By the Barricade interviewed Pennywise lead singer Jim Lindberg during the band’s July 16th show at the OC Observatory in Santa Ana, CA. Pennywise released Yesterdays, an album full of previously unrecorded songs written in the late 80’s by Jason Thirske. The tracks reflect the band’s attitude in the early days; a period when Pennywise was just getting started and punk rock was on the rise to popularity. Kids at the time either recognized what was going on in their world socially, or pretended everything was fine and carried on without batting an eye This writer grew up in in the band’s home town of Hermosa Beach and was a classmate of Jim Lindberg. Out of selfish curiosity I wanted to see how our paths had diverged and what I had missed out on. Decades later, I have discovered the power of this music and it was great to talk with this punk rock veteran to see his perspective on the “Yesterdays” of Pennywise and Hermosa Beach. The transcripts of this interview follow.
By the Barricade: Because we both grew up in Hermosa Beach but had a completely different set of life experiences I wanted to learn what was behind the driving force of becoming a punk rocker. Who was a teacher you remember and what do you remember about them?
Jim Lindberg: There are so many, but I remember Mrs. Appleyard the English teacher. She liked me but I was a troublemaker so I got thrown out of class a lot. We had a great time there but I remember that our school got vandalized and burnt down by some local crazies and we had to get shipped off to another school. The punk rock attitude was already happening in Hermosa before the actual music. It was a great place to grow up and I tried to stay out of the principal’s office but I wasn’t always successful. I tried to keep that balance of getting good grades while still having a good time.
By the Barricade: In The Other F Word you talk about playing little league. Did you do any school sports or were you in any clubs?
Jim Lindberg: I didn’t do a lot of sports, but I surfed a lot. It became very apparent early on that I wasn’t going to be a pro surfer and I knew I had to do something to meet girls. I decided to go down to Pier Music and get a guitar from Grumpy Bob, the owner. I started playing guitar a lot and I had a band called The Young Catholics because we were all altar boys. By day we were serving communion and by night we were practicing punk rock songs. That is the strange part of growing up where we did. It was a very conservative place but also very radical place at the same time. You had the yin and yang of trying to walk the line during the day and then being a crazy kid at night. It was a weird place to grow up.
By the Barricade: What was high school like for you?
Jim Lindberg: Just like a lot of kids, I was just trying to find my place and I straddled the different scenes. I had a lot of friends who were jocks and friends who were surfers, friends who were nerds, friends who were burn outs and I cruised around all the different groups. I ended up graduating from UCLA and was in a punk band at night. I had the 9-5 job with a suit and tie after college so it’s been weird being a normal person and also being in a punk rock band.
By the Barricade: You already alluded to this, but what did you like about growing up in Hermosa?
Jim Lindberg: Obviously the beach; being a surfer. Having parents who worked 9-5, we pretty much had free reign to do whatever we wanted to do. That meant surfing before school, after school and living your life on the sand in Hermosa. That was something that a lot of kids don’t get to experience, that freedom we had to just be delinquents.
By the Barricade: Was there anything you didn’t like?
Jim Lindberg: It’s probably much worse today but the class warfare. When you talk about punk rock, it’s always been about that. The kids who had a lot of money versus the kids who didn’t have a lot of money from working class families like mine. I remember in high school it was about whether or not you had a moped. The rich kids had mopeds and the rest of us had skateboards. They would zoom past you on their mopeds.
By the Barricade: Is there anything you are doing as a parent raising kids in the South Bay that is a reflection of what you learned growing up there?
Jim Lindberg: It is exactly that. It’s about teaching them life’s not about how much money you have or whether you live on the strand or not. It’s about the content of your character and I’m lucky that my girls are all involved in things that keep them out of the bad crowd. One of them is a big soccer star, and one is in and has been traveling with the Mira Costa choir which has won a Grammy and has done really cool stuff. I am fortunate that they are not doing the same things I was doing.
By the Barricade: You mentioned that you bought a guitar and joined a band, but was there a catalyst for you joining the world of punk rock or something that attracted you to it?
