Pennywise hardly foolish. Punk band understands importance of harnessing its art, anger
In a genre dominated by the spending power of people who are barely of legal drinking age, the idea of a punk band comprising four men in their 30s might seem ridiculous.
That said, you can count out Pennywise, whose members are now in their 15th year on the California punk scene.
"We're right in the thick of it," said lead singer Jim Lindberg.
Indeed, instead of succumbing to time, Pennywise continues to create its own scorching brand of punk rock, both on the road and in the studio, with 2003's "From the Ashes," an album smoldering in political angst.
The band performs Sunday night at Empire, the latest
addition to downtown Sacramento's live-music scene (see above story).
Founded in 1988 and named after the menacing clown from Stephen King's "It," Pennywise's original lineup featured Lindberg, guitarist Fletcher Dragge, bassist Jason Thirsk and drummer Byron McMackin. It was not the best time to be Los Angeles punks. ::: Advertisement :::
"When we started, metal was in, but since then a lot of things have happened," Lindberg said. "Punk was very commercialized, styles from ska to swing came and went, but we just kept playing the music we listened to growing up and liked to play."
Not succumbing to style changes in popular punk, Pennywise lays it down like few others. The group's torrid style and pummeling guitar riffs at times flirt with metal before settling into a driving, Southern California skate park sound. Lyrically, the band finds a happy medium between catchy and edgy.
Pennywise's debut album was released in 1991 and featured "Bro Hymn," written by bassist Thirsk as an ode to departed friends. A sense of tragic irony would follow the song with Thirsk's death five years later. His passing left Pennywise questioning its future.
"I still have thoughts about hanging it up," Lindberg said. "There's a part of me with every album that wishes we had moved on. But there's such a powerful message in the songs that (Thirsk) wrote. You've just got to keep that going."
Pennywise decided to press on with replacement bassist Randy Bradbury, who had previously filled in for Thirsk. The band continued touring and producing albums, including 2001's bitterly political "Land of the Free?" "From the Ashes" maintains the band's trademark blitzkrieg pace and thrashing style, but there is also an underlying sense of refinement and maturity.
"It's about looking around at what's going on with all the craziness in the world that you shake your head at every day," Lindberg said. "Sometimes, you feel so powerless that you have to look at it and write a punk song about it."
The album features "God Save the USA," a track included on the newly released political action compilation "Rock Against Bush." The album is being produced by bassist Fat Mike of punk stalwarts NOFX.
"It's about (among other things) our government's refusal to protect our greatest natural resources," Lindberg said of the track. "I've cut out a lot of articles on this, I have a stack about up to my waist from the last three years about what's happening, and how it's working.
"But people just don't want to hear about it. I really wish I didn't have to keep writing songs about it."
If "From the Ashes" is any indication, Pennywise is at the top of its game. Any chance they'll make it playing punk in their 40s? Only time will tell.
"Pacing is the most important thing in every single thing regarding a band," Lindberg said. "From going on tour, making records, doing the business, I see a lot of bands who get burned out, same thing with partying and being on the road. Anything you overdo will eventually destroy you."
By Aaron Davis
Record Staff Writer
Published Friday, April 23, 2004