Even after the 1996 suicide of original member Jim Thirsk, the band soldiered on, releasing a new effort every two years and continuing to embrace the punk ethos of defiant liberalism--along with a refreshing DIY mentality. Bassist Randy Bradbury took some time to talk to DC9 about the band’s newest CD (Reason to Believe, available via free download from MySpace records when you add Textango as a friend) and how the band plans to stay hard into its third decade.
So does the fact that 600,000 people have downloaded the new CD from MySpace validate your band’s continued relevancy?
Having the CD available for free is really a new frontier. We are riding the wave of the new frontier. Within days, we hit half a million downloads. For us, the top priority has always been to get people to hear our songs, so we’ve taken the smallest advance that we ever have just to achieve that goal. We’re the first band to totally give away our record for free [Editor's note: These guys might beg to differ]. We were joking around saying that we should have made it multiple choice: Pay this much if you’re just a little bit of a fan all the way down to the biggest fan ever paying what they thought it was worth.
You’ve been playing in the band for twelve years and came on right after the death of Jason Thirsk. How difficult was it to simply keep the band going?
Jason was so incredibly talented. He wrote many great songs with lyrics that blew everyone away. He had been dealing with alcoholism for quite a while and it was something the band was trying to help him overcome. When Jason left during the tour in 1995, I got a call in the middle of the night. Jason was obviously an important part of the band and he was going to come back and I was going to switch to guitar. A year went by before we got the news of his death. It was shattering. We were on the Warped Tour and we went home for the funeral. Jason’s songs were all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, so the other guys in the band decided that Jason would have wanted us to keep going. It was also a matter of keeping his memory alive. If the band had ended right then, it would have always been like an unfinished chapter.
Pennywise has been described as edgy, post punk, frat rock. What the hell does that mean?
We’re heavy into the bro thing. We’ve been called bro-core, and we like to drink beer, so I can understand the frat part. We’re not little pipsqueaks. We don’t look like your typical emo or mohawk punkers. Everything we do has our heart and soul in it. We are involved in the surfing lifestyle, the skating lifestyle and we have fans that personify that common man mentality.
It’s kind of hard to be common man with lyrics so politically confrontational.
[Lead singer] Jim Lindberg has written some of our best, politically insightful lyrics. We just write songs from our own perspective. Before 9/11, Jim’s lyrics were already tied in to the pulse of what was going on, the unrest and the shenanigans. The band started out with a self-help, positive message and then you grow up and you start noticing things, asking questions. Now, things are more political. A lot of people have woken up to the inequities of our government. The message of “wake up and open your eyes” is kind of redundant seeing that we’ve been saying it forever. We feel like the new album offers a sense of hope. So many people are paying attention. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Is that why the song “Western World” was chosen as the first single?
That song is catchy and it has a great slant on what’s going on in the media, the distractions that happen, things that try to take your mind off of the important things.
The band has been around nearly 20 years. Did you ever think punk would have such a long shelf life?
Back in 1988, Bad Religion was the biggest punk band. Punk really had almost died out and Bad Religion released Suffer, and it influenced so many people. To think that you would form a punk band and do any of the things we have done, to travel around the world and to last this long would be basically unthinkable.
Punk seems to be resilient to the general cycles of the music industry. X and the New York Dolls are still around making noise. Is there something about the passion of punk that makes it self-sustaining?
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Punk is just real. Anyone who got into punk back in the day knew it wasn’t the positive thing to do. You were truly following your own instincts. If people now can continue to resist the newest fad and continue to do what you believe in, then you are resonating and making a difference. Punk rockers are really the salt of the earth. They are not shooting for the stars, trying to be something they are not.
Punk has certainly evolved with new genres such as emo certainly coming to the fore. Is there more fashion involved now?
I know some of the guys in the band rail on emo and can’t stand that stuff, but I am a little more tolerant. The Sex Pistols were all about dressing up. That was part of what they were rebelling against. I’m more interested in substance and music and the songs. If you want to wear make up, then more power to you. --Darryl Smyers
Pennywise performs with Strung Out, Authority Zero and Saboteur tonight at the Granada Theater.