Pennywise: A penny for your thoughts
By Justin Langshaw
This month Pennywise release 'The Fuse', yet another fast and furious serving of discontent from one of the longest serving bands in punk.
Bilious and tinged with the rough edges that made their early albums so popular, it is their most political to date. Live, they retain the aggressive gang mentality that makes them compulsive viewing, and draws hero-worship from their fans.
New Noise caught up with frontman Jim Lindberg as he prepared for their headline London show.
Jim, How's it going?
It's going pretty well, it's hot and we had no air conditioning on our bus, for like, 13 hours today, but...hey!
Where have you come from today?
We were in Le Mans, France. It was nice, but we were playing some metal festival, so there were a lot of black shirts, Sepultura T-shirts, y'know...(laughs).
You're only playing five European shows in the next little while, all in 'sweaty clubs'. Was it a conscious decision to avoid major festivals?
Well, it just fitted in with what we were doing at the time. We are doing some festivals, but mostly we're doing our own shows. We do like to mix it up; do some festivals with our own shows, that way you get the best of both worlds.
The new album has the sound of a classic Pennywise album, which you put down to a 'plug-in-and-play' approach to recording. How did that help?
I felt it helped the immediacy of the record. I could tell listening to the last record that I was a little too concerned with the annunciation of what I was saying. I tried to record each song as a whole, instead of sorta patching things together (from different takes). Y'know, with Pro-Tools, everything gets separated into little pieces, like '1's and '0's, so we wanted to do it as live as we could. I think it has more energy that way.
The last three albums ('From The Ashes', 'Land Of The Free', 'The Fuse') seem to have been your most political to date. What's your feeling on the political climate in the US right now given Bush's re-election and the mandate he has been given?
It was real tough, and a lot of us were really surprised when he was re-elected. After everything he's done, and the international community turning against the US because of the policies of the Bush administration, no one really thought he would get re-elected.
Unfortunately there are a lot of brainwashed people in America, who would rather vote for Bush than vote for America. But, y'know, America is a rebel country at its heart, and they're a lot of the things written into our constitution; our right to protest and rebel against our administration if it isn't representing our people.
Bush is trying to change the constitution too. How do you feel about that?
Oh yeah, it's horrible. A lot of it is concerned with organised religion, and the conservative agenda, the concerns of the oil industry, big business. It's unbelievable. I think the problem a lot of the left wing people in our country have is that a lot of the changes he has made fly in the face of common sense. A lot of civil liberties have been damaged. It just means people on the good side have to try a lot harder.
A British politician said that it wasn't that we had underestimated Bush, but how far right wing the US public had become post 9/11. Do you think that's true?
Well, I think history supports the fact that after any disaster, man-made or natural, there is a movement of people going back to conservative ideals. That's bad because they tend to be the people that hold us back. Now it's got to the stage where if you complain even slightly, you're looked on as a traitor. A lot of people who were sort of central before; many have been flung to the right, afraid they'll be accused of not doing the right thing for their country.
The previous albums like 'Full Circle' and 'Straight Ahead' seemed much more concerned with sociological issues that could be directly linked to the death of (the band's former bassist) Jason Thirsk. Do you think what has happened in the US has reaffirmed your position as a punk band, or is it that those wounds are starting to heal?
I think it's a little of both. If you look at any of our albums there is a balance with political songs like 'Fox TV' (from the new album) or more sociological songs like 'Society' (from 'Full Circle'). I think what happened with Jason was hard, but it's also hard to keep revisiting the same thing. Obviously you never forget. It's a huge part of our lives and our band, but its something you have to move on from. Like Jason said; "Remember the good times."
You mentioned 'Fox TV' there, which deals with the malediction of a lot of US news, especially the 'entertainment news' format. Do you think a lot of Americans are aware of the spin on they get on their news?
That's an unfortunate problem. It comes from the fact that before, we had entertainment news and regular news and the regular news just reported straight. Now what we have is news that is heavily influenced, and Fox News is a perfect example of that. Their tag line is even 'fair and balanced news', and nothing could be further from the truth. So a lot of Americans think they are getting a true picture, but they are actually being fed propaganda from the right. It's played a big part in the shift in America and that's tragic.
OK, well something a little more light-hearted. A lot of the new crop of punk bands seem willing to embrace the MTV circuit more than they used to and the line between punk / pop-punk seems to have blurred. Is MTV something you would reconsider now?
Ha ha! Well, for me personally, I never really wanted the band to be high profile, and have any sort of message watered down. I didn't want it to become a product that people could sell and buy and then get tired of. Probably other people in the band would feel differently, but I'm not in it to be a rock star or see my picture all over the place. I'm in it to express my opinions and just play fast punk rock music.