Pennywise: Full on Full Circle

In October California punk legends Pennywise will grace our shores once again with an album anniversary tour: this time it’s 20 year old ‘Full Circle’. Australia will be first to see if they can pull off what Fletcher (guitarist) says is the hardest record they have produced. I managed to not completely fan girl out and have a coherent chat to Fletcher about it.

Playing an album in full is a real trend for bands at the moment, what made you jump on the bandwagon?

Well we’ve seen a lot of bands do it; Bad Religion, Nofx and Strung Out.  We were holding out for quite a few years but I would say honestly, we didn’t have new records out or anything to tour on. We were throwing around ideas of obscure set lists to play but then we realised it was the 20th anniversary of ‘About Time’ so we did that. Australia was the first place we ever did it and the response was so overwhelming and the shows were so good, such great energy and we were like, wow, what have we been waiting for?

We then decided to do three records in a row in California which was brutal and then we figured why not pull out all the stops and do ‘Full Circle’, the hardest record we ever recorded. And where better than Australia where we did the first full length. You guys are getting the first attempt at ‘Full Circle’.

You said it was the hardest album, in what way?

It’s a really difficult record for a lot of parts, it’s the first record after Jason died (former bass player who commited suicide in 1996). That album in general is a really heavy album; we had a lot to say. Usually Pennywise songs are just verse chorus verse chorus bridge breakdown whatever outro. That record has a pre-chorus on each song and lots of intricate parts, a lot of memory work. It’s super super fast and super difficult to play, we practiced it before we committed to the tour and we’re going to be in for, well in Jimmy’s words,  ‘I think people are just going to come out to the show to see if we can even pull this off’.

When I went back to start re-learning them I was like wow, this is really really hard to play. I’m not like some great guitar player and I can play Pennywise songs but these songs are just so much going on. For me personally and I know Byron on drums too.

How do you feel about those songs now? Do you still have the same energy behind them?

Yes and no. Obviously that was fresh, the songs were written in the wake of Jason’s passing. We had a lot to get off our chests, it’s almost like an over stated album. We had so much to say and so much to get out and we just shoved it all into these songs and just played them as fast as we could. It was like therapy in a way. Now we’ve obviously come to terms with him being gone, he’s still missed, and the songs still hold a heavy weight but we’ve learned to cope with it.

So now the songs instead of being more of a dark time or heavy time for us, now it’s like a little bit more like a remembrance. Now when I’m playing it makes me think of Jase, it makes me think of the good times even though the song might be kind of dark in it’s lyrical content, so It’s a mixed bag.

So now the playing fast is a celebration rather than angry?

It’s kind of like that’s a marker in time. For bands like us who keep subject matter about real life and life experiences it’s like a tattoo in a way. You know you get a tattoo and you go ‘I got that when I was 20 years old and I remember that night, that time period’, and these songs are kind of the same way.

When you hear a song called ‘Did you Really?’ it’s Jim asking Jason if he really wants to die. I don’t know that we’ve ever played that song live and the content is so heavy. It still heats you but I look at it more as a song now instead of a cathartic cleansing. Now I look at it from a different standpoint and it’s super gnarly. I can say I enjoy ‘Full Circle’ more now than when we put it out. Because it was so much heavy topic matter and at the time the wound was so fresh with Jason passing away it just made me emotional. And now it’s kind of like ok, I can see it more of a musical experience rather than the personal thing although it still brings up those memories.’

Pennywise has been around for about 26 years, what is the key to longevity?

(laughing)26, 28 who’s counting at this point?!. I think compromise and number one thing for longevity is fan base. That dictates whether you’re a band. You write songs and play them in a garage and if you become popular you get out of the garage and if people stop coming to your shows, stop buying your record and stop talking about you then you go back into the garage. Our fans have been so die hard and so loyal so awesome to us over the years that it keeps us going.

Everybody knows if you’re in a band there’s a lot of drama and you’ve got four guys and four personalities. We’re that band where we don’t just have one guy writing all the songs and running the show. We’re the guys who argue over everything like the t-shirt designs and the colour of the album cover, how long a snare roll should be on a song outro. So it’s really exhausting, you’ve got 4 people who think completely different but we all come together to make this thing called Pennywise and we need each other to do it.. It’s like mixing a bunch of chemicals into a test tube and watching it blow up and I think that’s what makes bands cool.

It’s getting an understanding of each other and figuring out how far you can push each other, like how much a person can take. I found out how drunk I can get and how much shit I can break before everyone wants to quit the band.

We’ve all tested the boundaries of each other and we’ve found a happy medium where we can enjoy the music and enjoy our fans and just get out there and have fun at the live shows. I think it’s way more fun now than it’s been in a long time because everyone has kind of found that happy medium to co-exist and mutual respect. So we’re in a great place right now and recording a new album.

Finally! So when can we expect the new album? Once you’re done arguing?

The arguments are pretty much in the rear-view mirror at this point, we’re at the stage where we’re almost done and a little more to go. Some guitar stuff and a little more vocal stuff and mixing so I don’t know, early next year we’re hoping to have it out. We’re stoked on it and it’s the best record we’ve made in a long long time, probably since ‘Full Circle’ / ‘Straight Ahead’. It’s one of our favourites so next tour will be the new album.

So stoked for that but for this tour Fletcher says, ‘It’s going to be pretty incredible I think. The energy is just going to be over the top. The songs are just really heavy and really aggressive and I think it’s going to be a really good night.

Pennywise will be at the Eaton’s Hotel in Brisbane on 28 October with The Bronx supporting. Tickets here.


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