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At The Dwarf we are a pretty damn excited about the Pennywise Australian tour and the end of this month with Anti-Flag. We had a chat with Pennywise's guitarist and punk legend, Fletcher Dragge.
Hey, Fletcher! Well, I have to say when I was a teenager listening to your tunes I never thought I'd be here interviewing you today! It's awesome to chat with you today!
So 2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of the release of the album 'About Time', which at the time was a little slept on, but now it's considered one of your best releases. I bet twenty years ago you wouldn't have guessed that Pennywise would become one of the most successful punk bands of all time?
That's 100% true. At the time we started out in a garage, as a matter of fact, we still practice in a garage. And we didn't really have any expectations at all, except just playing backyard parties for our friends, and maybe put a record out someday. We did it, and now we've toured the world, you know, twenty times, seen it all, done it all, and somehow managed to make a living out of punk rock music. So yeah, it's definitely a surprise to all of us. It wasn't an overnight thing, you know, it was a slow growth procedure, so it hasn't been 'Wow, what happened?' It's been a lot of hard work and dedicated friends who have helped us get here, and a lot of dedicated people have helped the band out, so we are just super grateful that we are able to do this.
About Time was the last album to feature your original bassist Jason before he passed away, so it must also feel bittersweet to be meeting this milestone without him?
Yeah I mean, I think we have all accepted Jason being gone. It's kind of like, we go out on a nightly basis and play songs that he had written, so his memory is always kept alive when we are out there playing. Recently we did the Yesterday's album which he wrote a lot of the songs, and we went back and revisited a lot of songs that had never been recorded. And then we did About Time. And actually we practice in his house where he passed away. His little brother lives there now, so we practice in the garage there. And we actually ran through the About Time album today, getting ready for this tour, and it was really cool. We were talking about how Jason wrote these lyrics and how he'd take like twenty words and put them in one sentence and go (insert blibber blubber here); this complete jibberish. And everyone's gone 'Holy shit, I forgot this one, like how hard it is to sing this line' or something. It was a really cool knack that Jason had for being able to do that. It was really strange, but that kind of made us who we were, you know, kind of defined us a little bit. It's always cool like somehow his memories come up. His little brother who actually sang the breakdown on the 'Bro Hymn' tribute to Jason, he is coming with us on the tour because he is really excited about us playing 'About Time'. It should be a good tour, I mean Jason was a huge part of the band, a huge influence on the band and still continues to be today. So when we talk about stuff we'll say 'What would Jason do?' He kind of still has a vote, so it's bittersweet; but the fact that we're able to continue carrying on his legacy is great, because it actually makes it more sweet than bitter.
Your latest album 'Yesterdays' is a compilation of unreleased songs written by Jason. It must have felt good to be able to honour him in that way. You went on tour after the release of Yesterdays with some hectic supports like Bad Religion and The Offspring... That must have been a wild tour!! I know some Aussies would kill to see those bands in the same place at the same time!
Yeah, we've had some good ones. Usually, it's like a festival, you know. It would be really cool, we've tried to get down there with Bad Religion and Offspring. I think this time is going to be really awesome with Anti-Flag there. They're a really good match for Pennywise. They come out, they kick ass, they got the same political views as we do a lot of the time. We get along really good with them, so its going to be awesome. But yeah, someday, Bad Religion, The Offspring, and Pennywise, maybe. NOFX, that would be a good one.
You guys have been quite outspoken about your political views. You have Anti-Flag joining you on this tour. Those guys are very well known for their political activism. It's awesome to see musicians using their voices to advocate change. Is that why you were drawn towards working with them?
Umm, yeah for sure. And just their music in general, from the first record they put out I think we all liked them and we had the chance to tour with them in Europe, then we actually did some U.S. tours with them. We played with them not long ago up in Montreal. They're just really cool guys, they actually believe in what they are talking about and they practice what they preach, and they're just a really good live band, very easy to get along with. That's who you want to be out there with, someone that is a good match with you and you can sit down backstage and have a beer with and be able to have something in common, so its going to be a fun tour. They are great on stage, they've got a very energetic show, I'm looking forward to it, for sure.
Some people say music has lost a bit of meaning these days, but Pennywise has always had something to say.
Yeah absolutely. Whether it was personal change, I think a lot of our early works were about changing your life for the better and being an individual, follow your dreams and follow your heart. But also sometimes there's a lot of political stuff going on. I think, if you don't care about the world, or your country, or your government, you just go through life going to work and spending money and watching TV, doing whatever makes you happy. But I think you have got to think about other people sometimes and how governments affect other people.
America is in a spot right now where we are struggling. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed, just like all over the world there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. There have been a lot of mistakes made. I think corporate greed is one of the biggest problems and the fact that corporations can buy politicians and put them into office. It's just an insane concept.
If anybody is paying attention there's this guy, Bernie Sanders running over here for President this time round, and I think he's the guy who has spoken the most truth of any candidate in a long time. And it's pretty much indisputable; if you even try to disagree with him then.... You know it's so truthful and so on-point, it's ridiculous. So of course, I'm posting every day, Bernie Sanders on my Facebook page because you know, I want my country to be better. I want the world to be a better place. I want the poor people to be taken care of. I want old people to be taken care of. I want veterans to be taken care of. I want fewer people in prison.