Jim Lindberg: Growing up in Hermosa Beach, it was super important. It would be like a kid who grew up in Ohio who had Led Zeppelin and Van Halen living in their same small town. The bands that I idolized were going to the same 7-11 as me and it seemed like an attainable goal. Instead of thinking that it will never be me, I could never get in a band or succeed in any way, we could say, “Well, the Descendents did it and I was just watching them play in their front yard, it’s not that hard, you just get some equipment and scream.” That was really instrumental in my feeling that anyone could do this.
By the Barricade: You started playing music in house parties. What do you consider to be the turning point from having fun to making this a career?
Jim Lindberg: Taking it to the record that we released, Yesterdays, it is a batch of songs that were written when we just started out. We were just four guys who were trying to have fun and play music for their friends in a backyard party. Very quickly those parties got bigger and more people started showing up and then we tried to play a show out in LA. At our fourth or fifth show a DJ at KXLU came and said we should be on their radio show. Epitaph offered us a record deal right after that. It happened so fast that we didn’t have any time to consider this as a career goal or anything. Then it got serious, we had to write real songs all of a sudden for our first album on Epitaph, the self-titled album. Before, we always had these songs which were much more innocent and fun. It’s unfair to put this record up against other big albums or releases of the year when these are silly, stupid songs that we wrote about our girlfriends and corrupt cops that were written when we never planned on being a professional band. There is a real divide between that band and the band that made records.
By the Barricade: The album Yesterdays that you released yesterday features some songs written by Jason Thirske back in the 80’s. I’ve heard reference to the PMA – positive mental attitude he promoted. What was that about and what does it mean to you today?
Jim Lindberg: Jason was the absolute reason I joined the band. He was in a band called PMA at the time I was going to UCLA and I had been turned on to this transcendental philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau which his very life affirming. It was all about the power of the individual over the group and society, about finding your own way in life. I was really energized by that philosophy in school; as a lot of people are in that stage of life. Then to have a guy like Jason that was living it. He was all about having fun and was very nice to people, a very compassionate human being in a scene that was very toxic. I thought he was such a great guy and I just wanted to be in a band with him. When they asked me to be in the group, I said, sure let’s go for it. One cool thing about this record is that the last song is an entire practice. It’s my first practice with the band. You can hear them saying, “We’ve got to teach Jim these songs,” which I think is a real treat for our fans to have that on there. It does show that time. I just wanted to be in a band with Jason because he was cool and he had all of these cool songs. He always loved everybody instead of being negative and cynical jerk. That is why I wanted to be in Pennywise, it was because of him.
By the Barricade: There are a lot of interviews with Pennywise and reviews Yesterdays already posted online. Is there something about Yesterdays that you want people to know but you haven’t been asked about?
Jim Lindberg: The fact that five of the songs on the Yesterdays were just written for us to have fun for backyard parties. They weren’t about careerism or selling records. We were playing this style of music that was so out of fashion at the time. At that time Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Guns N’ Roses were really big and people were saying that if we want to be a successful band you have to play heavy metal, wear makeup, and have big teased hair. We were saying, “No we like Misfits, Minor Threat and Dag Nasty we don’t like any of those bands.” We were told we would never make it, but we determined that this was the music that we liked and the music that our friends liked down here at the beach. What was happening in Hollywood had no relevance to us. Fans are getting that slice of life from this record. Yesterdays is from that time when punk was so out of what’s cool. To me that is hugely important for Pennywise and who we became. Then we signed a deal with Epitaph right when Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid and NOFX were all putting out their first records. We were all playing this kind of music at the same time when no one else likes it, but we thought isn’t it cool that the guy from Bad Religion wants to print some of our records though Epitaph? Once it came out he told us it sold 12,000 records. We thought, “How the hell did we do that?” We kind of knew from there the tide was turning. Then Nirvana, Green Day and The Offspring came along and it totally changed what people thought about punk.
By the Barricade: Anything else you would like to tell the by the barricade readers?
Jim Lindberg: I think it is great that in 2014 there are websites like By the Barricade who are in it for music and for people that enjoy punk rock and this type of music. I think as long as there is a home for free expression whether it is in music or internet or anywhere it is a good thing and people should support it.