Should we have expected the unexpected?
For fans of Pennywise, the news wasn’t good: Their favorite punk rock band was losing Jim Lindberg, the group’s vocalist, but guitarist Fletcher Dragge vowed to soldier on. In 2009, over lunch at Rosa’s in Hermosa Beach, he claimed that there were already dozens of singers eager to step in and fill out Lindberg’s shoes. But could anyone really replace him?
In 2010 this writer sat down with Dragge and the group’s new vocalist, Ignite frontman Zoli Teglas. They were upbeat about touring and songwriting. A few months later, still in 2010, I met with Lindberg in his El Segundo studio to talk about his new CD with his power trio The Black Pacific.
Always cordial about one another, at least in front of this eagle-eyed reporter, Fletcher Dragge and Jim Lindberg had spoken about their artistic differences and had clearly set out on different paths once and for all.
As it would turn out, those paths led to the same place. The unexpected had occurred. Someone had brought out the peace pipe and passed it around, and here we are today – January, 2013 – on the outdoor patio of La Peñita in Hermosa Beach.
“I hadn’t spoken to Jim in three years, since we parted ways,” Dragge says, “and I never had his side of the story. I didn’t want to hear anything. I was upset, and I’ve said that a million times.
“This is a very small community; it’s Hermosa Beach, we’re all born and raised here, we have the same friends, and I just felt like it was time to reach out and say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and have a beer; we both have things we want to say to each other that we never said.’ I didn’t want to continue on that path of just not being friends, first and foremost. It wasn’t about the band when we sat down; I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable running into him at a party, I know he’d probably have felt the same way at that point. I didn’t tell anyone in the band (bassist Randy Bradbury and drummer Byron McMackin, in addition to Teglas) that I’d called him. It was just between me and him.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be a healing process or a ‘fuck you’ process or what it was going to be,” Dragge continues; “I just knew that we needed to talk. We went to the Schooner and within 30 seconds of shaking hands for the first time in three years we were doing a photo shoot.” Everyone laughs. “It was pretty funny.”
“I had no expectations going in to have a talk with him,” Lindberg says. “Probably no one’s more surprised than me that we’re sitting here.”
However, he’d been ready to clear the air as well.
“This is a great community where we live,” Lindberg continues. “We have a lot of friends that were brought together by the band. When I left, it split that up somewhat – and that was really a hard thing to go through, hard for a lot of our friends. That really bothered me.
“We just finally had a really good talk about what’s important, and we both know that the band is one of the most [important] things in the world to us. A really simplistic way of putting it, after 20 years of albums and touring and stuff like that, I was just ready for a break from everything. It wasn’t one thing, it was a lot of things. A lot of bands take a long hiatus – like four years without a record or a tour; there’s other bands that just plow through it. There’s elements of family, situations at home that go into it; there’s all kinds of situations that go on with bands.”
“You spend more time with your band,” Dragge says, “than you do with your family half the time.”
“Yeah,” Lindberg says. “For me, I was ready for a break; they didn’t want to hear that. And so it was ‘Screw you, we’re gonna keep going.’ That was unfortunate, but I just had to accept it, do what I had to do. But the good thing is, we’ve definitely made a thing about not dwelling on what happened because we really care a lot about the legacy of our band. I just got an e-mail yesterday from a lady in Colorado who said her husband’s severely ill, and it’s his dying wish to see Jim perform with Pennywise again.
“Sometimes you forget,” Lindberg adds, “that the band is bigger than just four [members]; it means a lot to other people. And having that entity be right, and having it be the four band members that created it, that is very important and I think we all came to realize that.”
At some point it appears that the chemistry between Zoli Teglas and Fletcher Dragge and the rest of the band wasn’t quite what they’d hoped for.
“Zoli’s Zoli,” Dragge says, “and he’s not one of us as far as being from Hermosa Beach.” Teglas, with his Hungarian background, lived for a time in Eastern Europe as a child. “I mean, our South Bay’s got a certain type of lifestyle,” Dragge continues. “Zoli’s a friend and he did what he did, but I always felt like it’s Jim’s job. Jim spent 20 years of his life creating this band. Obviously, we were out touring with Zoli, and we did a new record (“All or Nothing,” May 2012) with Zoli.
