Pennywise’s punks peel off the production polish
Pennywise warns the masses against getting attached to personal electronic devices on “Disconnect”, from the band’s latest album, The Fuse—but that isn’t stopping guitarist Fletcher Dragge from picking up some gear for his new gig as a DJ. “I’m buying a Nano iPod right now,” he says from a cellphone as he pulls over to the side of a road in Manhattan Beach, California.
Dragge explains that he’ll be bringing his new Apple gadget to the premiere of the documentary American Hardcore in lieu of his six-string. “They wanted me to DJ it, which entails picking a set list and putting it on my Nano, plugging it in, and walking away from the DJ booth.”
Listing off artists that he’ll be highlighting, the musician includes genre pioneers like Black Flag, Minor Threat, and the Dead Kennedys. Although from a different wave of hardcore than these bands, Pennywise still strives for the raw feel of its punk-rock forefathers. Formed in 1988, the Hermosa Beach quartet has since released eight albums of speedy skate punk. The positive lyrics and fast-and-furious power chords found on albums like Unknown Road and About Time set the standard for melodic hardcore in the ’90s. While its formula hasn’t changed drastically over the years, the group realized that its past few records sounded too polished.
“A lot of bands—and we’re guilty of it too—start to overproduce stuff,” Dragge says. “Punk rock wasn’t about slick production or being in tune or any of that shit; it was always about raw aggression.”
A self-imposed deadline on The Fuse inspired the veterans to embrace their roots. “We wanted to make a record that was a little bit rawer, and not spend so much time nitpicking stuff,” the axeman says. “That’s how it was in the old days. That’s why so many of the greatest punk records sound like shit but have this really great energy, because they didn’t have the budget or the time to do it.”
Tracks like “Yell Out” blitz by, courtesy of drummer Byron McMackin’s precise double-time tom fills, while the mid-tempo “The Kids” multitracks Jim Lindberg’s vocals for some classic Bad Religion–inspired harmonies. Though Pennywise’s buzzsaw riffs still appeal to the younger Warped Tour crowd, the guitarist feels that the public’s perception of punk has changed since the group started playing the festival in the ’90s, especially with the introduction of image-conscious screamo acts.
“Tight pants and weird haircuts and black nail polish; this is what commercial media has made the public believe is cool. The tragedy is that they convince people that these bands are punk rock and anti-establishment, but in reality it’s a major label selling kids a bullshit lie.”
While the state of music may have changed, Pennywise refuses to pander to the latest trends. “We’ve always said that we hated it when our favourite band changed into something that wasn’t what we originally liked,” Dragge says. “I don’t mind playing some metal or jamming on some reggae or making a rap song. That’s fun to do. But if you ask me what I want to do when I get up on-stage, and where my heart is, it’s super-fast, melodic hardcore.”
Pennywise plays the Croatian Cultural Centre on Wednesday (October 4).