Pennywise to take on the world with new lead singer

Zoli Teglas and Fletcher Dragge

Singer Zoli Teglas and Fletcher Dragge get comfortable together during a recent show Long Beach. Photo by Nick Meistrell

With a new lead singer in place, Pennywise is gearing up to take on the world – again

The first question was easy: Why him?

I’d just sat down with guitarist Fletcher Dragge and singer Zoli Teglas. Addressing the former but indicating the latter, I put forth the question that Pennywise fans could now ask after several months of wondering who would replace the band’s original member and lead vocalist Jim Lindberg.

Pennywise, for the benefit of those five to seven readers who need a tutorial, is the South Bay’s preeminent punk rock band (successors to Black Flag, if you will), who’ve been around since 1988. The original members attended Mira Costa High School. Since then they’ve cut lots of records, lost their original bass player Jason Thirsk to suicide in 1996, and have toured the U.S. and much of the world.

Let’s go back to last August when Lindberg announced that, “After 20 years, nine albums and thousands of shows around the world, my time with Pennywise has come to an end.” Naturally, the departure of the group’s frontman sent rumors rippling around the globe, and bets were made (this writer lost $3,000) as to whether Pennywise would fold up its tent or soldier on.

Essentially, Lindberg chose to leave because, with a wife and children, he did not wish to tour for weeks or months on end, which put him at odds with the more nomadic Dragge, plus bassist Randy Bradbury and drummer Byron McMackin. Secondly, there were differences of opinion as to what message or stance the band should be promoting to its fans. At the time, I spoke with both Dragge and Lindberg, and both emphasized a dedication and respect for their followers. The difference was that Lindberg had reached the conclusion that what fans come to expect and even demand of a band can be limiting artistically. Both musicians impressed this writer with their observations and comments, and so it’s not a case of one guy’s off his rocker and the other isn’t. One simply decided to move on. And so now, with a spring tour at hand, I’m back at Fletcher’s pad in Hermosa Beach, trying hard not to look his killer dogs in the eye because I just know they’ll take it wrong, and meeting Lindberg’s replacement for the first time.


Zoli Teglas at Long Beach audition. Photo by Nick Meistrell

Right man for the job?

Why him, indeed.

After Lindberg’s departure from Pennywise became public knowledge, Fletcher received a barrage of calls from singers wanting to audition. But Zoli, who’d been singing lead with Ignite since the early ‘90s, was a known quantity, and early on he filled in on a couple of dates that had already been booked.

“We’d been touring with Ignite for years,” Fletcher says, “so we knew Zoli and we knew that he could sing our songs. I mean, we didn’t know [what it would take to] teach him to sing them the right way,” he adds mischievously, “but we found out with the first practice.

This isn’t to say that Zoli was handed the job as Jim’s replacement (even though he had Jim’s blessing).

“We didn’t want to sit around doing nothing for six or eight months,” Fletcher says. “We wanted to let people know that we weren’t giving up and we’d be looking for a singer, and in the meantime we were going to be playing with a guy who was already in an established band.”

Did you know at the start it was going to be Zoli, or were you still uncertain?

“I had a feeling that we weren’t going to find anybody that we thought was better, that fit our style and had the same kind of beliefs that we did about politics and music, and who came from the same background. But we went through a lot of people.”

Fletcher adds that he was upfront with Zoli from the start:

“I said, seriously, if tomorrow someone walks in here better than you, he’s getting the job. And even if you do these shows with us and you put in all this time to learn the songs, you’re not the guy until we say you’re the guy. We really did. There were a couple of close calls for him…

“A lot of our songs are really melodic,” he continues, “and they’re way harder to sing than you would think they are. And Zoli can pull that off with relative ease, right?” “Yes,” Zoli obediently replies.” With a couple of beatings he’d started to get it,” Fletcher adds, ribbing him a little. “As we were going through the process (of auditioning) it just became more and more apparent that he was probably going to be the best at the job. So here he is.”

High notes, low notes

Were you confident that they’d go with you?

