Former Pennywise vocalist Jim Lindberg is now surfing The Black Pacific
“As soon as I made the decision to leave Pennywise I really didn’t look back,” says Jim Lindberg, who parted ways last summer – after 20 years and nine albums – with the most famous local band since Black Flag.
The reason? Creative differences and shifting priorities. Only the band itself knows the full extent of the simmering tensions, but as a professional unit with a large and dedicated following they kept their disagreements to themselves. And besides, nobody ever wanted to see it turn ugly or unpleasant.
“I have so much respect for our fans and for what we accomplished,” says Lindberg, “that I didn’t want it to be a situation where we didn’t want to be up there playing together because of all these different conflicts we were having. I know that bands like The Ramones, the last 10 years of their career, weren’t speaking to each other, and I just think that’s horrible. I really feel if you have conflicts that you can’t resolve, it shouldn’t be a situation where you’re just up there to pay the mortgage. That to me is the height of selling out.”
Lindberg says that the decision to leave Pennywise was a long time coming, but also abrupt when it happened.
“Nobody that’s in a band wants to lose their lead singer,” the group’s guitarist, Fletcher Dragge, told me this past spring; “he’s the least replaceable guy.” But Dragge, along with bassist Randy Bradbury and drummer Byron McMackin, apparently hit the jackpot with Zoli Teglas, whose previous stint had been fronting Ignite.
It may not have seemed so at first, but the changes have been beneficial all the way around.
Jim Lindberg didn’t waste any time. He immediately hooked up with bassist Davey Latter, who was not only an old surfing buddy but had been in a band – PMA, or Positive Mental Attitude – with Jason Thirsk. Thirsk, who went on to become an integral part of Pennywise before committing suicide in 1996.
Lindberg also got on the phone and called up Alan Vega, whom he’d met on the Warped Tour.
The best part of all is that everything seemed to click.
“As soon as we started playing together we had an instant chemistry,” Lindberg says. “Right now it’s all really fun and we’re just having a really good time playing music. That’s a testament to these guys. Everyone works really hard.”
The result is a power trio that calls itself The Black Pacific.
Lindberg says that, growing up locally, he had a nice view of the ocean from his parents’ home. “So I wanted to have the Pacific represented in the name.” At the same time, there’s that implied darkness that tips its hat to our subconscious fears. Great surf… and Great Whites.
The Black Pacific is not a Pennywise knockoff. Nor is it simply more of the same under a different label. For one thing, while all of the material on Pennywise albums is collectively credited, Lindberg penned both lyrics and music on The Black Pacific’s self-titled new album, which drops Sept. 14 on SideOneDummy Records.
“Now was an opportunity to take the type of music that I wrote for Pennywise and expand on it,” Lindberg explains, “and maybe do some different things vocally and on the guitar as well that might give me a little more artistic freedom. It’s important to remember that I wrote a lot of the music for Pennywise on guitar, as well as lyrically. So it’s kind of odd to think that it’s not going to sound similar to Pennywise, the new stuff that I’m doing, because I helped define that sound and created a lot of it.” That being the case, “it’s impossible for me to sound too much different from the roots that I came from.”
With that caveat, Lindberg continues:
“I feel like this album is a transition from where I’ve been to where I want to go. The first few songs are very similar to the music I did in Pennywise [but] later on in the album it kind of evolves into new sound textures and different influences. There’s a song that sounds like it was influenced by The Clash, there’re a few songs that have an influence from a band like Refused; and I’m also a big fan of bands like Jawbreaker and Pegboy, so I wanted to bring in some of these influences that I wasn’t able to include in Pennywise because we had such a structured vision of how the band had to sound. It was very much rooted in early ‘90s Warped Tour-style skate punk, and we wrote almost 120 songs in that genre together.” He repeats the words about The Black Pacific debut serving as a transition for him, and further notes: “I feel like the next album will have more experimentation and more of the type of music that I’ve always wanted to play. So that’s very liberating.”
