Interview with Fletcher from Pennywise at London Astoria Monday June 27th, by Oliver Williams for RaW Punk (www.punksoc.com)
Oli W: Pennywise have been going 17 years now, there are going to be some members in the audience younger than that tonight, and some quite a bit older, how do you manage to appeal to the different age groups?
Fletcher: It gets harder the older we get because there’s so many options now. When we first started playing in 1988 punk rock was almost at a standstill, most of the great bands had broken up already, there weren’t a lot of labels and there wasn’t any place to play. We were out there with NOFX, Bad Religion and only a couple of other bands, so there weren’t that many options. Back in those days if you were a 14-year-old kid and into punk rock you were probably listening to an Epitaph band. Nowadays there are way more bands out there, so when a 14 year-old-kid starts to tune into punk rock he could be listening to Good Charlotte and think “oh wow, this is the greatest thing, this is punk rock” or he could be listening to Blink 182 and think this is punk rock, or he could be listening to Emo. There are so many things to listen to. Being around for as long as we have people think about Pennywise and that there is nothing really interesting going on as we have been around for 17 years. But I think one of the main things we do is stay true to our sound, whether you have been into Pennywise for 10, 12 or 15 years you know what you get when you buy a Pennywise record, so those people are teaching the kids to check us out. We all feel pretty young at heart, so you can relate to us if you are 14 or 35 and I think we do still associate with the kids a lot.
Oli W: The lyrics to your songs tend to have a lot of meaning and carry a message. When you started out were you trying to get a message across or just have fun and play some music?
Fletcher: It was a little bit of both, when we first started out we just wanted to have fun and play punk rock. When we really started to think about putting out a record we wanted to do something a little more positive. We thought there was enough negativity in punk rock in the 80’s everything was along the lines of “Fuck off”, “I don’t care if I die” and “Fuck everything”. But we thought about putting a positive twist on it, so when we really got serious about Pennywise we wanted to say that we can make our lives better and change ourselves and if everyone gets together we can fight the system and be who we want to be. We are living proof of that, being a punk rock band when it was non-existent, now here we are in England playing to 2000 people 17 yrs years later. If you put your mind to something you can do it, and that is what our lyrics were about in the beginning.
Oli W: Would you say your message changed much in the last 17 years?
Fletcher: Yes. At one point we started getting more political. You start paying taxes and we had gone our whole lives being punk rockers and working under the table. When you started seeing your hard earned dollars going to the government who were building bigger bombs and a bigger war machine, with our schools going down the tube and our police force going so shit we started getting more and more angry. I think when you are a kid you’re not really concerned as much about government and politics as much as you are when you’re an adult. You are worried about getting drunk and going to the show and “am I going to have enough money to buy a t-shirt?” So, the older we got the more politically orientated we got because we were getting pissed off. We had the opportunity to travel the world and got to see how countries in Europe were acting, we just thought it was so much better. We saw tolerance to smoking weed, and in Holland making prostitution legal – as it is going to happen so why not make it a safe environment? There were a lot of things we saw in Europe that we would have never seen if we weren’t in Pennywise as we would possibly never have come over here. So we got to see a lot and that made us more angry with our state of politics, all of a sudden we were pissed of as hell and writing a lot of political songs. So things have changed, on the new album we are back to personal politics. We have been yelling and screaming so much about the state of the world that it seems nothing is really changing, things are getting worse. We are not giving up, we are just trying to reach back inside to find the strength inside to change ourselves more than just to try and change everybody else.
Oli W: When you made your first album you argued a lot, have you learnt over the years how to not have as many arguments and make it less stressful a process?
Fletcher: Pennywise is a very volatile mix of people in the band, it’s like oil and water, sometimes they just don’t mix. With the song writing, everyone is just so passionate about how they want a song to turn out it doesn’t matter who writes it, at the end of the day it’s a Pennywise song because no matter how perfect you think it is when you bring it in they will start tearing it apart. It becomes a massive battle, but at the end of it you really feel like you have created something as a team, and a band. That is always what I thought a band was, not like the ‘Backstreet Boys’ having someone else write their fucking songs or about one guy writing all the songs and telling the rest of the guys what they’re going to do whether they like it or not. A band to me was a group of guys that got together and put their creative energy together. It has always been difficult, as far as recording goes. Although we have learned how to get good sounds and to make Pennywise sound like Pennywise, but that is the easy part.