“I did the best I could,” Zoli says, “and I tried to stay out of the results. I would show up to all the practices and take the constant abuse from Fletcher about how I said ‘the’ [thuu] instead of ‘the’ [thee]. My vocal style is of course different than Jim’s – my voice is a lot higher than his is – and the way I write is completely different.”

He points out that Lindberg writes on the top of the beat, whereas he writes on the back of the beat. What this means is that the singer breathes in different spots. In some cases, then, a deep breath precedes two or three verses until another breath can be taken. “There’s a lot of weird intricacies that were hashed out in practice.”

Fletcher is surprisingly adamant about suppressing the way that Zoli sounds with Ignite, but he also acknowledges that over time influences are bound to creep in.

“That’s inevitable,” he admits. “We’re trying to stay away from it as much as possible, but there’re a couple of things that have crept in, because he’s got a distinct way of singing with Ignite. It doesn’t really sound like anybody else out there.”

“People say it sounds like Klaus Meine from Scorpions,” Zoli says.

“We’re trying to stay away from that,” Fletcher again says, wanting Zoli “to sound like the new version of Pennywise, whatever that may be. So it’s kind of a cross between the two” – meaning a little like Lindberg and a little like Ignite, and yet…

Zoli: “People have told me from listening to some of these demos of the new album we’re making that it kind of reminds them of old school Pennywise.”

“Also, they say he sounds like a young Jim,” Fletcher says, “when Jim was in his early 20s, like the old songs ‘Living For Today’ and ‘It’s Up To Me.’ Jim’s voice was higher and the songs were written a bit differently in those days. Nine out of ten people on the tapes that we made in the studio thought it was Jim singing, but if you put them side by side you’d hear the difference.”

He then clarifies that during the auditions for a new singer there were a few specific requirements, mainly to “make sure you can sing the old songs good and do those with respect to Jim and Jason, and then be able to write new stuff.

“I think the hardest part is the writing of new stuff,” he continues, “because Zoli’s really entrenched in his style of writing and we’re really entrenched 20 years later in our style of writing.” He pauses. “So, [there’s been] a lot of arguing going on. I’ve had almost three strokes.” As for Zoli, Fletcher says jokingly, “he’s lost some hair and he’s got an ulcer.”


Zoli Teglas and Fletcher Dragge. Photo

Zoltan the magnificent

You don’t find many punk rock bands in Southern California that have guys in them named Zoltan and Fletcher – I can think of only three (e.g., Gardena’s Rainbird, with Zoltan, Vince, Daryl, and Fletcher) – but Zoltán “Zoli” Téglás stands apart from everyone else.

Currently, Zoli resides in L.A. He was born in the States, lived in Eastern Europe as a child, and then when his family returned to America they moved to Orange County, hence the Inland Empire punk scene connection.

“My family’s from Hungary,” Zoli says, “and all my mom’s side is in Hungary in a small town outside of Budapest. I would go back every summer when I was a little kid. I lived with my grandma for a year or so. I really loved Hungary; it’s just a different vibe and my grandma was amazing. I came back one time and forgot how to speak English.

“I went to high school out here and started getting into sports and into punk rock.” He got involved with some bands and then joined Ignite. “During the Ignite run I sang for the Misfits for a year.” He worked on records and began touring – two things he’ll probably be doing for a long time to come.

“I’ve been on the road for the last 15 years, pretty much,” Zoli says, “and then when I’m home I’m doing the environmental stuff.”

This includes a non-profit outfit called Pelican Rescue Team, which ordinary folks can participate in if they’ve gotten traffic tickets or warrants and need to work them off by putting in some time doing community service.

“I write off your tickets for you if you go get pelicans with me,” Zoli explains. “Then we take them to a rehab center for birds in Huntington Beach. I’m working on my marine animal permit so we can start rescuing seals and sea lions.

“My brother (Professor Mike Teglas, ‘a wildlife veterinarian,’ says Zoli) and I helped start a bear sanctuary in Hungary, where they take bears from really messed up circuses – like Albanian circuses [where] on the side they’ll fight them against dogs.”

