INTERVIEW: Pennywise’s Fletcher Dragge

Hermosa Beach, California punk rock pioneers Pennywise released their tenth studio album, All Or Nothing, on April 26 via Epitaph Records. It’s the veteran punk band’s first release with new singer Zoli Téglás from Ignite, who stepped in for already-booked live dates in 2009 when longtime vocalist Jim Lindberg was unable to make the shows due to documentary making commitments. A few months later Lindberg announced his resignation and Téglás was brought on board permanently. In addition to continuing to work with Orange County hardcore punk band Ignite, Téglás has filled in on vocals for The Misfits, he has collaborated with Motörhead, and he is head volunteer for Pacific Wildlife Project, rescuing and taking pelicans and other sea birds to rehabilitation hospital. And he’s also the volunteer music and outreach coordinator for Sea Shepherd. It sounds like he’s definitely the man to match the passion, intensity and fire of Pennywise at their finest. And the results are all there on All Or Nothing. I caught up with guitarist Fletcher Dragge to see how the newly revitalised Pennywise is settling in.

At what point did the band realise Zoli was the guy?

We had a situation where originally we had a couple of shows we were contracted to play. We didn’t want to cancel some shows, and he agreed to come in and do the shows. He was down for it. At that point we knew how things were going to be and we told him we would try some other people out [to be the new singer] But he did those shows, and he got the best try-out because he actually did those shows live with us. And he just brought it. He’s got a great stage presence. He’s got similar political views to what we have. He supports some causes we agree with. And he’s got a great voice. The thing is, you hear Pennywise, you near NOFX, Bad Religion, you think it’s just another punk band, but the fact that this stuff is really, really hard to sing. And although a lot of people we tried out were really good, Zoli was just that much better. He can do the older stuff that has a lot more dynamics and a lot higher register, because he has a higher voice, but he can still do the lows stuff. So we just mulled it over, tried everybody out, and said, well, he’s as crazy as they come, but we all are! So the rest is history. We’ve had a couple of ups and downs, a couple of bumps in the road, but for the most part I think we picked the right guy.

It’s a hard style to sing because it’s difficult do do notes that pure without sounding pretty.

Yeah, it’s something you don’t really hear in Ignite as much because he’s singing higher, but we wanted to make sure that he wasn’t imitating Jim but he also wasn’t imitating Zoli from Ignite. We worked the songs in keys where he has to drop down into keys that are almost in an uncomfortable range for him, and he was like, ‘move it up a notch,’ and we said ‘no. You learn how to sing it here, and you sing it with some gravel and some grit.’ He really adapted to it, and I think we created a new sound. Obviously with me and Randy [Bradbury, bass] writing and playing music it’s going to sound like Pennywise automatically, but the key was making it sound like Pennywise with Zoli singing, and I think we accomplished that.

Well the fact that it’s called All Or Nothing sums it up really well, in terms of keeping the band going. You must have thought ‘What the hell do we do now?’

Yeah! That song took on a life of its own. That song and the lyric encompass what Pennywise is all about and what we’re all going through in our lives. Obviously that song’s more of your old-school Pennywise song from yesteryear. Y’know, it wasn’t like was asked Jim to leave the band. He quit and although it wasn’t a surprise, because he’d been threatening to quit for years, it was kind of a shock because we’d bent over backwards to keep him in the band for years. But whatever. Jim went and did his thing, and we can’t say we’re happy about a lot of the things he did and how he conducted himself, but it is what it is. We’re over that.

Are you still an Ibanez guy?

