Pennywise, Columbus '02 by Abbey Whitney
photos and transcribing by Dan Stever

Abbey: I saw you guys at the Warped Tour, and I was wondering how was that?
Fletcher: The Warped Tour is pretty grueling. It's long days and long nights. So you don't have a lot of sleep, but as far as tours go, it's one of the funest ones that we have ever done. It's kinda like a family, like a traveling circus party. Pretty much like a punk rock summer camp in a way. So it's really cool, we've done it so many times, and it's gotten so big now it's hard to get to know everybody. I think there was like 49 bands last year or something. It's still cool though, because a lot of kids want to see certain bands that others might not want to see, and they'll be able to have access to do that. I think it really strengthened the whole lifestyle scene of punk kids.












Abbey: Are there any bands that you really got to know and hang out with?
Fletcher: Yeah there are tons of bands. We were friends with a lot before the Warped Tour. Hanging out with bands like NOFX, AFI... The Vandals are super classic guys. Sum 41 actually turned out to be a really cool group of kids. You'd think with a big record label you'd get an ego and blown up head, but they were really nice guys.

Randy: You know like Passport, the Descendents, and even like The Bosstones

Fletcher: Yeah Mighty Mighty Bosstones, H2O, so many... There were a few bands that were lame, like Alien Ant Farm. They thought that they were really cool, more special than everybody else, and that they should be on the main stage even though they are a young band. The Warped Tour isn't about that. It's like everybody climbs the ladder and every band gets a chance. Kevin the owner is really fair. Every once in a while you get a band that doesn't have that family attitude. I'll play the side stage any day. I don't care. It's still a fun show. It doesn't matter if you're on the main stage or side stage. If people want to come see you, you don't complain. You play your show; you got your crowd in front of you, that's how it goes. There have been a few bands...

Randy: Not very many. The only one that comes to mind is Alien Ant Farm. Every band that we've been on the Warped Tour with has been really cool. There's one other band that comes to mind, that some people like...

Fletcher: You're not going to say it though.

Randy: No. It's my personal opinion.

Fletcher: There are some bands that will go unmentioned that aren't that cool but we'll give them a free pass, cause there might be a couple of cool members.

Randy: The only band that really seemed like a bunch of fucking assholes and didn't get it about the Warped Tour, and probably didn't belong there, was Alien Ant Farm.

Fletcher: But you know what, it was just the singer. The rest of the guys in the band were pretty cool, but the singer was all "we're not a punk band if you want to see a punk band go over to another stage, get the fuck out of here, we don't want you in front of us! We're not Pennywise or Rancid or H20, GO over there!" I don't know, just a weird guy.

Randy: I mean he even made lame comments about his hairdo. He had a special name for it.

Fletcher: Just not our kind of people. Now their songs are popular, just because they played a Michael Jackson cover. Go figure the music industry man... it's crazy.

Abbey: Have you heard that Disney might be buying out the Van's Warped Tour, and if so are you guys still going to play there?
Fletcher: Haven't heard that, but I could defiantly imagine that. I know bought it from Kevin originally, then Yahoo bought Launch, and they didn't want anything to do with the Warped Tour. So they sold it back to Kevin for like a dollar. I know that Kevin has had all kinds of offers. We've been doing the whole punk rock thing, Randy and me, for like 22 years or something, pretty old you know.

Randy: (laughs) Yeah... (Says to Abbey) you've got cool shoes though.

Abbey: Thanks!
Fletcher: So before you were born we were both playing in punk bands.
Abbey: Wow...
Fletcher: I know it's kind of crazy to think, and yeah, pretty much old enough to be your dad, and he's (Randy) old enough to be your grandpa.

Randy: (laughs)
Fletcher: We've seen this whole transformation of like the old days when it was all underground and real rebellious to be a punk rocker. Everybody hated you, and shows were small, and there was no money, it was all about being a rebel and being yourself. Now it's kinda transformed into this lifestyle of surf, skate, snowboard, motocross, like extreme sports and punk rock, pop punk, it's turned into a whole way of life. The Warped Tour whether it's owned by Disney or Target or whatever, there's still going to bands out there doing it. It's kinda strange... I mean, Disney. I like Disney; I grew up on Walt Disney man.