If the band goes to Hungary, I tell Fletcher, you’ve got a tour guide.

“We’re going to Hungary,” Zoli says; “I’m gonna be singing in Hungarian. They won’t even understand the bantering between sets because I’ll be speaking Hungarian.”


Randy Bradbury, Byron McMackin, Fletcher Dragge, and Zoli Teglas. Photo courtesy of Pennywise

Make sure you record him.

Fletcher laughs: “We’re gonna hear it back with a translator, to make sure he’s not talking shit.”

Zoli’s also a member – since 1989 – of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and he’s done quite a few benefits for them over the years. When I mention “The Cove” – which a couple of weeks after our conversation went on to win an Oscar for best feature documentary – Zoli replies that he’s friends with some of the people involved in the making of the film, the purpose of which was to publicize the dolphin slaughter that goes on in Japan. And Zoli, by the way, was instrumental in the recent sting operation that determined that The Hump, a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica, had illegally served an endangered species of whale.

“That’s another reason why Zoli is a good fit,” Fletcher says, “because he’s got some of his own causes and he stands for some of the same things that we stand for. He’s willing to go out and do a benefit show for Sea Shepherd whereas other bands don’t want to do benefits. We do a lot of them, everything from breast cancer to Surfrider throughout our years.”

“That’s one of the things I’ve always thought was so cool about Pennywise,” Zoli says. “They talk the talk and walk the walk, and they actually give money away to all these people in need instead of putting it in their pockets.”

It sounds like you were auditioning them at the same time they were auditioning you.

“I have to believe in my vocals and my lyrics,” Zoli replies, “and Pennywise fits my mold as well because they’re not a fake punk band; it’s not bubblegum punk rock, it’s the real deal.”

Fletcher points out that Zoli is considering a move to Hermosa Beach so that he’ll be closer to the rest of the band.

“I like the South Bay,” Zoli says; “I like everybody down here. It seems like these people have been welcoming me with open arms. It’s cool.”

As soon as you move down here, I joke, everything’s gonna change; it’ll be really horrible for you.

Zoli laughs, and Fletcher chimes in: “He’ll find out where the Promenade is.”


What have you lost and what have you gained with having to find a new singer?

“Nobody that’s in a band wants to lose their lead singer,” Fletcher replies; “he’s the least replaceable guy.” Does anybody remember the albums The Doors released post-Jim Morrison?

“A guitar player or bass player, you can get away with that, but a singer – it’s a big deal. It’s not something we were happy about but out of respect for Jim we got to let him do his thing and move on in his life. That’s his choice to make. I’ll never be stoked on that, but I got to respect it.”

In this case, one leaves and another walks in.

“The number one thing that takes precedence is Pennywise and the new album, that comes first,” says Zoli. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us to write this album,” which he’s looking forward to doing more of while the band is on the road next month, “because we have all day to write. I like the songs that we’ve come up with so far.”

“One of the biggest benefits that we’re seeing in the songwriting,” says Fletcher, “is that there’s an open line of communication. With Pennywise we got to a point after many years together where the songs became this person’s song or that person’s song. There was collaboration on all the songs, but if you wanted to work a little bit harder on a song [the reaction might be] ‘Nah, it’s good enough the way it is’ – and with Zoli we can keep pushing and pushing.” He explains that he was particularly hard on Zoli during the tryout period because he wanted to see what Zoli’s breaking point would be and whether he’d withstand the abuse. I guess that accounts for Fletcher’s neck brace and the scratches on his arms and face.

To hear Fletcher tell it, there was less communication in the songwriting arena between band members prior to Lindberg’s departure because nobody wanted to risk hurting anyone else’s feelings.

“You get to that point where you don’t want to make someone mad in the band – I guess I’m talking about Jim – and you get to a point where everybody’s walking on eggshells because there’s so much stuff going on – there’s touring and there’s benefits and there’s money issues and there’s insurance, and then there’s songwriting all thrown in.”

For the time being it’s a different story. “We’ve changed verses like seven times in songs. We’re like, Hey, let’s try and make it better; until we all go, Wow, this is really good.”

