Nearly a decade has passed since the tragic death of Pennywise bass player and founding member Jason Thirsk. And although the fast-driving SoCal punk band chose to carry on, releasing six more albums and taking part in many a Warped Tour, Thirsk's passing left a deep hole in the group -- one that left vocalist Jim Lindberg struggling to keep his interest in the band afloat. "It was extremely confusing, because I didn't really want it anymore," Lindberg tells New Times. There were times, Lindberg acknowledges, that the guy at the center of the band wasn't always into it. "I really felt like the heart and soul of the band just died. The five or six years afterward, I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, but it was really difficult. It kind of felt like a memorial all the time."
But Lindberg's loyalty to the rest of the band -- and his abiding love for what he does -- prevailed over self-doubt; the show went on. Now, given Pennywise's busy tour and recording schedule -- and the increasing level of intensity put into each successive album -- it's hard to imagine Lindberg ever calling it quits. The band has been around since 1988 -- years before it was possible to earn a living as an indie punk band.
Stephen King references aside (the band's name comes from the creepy clown in King's novel It), Pennywise has been synonymous with skate and surf video soundtracks for as long as many of its young fans remember. And it all happened seemingly overnight. At the beginning of 1992, Pennywise was one of a handful of bands on the quickly growing Epitaph Records roster. But when three of the band's songs were featured in Plan B Skateboards' popular video Questionable that same year, the Hermosa Beach foursome quickly joined the ranks of skate-punk royalty.
Pennywise's most recent effort, The Fuse, is perhaps its most focused. The unique way in which the band arranged the songs might have something to do with it. Having turned to producer and Epitaph owner Brett Gurewitz for assistance, the band members found themselves back in school.
"We all were sitting in the studio, and [Gurewitz] had a pad of paper out," Lindberg recalls. "We listened to all the songs, and he'd say, 'I give this one an A or a B or a C. We took the highest scoring ones and went with those."
The Fusewas lit, burning through 15 tracks of sociopolitical anthems like "Competition Song" (about clashing beliefs and ideologies), "6th Avenue Nightmare" (inner-city strife), and "Fox TV" (Shut up, O'Reilly!). Lindberg concedes that the band's not breaking any new ground here. But then again, jumping on the latest fad isn't what Pennywise does.
"We've watched it all come and go," Lindberg says. "We've had people say, 'Electronica is going to take over, so you might as well get rid of your guitars and get synthesizers.' That was when Prodigy was big. Remember Prodigy? All those people look foolish now."