'Some people say it's our best yet' - Pennywise return with new singer, CD

By Paul Harper

A new-look Pennywise with new singer Zoltan Teglas, second from left. Photo / Supplied
A new-look Pennywise with new singer Zoltan Teglas, second from left. Photo / Supplied

Southern Californian punk veterans Pennywise have faced two major setbacks in their 24 years.

In 1996 bassist Jason Thirsk took his own life after a battle with alcohol, and was replaced by Randy Bradbury.

And in 2009, vocalist Jim Lindberg called it quits, citing a desire to spend more time with his family - only to form The Black Pacific soon after.

Enter Zoltan "Zoli" Teglas, of hardcore punk band Ignite.

Rather than call it a day after Lindberg left, Teglas gave Pennywise a new lease of life.

"We were in a situation with Pennywise where Jim didn't want to be part of the band," guitarist Fletcher Dragge says. "We felt that was going on for some time, quite a few years. There was talk about him quitting the band, and moving on and staying home with his family."

As a result, Pennywise spent less time touring, which Dragge says caused tension in the band.

"For me, being out on the road and playing for Pennywise fans is why we do this. If some kid in New Zealand, or Japan, or Hawaii, I don't care where it is, has bought our records, has a poster on the wall, and he's waiting for us to come, he shouldn't wait two, three, five, 10 years. He should get a Pennywise show every chance we get to be there," Dragge told nzherald.co.nz.

"At the end of the day, you put Zoli in the picture and you've got a guy who wants to write the best Pennywise album possible, you've got a guy who wants to tour everywhere in the world ... and you've got a guy who wants to get on stage and give 110 percent and is happy to be there.

"That is a huge shot in the arm, a huge motivation for everyone in the band to do better, to write better songs, to play better live. It's just a good positive feeling.

"And that is what Pennywise was founded on, being positive and being thankful for what we had, and somewhere along the line, that changed for Jim ... it just wasn't for him anymore."

Teglas - whose vocals could be compared loosely to The Offspring's Dexter Holland - joined the band in 2010 after Lindberg quit ahead of a festival the year before. All or Nothing, which came out on May 1, is the first album he has recorded with the band.

"It's been pretty well received from what I've heard and what I've read, people are liking it a lot, actually," Dragge says. "Some people are saying it is the best record in 10, 12 years. Some people are saying it is our best record ever, which is an interesting thing to say.

"It's a scary time because nobody wants to lose their lead singer, especially if you've been in the same band for 20 years and he's a well-established guy who, in my opinion, Jim was one of the best punk rock singers of all time."

Dragge admits reading music forums where fans were questioning whether the band could continue without Lindberg.

"A lot of people were sceptical about what's to come for Pennywise without Jim. Now fans and critics are saying they can't believe what they're hearing, they didn't think it was possible and they've changed their mind, and are completely blown away by what this album is bringing."

Dragge credits a shift in the dynamics within the band for Pennywise's return to form.

Previously the band was scared to be critical of Lindberg in the recording studio for fear he would quit the band, but Dragge says no one backed down from speaking their mind during the recording of All or Nothing.

"With this album, it was wide open. We didn't care about [Zoli's] feelings - we just got done with one lead singer that we didn't really feel we could speak the truth to, because we were living in fear. With Zoli, it was like we are going to tell you exactly what we think right now, and Zoli is the same way, he comes from a band where he was very outspoken so he had no problem telling us that 'this song is lame' or 'I think your lyrics are stupid'.

"If someone tells you your part sucks, then you start working on it and you get to a place where you think, 'Wow, this is way better than the old part'.

"For me it is my favourite album since Straight Ahead and that's a good thing."

Since forming in 1988, Pennywise have released 10 studio albums. In the mid-to-late '90s Pennywise found radio air time and commercial success as one of a hoard of punk bands which broke through into the mainstream at the time.

However, as Dragge himself admits, times have changed.

"A lot has changed, but as far as punk rock is concerned, the mainstays of punk rock are still there and doing what they love to do. There has always been an underground punk scene and I think there always will be. And although a band like Pennywise has had songs on the radio and had some commercial success, I feel like we're more an underground band than say someone like The Offspring or Green Day, because we never sold million and millions of records and we never had to do things that we didn't want to do, we've always been able to maintain a level of integrity."

Despite the changes over the years, Dragge says the motivation behind Pennywise's music hasn't changed.

"We're writing Pennywise songs because we like them and we know that our fans like them. We don't give a f**k about what's popular, what's not popular, what the next big thing is going to be, we've seen it all. We've seen ska, pop punk, nu-metal, hip-hop, we've seen all these different types of music blow up and become huge around us, but bands like Pennywise, and NOFX, Bad Religion, Rancid - we're just doing what we do and still have our fans come out and have a good time and buy records.

"We've seen [the band's popularity] go up and down a little bit, but I think it has always remained kind of constant. I think the music industry is always looking for the next big thing - we were never looking to be the next big thing. We're just trying to do what we love, be out there for our fans, and play live shows."

Dragge says the support of those "hardcore fans" kept the band going through hard times.

"To support us in a time of need when we were changing our lead singer and to hear the response that we've been getting is huge. That means they get it - [Pennywise] has always been about triumphing over adversity and we've gone through some really heavy times, we lost our bass player, we've lost a lot of family members, we've lost a lot of friends along the way, but our fans have always been there. You lose your lead singer and if your fans stick around after that, then they definitely are the best fans in the world."

New Zealand's Pennywise fans have had to wait a while to be rewarded for their support - the band last played here in 2006.

Fortunately the wait appears to be over.

"I'm hearing rumours of late August for our first New Zealand tour in a while. We are definitely looking forward to getting over there," Dragge says.

"I could definitely blame that on Jim. There are a lot of times we've been places nearby but we haven't been able to get to New Zealand because of time constraints.

"That last New Zealand show we played in Auckland was absolutely insane. I think we played Christchurch (it was actually Wellington) and that was an awesome show.

"That last show we played still sticks in my memory. It was great, the fans have always been great, we love coming there and we will not be neglecting you anymore.

"If we're near you, we're coming."

Listen to the single Let Us Hear Your Voice with new singer Zoli Teglas:

* Pennywise's new album All or Nothing is out now.

- Herald online

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