Liberating from what? From a set of self-imposed constraints:
“We knew that when a Pennywise fan bought our album they expected a certain style of music. They wanted lightning-fast drums and crazy-fast guitar playing and words that come out a million miles a minute and a certain inspiring message.”
All of which the band delivered, and often very well. But within that tight framework, Lindberg says, “it was hard not to repeat ourselves after a while.”
As for that “inspiring message,” Lindberg says that it was very much indebted to his study of Emerson and Thoreau and other American Transcendentalists. Despite the passage of time, Emerson’s words on self-reliance are as valid for the youth of today as they were in the New England of the 1850s.
“The main thing now are the songs themselves. I feel like my friends and the people that have supported the band are really into the songs, and it’s not just a situation where they’re supporting me because I’m the guy from Pennywise. They really like the new band a lot. Our opening track on the record is called ‘The System,’ which continues what I said in Pennywise. It’s very timely, and it talks about how I think people feel these days, about the capitalist financial system and how we’re enslaved to the variations of the stock market and the mortgage crisis and the credit crisis.”
The song’s refrain doesn’t mince words: I’m just a product of the machinery/ A pawn in God’s electrical dream/ I thought I was using the system/ But the system was using me.
Lindberg notes the palpable frustration in the air, of people being trapped. “It doesn’t feel like it’s a place anymore where you just have to go to high school or college and get a job and you’ll have the American dream.
“There’s also a song on the record called “Put Down Your Weapons.” It talks about the problems in communication that people have these days, where everyone seems to be using all these verbal weapons to attack each other, instead of solving any of the problems that we see going on. We’re all just trying to get the best insult on each other.”
This writer shakes his head and mentions the often malicious comments from readers that frequently appear at the end of news articles when we scroll through the day’s hot topics on the computer. Print journalism would never run 90 percent of them.
“That has a lot to do with the internet now and anonymous content,” Lindberg replies. “You don’t have to stand up for what you’re saying; you can just put up anonymous content and spew all your venom. That’s basically what the song is about… the weapons people use to tear each other down and serve their own egos instead of coming to a common agreement and an intelligent discussion.”
The words you said they/ shot me straight through the heart/ Put down your weapons – before you tear us apart.
Most of the songs, according to Lindberg, are about escaping a toxic environment – whether it’s a job or a personal relationship – and replacing it with one that’s healthier. But one track on the album could be misconstrued as an angry over-the-shoulder parting shot.
“I’d be the first one to say that I really hate it when bands break up and then they get into a situation where they’re writing hateful songs about each other. There’s a song on the record someone heard” – I’m guessing “Almost Rising” – “and thought it was talking about the other guys in the band (Pennywise), but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. I think that makes everyone look bad in these situations. I would never do something like that.”
We’ll take his word for it, but I’m sure that ardent Pennywise fans will be trying to read between the lines: What is Jim really referring to?
Up through the ranks
Jim Lindberg is a South Bay native in the best sense.
“I’m kind of bi-city,” he says. “I was born in Manhattan Beach; my parents had a place in Manhattan Beach. When I was seven years old we moved to Hermosa Beach and I went to Valley View school before it burned down. I lived in Hermosa all the way until I graduated from Mira Costa and then ended up going to UCLA” – where he majored in English. “Now I’m back in Manhattan Beach and I’ve bought my parents’ house, so I’m living in the place where I grew up in as a youngster.
“But definitely I identify with Hermosa Beach in the sense that my crucial years were right at the epicenter of the whole punk explosion, and all of the music that came out of that era was very important to me – the Hermosa bands as well as the L.A. punk bands and what was going on in New York. I was definitely a student of all the best punk bands.”
However, he was never just a bystander.
