From the Vault: Pennywise
OK, so this one’s a long one, but it’s all for a good cause as I attempt to relay to you what I think is one of those interesting stories behind a story: the time that I thought, for a split second, that Pennywise’s Fletcher Dragge was going to beat the shit out of me.
In my time writing interview features for Real Groove and Groove Guide, face-to-face interviews were, unfortunately, rather uncommon. Many of the artists you’re likely to interview are typically based overseas, and the interview opportunities generally arise in the aid of promotion of an upcoming release. As such, the artists are unlikely to be anywhere near us down here in New Zealand at those times, so phoners are often the order of the day.
It’s unfortunate for a number of reasons (not the least of which is the terribly inconvenient time difference), but it’s chiefly due to the fact that face-to-face interviews lend themselves to more interesting stories. It’s harder to engage with someone over the phone, and the visual element of an in-person meeting can add so much colour to a story.
This, my second interview with Pennywise vocalist Jim Lindberg, happened to be one of those rare occasions where I did get to interview the artist in person. It was the night of the band’s most recent show in New Zealand, and so I got to head into the Shock Records office in Central Auckland before the show to chat to Lindberg.
One thing that struck me about Lindberg the first time I interviewed him (a phoner) was his unflinching honesty. I’ve interviewed enough bands to know when they’re clearly attempting to skirt around difficult questions, which is unfortunately the typical response; Lindberg, on the other hand, almost seemed to welcome such questions. In the first interview, in light of fact that the punk-revival sound – his band’s sound – was clearly falling out of favour, I asked how much life there was left in Pennywise. I expected the usual rubbish: “Naw, man – we’re going stronger than ever before and this next album’s definitely our best yet!” What I actually got surprised me.
There was a slightly awkward silence as soon as the question left my mouth; it was silent enough that I could hear Lindberg’s very recently born daughter cooing from his arms over the phone as he pondered his response. He told me, no doubt with his newfound fatherhood fresh in his mind, that he was actually really uncertain about how much life there was left in Pennywise.
In the year or so that passed between then and the next interview, you really didn’t hear a great deal about Pennywise. Surprisingly, though, I learned that the band’s most hardcore fans are still out there somewhere, and the punters turned out in droves for the show at The Powerstation that night. In fact, it’s probably the most packed I’ve ever seen a gig at that venue.
Earlier that day, we chatted about how the band’s label, Epitaph Records, appeared to have almost turned its back on the punk-revival sound that it made its name on, with Pennywise one of the only signings still flying that flag. Lindberg acknowleged this while arguing that it’s what his label realistically had to do to stay relevant; in order to win the attention of the kids, it had to pick up acts in the current flavour-of-the-month style, namely metalcore and new-wave emo bands. It was pretty interesting stuff, and Lindberg didn’t hesitate or hum and hah over his responses.
My name was on the door for this show, and a sticker was promptly slapped on my jacket upon arrival. The sticker had the word “after” written on it in vivid. I wasn’t told about this beforehand, and so after the show, trying to drag my friend Mike along also, I tried my luck with the bouncer guarding the backstage area. Mike was turned away (no fancy sticker, you see), but I was ushered into the narrow stairwell that led to the band’s dressing room. I was now alone, and it was the first time I’d ever had the chance to go backstage for a band of this profile, so I was nervous as all hell. Lindberg was in the stairwell chatting to someone, and he saw me and told me to help myself to a beer. “There’s enough in there for a small army!” he enthused.
I turned the corner and, in my infinite wisdom (there was a smattering of PR folk and some other press about the room), decided the best approach was to act like I owned the place. I grabbed a beer out of the chilly bin, strolled over to the couch and sat right in between guitarist Fletcher Dragge and bassist Randy Bradbury. What happened next was beyond awkward; all the while receiving “who the hell is this guy?” glares from either side, I attempted to open my beer only to find… it wasn’t a twist top. So I was stuck in between these guys with a beer that I wasn’t actually able to open.
After what seemed like the longest second in history, Dragge’s mammoth hand (seriously, the guy’s not small by any means) swooped downwards, engulfing the neck of the beer in my hand. My heart raced. Had I crossed the line, waltzing in and taking one of Pennywise’s beers? For that fleeting moment, I thought he was going to turf me down the very stairs I’d just made my way up about five seconds earlier.
Dragge then flinched his hand ever-so slightly, kinda like a one-inch punch. The bottle cap of the beer in my hand, unhinged by the ring on his finger, fell to the ground.
I exhaled one mighty sigh of relief at this point as I realised that my time had not yet come. That beer, for the record, was incredible, and Pennywise turned out to be an extremely accommodating bunch (despite my initial, split-second intimidation). They only stuck around for half an hour or so before they had to head to the airport for a flight to Japan. Once again, I’ve not heard much of the band since other than the fact that Lindberg, founding vocalist of 21 years, left the band a couple years back and has been replaced. A shame, as music media could certainly do with more interview subjects of that calibre.