Oli W: On your latest release there is a track titled ‘Fox TV’, what is it that pisses you off so much about Fox?
Fletcher: The country is really divided right now between the red and blue; I’ve never seen it like this. It’s almost intolerable when you sit down and talk to someone that’s a republican, I don’t even want to talk politics with friends because their way of thinking is so far off what we’re thinking about it’s pretty crazy. America is just controlled by money and greed and Fox TV is really one-sided, it’s the republican channel doing unbalanced reporting, which is not the way it should be. Another thing about travelling the world is you see the real news, with must the news presented and not being slanted one way or the other. But there is local Fox TV, they play pennywise during news segments, where the helicopter pilot holds up his Pennywise CD and goes to the concerts. There are people that work in the Fox TV studio listening to the song saying, “yeah, this is cool”. But the national Fox TV it’s a problem, its just one of those things where you think ‘fuck, liars’ and you just get pissed off and write a song about it.
Oli W: Are Clearchannel worse?
Fletcher: Clearchannel, that’s the evil of all evils. It’s hard not to do something with Clearchannel, there are some bands out there making a stand and not playing any Clearchannel venues. I think we should probably be headed in that direction as well; we are having a problem with them right now over some stuff. Clearchannel is the typical American world of money equals power. They are buying the venues, buying the radio stations, buying the billboards and controlling the media. They say ‘Listen to this band on our station, here’s the billboard. Buy the album and then come to our venue paying $10 to park, $8 for a beer and $50 to get in. We have control.” They are buying the smaller venues as well, so its like Wallmart, putting the little guys out of business. When you have something becoming a situation being one-sided with people becoming and behaving like robots under the control of the media, it’s a bad scene, we are not into it.
Oli W: You’ve been approached by major labels in the past and said no, because it wasn’t for you. What is your view on punk bands signing for major labels, when you consider a band such as Anti-Flag has done this?
Fletcher: I don’t really see how on God’s earth you can call yourself a punk band and be on a major label. It’s a black mark against anyone that signs to a major label in my book. I don’t care if they say they want to be the biggest band in the world or they want to get their music out to more people because it’s fucking money, 90% of these bands are going after the money. It just goes against everything those early punk rockers worked for ‘Black flag’ ‘Minor Threat’ ‘Dead Kennedys’ by doing it themselves and all the kids getting beat up by the cops and the football players. We really tried to start something that was different, really anti the establishment; bands signing for majors are just totally conforming to what society wants you to be. They [RCA} don’t give a fuck about anti-flag’s political stance, they probably don’t even like it, but they know anti-flag can sell some records. So they market them, sell a shit load of records and make some money. When they start selling shitty amounts of records, they’ll drop them and move onto the next thing. I saw anti-flag the other day, we played a show with them, I didn’t really want to talk to them about it or about anything. Of course they’re nice guys and of course they have the right idea about some things, but how hypocritical can you be? To be so anti-corporate America and sign to a fucking major label, I mean it’s absolutely unacceptable. Now they are Anti-Flag, they are just a band; they are not a punk band. I don’t want to bag on them I just want to say they are just another band that gave into the powers that be. If they want to get records out to the people then they should take the money they make, go ahead and make 300,000 records, they cost a dollar apiece to make, and give them away. You don’t need a major label to get your music out to the people, you can give it out to them for free yourself all day long or can sell you CDs for a dollar apiece. If you are that passionate about your art and want to get your message out there, there are other ways to do it aside from major labels. That goes for all bands.
Oli W: You are known for your drunken exploits over the years, have you decided to become more chilled out?
Fletcher: Right at the moment I’m pretty chilled out because I haven’t been drinking for about six months. Up until all these years I would say things have probably got worse or remained the same. I always have a lot of fun destroying shit, but it’s not healthy to drive your cars into houses, drive your boats into other boats or throw bricks through windows, especially when you are in your thirties. I’ve definitely mellowed out a little bit, mainly due to the fact I have got into so much trouble over the years it has got close to going to jail for a long time. You pick between travelling the world with Pennywise or going to jail for five years, I’ve got to chill out for a little while and right now I am doing good.
Oli W: What would you do if you shat yourself on-stage?
Fletcher: I would my ask guitar tech for a towel, which I have done, and do a little clean-up behind the amp.
Oli W: Pirates or ninjas, which are better?
Fletcher: Pirates, what’s wrong with you!