“At the same time, I never felt completely right with Zoli up there. And not to say anything bad about Zoli, it’s just that if you spend 20 years in a band with a guy [then] you have this bond even though there’s a tension within that band when you write the songs, and that’s what we were able to do – as a band all those forces came together and created Pennywise. With Zoli we didn’t actually have that. Yeah, we were moving down the road with Zoli, but I told Jim at the meeting, pretty much pointblank, everything’s going okay with Zoli, but if you ever want to come back you’ve got my vote.”
Perhaps this was made easier, if you will, by the fact that Teglas injured himself last summer while on tour in Europe with the group and needed back surgery, thus forcing the cancellation of several dates.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Lindberg had what still seem like legitimate grievances, which made him step away from the band. As a family man with three school-age daughters, he wanted to limit his touring. Dragge, a father of two dogs, would have spent his life living out of a suitcase if he’d had his way. Also, when we spoke in 2010, Lindberg stressed that he was looking forward to more experimentation with his songwriting – he was concerned that fan expectation might hold Pennywise back from branching out and trying different styles of music. He registers the question but artfully deflects it:
“Those are probably just two of hundreds (of issues),” Lindberg replies. “Everyone has their different feelings on how the band should be perceived, and Fletcher and I butted heads all the time, but we both know it’s ‘cause we cared a lot. If we didn’t care we would just go ‘Screw it, and do whatever you want.’”
“There’s a lot of bands out there where it’s like one guy running the whole show,” Dragge says. “Pennywise is trying to be a democracy, which is really hard to be.”
“And then you get bummed out when you don’t get your way,” Lindberg says. “What happens to most of the bands is that you eventually have to compromise. You get your way one time but you don’t another, and it’s incredibly difficult to keep that up for 20 years. Most bands don’t make it two years. But it feels like a big weight’s been lifted to have all that animosity gone. It sounds silly, but I think we’re finally growing up a little bit.”
“If I’m fighting for something, as Jim knows, I fight to the death for my cause,” Dragge says. “So I was fighting for this new version of Pennywise – and then it started dawning on me, this isn’t Pennywise. Then I had to take a look at my responsibility and my role in the band. It’s not just me or Jim or Byron or Randy, it’s everybody who had a role in [helping us out]. And the communication broke down. I got two dogs… I don’t understand having three kids; Randy’s got four kids now, and Byron just had a kid…”
“I find this part of it very entertaining,” Lindberg says with a laugh. “I wanted him to get three kids. I just want to be the one [to say], ‘I told you so, I told you so,’ over and over.”
“I was being selfish in the respect that I wasn’t really able to look into Jim’s life at home and understand that,” Dragge says, “and so I had to do some soul-searching, which sounds really – if I can use the word ‘gay’ in the Easy Reader – but I did, I had to, and I had to say, ‘Hey, you know what, dude? I know I had a role in not understanding where you’re coming from and what you need,’ even though he was actually trying to cooperate most of the time, not just throwing in the towel, trying to make it good for everybody.
“No one’s perfect,” Dragge continues; “we’re in a band and we’re not the same people. So, at the end of the day when you can take some responsibility for your actions and then say, ‘Hey, let’s put all that to bed because we know we had so many years of just good times, just drinking beer at practice, writing songs, or playing parties; let’s just go back to having fun, and as far as business is concerned let’s just try to make sure everybody’s heard, everybody’s feeling are being considered when we’re talking about something, and everybody’s opinion counts.’ Because when your communication breaks down in any relationship, you’re done.”
Youngsters no more
“It is ridiculous when you think about it,” Lindberg says, “because punk rock is supposed to be about having no responsibility for anything, for your actions, behavior, or whatever, and to have that ethos and become a parent or grow up and…”
“Pay property taxes,” Dragge interjects.
“We’re not the only band that goes through this,” Lindberg continues, and one thinks of his book, Punk Rock Dad, and the film based on it, “The Other F-Word” (for family). Every band goes through them. You confront them and we just, at a certain point, weren’t [confronting] them very well.”
“Randy and Jim are trying to be responsible parents and adults,” Dragge says, “but at the same time we’re still out there singing ‘fuck the government’ – and we mean it, for real. We’re not happy with that stuff, but at the same time you got to be a responsible adult. You gotta pay your property taxes or they’re gonna come and take your house away. You gotta do things you don’t like to do, so in a way, unfortunately, you conform to the system a little bit, but we still get to go out on stage and vent about it to thousands of people. And, trust me, I still might slash myself up with a beer bottle on a good vodka bender.” Everyone laughs. “But I’m still paying my property taxes.”
