Punk Rock Karma
Pennywise use their powers for good
Stalwart punk rockers Pennywise, who have been pounding out their
melodic hardcore for almost 20 years, join Rise Against in
Calgary and Edmonton for the charity-driven Jingle Bell Rock tour
When it comes to the pursuit of money, Pennywise have always remained true to their name. From the California ensemble’s formative years in the late ’80s, when there was never enough of the green stuff to go around, through to their current status as a group of legendary proportions, Pennywise has maintained an unfaltering sense of artistic direction while keeping an eye on the coffers. Now, after writing hundreds of songs and blowing thousands of minds, these stalwart punk rockers are more than willing to repay some of their good fortune.
“When we got the call, we didn’t have to think twice,” says bassist Randy Bradbury of his band’s decision to join Rise Against for Union Events’ annual Jingle Bell Rock charity tour. “We’ve always been involved with doing shows for charities. In fact, we just filled a sports arena for a concert we did in L.A. where all the profits went to charities of our own choosing. It’s important to us to help out these organizations, and anytime we can associate with someone who’s doing some good, we’re always happy to do our part.”
Having recorded some eight studio albums, most recently 2005’s The Fuse, Pennywise are constantly working on new material, and three years of downtime between recording sessions has given the lads plenty of time to amass new material. Bassist Bradbury (who replaced original bassist Jason Thirsk after his 1996 suicide) and fellow band members Fletcher Dragge (guitar), Jim Lindberg (vocals) and Byron McMackin (drums) are in the process of whittling down the new track list, employing a time-honoured test to decide which tunes make the final cut.
“We like to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks,” says Bradbury with a chuckle. “There’s a lot to sort through and Jim has been writing like crazy, but I wouldn’t say the chances of this being a double-CD [as rumoured] are very good. We’ve always been very methodical about how we work. We want people to hear our music and give it as much exposure as possible, but at the same time, we don’t want to make any bad decisions or misrepresent ourselves. We want our albums to last. It’s a long, slow road to invest in them properly to make sure we’ll be staying around, rather than just jumping on the fast train like so many artists who are here today and gone tomorrow.”
Pennywise have consistently used their voice to speak out on the issues they feel are important. Whether it’s using cleverly derisive lyrics to malign authority figures or waxing melodic in tribute to a fallen comrade, the band’s reputation for telling it like it is, free from outside influence, has made them a touchstone for admirers of the true punk rock spirit.
“We’re really lucky to have a lot of control over the way this band is run on a day-to-day basis,” Bradbury says. “It’s important to us to keep it that way, and that goes back to the beginning of the band. These guys had it going on before I arrived on the scene, and they were already on an indie label. With the new album, I don’t think we have to take a step back from that.
“Epitaph has always given us artistic freedom. Most recently, we’ve been speaking with MySpace.com Records about a new deal. They are a widely known name, and they like what we do. They know our image and they want us to keep working just like we have been all of these years. We’ve realized all along that we want people to be able to hear our music, and now we’ve found a way to do that through MySpace… We feel that nothing is going to change, except that it will be a bigger release and bring more exposure to the band. We’re still working out the details, but the album will be available traditionally for purchase in music stores. I know if I like a band, I still want to have the disc in my hands and all the lyrics and cover art that goes along with it.”
Thrilled by the prospect of a rapidly expanding international listenership, Pennywise love to stir the melting pot. Like their contemporaries Black Flag, the Descendents and Bad Religion, they get their kicks from throwing a healthy dose of socio-political satire into their intelli-punk anthems. And while they may be a popular choice of kick-ass background music for extreme sports heroes, Pennywise are perhaps best known for lacing their raucous, mosh-pit-inducing performances with revolutionary tunes such as “My Own Country,” “Victim of Reality,” “Fight Till You Die” and many more.
“We know that no matter what we do, we’re always going to sound like Pennywise,” Bradbury acknowledges. “We always find a way to throw in a new dimension without changing too much. The idea is to use traditional elements in unexpected ways to expand the boundaries. Lyrically, we tend to project our perspective on whatever’s going on in the world, so you can pretty much guess what topics we’ll be addressing in the coming album. When we perform live, we try to give people a nice cross-section of our work, which is getting harder to do!”
by Christine Leonard
Originally published December 20, 2007 in FastForward Magazine.