tips & pitches: firstname.lastname@example.org