The Untold Truth Of Pennywise

Before bands like Green Day made punk music popular again in the 90s, the genre was solely within the underground and only sung by those who stood stalwartly against the status quo. Although those days are long gone with punk now firmly part of the mainstream like all other kinds of rock, there are still some bands that have bridged the gap and existed quite comfortably in both worlds. Pennywise is one of these bands that emerged out of the old school mentality, but still thrived at the peak of pop punk and continue to make music to this day. 

But Pennywise never truly went mainstream and they seem to have preferred it that way. The band has managed to garner a worldwide following though, and managed to cement themselves into the punk underground not just from their characteristic sound, but also from their entertaining antics, especially from the guitarist Fletcher Dragge. In over 30 years of making music, Pennywise went from kids inspired by former punks to leaders in the genre who serve as inspiration for a new generation of anti-establishment musicians.

The band is named after the monster in Stephen King's 'It'

Even before the TV miniseries of Stephen King's masterpiece, "It," the bandmates chose Pennywise as the name of the band in 1988 since they had all read the book. But as guitarist Fletcher Dragge describes in an interview with RAD, the decision was not made because they are diehard fans of the author. Instead, he says, "It was basically like one of our friends came over to one of our practices and said, 'You've gotta name your band Pennywise!' He just kept barkin' at us, so we were like 'whatever dude, cool.'"

Dragge does admit that there is more significance to the name, however, as it represents living your best life by overcoming your worst fears. Singer Jim Lindberg explains it as a metaphor by saying, "The clown in the book would turn into whatever scared you the most. In order to eventually kill the entity that was Pennywise, they had to confront their fears."

For how this is tied into the vision of the band, Lindberg says, "A lot of the hate in people is based in fear and jealousy. For us, it was a great metaphor for the band: here's a band that's loud and scary and full of what sounds like venom, but it's bringing you a change, something to bring yourself up, instead of something loud and scary, and that's all it is." That uplifting mentality was there from the beginning since the band was first called P.M.A., or Positive Mental Attitude, before settling on the edgier name.

Pennywise came from the legendary punk rock locale of Hermosa Beach

After over 20 years and 12 studio albums, many today probably consider Pennywise one of the OG's of punk rock, but the band was just one of several to come out of the South Bay area of California in the 1980's. And it was these bands that came before them and first broke out in Hermosa Beach, like Black Flag, the Descendents, and the Circle Jerks, that inspired Pennywise to become musicians.

Not long after Pennywise released their first EP, "A Word from the Wise," in 1989, their music quickly spread amongst punk fans throughout Southern California, says Matt Diehl in his book, "My So-Called Punk: Green Day, Fall Out Boy, The Distillers, Bad Religion — How Neo-Punk Stage-Dived into the Mainstream." Brett Gurewitz, who is heavily involved in the punk scene not only as the owner of Epitaph Records but also a founding member of Bad Religion, quickly signed the new band just a year later once they had appeared on his radar.

Pennywise was mistaken for a racist band

These days it may be hard to believe that Pennywise's political stance was once unclear. They were one of the original bands in the "Rock Against Bush" campaign and had a hit single called "F*** Authority" that was so controversial that L.A. forbade them from playing a concert there. Yet, regardless of their overall positive viewpoint and motivational lyrics they have had from the beginning, Pennywise's aggressive music attracted a lot of racist and violent fans after the release of their first studio album in 1991, which caused major issues for Jim Lindberg.

In an interview with the LA Times, it is clear the situation really bothered the singer as he says, "The whole violence scene around this style of music got too much for me. We played a horrendous show in Hollywood, and the place got thrashed. It just turned into a big fight, with one or two guys yelling, 'white power.'"

The association with such horrible beliefs baffled Lindberg and he explained there was not much to it by saying, "It goes to show you how stupid people are. We had a logo with a 'p' and a 'w,' and they said, 'That stands for white power.' We made it very obvious in our shows that people should take pride in who they are, not because of their skin color. Hate is so diametrically opposed to everything we stand for, but that kind of thing is going to happen."

Jason Thirsk briefly filled in for Jim Lindberg

Jim Lindberg was so disgusted by the negative and violent atmosphere during Pennywise shows early on that he ultimately decided to leave the band. As he explains to the LA Times, "I took a look at myself and said, 'What am I doing here? I have such an aversion for this type of behavior, violence and hatemongering, and I'm stuck in the middle of it as if I'm the spokesperson for it.' It happened at more than one show. It was becoming a trend, and we got slapped with this reputation that every time we play a riot was going to break out."

But there was more to the departure than just the terrible fans. Lindberg also had major problems with his bandmates because he saw such a severe lack of motivation. He explains, "Practices would end up as big beer fests. Twenty to 30 people would show up bringing cases of beer, and we could never get anything done. I knew we had the potential to be a great punk band and it [angered] me."