Randy: The question would more be would they want us to do it.

Fletcher: Disney owns a lot of things. They own Hollywood records, Viacom, MTV. It's kinda like what people do is they try to monopolize something. They see a good thing and start buying up all the factions of it, and all of the sudden they own all the night clubs were all the gigs are, and they own the rights to the beer, they own the band, the label that the bands are on, they own MTV... It's like, "OK we put the band out, we can for sure get them on the radio stations, because we own all the radio stations, now we can get them on MTV..." When you start monopolizing like that, it kinda sucks because you have like... What do you have when you turn on MTV TRL? You have like 10 bands to choose from, it's like Brittany spears, N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, it's very small. There are hundreds of thousands of bands out there that are great bands. You're never going to see on MTV, or hear on the radio, that kids need to go out and explore and find cause corporations take over and have the power. We don't get played on MTV because we're on an independent label. Our videos are too hard for MTV, and we'll probably never get played on MTV because that's just how it is in this world. So the Warped Tour, it's already been corporized in the last couple of years. I mean Target was the sponsor last year you know. But know Target is selling Pennywise albums. Never before though. It's like anything that people think are cool that other people don't, if they are cool, eventually everybody wants a piece of the action. All of the sudden Tony hawks super cool, and Shaq O' Neil is playing Tony hawk's Playstation game. It's interesting to see skateboarding and punk rock go from being these bad underground things, and surfing from being pot smoking hippies, and now its in the mainstream.

pennywiseAbbey: Since we're a skateboarding zine do any of you guys in the band skate?
Fletcher: I skate to the liquor store occasionally.

Randy: I used to skate all the time but you get old. We skate a little bit. I take my dog around the block and have her pull me on my skateboard, but the last time I did that I hit a bump and she yanked me off the skateboard and I went flying about 10 feet and landed on everything.

Fletcher: I grew up skating like everyday of my life. Back yard pools and anything you can skate. When you get to the point where your getting hurt and you're in a band and you're breaking your wrist or whatever, as you get old the concrete gets harder.

Randy: You got to start prioritizing.

Fletcher: Byron still skates a bit, but he likes riding motocross now too. And that's totally scary. We still skate, but not like hard core. Front-side, backside airs are about where I found my limitations back in the day. It's more transportation now.

Abbey: When did you guys start to play?
Fletcher: Pennywise was started in 1988.

Randy: Back when they didn't have electricity.

Fletcher: It was a long time ago, like 13 years or something like that. Its been a long haul.

Abbey: What do you guys think about getting air-play now?
Fletcher: Our whole stance on radio throughout the years since we've been a band, we've never been played on the radio. And people always used to say, "Oh you need to change your style, you need to be more like this to be on the radio." We're like, "We do what we do, and this is what we believe in, and that's how we have fun." Eventually radio stations start saying "We kind of like this, we're gonna start playing them." One album got a little bit of air-play, but not much. Then the next one got a little bit more, then this last one got even more. It was kinda cool having Fuck Authority on the radio. For us it was like a victory. How many songs have you heard that have the "f" word as the title being played on the radio, yet alone Fuck Authority? The radio station was like, "This is what Pennywise is about." It's kinda like a cliché song, but it was kinda a tribute to TSOL and Wasted Youth. Wasted Youth had a song called Fuck Authority, and TSOL had a song called Silent Majority. So it was kinda like, for us it had a good meaning. Regardless, if there was one song we wanted to be played on the radio it was that one, and it wound up getting played. It didn't last that long. Sept. 11 kinda put a damper on it because the song was pretty hardcore. Then at that point, everybody was like this song isn't appropriate at this time. We agreed so they pulled the song, and that was it. Radio, it's good to expose the band to new fans and stuff, but at the same time we love the fans we have and we want to keep the fans we have. We just kinda hopefully do it on our own terms. We don't have to jump through a lot of hoops. A lot of these bands out there just basically paying to get played on the radio, we just got played because we've been around for so long and they liked our music.

pennywiseRandy: I totally agree, if you aren't changing your style of music, you're just doing what you do, and the radio changes. They change their format and all of the sudden they're accommodating your type of music. I think that as long as your doing what you believe in, why not have it on the radio? Why limit yourself to only be heard by a few people? You know, like fans that have been around since day one... It's like special to have a band that's like your secret. Not everyone knows about it. It's really trivial to get hung up on who else is listening to the band you like. We're going to do what we do regardless of how many people are listening to us. It shouldn't matter. I don't listen to the radio that much cause I don't like the music they play. But if they play really hard core, or just bands that I like I'd listen to the radio, you know...

