It’s rare that you get the opportunity to interview artists who have been performing for a quarter of a century but Yanina Benavidez was lucky enough to do just that, speaking with Fletcher Dragge, lead guitarist for legendary punk band Pennywise.
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He’d just arrived home after wrapping up the band’s US tour and he comes to the phone with a mild grumble.
“It’s 6.30pm and I still have a hangover from last night,” he said. Last night was the last show of their US tour and obviously these guys take their punk royalty status seriously.
Having been in the band from day one and gone to school with most of his band mates I wanted to know what it felt like to be playing for 25 years and he says he has been playing in bands since 1980 but it doesn’t feel like it. As the saying goes, if you love your job its not really a job.
“It feels like we just started yesterday,” he said. Which seems fitting. Their 11th studio album is called just that – Yesterdays.
“Australia is one of those (special) places on earth that has got a very welcoming feel to it, its like going home. Its reminiscent of California in 1970 when there weren’t so many rules and people were nice to each other,” he said. “California seems to have changed so much everyone is just too busy for everyone whereas in Australia everyone says hello, they have a laid back attitude, I feel like people have more of a tendency to stop you in the street or talk to you at a bar and you feel welcomed and comfortable.”
Fletcher says the reception they have received from Australian fans has always been incredible. “It means so much that they have just shown up throughout all that we have been through and I feel that’s been really really cool,” he said.
When asked how the punk scene Fletcher grew up in compares with the scene of today he says it’s still kicking, but has exploded into different smaller scenes. He tells me that there are still a number of small standing room only venues scattered around the place. What remains are small bars, which open their doors to punk nights.
Fletcher says while they play so many huge venues like the Palladium he has a definite preference for his favourite gigs.
“You have no more than 300 guests and no security guards and its complete mayhem and everyone’s blind drunk. That is my favourite type of show,” he said.
Fletcher says the band’s fan base continues to grow as well and he speaks of his forty year old fans who bring their kids, seeing a new wave of 15 and 16 year olds in the front rows singing along to the entire set.
And he credits the internet with making the punk music more accessible.
Yesterdays sees the band revisit the last 25 years of Pennywise music with a diversity of songs, some of which Fletcher says had been all but forgotten. He tells me that some tracks were so difficult to decipher when listening back through old tapes, recordings of rehearsals and messy demos that there were moments when they nearly gave up.
“Full Circle was such a hard-core album that was so fast and it ripped your head off and it didn’t really fit in,” he tells me about the track I Can Remember. “Listening to the song I can remember it’s the last song on the record and it got some radio airplay in Australia and that song was written by Jim (Landing – Vocalist) to go on Full Circle when Jason (Thirsk) had passed away.”
“And now when I hear this song I remember the vote was absolutely no for it going on that album, but now that we have come back and revisited it it’s one of my favourite songs of all time.’
But back to the impending tour. Fletcher lets me in on a little secret, YES they will be covering the album in its entirety. So that seals the deal. I know where you will find me on these dates, tickets are almost sold out and there’s no doubt these shows are going to be insane.
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Pennywise celebrate their 20th anniversary with their About Time album tour which hits Cooly Hotel 24 September and The Tivoli in Brisbane the night prior.
Photo by Kane Hibberd