Punk for life
Pennywise holds tight to punk torch
Fifteen years ago, the members of Pennywise were just four punk kids growing up in Hermosa Beach. Living in one of the important breeding grounds of the underground punk rock movement (spearheaded by such iconic figures as Black Flag and the Descendents), these kids were experiencing the punk life first-hand. The friendships and this influential background soon translated into a common goal of starting a band of their own.
“It was probably a pretty unrealistic goal back then,” said Fletcher Dragge, guitarist for Pennywise, which has itself become somewhat of a punk icon since those days of SoCal house parties. “But I think the general public was ready for something that was real and not just hairspray and makeup. Something that had some substance and some meaning.”
The 37-year-old Dragge is joined by singer Jim Lindberg, drummer Byron McMackin and bassist Randy Bradbury. The band’s original bassist, Jason Thirsk, died in 1996 of a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Some things have changed over the years—the guys have a little more responsibility to wives and kids and are a little more conscious of what goes on in the world—but Dragge says the band still prides itself on writing, recording and living in accordance with a punk rock ideology rooted in individuality and social/political concern.
“It was definitely different being a punk rocker back then,” he said. “It was a really small scene. You could probably count the kids who were into it on two hands.”
Now, Dragge says, the philosophy of punk is dead, thanks to the “cookie cutter” bands who don’t appreciate the purpose behind the music.
“It’s a whole new perception,” Dragge said. “All these little punk kids want to be rock stars. How can you be angry and rebellious when you’re on MTV and you’re selling five million records? There’s really no point to [being] punk rock.”
While Pennywise has proven capable of selling out large-scale venues like the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the band has resisted consistent major-label courtships in favor of staying with über-independent Epitaph Records.
“We came from nothing, and we have a good sense of loyalty to the people who have helped us along the way,” Dragge said. “It’s an attitude of being grateful for what we have instead of being greedy and wanting more.”
The band is also loyal to its rabid fan base. Dragge says that, thanks to the fans, live shows now in front of 50,000 people have the same vibe as they did back in those days of playing in front of 200-person house parties.
“There’s just one entity of us playing this music and them giving off this energy," he said. "Of course there’s a barricade with some bouncers now, but if you ask me whether I’d rather play that backyard party or the huge venues, I’d choose the backyard party any day. One hundred percent."