It seems that for the most part Fletcher and Randy and Zoli are working out the music and lyrics, “and then,” says Fletcher, “Byron (the drummer) will come in and we’ll start hashing out the parts and how they’re gonna go, the arrangements and all that stuff. Everybody has some input, which once again is a nightmare, you know?”

He points out that while the band is a democracy, where each band member has choices, he emphasizes that those choices are limited (like when we go to the polls to vote for president and the choices are dismal).

“It’s the problem and the blessing at the same time,” Fletcher says, “because at the end of the day everyone feels they got a piece of it. They’ve all had something to do with it and they all feel – even if you got one sentence or you got one drum roll – you were in there and you were fighting to bring out the best in the song.

“It was bad enough with Jim, and he would say the same thing about me and Byron and Randy, but it’s really bad right now with Zoli because he’s really strong-headed. That’s what we need, though; that’s helping us push and drive harder than we have in years. We’ve got something to prove with this album. It’s not like we’re trying to be better without Jim, it’s just that we want to put out an album that continues the Pennywise legacy.” An album where the fans will say: Wow, I have to have this! “That’s the hope.”

Hit the road, Jack

“The biggest thing that we’ve gained is being able to tour,” Fletcher says. “For us – for Byron and Randy and I, and Jason when he was alive – touring was the most important thing. Obviously the songwriting and the message behind the band, that’s number one, getting that out there. You can’t tour unless you have an album to tour on and you have people that want to go see you. But getting out there and playing the songs for the fans and seeing their reaction, and hearing them sing the songs and all that stuff, is really the most fulfilling part for me.

“Sitting in my living room with him,” Fletcher continues with a look at Zoli, “arguing over words that we’re writing right now, is what we do, it’s what we’re driven to do, but I wouldn’t say it’s exactly fun. Writing an album is not a fun thing. After the red light’s off and you start drinking beer, then it becomes fun. And when you finish it up, that’s fun. But the (real) fun is going out and actually playing the songs for the fans, and having a fan come up to you and say, Hey, this song changed my life, or These lyrics meant a lot to me. That’s the payoff.”

Lindberg, as noted, became less willing to go on the road for extensive periods of time.

“With Zoli it’s opened a whole new door,” Fletcher says, “because he’s hungry and he wants to tour, and he realizes that a huge important part of being in a band is touring. We want to go to Europe for three weeks; we didn’t want to argue about it, we just want to go do it.

“It’s not just for us, it’s for the fans. They went out, they bought the record – maybe they downloaded it for free or got it from a friend – but the bottom line is that they want to see the show live, and if we come to their town once a year that’s a big day for them. It’s your Friday evening and you’ve waited a year or two years or five years. We’ve never been to Russia, we’ve never been to Greece; haven’t been to Mexico City. That’s the biggest gain for us and for the fans. Now we can come to their city and play our songs for them.”


“I haven’t seen a more dedicated or loyal fans than the Pennywise fans,” Zoli says. He mentions that when the band wrapped up its set at Club Nokia with “Bro Hymn,” a thousand people were still singing the song as they streamed out.

“Now me, as the new guy,” he continues, “I have to remember that; and I have to really, really honor that. I have a lot of responsibilities to be up to par to what they would expect the new singer of Pennywise to be.”

Yep. It’s all on your shoulders.

“It’s a respecting. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity, and for me the number one thing in Pennywise are the fans. So if we go out to their hometown, and play this music to them that they’ve grown up with, it’s an honor for me to do that.”

Fletcher concurs. “It’s big shoes to fill.”

From rock to rocking chair?

How long do you think the band will keep playing?

“We never thought we’d be around for five years,” Fletcher says; “we never thought we’d have a CD. We never thought we’d tour the world. It was always a dream in the back of our heads, but all the stuff that’s happened to us has been so incredible. We don’t count anything out. Jim would always say we just want to keep this going as long as we can, and as long as we’re happy. At some point he became not happy and didn’t want to.

