Just prior to last week’s release of the new Pennywise album, Deborah Konopnicki caught up with guitarist Fletcher Dragge to chat about the new album ‘All Or Nothing‘, the effects bringing a new singer into the band brings and a bunch more. ‘All Or Nothing‘ is out now via Epitaph Records, and judging by the chat, it shouldn’t be too long before we see the band back in the country to showcase the tracks live. Expand this post to take a read of the interview.
Hey Fletcher, how are you?
Good! How are you?
Pretty good today! You guys must be pretty stoked with the release of the new record!
Yeah. We’re going through all the motions, doing interviews and radio shows and just getting ready to play some gigs! We’re doing photo shoots and all of that stuff. We’re getting some really good early reviews and a great responses from our fans on the songs, and we feel like were looking pretty good for the next year or so!
You guys are pretty seasoned in the scene so you would have gone through the motions – as you said – many, many times before. Do you still get the ‘butterflies’ before an album drops or is it just part of the process now?
Yeah, we’re used to it but we definitely; well I definitely get nervous! We wonder what people are going to think and especially on this record, It’s Zoli’s first outing singing with us so there’s expectations. There’s people that are going to want to hate, there’s people that are going to want to love it and we’re just kind of wondering what the reviews are going to say and what our fans are going to think. The expectations are a lot more on this record but as I said, the reviews coming through at the moment are really positive. Everyone is actually really excited about it! The record company is really excited about it and everything that has been happening has been really cool so we’re just going through the motions now and hoping that we get the point across. The main thing for us is our fans and what our fans think. I mean, we don’t really care about critics, we don’t really care about radio. I mean, the radio plays our songs but we’re not looking for acceptance from all of those entities, we’re looking for our fans to like our record. It seems like the responses so far have been awesome. Without our fans, we are nothing. It’s what I always say.
I’ve been motoring Facebook and various message boards and it seems like the general feeling is that people are pretty excited to hear what Zoli is going to add to Pennywise. From your point of view, have you found that people have pre-judged this record and might not give it a chance because he’s joined the band or has it gone the other way and there might be more people keen to see what he can bring to the table?
I think that before the songs came out and they started being available for streaming online, I think people were pre-judging saying “Oh, Zoli’s from Ignite and it’s not a good fit”. Well, what people are going to have to understand is that we’re not going to make him sound like Zoli from Ignite. Not at all. We’re not going to make him sound like Jim. We’re going to make him sound like a new guy in Pennywise! People want to shoot it down all the time. I understand that it’s hard when someone leaves a band but we need the listener to accept that fact. I mean, I’ve been through that too. I’m a fan of Black Flag and Black Flag had four different singers! With Rollins being the last one, it was Black Flag’s biggest outing. I loved Rollins, I loved Keith and I loved them all! There’s room for everything. There are haters out there that keep on saying “Oh, Pennywise is nothing without Jim”. They were saying that we should change the band name, and my response to that is; why would I change the band name of a band that I started with Jason and put 20-something years of my life into it? I’m living the dream. I LOVE playing in Pennywise. Why would I stop playing these songs and living my dream? Why would I stop doing that if this is what I live for? Sometimes people’s responses are just so ridiculous that I can’t even believe it! If you were a true Pennywise fan you’d know that our motto is to move forward at what’s in front of you. There’s no road blocks and nothing stopping you getting to your dream if you just try. Besides losing our bass player, this is the biggest thing that a band has to go though; losing their singer. No one wants to do it but I think that we’ve worked hard and we’re going to prove to our fans that we’re still Pennywise. Pennywise is bigger than one person. If the fans get behind us and this record then I think they’re going to like it. If they listen to it with an open mind I think they’re going to like it. The message is there and the aggression is there and we’re just looking for a little support and we’ll do the rest. We’ll come to your town and we’ll throw the biggest party of the week. We’ll see what happens!
On a personal note then, how was it working with Zoli and approaching this new record?
It was really difficult. He is a guy that comes from Ignite where he’s been calling the shots for a lot of years. He’s been leading the band in a way – well, he’s the lead singer! The listener needs to understand that we don’t do it like that anymore. What we do is a different approach. Everyone gets an opinion and everyone gets a vote and is someone doesn’t like it then it’s not going to go on the album. It was hard for me to get used to that and it was hard for him to get three people saying that the song wasn’t great just the way it is. He might have not liked it! We might have wanted to try and come up with something better. It’s hard to run a band like that but at the end of the day its what makes for a great Pennywise album. Everybody is forcing their opinion. With Jim in the last couple of years there wasn’t much voicing of opinion. We were all walking on eggshells and no-one wanted to piss anybody off. At that point we were getting kind of stagnant. Now with Zoli, it’s wide open. Nobodies feeling got spared. There was yelling and screaming and just mayhem in the studio. At the end of the day we listen to a song and go “Wow… how did that happen!?” It happened because everybody was pushing the limits and everybody was pushing each other and telling everybody that “Your part sucks! We can do this better” That’s a good thing! It turned out to be the best thing for Pennywise. It sounded more like old-school Pennywise session than I can remember in a long time.