Where’d he get the beer bottle if he’s drinking vodka? Anyway, Dragge’s not done yet:
“It’s finding a happy balance of retaining your punk rock ideals and then being a semi-responsible adult. I don’t think we’re ever going to grow up. Punk rock and music keeps people young, but at the same time you gotta balance it a little bit. And that’s what I’ve learned over the last couple years to help understand why we split up, because I wasn’t into the balance. I was like, ‘fuck everything, let’s break everything and drink till eight in the morning and just do it 30 days in a row and I don’t care about your home life, Jim, or Randy, or whatever; let’s just go out there and go out in a ball of flames.’” Lindberg chuckles; this is Dragge in fine form. “So now it’s kind of like, well, I can still be a ball of flame, but we have to respect everyone’s boundaries,” Dragge says.
“Plus we want to put on a good show,” Lindberg says, pulling the reins in a little. “We’ve been working really hard this week on getting back on the horse and playing the songs again and it’s fun again. That was super-important to me.
“Like I said, I felt we needed a break from each other. They decided to get someone to jump in there for me while I was gone, but now we’re back better than ever. We’ve sold out two shows at the Palladium (Jan. 18, 19). I think that shows this lineup is important to our fans and to people out there. We still have some legitimacy in the music world. So, like, let’s go out and play some shows and have a good time and enjoy it.”
“There’s no past, there’s no future, there’s only the now,” Dragge says philosophically. “For three years I was living in the past. I had to read some of our old lyrics and go, oh, living for today; why am I dwelling on this when I could be having a good time right now?”
25 years and counting
Is the group working on music for a new album?
“It’s only been a month or two,” Lindberg replies, “but we definitely are talking about putting out a boxed set. It’s going to have a lot of rarities and B-sides, [and] we’re gonna brush the dust off some really old songs and I think that’ll be interesting for people to hear. I’m looking forward to that. I love making music; I love making music with these guys. I think it’ll be fun to get back to the studio and hammer out some songs. Our perspective has changed but there’s still a lot of stuff to be angry about, and there’s also been a lot of stuff to be positive about.
“Once again, there is a lot to be said for not harboring those grudges and not, like he said, living in the past but also having some forgiveness. It’s the same thing with your family. It’s like, yes, it may be screwed up, but that’s your family. And the same thing with these guys.
“Some people said why would you want to go back to that, it was crazy,” Lindberg adds. “It’s like, ‘Well, they’re my kind of crazy, you know?’ One thing’s for sure, when we’re onstage and playing together it’s meaningful for a lot of people and so we want to be doing it.”
Perhaps it’s come down to chemistry.
“Not to say anything negative about Zoli,” Dragge says, “that chemistry wasn’t there as far as the songwriting went. And that was something else that was really missed. Obviously we did an album (with Teglas), but Jim’s contribution on the songwriting side of things, his lyrical contribution, was really, really important. As we struggled through writing that album it was more and more apparent to me how much he was missed.
“We always said that the tensions between each other – because we all have different personalities – was what made up Pennywise. That tension made those songs.”
“It’s very common that you have that,” Lindberg points out, citing Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend, as well as John Lennon and Paul McCartney. “You also don’t want to have the impression that it was all just terrible. We got along well, we had a good time, and a lot of time we’d bump fists and say ‘great show.’ It just got to a crappy point. It happens in marriages, happens with families; and the main thing is pushing through it. The only way you’re going to get through it is if you got this basic friendship and being able to repair that.”
“And the passion, you know?” says Dragge. “I told Jim straight up, there’s a few things that are important to me in my life – my family, Pennywise, and my friends. Basically, what it really boiled down to was, ‘You only got a few things in life that you really care about, and this one right here can be fixed and put back on track if we all just say, hey, we’re all fuck-ups and we just put our differences aside, forget about the scorecard, and take some responsibility,’ and now it’s happened. I feel whole again, you know? And I didn’t feel whole, although I was pretending and pushing my agenda for those three years. Of course I’m gonna push it as hard as I can, but I feel like back to the way it was and the way it’s supposed to be.”
“I really think after a long time being apart everyone’s happy to be back together,” says Lindberg, “and, like I said, I’m surprised that it’s been this easy. I think having this Palladium show has been a real focus because it feels like it’s a reunion and celebration of 25 years of playing music together.”