In Lindberg's absence, bassist Jason Thirsk transitioned to take over lead vocals while Randy Bradbury was brought on to become the session bass player. But their lead singer leaving must have lit a fire under the other members' butts, because they began to take everything more seriously and evolved as musicians. The improvement was good enough for Lindberg, who wanted to return, and the rest of the band welcomed him back in late 1992.

Surfing is a major part of the band members' lives

Both Jim Lindberg and Fletcher Dragge are avid surfers who started riding waves at the Hermosa and Manhattan beaches when they were young. Not only do the pair believe that the hobby helps with their creativity when writing music, but it has also played a part in building stronger connections with fans, especially on the international stage. Since surfing is such a major part of Australian culture, Pennywise may even be more popular there than they are in the U.S. All in all, surfing has given Lindberg so much in his life that he has devoted much effort in preserving it.

In 2013, Lindberg became a member of the Surfrider Foundation board. In an interview with Shop Eat Surf, he explained the decision by saying, "We've faced a huge challenge being such a large and densely populated metropolis with industrial pollution and sewer and storm runoff into the Santa Monica Bay. Strong environmental initiatives have helped return much of the sea life to the area, but it's a constant battle, and one that I'm happy to fight along with the great people at Surfrider."

Pat O'Brien's son got Pennywise on Access Hollywood

When Pennywise worked to promote their most politically-charged album at the time, "Land of the Free?," they faced some difficulties as L.A. forced the cancellation of one of their shows in what the band felt like was "a gross form of censorship" (via the Reno News & Review). But hiccups such as these could not halt the band's rise as their hit single, "F*** Authority," was played by rock stations across the country.

With Pennywise already gaining fame, and since the band have always claimed they never wanted to be mainstream, it may seem odd that the punk rockers were featured on an episode of "Access Hollywood" in 2001 to further promote their album. But in his book, "Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life," Jim Lindberg gave his explanation for why it happened. The singer claimed that the appearance only occurred because Pat O'Brien's 12-year-old son was a fan of the band. And rightly so, Lindberg also describes the moment as "the apex of our career," which is very likely true when it comes to their exposure to the general public.

Fletcher Dragge is crazy while on tour

When Pennywise went on the road to perform at shows around the world, a trail of destruction was left in their wake mostly from Fletcher Dragge. The guitarist confessed to Dying Scene by saying, "I've destroyed a lot of dressing rooms." Along with numerous wrecked hotel rooms, Dragge goes on to add that Pennywise has "been banned from probably 10 festivals in Europe. Been banned from numerous night clubs."

Dragge, oftentimes with his bandmates, has caused all sorts of mayhem. In England, Pennywise was banned from playing at the Reading Festival for smashing through the walls of Rage Against the Machine's dressing room. In Japan, Dragge got into a BB gun fight with the band's guitar tech and completely ruined the unique seaweed wallpaper of a hotel. The guitarist says, "You don't know how many times I've woken up to like a $5,000 bill in a hotel room. I'll die broke but at least I've got some good stories. Definitely broken way too much s*** in my life. It's fun."

Fletcher Dragge is notorious for vomiting on celebrities

Along with the physical damage Fletcher Dragge has caused while being wasted, he is also well-known for a rather disgusting habit of throwing up all over the place. Not only has the guitarist gained a bad reputation for vomiting on audiences at shows, but he has also puked on at least two celebrities as well. The wild man often retches simply from drinking too much, yet other times he seems to be making a statement.

At a performance for the radio station KROQ, Dragge threw up on DJ Riki Rachtman. According to The Age, it was an attack against the station for not playing enough Pennywise songs on the air. The guitarist also vomited on Dr. Drew during a live episode of "Loveline" in 1995. Though the experience must not have been too traumatizing because Dragge was allowed back on the show in 1999.

The hosts of 'Loveline' were held hostage by Fletcher Dragge

Letting Fletcher Dragge return to "Loveline" ended up being a huge mistake for both Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla a few years later in 1999. The guitarist was not the only member of Pennywise to make an appearance, since bassist Randy Bradbury joined him, but that did not prevent the situation from descending into chaos. Everything started out fine as Dragge tried to make up for puking on Dr. Drew at his previous appearance by gifting the host with a trophy filled with his vomit.

However, the guitarist ended up getting super drunk again and barricaded Carolla, Dr. Drew, and Bradbury in the studio, says MTV News. Dragge threaten their lives at one point with a non-existent grenade, and even threatened that he would force Carolla to eat his poop. The police were called in, but no one was hurt during the incident and no charges were pressed.