Fletcher: I definitely think that radio has gotten better. If you look back like 10 years ago, they were playing Duran Duran; just total shit! The whole "new wave" thing, and then there was the whole pop like Michael Jackson. CRACK and the alternative stations weren't really playing that kind of stuff, but then you know, there was just a bunch of shit that I personally didn't like. Then all of the sudden, it's cool to have hard shit like Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine... Those are all bands that I listen to, I like, so now when I turn on the radio, I'm like "Wow!" I can actually turn it on and hear something that has some balls and stuff. Eventually we fit in, and we've always said, "Let them come to us. We're not going to go to them; we're not going to change ourselves, who we are, to be part of them. They're eventually going to come around to what we do." And it happened. It's on a small scale for us compared to most bands.

Randy: If we never get played on the radio again, we won't care. Ya know? We'll still be playing shows, making records, and doing our thing.

Abbey: What have been the major changes since your start in '88?
Fletcher: Major change would be that Jason, our original bass player passed away, and Randy took over. That's probably the most major change. In general, nothing's really changed. We're pretty much the same guys. Everyone's a little wacky in their own little ways. I think we were charging $10 for T-shirts back then, and we are still charging $10 for T-shirts now. It's like we try to always keep the fans in mind, and what would be good for the fans, to keep them coming back. And that's writing albums that sound like Pennywise every time. Not all the sudden to be a ska band, cause ska is popular. Or being a new metal band, cause new metal is popular. So I think we've been pretty consistent. We try to keep the ticket prices low, try to keep merchandise prices low, try to make every show feel like a party for the kids. No one's driving Ferraris so, we must be doing something wrong.

Abbey: Over the years, has writing songs become more natural to you?
Fletcher: It's never really easy, because everyone's so passionate in the band. It's not just one guy writing songs. Everybody in the band writes songs. Jim will come up with a whole song done, Randy will come in with a whole song done, I'll come in with a part and we'll collaborate. So it's a constant fight of like, "Should we do it this way or that way?" It's become more natural. Sometimes we'll play an old song that we thought was really hard 10 years ago, and now we play it and it's really easy. You're like "Oh man that used to be really hard to play." I think it's just we learned how to play punk rock better and better 13 years later. It's not hard to write songs, but it's hard to have everybody agree that it's a Pennywise song. Pennywise is about 4 people, and about the fans too. So we're constantly thinking, "That's a really good song man. That could be a huge song." People would be like, "That's a hit song." We had a song on the last record that everyone was like, "That's the single! That's the hit!" And we're like "OK, we're just going to take that one off..." And we took it off because we just didn't think it was right for the band at the time. It's not that hard, but it's hard.

pennywiseRandy: As far as writing albums, I think our albums have consistency of like what type of music; we try to stick true to our roots, you know? The music we like, and putting out albums that are going to be pennywise albums. So every time we go in, we kinda have a vision of where we want to go. We just try to add different elements onto it. It gets challenging writing albums in the fact that you try to find the way to be different, without being too different, cause all the sudden you're playing music that you don't even like.

Abbey: Land of the Free is obviously strongly based on politics, but what has been your inspiration for your other records?
Fletcher: It varies every time we write a record. We write what's going on in our lives at that time. So you could have a record that has a couple songs about friends on drugs, it could be anything. We never set out with a topic; it's just what comes out while we're writing. Land of the Free, there was just so much political stuff, with the elections and the LAPD, the scandals going on in our city with all the corruption and stuff; a lot of school shootings and gun control issues. There were just so many things that were of a political nature. We were just like "Man, there's just so much wrong with this country, we love America, but we hate the problems." It's like there's so many fucking problems. You go to other countries like Europe and stuff; yeah everyone's got problems, but guns aren't legal there. Cops don't even carry guns in England. You might get in a bar fight and someone might stab you, but the whole way of life over there is just so much different. We've traveled all over and seen so much, that we come back here and you hear, "Oh yeah your friend OD'd on heroin," or you know "This guy got shot in a drive-by." Randy's cousin's friend just got in a drive-by and got shot in the head just sitting at a stoplight. How's he doing by the way?