I could go on for hours about it. But at the end of the day, I think yeah, we use our band as a soapbox for things we want to talk about. Whether it's personal or politics or whatever, drug abuse, friends dying, overdosing. We're going to talk about what's affecting us in our lives. Good, bad or ugly, we're going to put it out there. And we've been able to connect with a lot of fans all over the world about different topics and we're keeping it real and not just talking about drugs and girls. I mean we've been able to keep doing this for the last twenty-five years, we must be doing something right.
A lot of bands don't last the distance, so I guess that is something about Pennywise that has held you together for so long?
I mean obviously, you are only as good as your fans are. If you don't have fans, you're playing at a local bar for twenty people. So, the fact that we've been able to keep our fans involved and keep them coming to shows and buying our records and supporting us is crazy. It's always been about the fans, you know. Obviously we are making music because we want to make ourselves happy, but at the same time we always think about what our fans want. Whether it's a t-shirt design, whether it's a set list, how we write the songs we are writing or a message. I think bands that loose sight of their fans wind up dud. They change. They become selfish. They become greedy. They want everything done their way and they want to make X amount of money and blah blah blah. And fans just eventually turn their back on them. Then they got go nothing and their washing dishes or digging ditches, so we've been very conscious of our fans. We are very fortunate that we've has our fans stick by us through all the crazy turmoil this band has been through. Without them, we'd be nothing, and we know that. Hopefully, we can keep making them happy.
I imagine a group of guys who have known each other for as long as you have and do as much touring together as you have, would become much like brothers? Are things mostly peachy or do you get on each others nerves from time to time?
Absolutely get on each others nerves from time to time. No doubt about that. It's like an old married couple, except it's not like being married to one person, it three people you have to get on with. It's definitely hard, we are all very opinionated. Everybody thinks they are right. And that's a nightmare. One guy will make a suggestion and everyone will be like, 'You're crazy, we're not doing that', and he'll feel like these guys don't have my back, they aren't seeing it my way, you know, 'Fuck them'. Then you turn around and it's happening to you the next minute. It's just hard, I think we are all like minded and that's what's kept us together. We can all eventually agree on something, you know, be a democracy, majority vote wins. And most the time that isn't the most pleasant thing. I'm like 'Hey I wrote this song, I think it's the best song I've written in ten years', when everyone else is like, this song is horrible. And I'm like, you're fucking crazy. It gets voted down and never makes it to an album, it takes a minute to get over that. But that's part of the democracy, you know. You can't be right, you have to let the power of the vote and the people speak if you're really going to be democratic, you got to let things go. So, it's hard, but we've been doing it long enough, we all know what buttons not to push. But I think the older we got, the little bit more mature we've got and got a little more considerate towards each other, and we figure out a way to make it work. It's not always perfect, but we're still having fun. That is the key.
You guys have played for Australian audiences a number of times now, and you are headed here this month for the About Time 20th Anniversary tour! Pennywise always receives a massive response from Aussie fans, which of your songs gets the crowd extra pumped?
Obviously 'Bro Hymn' gets the biggest response on a worldwide level. 'Fuck Authority' goes over really well, I think a lot of people are in positions where somebody more powerful than them is telling them what to do, how to act. Whether it's your boss, or your government, or your cops, who knows what, your parents, you know. I think a lot of people can relate to that. 'Society' is another big one. 'Fight Till You Die'. The list goes on. It's like being in my own country, like being the boss, doing things my way. I think everyone dreams about being President or Prime Minister or whatever, King or Queen. Because you think you could do a better job.
I think basically, it's what connects with the audience. And then there are certain songs that might be someone's favourite song because it reminds them of their brother who passed away or who knows what. It just connects them on a level, like this is the song that changed my life. I think we all have songs like that, but it doesn't necessarily mean, because everyone is screaming 'Society' or 'Fuck Authority' that that is the best song, it's an individual taste thing. And I think some songs resonate with a bigger group of people because there are a lot of people experiencing that same emotion, that song grabs them and they go, 'yeah'. Like, obviously with 'Bro Hymn', everybody has had somebody pass away, whether it's a friend or companion or something, so that song just connects on a massive level, to people all over the world, you know. For me it connects. So, it's crazy to have something like that that we can pull out every night and play and have people lose their minds for three minutes. And they walk away feeling like, I don't know, they had some sort of emotional experience. It's really cool.
Well, I'm pumped! Looking forward to catching you guys when you head out here in Australia.
For sure, come find me and we'll have a beer or something.
PENNYWISE TOUR DATES
Wednesday, September 23: The Tivoli, Brisbane
Thursday, September 24: The Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
Friday, September 25: Panthers, Newcastle
Saturday, September 26: The Roundhouse, Sydney
Monday, September 28: 170 Russell, Melbourne
NEW SHOW Tuesday, September 29: 170 Russell, Melbourne
Wednesday, September 30: HQ, Adelaide
Thursday, October 1: Metropolis, Fremantle
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