A tempered ideology may have replaced their blind rage but LA's skate-punk survivors Pennywise continue to fight the good fight. Interview by Steve Tauschke with singer Jim Lindberg.
Hey Jim, it's been a while … I think I last spoke to you back in 1995.
"Yeah, a little water under the bridge since then. I think my daughter was being born around that time."
So what's Pennywise been up to of late, at least since 2003's From The Ashes album?
"Obviously having three kids, a lot of my time is spent with the family. I'm actually working on a book right now about my experiences with that, it's called Punk Rock Dad and it's going to be out in January. I have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old and a two-year-old and the book's about what it's like raising kids and being from a punk rock scene that was very anti-authority and was about individualism whereas when you're a parent how do you teach your kids to respect authority when you've been singing 'fuck authority' your whole life?"
So you think maybe some rules are there for a good reason, particularly when it comes to kids?
"Well, here's a perfect example. It's real easy to say 'fuck the police' and that's been a refrain of one of my band members and the truth is, me personally, I have a couple of friends who are police officers and good officers are some of the biggest heroes in our community. So there are decent authority figures in our society whether they be firemen or doctors or whatever. That being said, there are also corrupt politicians and people in authority who I have absolutely no respect for whatsoever. But I think that's what happens with age, you start you temper your idelology with a little bit of reality and that's hopefully what you teach your kids. You don't want to teach them to, you know ..."
To exercise blind rage?
"Yeah, blind rage, because that's what we were. That had a lot of do with the time we grew up which was at the time of Ronald Reagan and the Cold War and we thought that nuclear war was just around the corner. And why not, we were throwing a ruined society back in their faces and saying 'fuck you, we don't accept it'. Now I think there's more of a sense that 'hey, if we can work on some issues there's enough like-minded individuals out there to actually make some positive change'."
Has the political climate in the US in recent years fuelled the band's fire?
"I think it has and I think the last time we spoke was right when our bass player Jason (Thirsk) passed away and the album at that time Full Circle was dealing with that. The next album was kind of a transition which became Land Of The Free which was a very political record for us and that just kind of kept the fires going. At least for me personally it gave me something new to concentrate on from a songwriting perspective. Plus there was just a lot of righteous anger at what was going on in the world. I remember when George W Bush was elected and we had practice that day and I just told everyone that we're headed for a world of shit. Unfortunately I was proven right. There was a lot of trouble in the offing and so we wanted to fight the good fight."
Last year's album The Fuse seems to deal more with the politics of music and the modern day punk scene.
"I think it touches on a lot of subjects and we made a conscious effort not to just be hitting you over the head with Bush-bashing all the time. I think we got that out of our systems. But I think there's a good mix of philosophical songs and songs about the current environment. The Fuse was an example of a typical studio album where we had all worked on songs and each brought a group of songs in … it wasn't like in the past where it was more of a collaboration. This time, I wrote the words and music to my songs in my garage, Fletcher did the same and so on .. But I think we'll probabaly be going back to more collaboration on the next record."
Is there a Pennywise track that in your mind perfectly captures everything you love about the band?
"I think the album Full Circle would probably be the one for me where it just seemed like we were going on all cyclinders and just because it was a very tumultuous time for the band. The recording, the production, the lyrics, the music just encapsulates everything Pennywise is about. It's just balls-to-the-wall the entire time and there's tonnes of ideas in there that give you cause to think about different things. There are lines here and there on the record that express exactly what I wanted to express about who we are as people and our predicamant. I think we were coming into our own as musicians and doing it the way we wanted to do it."
As one of the old guard of Californian second-wave punk bands along with Lagwagon and others, what's your take on some of the newer groups, the so-called doom n' gloom set?
"It's interesting, I think there's a whole new form of the punk scene that's kind of taken off and allowed these bands to have their moments in the sun. But a lot of us bands have weathered a lot of other trends as well. We were here for the ska trend, the swing trend, Limp Bizkit and the rap-rock trend and while I feel a lot of these new bands have got some really good songs, like those other trends I think there's a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon. But that happened in our style of music as well so it's not something we can really complain about.
"But I'd be lying if I didn't say some of it does seem a little contrived and superficial with various fashion statements. That said, some of the bands who first started it have some cool stuff, like Thrice and The Used, but a lot of bands have taken what those bands did and taken out all the great lyrical content and just added the flash and the spinning guitars and white belts."
You've certainly weathered plenty of storms the past 20-odd years ... what's the most important lesson you've learnt over the journey?
"I think just how similar we all are, instead of how different we all make ourselves out to be. That it doesn't matter what your language or skin colour is or where you're from, people still have the same basic needs, fears and desires. And that's probably one of the biggest let-downs is that you go out there and you see that people pretty much want the same thing but what's stopping us from getting it? And I think that's why you start a punk band and start writing songs about seeing the potential but being frustrated by politics and ideology. It makes you want to pick up a Les Paul and play really hard and fast and scream to the world about it. Haha!"