“I’ve been playing music since I was 12 years old,” Lindberg says. “I bought my first guitar down at Pier Music. I was in the Black Flag fan club right when it first started, and was a huge fan of the Descendents and the Circle Jerks, these local Hermosa Beach bands. This was something that I’ve always done, and I’ve been writing songs ten years before I got into Pennywise.”
Which isn’t to suggest that he’s remained in a state of arrested development. Far, far from it.
The collective Pennywise style still embodies the band’s early hectic lifestyle. Fletcher Dragge, for example, can be found in Gasser’s at 2 a.m. and presumably is still bringing down police helicopters with his bare hands – pretty much as he did 25 years ago (witness his recent brawl in Denver on the Warped Tour).
Lindberg became increasingly uneasy in that environment.
“I definitely changed as a person, especially having a wife and kids,” Lindberg says, his daughters now 6, 11, and 13. “It forces you to take on responsibility, and you start to view the world differently as well, and how you want to be viewed – especially by your kids. It’s hard to be out drinking beers and throwing up down on The Strand on the Fourth of July when you’ve got three kids looking up to you for guidance.
“I’m not going to pretend that that’s who I am still. Although I like playing aggressive music, and I still keep up with the best of them when it comes to playing skate punk, the lifestyle for me had to change. Going on the road, especially; it just got to a point where I didn’t feel I could be honest with myself that it was a place that I felt was healthy for me.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t plan on touring with this band,” Lindberg continues. “It’s just that now I can do it the way that I want to do it, which is at a level that’s appropriate to someone with a wife and three kids at home, and in a fashion that’s appropriate to someone in that position. I think a lot of the misconceptions would be that I left [Pennywise] over the touring. That was one source of conflict that just got to the point where I knew it was best if I tried things on my own. I think everyone will be happier with things the way they are now.”
Lindberg is probably happier also in that he can go forward on the film that’s based on his book, Punk Rock Dad, which he plans to take to the Sundance Film Festival. “The documentary is going to show the heart underneath the tough guy exterior of punk rock,” he says. “It shows all these dads who came from very anti-authoritarian upbringings, and how they became authority figures for their own kids.” Essentially, he adds, it’s “about how radical and tough everyone was, and how they didn’t give a fuck about anything – and now they got kids, and they do.”
Which makes me think of one of my favorite album titles of all time, the Stepmothers’ “You Were Never My Age,” released nearly 30 years ago on Posh Boy Records. Maybe the Lindberg girls will one day be sassing back those very words to their old man? Listen, pop, I hate to tell you this, but…
At the moment, Lindberg and his band mates are pumped up and ready to take on the world, or at least the region. Among other things, they’re gearing up for a record release party – for friends and families, mainly – tomorrow night at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach.
“We just have a renewed energy when it comes to playing and practicing and going into the studio,” Lindberg says. “We spend hours in there, and at the end of playing the set two or three times we’ll want to play it another two or three times.”
As excited as he is, however, Lindberg isn’t counting on achieving rock ‘n’ roll stardom for a second time.
“When it comes to performing with this band, I don’t have any illusions that I’m going to repeat what I did with Pennywise and what we accomplished together. That’s something that happens once in a lifetime for a lot of people. But the first time we played with a big group of friends around, and had everyone really loving it and getting into the music, that was all the success I needed. I can’t really control what happens as far as whether there’s a lot of people at our shows or the response that we get or what critics think of the record; I just basically do what I love. Hopefully people get it.
“The main thing now,” Lindberg continues,” is I just want to create an entertaining show that people have a lot of fun at. I feel that if people liked Pennywise and liked the fact that it was honest music coming from an honest place, they’re definitely going to enjoy The Black Pacific. That way my main goal. I really thought I had something to prove with this record, that I could come up with a great record on my own, and that I just needed the right guys to do it with.”
With Davey Latter and Alan Vega, Jim Lindberg seems to have exactly that.
The Black Pacific performs tomorrow night at Saint Rocke, and their first CD hits the streets on Sept. 14. For more on the band go to theblackpacific.com. ER
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