KNITTING FACTORY PRESENTS
Pennywise, Strung Out
If you think you know Pennywise, think again. Though the band has made a name for themselves over the past 26 years as a politically minded, melodic hardcore act who have sold millions of albums. They have become one of the most successful independent acts of all time, however they weren’t always this way. In fact the group got their start playing backyard parties in their hometown of Hermosa Beach, California, without having any aspirations other than playing as many songs as they could before the police showed up. This side of the band has never been captured until now and Yesterdays sees the band putting some of their nascent material in proper recorded form for the first time ever.
Not only is this the perfect way to welcome the band’s original vocalist Jim Lindberg back into the fold but Yesterdays is also in many way’s a homage to Pennywise’s original bassist Jason Thirsk who wrote a bulk of the lyrics and music to these songs in the late 80s (Thirsk subsequently passed away in 1996). “Jason was the emotional core of Pennywise and his songwriting was very much about PMA (positive mental attitude) and that’s really what initially drew me to the band and where we started out,” Lindberg explains. “The punk scene had became really cynical and confused in the late eighties and it seemed like the only bands that were doing anything inspiring were the one’s singing about positivity and unity and heading in a new direction.”
Lindberg refers to Yesterdays as a “new album of old songs. It’s an accurate description when you consider that the band had to relearn many of the songs here from a cassette they recorded at their rehearsal space back in 1988. Original recordings of these can be heard at the end of the album. The remaining material consists of outtakes written during Pennywise’s Full Circle and Straight Ahead era during the late nineties. However when Lindberg, guitarist Fletcher Dragge, drummer Byron McMackin and bassist Randy Bradbury recut these songs earlier this year they inevitably made them sound as urgent and as they did when they were originally written.
“We always wanted to go back and record these songs because later in our career we started to get more political and angry— that may have turned some people off but that’s what we were feeling at the time,” Lindberg explains. “In the back of our minds we knew we had these cool, old songs that were more life-affirming, it just took us 25 years to get back to it.” Recorded in the band’s hometown factory district which is known for its influx of rehearsal studios and surfboard repair shops, Pennywise were conscious give the tracks a hometown feel and preserve their original spirit. “We tracked the whole thing in a few days doing a couple of takes of each song so it’s a really raw album in that sense.”
From the anthemic sing-along “What You Deserve” to the Minor Threat-inspired “Noise Pollution” and midtempo melodicism of “She’s A Winner” (which was written as an homage to Thirsk’s girlfriend at the time), it is clear why these songs got Pennywise signed to Epitaph. Even the most hardcore fans of the act will hear another side of Pennywise here. It’s the perfect collection of songs to bring the band back together following two sold out shows welcoming Lindberg back at the Los Angeles Palladium in 2012. “Instead of having the pressure to write a new album it made more sense for us to play these songs and remember why we started Pennywise in the first place and I think that helped us out a lot,” the vocalist explains.
The songs on Yesterdays mirror this sentiment, particularly tracks like “Thanksgiving” which memorably features the line, “think about all you have, not about what you can’t get.” “It’s a keystone song for the band in that it’s simple message but it’s important for people who are going through a tough time and feeling beaten down to hear, and that’s what bands like Dag Nasty and 7 Seconds did for us with their music,” Lindberg explains. “They wrote songs that felt like someone encouraging you to keep your head up and I think that type of message lies at the core of the songs on Yesterdays and embody the type of music that we’ve always aspired to create,” he adds.
“Losing Jason was a terrible tragedy for all of us and he was such a big part of the Pennywise spirit, so us going back and recording these songs was a huge inspiration because it reminded of us of where we were when we started and why people responded to the band in such a powerful way,” Lindberg summarizes. “These songs are Pennywise in our purest form and it’s really as much of a gift to us as it is to our fans, many of whom have been waiting for real recordings of these tracks for years. It marks a new chapter for the band while still staying true to the way we started twenty six years ago.”
Six years. It’s longer than the president sits in office or most people spend in college. In the music industry, it’s practically an eternity. Bands form, blow up and break up in that time period; new, disturbingly awful trends develop, old forms of media die out, social networks spread their insidious seed through shiny handheld devices no one actually needs but everybody wants.
Six years is also the amount of time that has passed since Strung Out’s last album. The Southern California tech-punk quintet had been so reliable for two decades—write, record, tour, repeat cycle roughly once every two years—that to go this long without new music felt like cause for alarm. Frontman Jason Cruz shared similar feelings.
“You get to a point where you decide if you’re going to go on or stop,” he admits. “Everyone kind of just lived life for a little bit. I think that’s pretty important if you consider yourself a songwriter or an artist of any kind. You have to live and experience other things in your life to have something to write about, to give value to what you’re singing about.”
Cruz & Co. were able to put their time off to good use, focusing their energy on the creation of Transmission.Alpha.Delta, out March 24 on their longtime label Fat Wreck Chords. The album didn’t come together easily, though; according to Cruz, writing was a yearlong process, as was recording. “We have an excess of ideas, and everyone in the band likes to put their elbows up and fight for their ideas,” he explains. I think that conflict is healthy. It’s all part of collaborating.” The process was further knotted by adding in another strong voice in producer Kyle Black, whose previous production credits ranged from Paramore to Comeback Kid. “There was butting heads in the beginning,” Cruz admits. “We’ve been doing something for 25 years and then some kid steps up and tells you to try it a little differently, all of us were like, ‘What? Who is this guy?’”
Early tensions were resolved, though, when the band realized they had an ally behind the boards. “Kyle was the first producer we’ve worked with that was a true fan of the band,” the vocalist says. “A lot of people said Transmission.Alpha.Delta is reminiscent of some of the earlier stuff we did, and I think Kyle had a lot to do with that, celebrating what this band is but at the same time hopefully elevating our artform.”
And elevate it he did; Transmission.Alpha.Delta is an album well worth its half-decade wait, with incredible songs like “Magnolia,” “Modern Drugs” and “Tesla” lyrically tackling difficult issues like drug addiction, faith and even the technological brainwashing of today’s youth while musically measuring up with the best moments of the band’s back catalog. “The biggest theme of this record was that we were all outside our comfort zone,” Cruz says. “Instead of just soloing, we’ve incorporated the solos into the actual structure of the songs. We mixed up the tempos, and we switched to E flat, which gives the guitars a better tone. I think we created a journey from where each song begins to where the song ends are two completely different places. I love that about Strung Out songs.”
Cruz is is own harshest critic, so when the singer says this might be his favorite Strung Out album, he really means it. “I judge the record by how accurately it describes my life,” he says. “As long as it’s a representation of who I am, and sincere and not pandering to any ’90s bullshit—I fuckin’ hated the ’90s. I don’t want Strung Out to be a nostalgia punk band at all. I wanna be right here, right now. I consider it an honor to be a musician and to contribute to everything that came before me.”
That urge to keep pushing to be modern and relevant and not rest on their laurels is what continually sets Strung Out apart from so many of their nostalgia-obsessed peers. “I’m not interested in looking back at all,” Cruz states. “I have no time or energy for that. There’s too much shit to be done. When I’m sitting in a diaper and on a morphine drip, maybe I’ll look back. Maybe I’ll actually listen to one of our old records.”
It’s clear Strung Out are rejuvenated and ready for more. And even though Cruz might not listen to Transmission.Alpha.Delta again until a few decades from now, odds are their fans will listen to it more than enough in the interim.
Strung Out’s Transmission.Alpha.Delta out March 24th on Fat Wreck Chords!