LIFE in the Key of
By Jimmy Alvarez
It’s hard to believe it’s almost 2018, and Christmas-themed shows are getting all the headlines right now. Santa was good to us this year giving us early presents. The past year has seen the emergence of great new bands, while a few who have been around a bit are enjoying a second life. In this age of social media, iHeart and iTunes… music fans are discovering new music from yesteryear. It’s an oxymoron, but it’s still new to some. These fans are crushing that old adage that “You can’t go home again.”
That all being said, in this new twitter-driven world, everybody loves success stories, stories of failure and redemption. For some odd reason, we are hard wired to love songs that take us back to our childhood, or make us laugh or cry. Music in general is a time machine; in the end, the faces have all changed, but the feelings remain the same. A band that’s ridden that roller coaster of life while playing punk rock is PENNYWISE. This band saves us from ourselves. Their songs help us reflect on our past and simultaneously remain positive no matter what life throws at us. The short of it is they help their fans see the light, no matter what time of day it is. Every now and then, certain songs help us take a ride and catch a glimpse of ourselves way back when. We tend to fondly remember those days, but not all that glitters is always gold. That’s where bands like Pennywise help us.
The band is from Hermosa Beach, California and formed in 1988. As you probably guessed, the guys took their name from that evil-freaky-creepy-clown monster from the Stephen King horror novel, IT. The guys signed with EPITAPH in 1990, and remain with them to this day. They released their freshman debut self-entitled album in ‘91. The album quickly circulated throughout the punkasphere; they became the next international bright young things. More importantly, they got something you can’t buy; they had street cred with the punkers that lived the lifestyle. Since then, Pennywise has released eleven full-length studio albums, the last in 2014. It was called Yesterdays.
They also have one live album and a DVD. Truth-be-told, despite their first two albums receiving critical acclaim, the band wouldn’t experience worldwide commercial success until 1995. That was as a result of the release of their third studio album, ABOUT TIME. The band’s mainstream success was linked by a growing interest in punk rock during the 90’s. Along with Pennywise, Cali bands that caused a rift in the matrix were Green Day, The Offspring and punk-ska icons Rancid and NOFX. The anchors of the time were Social Distortion, Bad Religion and X. Over the years, Pennywise has sold over three million records worldwide, which makes them one of the most successful independent punk bands on the planet.
As for the music, their songs have become the soundtrack of their fans lives. Not only that, but their anti-government-establishment messages have inspired countless to become civil and political activists, proving punk rockers are not the detached anti-citizens they are often portrayed to be. Songs that make their fans think include Alien, All or Nothing, Bro Hymn, Fuck Authority, The Western World, and Victim of Reality.
These songs remind us that one voice can make a difference, it can be a disturbance, especially when the machine of politics relies on the silent majority. Voices of one can be that of the many, and that can have a ripple effect. That message, no matter what the message is… is what bands going back to the 60’s have always tried to do. Get people to think globally and act locally. Pennywise is in good company when it comes to that. As for the band itself, the current line-up consists of Jim Lindberg (vocals), Fletcher Dragge on guitar, Randy Bradbury on bass, and Byron McMakin on drums. That’s today, but what often comes up when you think about this band is the original lineup. The original line-up was together until bassist, Jason Thirsk, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in ’96. This was attributed to his ongoing battle with alcoholism. After which, Bradbury joined as his replacement. The loss of a friend like that impacts everyone. To understand the impact of a sudden loss like that, you don’t have to look beyond recent headlines with Linkin Park’s, Chester Bennington. His suicide brought a spotlight on mental illness, specifically depression. Also thrust forward was addiction in all its forms. It’s a different time we live in, and we can now openly have these conversations. To that extent, Pennywise has always been honest with their fans and bring a positive message with their mega-hit, Bro Hymn. This song reaches those with voices screaming in their head. Telling them “when you’re feeling too close to the bottom, you know who it is you can count on, someone will pick you up again, we can conquer anything together, all of us are bonded forever .” When a person is in a state of depression, it’s songs like Bro Hmyn that can bring them out of the darkness so they don’t become a victim of their own reality! The truth is life is much harder than the afterlife, but the right words to a catchy melody help those afflicted with depressive madness and touched by the breath of sadness. Songs like Bro Hymn remind them they’re not alone in this journey called life.
Over the years, there was one other change to the band’s lineup. Touring everywhere on the planet and the usual band interactions between bandmates caught up with Lindberg. In 2009, he announced he was leaving the band. He was replaced by Zoli Téglás of Ignite in early 2010. With Téglás on vocals, Pennywise recorded their tenth studio album ALL OR NOTHING. The Fates had something else in mind for the band. In June 2012, Téglás injured his back at a concert in Germany, which required him to have emergency surgery. As a result, they had to cancel their tour. Ironically, Téglás wanted to leave the band. He was in touch with Lindberg, and asked him to rejoin. Lindberg rejoined Pennywise later that year.
Father Time has a way of reminding us we all get older. For most of us we recognize that time can heal old wounds, but it has a way to allow you to reflect on the life you’ve learned with versus the life you’ve lived with. Which translates to taking on responsibilities we didn’t have as teens. For Lindberg, becoming a parent was life changing, and for the better.
Lindberg holds a degree in English from UCLA, and he’s often cited American transcendentalist philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as major influences on his writing (song lyrics). So it came as no surprise that in 2007, he published his book titled PUNK ROCK DAD. The book explores the dichotomy of being a responsible husband and parent that raises 3 daughters while fronting an anti-establishment punk rock band. The book features commentary from members of The Offspring, Lagwagon and back-page credits include members of Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, NOFX, Everclear and the World Famous, Dr. Drew.
Another project that carries the torch is the film The OTHER F WORD. That film followed Lindberg at home and on tour with Pennywise. It also features interviews with other punk rock dads like Flea from the Chili Peppers, Fat Mike from NOFX, Blink’s Mark Hoppus, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Ron Reyes of Black Flag, and Art Alexakis of Everclear. It’s fair to say that by becoming dads, they looked at the world through a different shade of shades. It doesn’t mean that their messages are watered down, or that they party any less; it just means they are just more responsible about it.
As for what’s next for Pennywise? It’s hard to believe, but the rumors are true!!! The guys have finished recording their twelfth studio album. Pennywise fans, hold on to your hats, there’s no drop-dead date just yet, but a new untitled album is in the can, and it’s expected to be released sometime in early 2018. The band has come full circle, and they’re in a good place, and new music takes them back to the beginning. If you’re in SoCal, even better news. They play the House of Blues, Anaheim November 30th and December 1st. They’re playing their album FULL CIRCLE for it’s 20th Anniversary in it’s entirety. They also bring in the New Year, December 31st at the House of Blues, Las Vegas. Go check them out, you’ll have the time of your life!
For information on the local show, go to:
NOVEMBER 30th & DECEMBER 1st