It's called irreconcilable differences in marriages, but the same thing happens in bands. Years of deferring and compromising eventually call the entire enterprise into question. That's how original singer Jim Lindberg ended up leaving hardcore icons Pennywise.
The band, however, chose to forge on with a new vocalist, renewed fervor, and — as evidenced by their latest album, All or Nothing — a back-to-basics approach more in keeping with their '90s skate-punk origins. Replacement singer Zoli Téglás, who'd fronted Pennywise's longtime Orange County punk peers Ignite, is helping the band recapture a fervor lost during the years when hardcore became less popular and Lindberg tried to push the band in new directions.
"It started to go south when the styles changed," says bassist Randy Bradbury of the band's attempt to swing with the cultural pendulum. "You have to have conviction in what you're doing and you have to go for it, and not worry what anyone will say. Once you start second-guessing yourself and trying to please everybody, all of a sudden you suck."
Bradbury has been in Pennywise since the mid-'90s, when previous bassist Jason Thirsk took time off to deal with his alcoholism. Thirsk, who was one of the band's co-founders back in 1988, would commit suicide a year later. The revised lineup soldiered on through August 2009, when Lindberg announced his departure to start a new, poppier band called the Black Pacific.
Téglás didn't come onboard as the singer's replacement until the following February, by which time Bradbury and founding guitarist Fletcher Dragge had already demoed over 100 songs collectively. Byron McMackin brought his distinctive tommy-gun drums, Téglás stepped up to the mic, and everyone contributed to every song, resulting in the band's most collaborative effort ever. In Bradbury's view, it was as if a weight had been lifted from everyone's shoulders, and they finally felt free to revisit the old school sound that made them famous.
"There was a lot that we wanted to do that we couldn't do for years," says Bradbury. "We also wanted to pull out all the stops. We felt we needed to hit a home run. We had to show everyone how good a band we are, and how much better we can be.
"There was always this situation where we knew that Jim was unhappy," he adds. "If you can't work together, you end up with a lot of mediocrity. All those records we did, while I'd say on the whole they weren't that good, there are still good songs on them. But there were just a lot of compromises."
While All or Nothing bristles with fist-in-the-air punk anthems like "Revolution" and the especially powerful shout-along "Stand Strong," there are a couple of detours like "Let Us Hear Your Voice," a more poppy number that recalls classic Green Day and gives Téglás a chance to stretch his pipes some.
"It's almost like he's too talented for us," admits Bradbury, "but we really focus on songs that anyone can sing. They only need to be melodic enough to where you want to sing them and know the lyrics."
While numerous bands from the Dead Kennedys to Van Halen recruited replacement vocalists with less-than-appealing results, Bradbury is hoping the Téglás-fronted Pennywise will fare better: "I'm hoping it will be more like Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio," he says with a laugh, "or AC/DC with Brian Johnson."