Zoli Téglás replaced Jim Lindberg as lead singer

In 2010, Jim Lindberg left Pennywise and was then replaced by Zoli Téglás on lead vocals. He told the Alternative Press that being a father and conflicts with touring were among several reasons why the singer decided to exit the band. However, Lindberg then formed a new band called the Black Pacific, which did not sit well with his former bandmates.

Lindberg was on good terms with Pennywise after leaving, but Dragge explained how the members then felt betrayed by saying, "When you start hearing the rumors, like Jim's in the studio recording records, it's like 'What? Recording a record? He said he was going to be a UPS guy?' Wait, oh, they're streaming the record? Oh, s***, that sounds like a Pennywise song. What, a 5-week tour in Europe?' We were dumbfounded. We felt hurt. Betrayed. And everyone still does. I like to say that we'll get over it but right now nobody's on speaking terms with Jim."

With the new singer, Pennywise released their tenth studio album, "All or Nothing" in 2012. But then Lindberg returned to retake his role that same year after Téglás injured his back so severely that he did not want to keep going. Dragge and Lindberg had already begun to reconcile at this point, which made the timing perfect for him to rejoin the band.

Pennywise got into fight with Alesana

When Pennywise was traveling for the Warped Tour in 2010, Fletcher Dragge and Randy Bradbury entered the RV of Alesana, another band on the tour, because they mistakenly thought it was the vehicle of their friend (via Alternative Press). A brief fight then broke out when Alesana's manager found the strangers in their RV, who then refused to leave because they were drunk and had no idea what was happening.

Eventually, the cops came to intervene and were forced to both tase and arrest Dragge, as he says with a laugh, "They blasted me with the taser about five times, but I used to be an electrician, so I'm used to it." Afterwards, the charges were dropped, and the two bands made up once the misunderstanding was explained.

The lead singer of Alesana, Shawn Milke, says, "For Alesana and Pennywise, this is already water under the bridge, and we urge you all to please do the same. Touring is about music and friendship, but unfortunately sometimes these things happen." The two bands then went on to tour again together in Australia not long after the incident.

Fat Mike was thrown into a drum set by Fletcher Dragge

When Fletcher Dragge was at the House of Blues to see NOFX play, so was the girlfriend of Fat Mike, the lead singer and bassist of the performing band. Since Dragge knew the couple to be the kind of people that get their kicks from doing dominatrix stuff, he was only mildly surprised to witness the woman urinate into a cup and then give it to Fat Mike to drink.

In an interview with Dying Scene, the guitarist recalled the bizarre sight and said, "She just walks out and gives it to him and he drinks it. He didn't even say anything about it, it was just part of his duties that night. I'm like, "F***! Can I throw him into the drums again?' And she's all, 'Do it now.' I'm like,'F*** yeah!' I snatched Fat Mike up and slammed him through the drums again."

The NOFX singer yelled at Dragge first, but when he said the girlfriend told him to do it, Fat Mike was ultimately okay with it. More than anything, Fat Mike seemed to be pleased that he finally had someone to back him up that he is hardcore enough to drink actual urine.

Pennywise get sick of the fighting at U.S. performances

The violence at Pennywise shows was so bad in the beginning that it was a major reason why Jim Lindberg quit the band, but he is not the only member to talk about not liking it. Even though Fletcher Dragge's rowdy antics have gotten out of control at times, it is clear he has a negative view of the fighting that often breaks out at performances in the U.S.

In an interview with RAD, Dragge talks about the difference of touring in Europe and says, "The scene over there is really cool cuz there's no fights and s***. The people are all friendly and they are there to be friendly and they are there to have a good time and they watch out for everyone else. Over here it can get lame cuz you get a lot of tough guys who like to hurt people and you get a lot of gangs and s***. The whole point of the music gets lost by people who are only there to be f*****' kooks!"

Dragge has also commented on how he appreciates the crowds in Australia for not starting the large brawls that occur in the U.S. Like with the Europeans, they just want to hear the music and do not care about appearing tough.

Jim Lindberg wrote a book about being a punk rock dad

Published in 2009, Jim Lindberg's book is called "Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life" and in it he explains what is like to be a normal father while also being the lead singer in an internationally famous punk band. Lindberg describes how he is rarely ever recognized, which leads to all sorts of interesting and comical conversations with random people. In one of these humiliating, yet humorous moments, the rock star recalls how one store clerk was a fan and knew who he was, yet unfortunately, it was when he was making several embarrassing purchases, like diaper rash cream, breast pads, and Nair for Men.

The book was so successful that in 2011 the documentary, "The Other F Word," was released, which expanded upon Lindberg's experiences to include other major players in the punk scene like Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, and Fat Mike, among many other famous punk rock dads.