It’s interesting that you say that it felt like old Pennywise sessions when you have a brand-new singer. A lot of the early reviews so far have also mentioned that “All Or Nothing” feels like it has an old-school Pennywise vibe. Was there anything in particular that lead to that full circle effect?
Well, I think that the biggest thing is that Zoli was willing to say things like “I can’t believe this lyric is so bad… I hate it! I’m not going to sing it” I would say, “Fuck you… it’s a great lyric!” I remember that lead to me being able to tell him that his lyric sucked and that his melody sucked. By that point absolutely everybody – including the producer – was attacking everybody! It sounds like it was a pretty hostile environment; and it was and because of that; when you have three people telling you that your guitar line sucks, you’re going to go home and write a new guitar line! Then when you all say “well that was way better and we love it” that’s when you start thinking that you were wrong, and maybe my guitar line wasn’t good because everyone hated it before! Now everyone loves my new one, so thanks for telling me guys! It might have hurt my feelings expressing that to me and pissing me off like no tomorrow but at the end of the day that’s what pushed the album further. It came full circle because I can remember in the early days of Pennywise Jim would yell at me and really get vocal. I remember saying “You’re killing me! This is the best song that I’ve written in years” and there was this back-and-forth. It’s like a relationship. I’ve always used this analogy about it; you know when you’re wise about something then you know your dinner is going to be shitty and cold. So you might not want to say anything because you want your dinner warm tonight so you get to a place and you take a back seat and you don’t want to argue for the sake of further repercussions. That’s where we were with Jim. We didn’t want to piss him off and we still wanted to go out on tour so we stopped talking about song-writing. We kind of got to a place where everyone just wanted to sit back and no-one wanted to push anything further. It was refreshing with Zoli because we kept on pushing it further and further and further and it became this awesome old-school version of Pennywise in a strange way. It’s very weird for me to say that it’s my favorite album since “Straight Ahead”. Of course it’s a bit shit because Jim’s not in the band and how can I say that it sounds like old-school Pennywise with a new singer… it just does! The vibe is positive and everyone is feeling good about the record that we’ve made and we can’t wait to go out on tour and we’re grateful for everything that’s happening. Everyone is grateful for all our fans sticking with us and it’s just a really good vibe at the moment. I think that’s what we’re all about, just good vibes and positive energy. We’re back to that place now and we’re stoked. We were sad to see Jim go, but it was all about choice. We didn’t want him to leave but we have to respect his choice. We can’t be happy with it, but maybe it was the best thing for us in a long time.
Something that is completely awesome about you is how much I keep on hearing and reading is that first and foremost, you’re a Pennywise fan and then a guitarist for the band. With all of that taken into account, how do the changes fit from that fan perspective, and with everything that’s happening over the past few years to the band?
I feel really good! I remember that Jim would always get pissed off when I would listen to Pennywise in the car or something. I remember that he’d say “Why are you listening to that?!” I would always say “Because I like it”! I’m not doing it from an ego standpoint like “Wow, I’m the guitar player from this band!” That would be bullshit. I’m doing it from a fan perspective because I really like a lyric or whatever is going on. Listening to the record and like I do with every other record, I detach myself and I just listen to it like I’d listen to a Bad Religion or NOFX record and I’m totally feeling great about it! The CDs don’t come out of my car for a long time. It might sound weird to people that I sit around and listen to Pennywise records but I genuinely like Pennywise! I’m not saying that I like being in the band and I like being the guitar player – I mean, I’m a mediocre guitar player and I know that! I just like what’s going on and I really like what’s Zoli’s brought to the table. It’s like listening to a brand new band with him singing. Obviously it’s not the same as Jim’s voice and he’s singing it differently but I feel like it’s totally invigorated and totally new and fresh. I couldn’t be happier with the position that we’re in right now with everything that has happened.
Just a couple more for today, going back to the Soundwave festival last year you guys were one of the highlights around the country. I remember at the Melbourne leg I couldn’t even get into the room to see you guys because people were spilling out onto the footpath; it was pretty incredible!
Yeah, it was probably one of the funnest festivals that you can play. All of those bands out there were some of our best friends. It was Iron Maiden; it was The Bronx every night. When you get to play at a big festival like that and get to watch some of your favorite bands every day, it’s great it was run so smoothly and it was amazing. It was perfect! We were just coming off stage and drinking beer and vodka and didn’t know how it could get any better. When we walked over to the next stage there was beer and vodka too! It was a free-for-all. It was our first time coming over there with Zoli and the fans just went crazy. They treated it like any other Pennywise show and they just went crazy. People gave us a chance with this guy and it was definitely one of the best tours that we’ve done in a long time. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Just before I get cut off, do you guys have any plans at the moment for an album tour in Australia?
I think we’re looking at August. We’re looking at doing a club-run; all the usual spots around the country. We’re looking at getting back into all the usual dirty, dingy night clubs and getting everyone drunk and then have a bit of an explosion in there! It should be good. We hope that people get the new album and really get into it. We’ll be playing new stuff and old stuff and just having a good time doing it the way that we always do it. We’re really looking forward to getting back down there and drinking some good Australian beer!
PENNYWISE – All Or Nothing
Available now on Epitaph Records.
[Buy it on CD, Vinyl or limited edition Skate Deck + CD bundle]