COM­ING FULL CIR­CLE

Pen­ny­wise’s inim­itable gui­tarist Fletcher Dragge talks lega­cies, Yes­ter­days, and not yet hav­ing of a copy his own al­bum.

Blunt - - Feature - Dave Dray­ton.

Have you heard the record?” asks Fletcher Dragge down the line – his voice has the bel­low­ing weight you’d ex­pect from some­one of such Ha­grid- like pro­por­tions, and at 8am it is, in all hon­esty, a tad ter­ri­fy­ing. Dragge is, of course, en­quir­ing about Yes­ter­days, the lat­est – but in no real sense new­est – record from the sem­i­nal Cal­i­for­nia punk band that he has used to sound­track his par­ty­ing an­tics since 1988.

We tell him we were emailed a stream the night be­fore, that we had lis­tened through it twice – all the turn around had al­lowed. His line of ques­tion­ing con­tin­ues: “Are the old ver­sions on there as well?”

And a mix of that voice, the in­ter­ro­ga­tion, and the rel­a­tively early hour sends us to panic sta­tions – what old ver­sions? A cou­ple of tracks were re­leased way back when on the Wild­card / A Word From The Wise EP, and the al­bum’s first sin­gle “Vi­o­lence Never End­ing” had been penned back in the for­ma­tive years of the band by found­ing mem­ber and bassist Ja­son Thirsk ( who took his own life in 1996), but wasn’t this a “new al­bum of old songs”?

The panic sub­sides a lit­tle as Dragge admits he’s not even cer­tain they’ve made it onto the CD – he him­self doesn’t have a copy yet – and ex­plains his en­quiries. There was a plan – at this stage not yet con­firmed to have been ex­e­cuted – to put the orig­i­nal record­ings of many of the songs on Yes­ter­days ( an ar­ray of back­yard and night­club bootlegs and demos) as a sin­gle, se­cret track at the end of the record.

“I could be wrong, I’m not 100 per­cent sure, that shows you how or­gan­ised Pen­ny­wise is…” Dragge of­fers, off- hand. “Ja­son’s sing­ing on those tracks too, so hope­fully that’s the way it turns out, I don’t know.”

The ca­sual ap­proach Dragge lightly mocks was in fact cru­cial to their ap­proach to Yes­ter­days – a con­cept al­bum not in the sense of a gov­ern­ing lyri­cal nar­ra­tive, but in the sense that the band con­ceived of a pal­pa­ble way to gen­er­ate the nec­es­sary con­di­tions for re- ad­dress­ing songs up­wards of a decade or two old.

“I think we tried to go back to the roots of record­ing but I think we say that ev­ery al­bum – but I think on this al­bum we re­ally did strip it down, we didn’t get all crazy with the com­puter and Pro Tools and we ac­tu­ally got in the room to­gether and we played live and didn’t go back and fine tune ev­ery­thing, we just let it rip.”

With the no bull­shit ap­proach the band knocked the al­bum out in two weeks in a stu­dio in their home­town, leav­ing Dragge time to work on a new res­tau­rant in Her­mosa – “burg­ers, beer, and whiskey” – and every­one else time to run around on va­ca­tion surf­ing ( at least ac­cord­ing to Dragge).

“I think the more money you have to make a record, the more anal peo­ple get and the more time they spend – some­times it kills the vibe, and I think some of the Pen­ny­wise records have even been over­pro­duced to the point where it could have been a lot bet­ter if we did it in two weeks in­stead of two months. This one, you know, we weren’t wor­ried about tuners, we used a $ 20 tuner that hooks on the neck of a guitar, like the cheap­est piece of junk you could ever find,” Dragge stresses, and then stresses again to make sure he got the mes­sage home: “Like, no right- minded pro­ducer would ever let you use some­thing like this, and that’s what we used for the bass and guitar. In the old days we’d have a guitar tech in there tun­ing ev­ery­thing ev­ery minute, but this was a lot more fun.”

It was a way of cul­ti­vat­ing the sort of at­mos­phere that fu­elled the band’s early shows – some­thing they man­aged to re­align with af­ter Jim Lind­berg re­turned to the fold as front­man last year.

“We were start­ing to work on a new al­bum and then we played a gig in our home­town and all of our old friends showed up and we played all these old songs that we hadn’t played in 20 years,” Dragge ex­plains.

That new al­bum was put on the back burner af­ter wit­ness­ing and re- ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the im­pact those older songs had on their friends. “It was just a great feel­ing hav­ing Jim back in the band, 25 year an­niver­sary, and play­ing these old songs… We were just like, ‘ You know what? We should just go record these songs and get good ver­sions of them that are lis­ten­able and just turn them out to peo­ple.’”

Get­ting back to those old songs meant that the past had a par­tic­u­lar pres­ence and while it re­sulted in a sig­nif­i­cantly mel­lower in- stu­dio ex­pe­ri­ence than Pen­ny­wise are used to, it also meant Thirsk’s ab­sence was brought into sharp fo­cus.

“Ja­son was a huge part of ev­ery­thing, I mean, he was the first guy that I called and sat down and drank a beer with and talked about the dream of Pen­ny­wise and what we wanted to ac­com­plish and all that stuff. He brought the pos­i­tive as­pect to the band; I was a kind of de­stroy ev­ery­thing, get drunk and break it all and smash it and burn it down kind of guy,” Dragge dis­sects un­apolo­get­i­cally.

“And Ja­son was the pos­i­tive men­tal at­ti­tude guy. He had a huge in­flu­ence on it and Jimmy re­ally liked that as­pect of the band when he joined, he re­ally liked that Ja­son was in­volved and the di­rec­tion of the lyrics, I mean, his thought process and his con­tri­bu­tions to the band over the years, they carry through to­day.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple out there who just spend their whole life do­ing some­thing that is just triv­ial and not re­ally go­ing to af­fect the world and they’re just walk­ing through life like ro­bots do­ing as they’re told. And then you have peo­ple like Ja­son who did stuff that is still to this day, 25 years later, chang­ing peo­ple’s lives – and he’ll al­ways be a huge part of Pen­ny­wise.”

YES­TER­DAYS IS OUT NOW ON EPI­TAPH.

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