Since their incarnation in 1988, Pennywise has earned the title as punk legends in their own right. Getting their start in Hermosa Beach, California, the group still remains true to their roots, even recording their 11th full-length album, Yesterdays, which came out last year and consists of a redone collection of songs from the very early beginnings of the band, in their home city. Though founding member and longtime lead vocalist Jim Lindberg left in 2009 and was briefly replaced with Zoli Téglás of Ignite, he soon returned three years later. Before hitting the road with Teenage Bottlerocket and A Wilhelm Scream for a headlining tour, the frontman took the time to discuss the process behind Yesterdays, his new side project, and what advice he would give to his younger self.
What sparked the initial idea to re-record old material for Yesterdays?
First we had wanted to do a box set, where we would record some old songs we made back when we first started that we had always wanted to go into the studio and track. The decision was made for us that a box set wasn’t a great idea, but we decided to go to the studio and record some of these songs and left a few outtakes from bigger albums, and at the end of it there was a cool package of songs before we got signed and when we first started, plus some outtakes of earlier stuff.
This was the first album you did with Pennywise since returning to the band. Was that a weird feeling?
You know, it was and it wasn’t. I’ve done so many records with the guys that I know the drill, but they always seem to surprise me somehow. When we were recording, we were pressured to go in and get it done at a certain time, but unfortunately our drummer’s father was very ill and ended up passing away shortly after we finished the album. So it was a very tumultuous time for us and it was kind of rough on the band to have to do that under those circumstances, but I think we are faithful to each of those versions of the songs.
Do you think sticking to a studio in Hermosa Beach gave Yesterdays a different feel?
Yeah. We recorded at this small little studio that’s right in the middle of all these other music shops and surfboard repair shops, so it very much had a Hermosa vibe, and there were friends around so that’s always helpful. We did it with a local guy who gave us free reign to do what we wanted. The main thing in my mind was to not overproduce it; I just really wanted to have a raw feel for the album, and I think we succeeded at that about 50 percent.
Are there any plans to write and release new material anytime soon?
I hope so. I’ve been working on a side project called Wraths, and Fletcher [Dragge, guitarist] has a side project that he’s working on, but I’m always ready to get in there and record. It’s a big priority for me to be able to be creative, so I definitely want to start writing and recording stuff, but everyone is busy with their families and there’s a lot going on so it’s difficult right now. But hopefully we’ll get some time in the future to make that happen. I think we definitely have the ability to put out something great, so we want to do that as soon as possible.
Can you talk a little bit about Wraths?
Yeah! Some local guys came to me and said they had a bunch of songs and wanted to know if I knew of any singers, so I suggested myself (laughs). It was that easy. It’s very different from the typical ’90s skate-punk tough sound. Part of the Pennywise stuff is very verse-chorus, very catchy; very grounded in what we are able to do. This feels a little more free in expression, and it’s great being able to have something like this where I can experiment more. For Pennywise, and not just us but other bands like Bad Religion, Rancid, and NOFX, you expect a certain sound and it’s really easy to get pigeonholed. Which is understandable, because no one wants to hear a Pennywise polka album.
When Pennywise first formed, was there any idea that two decades later the band would still have a demand?
Definitely not when we were first starting. We got into it just to have some fun and it really happened so quickly that there wasn’t a chance to examine it. We did our first recording after we had played a few parties and then we were on a record deal, and that was literally within the space of a year. Then we were making records and doing tours and then all of a sudden the whole focus on punk started happening and we were able to do pretty well overseas and in the U.S. playing shows. Next thing you know, it’s 25 years later. Obviously there has been some hiccups along the way, but I think you’re going to have that with any situation. Pennywise is something for us that goes beyond various members themselves. It’s a big family of people that love the band.
If you could give yourself any advice 25 years ago when you were just getting started, what would it be?
That is a great question. An obvious one for me would be to enjoy it more instead of worrying so much about how you’re perceived, which is one of the best pieces of advice you can give anyone. We were all so worried about looking like sellouts or appealing to the hardcore crowd. But on a different level, we lost our bass player [Jason Thirsk died in 1996 due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound] very early on and that was a very heart-wrenching issue. Obviously, I would make that phone call earlier or do anything in my power to prevent that from happening. That was the center of tragedy in the band and it was something that took us a long time to recover from, if you ever do recover from something like that. So if we’re being real, it would be to be more of a help to our bass player.
Being involved in music for so long, how have you seen the industry change?
The biggest change would obviously be the switch to digital, and what that meant for the industry was catastrophic. Especially for someone like myself, because we are definitely a working class band, and album sales and touring were 50/50 on how a band survived. But bands that have the ability to follow their dreams of playing music, they have to work so much harder now. I think it’s been difficult for people working in the music industry, for bands, for everyone; except booking agents, because now all of the bands are going on tour so much. They’ve had a great time with this (laughs). Music isn’t the only industry that this has happened to or will happen to; they’re going to find more and more ways to have the computer do work for them just as the analog before. It’s changing so much of our culture; I only have to see my daughters’ faces buried in their phones to realize how it’s changed. It’s like how I am, I can’t really just blame them because I’m talking to you on my iPhone and I’ll probably go to my laptop in a few minutes and try to write a song or something
After over two decades you guys have accumulated such a massive discography. Is it difficult creating a setlist to play live?
It’s almost impossible, but we try to do the best we can. People want to hear the songs that they love when we play, so we try to do a lot of the quote-unquote “Pennywise” songs. I think people kind of expect that and want to hear all the ones that are well known. Bands can’t really predict which songs that people are really going to respond to, so each tour we go out there and try to add something new. Our drummer Byron [McMackin] just came up with the idea to play a cover song, so we’re going to be playing a little bit of “Loser” by Beck. We thought that that would be a nice statement to make towards the whole Kanye controversy about “real artists.” That was kind of a slap in the face to someone like Beck, multi-instrumentalist who has been recording on four tracks since he was a kid. So we’re going to play a little bit of that and then we are going to do the Hermosa Beach version which is “I’m Not A Loser” by The Descendents.
After this tour, what are the band’s plans for the rest of 2015?
Touring for a couple of weeks and then hanging out with our families. We’re excellent jugglers when it comes to Pennywise and being a musician-fathers. I have a daughter who is graduating high school and then going away to college, so we’re trying to figure all that out. Then everything that comes with summer and Pennywise. We’re playing Ink-N-Iron Festival in June, then we’re off to Australia to tour for a little bit. There’s plenty of stuff on the table, so we’re just trying to keep it all balanced.
Pennywise will be performing with opening acts Teenage Bottlerocket and A Wilhelm Scream at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on March 26 and Irving Plaza in New York City on March 27. Yesterdays is available now through Epitaph Records. For more information, go to pennywisdom.com.