Randy: He's doing good.

Fletcher: ...But it's like you hear that stuff, and you just get frustrated. You know the reason why guns are legal in America is because the NRA has so much power, and they make so much money, and they're paying off the fucking politicians, and the politicians won't pass the gun control bills. There are just a lot of problems, so we sing about them. It pisses us OFF! We're in a good position, we're making good livings, we're having fun doing what we do. But we could be singing love songs, we could be singing something a little more commercial to help us become a bigger band. But these are things that affect us. We don't live in the ghetto; we live in like a nice beach community. But we still know gangbangers and people that have been killed in gang related things. We know tons of people that have died of drug overdoses, and on and on and on. That's kinda where the inspiration for Land of the Free came from. Just being really pissed off.

[Fletcher exits for sound check and Jim enters] pennywise

Abbey: Out of your 7 albums, which one was your favorite?
Jim: Typical "PC" answer... We like them all. But I like Unknown Road and Land of the Free. Out off all of them, Unknown Road is probably the best one.

Abbey: Is there a habit or a pre-show ritual that you guys do before a show?
Randy: Fletcher needs about 3 hours of drinking to get himself ready... I like to at some point before we play, have 5 minutes with no one around. Even if it's an hour, just to think with complete silence and to prepare myself.

Abbey: How have the events in New York effected you guys?
Jim: Wow... A lot of ways; especially being a political band like ours. We've written a lot of lyrics about our country, and the things that we've done to cause a lot of outside hatred towards America. I mean you could not be surprised by what happened. It was obviously a horrific thing to watch on TV all day long. But at the same time, especially our last album Land of the Free was trying to warn people that something like this was coming. In so many terms, that's why there was a lot of anger and mediacy to our album. Unless as a nation we wake up to things that are happening out in the world, and how bad we are hated, we're probably going to be woken up to that false sense of security. And we were. After that happened, I was just kinda numb... I really don't have the desire to write a political song right now. Now it's like the aftermath. We've been screaming it for so long about how bad it could get. Then when it happened you're just kinda like "Fuck... I feel like writing stupid songs now." There's a major reaction to want to do that and pretend it's not there, but I think when we start writing, we're going to have to address what went on, and try to learn some lessons from it.

Randy: It's hard to find words to explain how you feel about it. Even though you can foresee it coming, how are you supposed to know how to react after its happened... It's crazy to realize that there's so many people in the world that feel so differently about life and so differently from the way we see it. Just because of you're differences, they want you to get... It's not like "live and let live." That's kinda really a shocker thing. It kinda makes you want to become really defensive and hate back. I think it's just a matter of time to let reality sink in before you can really know how you feel about it. Just thinking about traveling, and going places to go play shows oversees and stuff... There are so many different variables of what could happen. That's definitely a change.

Abbey: In ten years where do you guys see your band and see yourselves?
Jim: That's a good question...

Randy: Ten more years? (laughs)

Jim: I think hopefully in 10 years we'll be playing shows and putting out albums that we still feel strongly about. But I think naturally for a band like us, we're not young puppies anymore trying to break into some big MTV world, so there are different priorities for us. I think we just want to put out music that we can stand behind. As far as touring goes, more recently, I just want to do it when it's fun. It's not anything anymore to think we're going to go play 100 or 200 shows a year. With each album, we're going to try to get to the major places that we know we have fans that are going to come out. And then, that's it. Whereas other bands that are starting, they're going to try to go everywhere and break markets and things like that. I think now our priorities are giving our fans good records and coming to play in their town once a year. That should be enough. I hope so.

Abbey: I want to thank you for doing this interview with Real Skate. Do you guys have anything that you'd like to add?
Jim: Read Noam Chomsky's Version 9-11. I just bought that book today, and it's very very interesting. If you want to get a new perspective on 9-11... It's all his interviews of what he thinks the causes of it were... Read a book!

Randy: I'm very good looking.

Abbey: You want us to print that?

Jim: (Laughs)

Randy: Yes, it's true I'm very good looking.




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