Reason to Believe
Jim Lindberg (vocals)
Fletcher Dragge (guitars)
Byron McMackin (drums)
Randy Bradbury (bass)
New York had the Ramones. Los Angeles has PENNYWISE, the most significant hardcore band to emerge from SoCal punk’s second wave. As it celebrates it 20th anniversary, the Hermosa Beach band is doing things its own way, taking on a brave new world by linking up with MySpace Records and offering its latest album, REASON TO BELIEVE free to fans for two weeks. Starting on March 25, P-Dub fans can grab a high-quality download of the Cameron Webb-produced, 14-track album, arguably the band’s fiercest record in a decade. Not surprising from a band that has always forged its own destiny, it’s an Internet first--marking the first time a U.S. record label has provided an artist with the opportunity to offer a new album free of charge and the first time MySpace has offered a full album download with a worldwide push.
“It really boils down to evolution,” says Jim Lindberg, PENNYWISE’s frontman. “The music world’s changed dramatically in the last few years and we felt like we were stagnating. We still have a great relationship with our longtime label Epitaph and they’re jointly putting out our album in Europe and Australia with MySpace, but MySpace has done great things for bands, allowing fans to interact in a way that had never been done before. It’s just a brave new world.”
PENNYWISE formed in 1988, when punk couldn’t be less popular and hair bands were a sign o’ the times. Its four members quickly developed a style entirely their own--a tsunami of California hardcore, melodic surf punk and optimistic anthems that went against the seek-and-destroy ethos of its era. PENNYWISE garnered a nationwide following through constant touring--they’ve done the Vans Warped Tour so many times they’ve got permanent road rash--as well as numerous snowboard, skate and surf videos. After nine albums, PENNYWISE is best-known for its pounding rant “Fuck Authority,” searing soul-searcher “Alien,” and their ode to brotherhood, “Bro Hymn,” an autobiographical song that pays tribute to its founding bass player, Jason Thirsk, who committed suicide in 1996. Currently, the new single “The Western World” is the most requested song on KROQ 106.7, L.A.’s No. 1 modern rock station and already in heavy rotation.
Despite the early loss of Thirsk, the union of vocalist LINDBERG, guitarist FLETCHER DRAGGE and drummer BYRON McMACKIN, high school friends from Hermosa, ran too deep to quit while they were ahead and they signed on bassist RANDY BRADBURY and continued putting out albums that went straight for the American jugular--politically-charged, culturally relevant, unflinchingly honest and consummately independent.
“Early on, we really responded to thinking man’s punk and on the new album, thematically, it’s about beliefs,” says Lindberg. “Whether it’s on the far left or the far right, people are so self-righteous. Politically, religiously, terror wars, clashes of civilization. I’m trying to say, forget what you know and everything you’ve ever believed before. I’ve got all the answers and the answer is, we’ll never know. It’s how you deal with that knowledge that determines what you become in life.”
Among the band’s studio albums are its eponymous Epitaph debut (1991) and 1993’s Unknown Road, which revealed the full potency of what they had to offer. Before recording its third album in early 1995, PENNYWISE was hit up by the majors. It was, after all, hot on the heels of the “year punk broke,” but the band stayed true to its roots and remained on SoCal’s independent Epitaph Records. The resulting album, About Time, remains till this day one of the greatest punk records of all time.
By 1996, when PENNYWISE was recording its fourth album, Thirsk took time off to deal with alcohol addiction but tragically, he never came back. He died July 29, 1996, eight years after the band’s inception. The albums that followed--Full Circle (1997), Straight Ahead (1999), Land of the Free (2001), From the Ashes 2003 and The Fuse (2005)--revealed a band that just got harder and more political over time, as the world of music got softer and less interested.
With REASON TO BELIEVE, hardcore fans and newcomers alike will see first hand that punk bands may come and go, but PENNYWISE is forever. Now, as they entered their third decade, they’re coming out swinging, harder than ever.
“This album isn’t the same old PENNYWISE,” says Lindberg. “It’s more hardcore and more metal. Cameron Webb, who produced Social Distortion and Motorhead, really kept us in check. Webb would tell us just to fucking quit arguing and move on. He told us when we sucked and he pushed us hard and it really shows on the record.”
Guitarist Dragge says the band’s continuing passion and tension is what makes the band not only tick, but it’s how they’ve survived for twenty years.
“It’s something that we’re driven to do,” he says. “Our message and what we do has effected a lot of people’s lives and so we kind of feel like we have to do it. It’s bigger than the band.”
PENNYWISE has never been a band to bow to convention or the mainstream and Lindberg says it’s by design.
“We’ve always known how PENNYWISE should sound,” he says. “We’ve developed this unhinged style and everyone’s just kind of railing as hard and as fast as we can. PENNYWISE has a distinctive sound and a distinctive message and we never deviate from that.”
“I’ll tell you the truth,” says Dragge. “I love this band. I listen to this music, and I get excited. It’s like I’m not even in the band, like I’m a fan. A lot of times you get so close to it you lose sight of what you’re doing. And then, every once in awhile, I’ll hear a lyric or Jim’s singing and realize how powerful it is. This shit really moves me.”
Dragge says PENNYWISE is simply going back to its roots.
“We’ve become a political assault machine and now we’re going back to where we started,” he says. “It’s about being who you want to be and living for today and following your dreams.”
Hardcore thrashers like “As Long As We Can,” “One Reason” and “Something to Live For” will quench the thirst of longtime fans with their “don’t-take-shit-from-anyone” attitude, while songs like “Die for You”—a tribute to brotherhood—is vintage PENNYWISE.
PENNYWISE has always maintained a deep connection with its fans and it’s emphasized each night when they perform “Bro Hymn,” and the audience is invited to join them on stage for the chorus.
“We never really expected this,” says Lindberg. “We were just playing music and when we started, punk was so out of fashion. It was Poison and Warrant. It was us against them and we just wanted to play backyards and have beer with our friends. And it was other people telling us, you guys are good, you should do a record. We never thought, ‘I want to be a rock star.’ They’ve kept us grounded for years, and it’s because of them we do what we do and will continue to do what we do.”
Dragge says PENNYWISE’s music has gotten him through some of the rougher times he’s had to face.
“There was a time after we lost Jason that we thought about giving up, but we would have been hypocrites,” he says. “Our music has always been about persevering against all odds.”
He says, on a daily basis, this band continues to give him a reason to believe.
“The longer I’m around, the more I realize how good this has been for us,” he says. “We’ve done things our own way, and we’ve never taken no for answer. We’ve been a punk band for 20 years, and we’ve traveled the world and we’ve had a lot of people tell us we couldn’t and we wouldn’t. ‘Tell me what we can’t do, and I’ll try twice as hard to do it.’ That’s the one thing this band has taught me: ‘If you want it bad enough, you can have it.’” Links