Yep! Still an Ibanez guy. I’m using the same old RG. I don’t even know the model number any more! They actually make me custom bodies. They take the RG and make the body about an inch and a half bigger overall. Because I’m a big guy and the little regular body looked kind of small on me. Funny story: I actually made a body that was a bigger version of an Ibanez before I got sponsored by them, and put all their hardware back on it and their neck. I took it to them and they said ‘We’re not sponsoring any punk bands right now.’ I said ‘Check out my guitar.’ They said ‘You made a custom guitar and put all our hardware back on it?’ I said ‘Yeah. I love the necks and I love the sound of your guitars. I just need a bigger version.’ They said ‘Wait here,’ went upstairs, came back down and said ‘You’re sponsored.’ So that was pretty cool! The guitars are really durable on the road, and they work. I’m using EMGs in my setup, and with those super-fast muffles, if you don’t have a tight punchy guitar it just loses that aggressiveness. You’ve got to find that balance. Ibanez, for recording and live, you’ve got to find that really sweet open tone but also that Pantera-like low end for the super-fast muffles. I use a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier and a Bogner with two mics on each cab blended down to one, and then doubled. I feel pretty happy. I usually don’t like my guitar tone on record after I’ve done it, but I really like my guitar tone now. This is the most stoked I’ve ever been on my guitar tone.

And what do you use live?

I have a Dual Rectifier and a VHT Pitbull. That’s in my rack, and when I’m travelling with my rack I do a left and right split on stage and in the PA, so it’s true stereo. A lot of guitar players never get that. I always tell them, first piece of advice, get two heads and a splitter. And I’ve even used a delay between the two in the past, and it really opens up the whole of the middle for the vocals and the kick and snare and bass. If you sit out front and listen to a true stereo guitar with two stereo heads, it’s huge. It’s way bigger than one mic. But a lot of the times when I’m on the road I’ll just use two Dual Rectifiers split, two full stacks. And it’s a lot of work to lug that stuff around, but either way, the Dual Rectifier, I would say, is my signature sound. I’ve been playing Boogies since our first recording on Epitaph, and that’s just the old school Dual Rectifier, one of the best amps I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a very versatile amp, and durable. Y’know, it’s funny. I saved up and thought “I want to sound like Metallica,” so I went out and got a Mesa Boogie Studio 22 preamp and the Strategy 400 watt all tube stereo power amp, which was just insane. It cost me a lot of money. It cost $3500 bucks or something. I saved up all summer. And not to say that I’m that guy, but I’m pretty sure I turned the whole punk scene onto those Boogies. NOFX used it on their album, Bad Religion used it on their album, Down By Law used it on their album. After I recorded with it, Brett [Gurewitz, Bad Religion guitarist & Epitaph founder] was like, “Can I borrow it?” Then Eric Melvin from NOFX came down and he was really into it and he would up buying a Mark III. In the meantime I was trying to get sponsored by Boogie. I was like, “Hey look, you’ve got to hook up some punk bands.” And they were like, “Punk bands can’t afford our stuff. It’s too high end.” And I was like, “No, I’ve already got three bands that have bought it from you. Why don’t you give us some free stuff?” And they don’t give anybody free stuff. Maybe Metallica, I don’t know. But they’re one of those amp companies that really keeps it tight. And it’s hilarious because I look back on it and there was an article in a magazine entitled Boogie Man, and I just want to call them up and tell the old guy, “You know how many punk guys are using Rectifiers now? You owe me steak dinners for life!”

All Or Nothing is out now via Epitaph

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]Pennywise Australian Tour Dates (on sale 9am, Friday May 29):

THURSDAY 23 AUGUST GOLD COAST, COOLANGATTA HOTEL – 18+ www.oztix.com.au

FRIDAY 24 AUGUST BRISBANE, EATONS HILL – Lic A/A www.oztix.com.au

SATURDAY 25 AUGUST SYDNEY, UNSW ROUNDHOUSE – Lic A/A www.ticketek.com.au

SUNDAY 26 AUGUST MELBOURNE, THE PALACE – 18+ www.oztix.com.auwww.ticketek.com.au

TUESDAY 28 AUGUST ADELAIDE, HQ – 18+ www.oztix.com.au

WEDNESDAY 29 AUGUST PERTH, METRO FREMANTLE – 18+ www.oztix.com.au

This is an extended edit of an article originally published in Mixdown magazine.[/geo-in]