“How old can you be up on stage playing 200 mile-an-hour punk rock? Well, I don’t know. Keith Morris is doing it at like 53 years old. The Ramones were doing it.” He pauses. “It’s kind of a weird thing, like you thought it was only for the young. Then again, I’m watching other bands that are getting older and I still love to see them play – and they can still play the songs good. So, you just go until people tell us, Don’t do it anymore.”

Well, Fletcher Dragge is no kid. He’ll be 57 years old in April, 2023, and his dogs will be in nursing homes.

“I think that being in a band keeps you young at heart. I feel like I’m 70 with all the partying and beating myself up all these years, but mentally it’s like every night’s a Saturday night. You head out there just like when you were a teenager. All these other people you know have 9 to 5 jobs and they’ve got to go to bed early on Sunday night, and I don’t even know what day it is.

“I’ll be somewhere, in the lawyer’s office (for example), and they’ll be talking and I’m like, God, this dude’s old – and he’s younger than me! It’s like, Wait, how old are you? You’re 33? Oh shit! So there’s kind of a cool thing about being in a band and being around 15-year-olds at your show, or 20-year-olds, that are into your music, and you kind of feel that you click with that person and you forget how old you really are. It’s kind of a timeless thing, music, in a way.”

Now Fletcher’s on a roll.

“Traveling the world and seeing all the things we see, I would never want to stop doing this. Look at someone like Johnny Cash, who just did it till the day he died (and then when he did die, he went to Gasser Lounge). BB King or the Rolling Stones. Some of those guys are getting up there and they’re still doing it, and people are still coming out to see them. If I’m 40 now, well, when I’m 60 there’s still gonna be a Pennywise fan that’s 60. The question is, How can you play that kind of music when you’re 60? I don’t know; we might have to write some slower songs for the next generation.”

Meanwhile, the new kid has been cooling his heels, listening impatiently to all this talk about a geriatric fan base.

“Well, that’s 20 years from now, whatever; 30 years,” he snaps. “What we’re trying to do…”

Fletcher laughs. “One day at a time.”

“This album will hopefully appeal to the older fans who’ve been with Pennywise for a long time, and to the newer fans,” Zoli says. “And I think the way to do that is to go backwards in time a little bit to get the vibe of the earlier albums.”

“We’re hoping that Ignite fans will embrace it too,” says Fletcher. “It’s not gonna be Ignite, but if you like Zoli and you like Ignite, hopefully you’ll be into this.”

“Well, a good album is a good album,” says Zoli, “a good song is a good song. If we write the kind of lyrics that we’re used to writing, and we write the kind of music that we’re used to writing, this album’s gonna be pretty good.” He pauses. “A lot of hard work; you have to do a lot of hard work.”

“I did a lot of hard work on this song yesterday,” Fletcher says with a grin; “and I wrote this really bitchen chorus; and the first thing he wants to do is change it!”

When do you think you’ll have a new album?

“We’re hoping for fall,” says Fletcher. “Our last record [“Reason to Believe,” 2008] came out on MySpace; we gave it away for free as everyone knows. We’ve talked to Epitaph Records about going back there. That kind of makes sense to me; it’s our home, they know us better than anybody. They’ve been taking care of us for 20 years and the MySpace thing was kind of an experiment, to get our record out to as many people as we could.” That “experiment” resulted in over 500,000 copies, he notes, an amount no one’s sneezing at.

Regardless of where they land, says Fletcher, “we want to get back to the roots, even though Jim’s not in the band anymore. We’re feeling we can step back in time almost, and reinvigorate and attack it like we did when we were 20 years old.” Right now, he concludes, “we’re just working on songs… and the ones we’ve got seem pretty promising.”

In one month Pennywise leaves for Europe where the band will kick off a three-week tour by playing the Groezrock Festival in Belgium. This summer they’re doing the multi-city Warped Tour, and if the new record drops in October they’ll try and build another tour around that. And then before they know it, another 20 years will slip by and Fletcher Dragge will be able to answer his own question: Can you still play punk rock when you’re 60? The way Pennywise is going, the response is likely to be yes. ER


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