Many people's first introduction to Pennywise was the song "Same Old Story." Featured on 1995's About Time, it included the line "I don't read from the same old story." At that time, the lyric rang true for the Hermosa Beach punk band because the group—singer Jim Lindberg, guitarist Fletcher Dragge, bassist Jason Thirsk and drummer Byron McMackin—were still relatively new, having released only three full-length albums and a handful of EPs. Thirsk's 1996 suicide nearly broke up the band, but the remaining members added Randy Bradbury to the mix and continued spreading their brand of melodic hardcore to punk fans around the globe.
Ironically, after Thirsk's death, Pennywise's story became the opposite of the monotony they railed against, thanks to a solidified lineup, six more full-lengths and countless tours. But that same old story came to an end in 2009, when Lindberg left, forcing the others to ponder whether to carry on. The decision to find a new singer and continue under the Pennywise name was not difficult to make; Dragge, Bradbury and McMackin knew it was coming.
"It was a non-decision," Dragge says, "because Jim's leaving was something we saw coming for a while. We'd already talked about getting a new singer and actually discussed it with Jim. Pennywise aren't about the members—we're about the sum of the parts—and more so about the message, the music and the fans, so there was no doubt we were going to carry on and it was going to be called 'Pennywise.' I've spent 24 years of my life building this thing—why would I want to change the name and start over?"
Pennywise perform as part of the KROQ Weenie Roast y Fiesta with Coldplay, the Offspring, Incubus, Garbage and more at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater, www.livenation.com. May 5, 1 p.m. Sold out. All ages.
With Lindberg gone, they enlisted the help of Orange County native Zoli Teglas—vocalist for hardcore outfit Ignite—to front the band for a few shows while searching for a permanent replacement. The group considered a handful of singers (including Death By Stereo's Efrem Schulz, Jason DeVore from Authority Zero and the Mad Caddies' Chuck Robertson) and auditioned vocalists from around the globe by sending instrumental tracks to hear what each could contribute, but, Dragge says, it didn't take long before they realized Teglas wasn't just a fill-in—he was the guy.
Pennywise introduced Teglas with a slew of nerve-racking performances; Dragge says, as it was the first time in years fans went to gigs "to judge us." But after three songs, crowds got over who wasn't there. This enthusiasm made Teglas settle into the group's previous material, which in turn helped to create All or Nothing, a 12-track full-length due out Tuesday, May 1 on Epitaph Records.
Lindberg's instantly recognizable voice was a trademark of the group, but All or Nothing is evidence that Teglas was a smart move for Pennywise; the album is a blistering romp that the 46-year-old Dragge calls his band's finest effort in years.
"We got stagnant with Jim," Dragge says. "We got to a point where nobody wanted to piss anybody off, so no one spoke up. When that happens, you get a product that's not so good. I like this album so much better than anything since Straight Ahead, and it's because everybody was speaking their minds and there were no feelings spared. I think fans are going to find that we're almost stronger than we've been in a long, long time."
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Teglas had to lower his register to find a comfortable range that fit with Pennywise, but once he did, the result was akin to "a young Jim," Dragge says. The band rehearsed in a Hermosa Beach garage to find a musical niche that would allow the singer to operate without the pressure of being "the new guy," which didn't always come easily. The band members often disagreed over the lyrics, which Dragge credits as the impetus for the strength of the album.
"Randy and I would write something, and [Teglas would] say, 'I don't want to sing that,'" Dragge says. "His exact words were 'I have to feel what I'm singing in the studio and onstage, and if I'm not into it, I'm not going to do it.' It was a pain in the ass, but also really cool because he got his mark on it. He earned his spot, and now that the album's done, we feel like we're back to [our] roots."
This article appeared in print as "Everything Old Is New Again: Pennywise's latest set sans Jim Lindberg is bright, shiny and new."