Interview: A word from the wise – Jim Lindberg on more experimentation and emotions with solo record

Jim Lindberg always knew he wanted to work with artistic duo Mad Twins someday – he just never could have imagined the sad circumstances in which their creative paths would cross. 

Through Punk Rock & Paintbrushes, which they are talented contributors to , as well as their video for NOFX, the Pennywise front man has admired the siblings’  inspired, raw aesthetics for years. So when brainstorming video ideas for the song “Good Enough” off of his solo record, Songs From the Elkhorn Trail released late last year, he immediately visualized a punk rock couple Mad Twins had created. 

“’Good Enough’ was one that was just story of a Sid-and-Nancy type couple that are fighting against the odds and having big dreams of getting out of their situation,” Lindberg explains over Zoom. “I met with the girls, Mad Twins, from the Ukraine, through Punk Rock & Paintbrushes, and planned on doing a video because I love their stuff so much.” 

Lindberg also thought it was a way to help the Ukrainian sisters who still have friends and family in their besieged native country. 

“I mean, if you were to ask us back in November that we would be having this conversation today [about the war], I think all of us would say you’re absolutely crazy,” he says, shaking his head sadly. “I thought it might be a cool way to send support Olga and Vira (Ishchuk). They need help right now.” 

Lindberg, who is speaking to me from his home in Manhattan Beach, just got back from a rehearsal for the remaining shows in which they are playing the band’s first five albums, in their entirety, in as many nights. 

“It’s a lot…we bit off a lot more than we could chew doing these album shows,” he says with a small chuckle. “We’re doing the first five albums, and especially the ones we’re doing this weekend, there’s just so many songs – the Full Circle album and Straight Ahead album – it’s got a lot of material in there to remember. We’ve been going over the songs every day and arguing about who’s right about how each song goes, so it’s been a lively rehearsal.” 

What’s it been like for you to revisit some of this older material? A pretty cool experience? 

It really has. It’s actually been… depending on the song, but some of them are everything that we went through with Jason, our original bass player, that those are hard to revisit. But at the same time, it’s just part of your life. Also, revisiting some of the political songs of a warning about the way things were going. It’s really prescient when you see exactly the kind of stuff were talking about actually happening. 

Is that a bit of surreal seeing all of this unfold? 

We were always a very much of a Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” type of band…of saying that things could get really bad if authoritarianism goes unchecked, and we’re kind of seeing that around the world right now. And it’s sad to see what’s going on. Yeah, so it was a trip to see how they’re still applicable today and to get back to these songs and play them for people.  And hopefully we can remember all the words and not screw up the words. (Laughs) 

With the release of Songs From the Elkhorn Trail, how does that solo life and work compare to your time in the band? Is it hard to shift gears?

Well, it’s pretty much happening right this minute, because I go from doing these shows with Pennywise, and then I fly to Boston and do my solo acoustic record at a Dropkick Murphys show. They were kind enough to ask me to come out and play and so I got some guys together and put a little show together. We’re amping up the acoustic songs a little bit for the occasion, but it’s all been happening at the same time.  

I recorded this album back in May of last year, and I went in with Ted Hutt, who I’ve been trying to chase down for the longest time to do an acoustic album with me, and finally cornered him during the pandemic and said, “Let’s get in there and do this thing.” And it absolutely couldn’t have gone better. We went through probably, I would say, 30 of my songs that I had put together for him to check out. He really helped me establish a theme and a through line for the whole thing instead of it being like everything and the kitchen sink and all different kinds of styles and stuff. It all ended up centering around basically the passage of time and what happens as you get older. Obviously, I’m not 22 anymore, singing skate punk songs. So, this album was a way to get in touch with the things that are happening now as an older person.  

My father passed away, he was a very influential person in my life… 

I’m so sorry. 

Yeah, super supportive of me and my career in music and really encouraged me to get a college education and just couldn’t have been a bigger presence in my life.  

(Points across the room.) He bought me my first guitar, which is still sitting over there. I still write songs on it. 

He passed away from Alzheimer’s disease and it’s such an insidious disease of people losing themselves and their memories and they don’t recognize you sometimes. There’s no easy way to die, but this is a really tough one and the range of emotions are incredible. I touch upon that in some of the music but also, some of the songs on the acoustic album are from when I was 15 years old. Some I wrote in the 90s, some I wrote during the pandemic, right before I went in to record. So it’s a real wide spectrum of material there. 

Yeah, I was really impressed by how diverse the record was…there are a lot of things going on and some surprises. 

Yeah, I wanted there to be a variety on there. And it goes through the gamut of like, it starts with a more energetic song it has more inspiring stuff. And then there’s some bar-room songs like, “Hello Again.” 

And we add some strings and some horns and all kinds of stuff. So, just a, really, really cool experience to finally do this and Ted Hutt was… I’ve never had a producer that really came in and said, “Okay, try this song this way, do it without thinking about anything. And this time, I want you to pretend you’re just in your room alone, and no one can hear you and you’re just doing it fairly gentle.” And so we tried a lot of stuff and I think he really knows how to pull the best performance out of the songwriter. It couldn’t have gone better for me and am really happy with the whole process. 

And then there’s some more plaintive ones like, “It’s Only,” and,” I Feel Like the Sun.” And then obviously the centerpiece of the album is a song called, “Don’t Lay Me Down” that I wrote about my dad passing away and that’s the tear jerker on the album. I found out a lot of stuff when he passed away, that his sister died in a car accident, years ago, in the 50s. And I found a suitcase when I was going through his stuff and I found out she died on my actual birthday…what ended up being my birthday later on. 

Woah. 

And she had written a letter on the day that she died. And it was just all these things that he had never told me came up and kind of put that into the song of the whole experience of going through that.  

And then there’s songs… There’s a song on the album called “The Basement” that is completely opposite of that; I wrote it when I was 15 years old. And it was about… I had moved down to the dank basement in my parents’ house so I could sneak out and go to punk shows at night. And there was spiders and bugs and my dad’s refrigerator full of beer. So that was where I grew up down in the basement, and so I wrote the song about it years ago and it was really fun to just throw a kind of light-hearted song into the mix. And yeah, it’s been cool. 

I saw your video for Good Enough – really cool. The simplicity of the song and video kind of prove less is more. 

Yeah, that’s what I love about country… I’m a closet, huge country music fan. [Laughs] 

What is it about country that you like?

My favorite country artist is Waylon Jennings and one of his best songs – he even said it’s his favorite song ever to play – is a song called “Dreaming My Dreams With You,” and it’s just him and a guitar and his best songs are that way. I think when it’s really stripped down like that, you really get to the core personality of what the song is. So that’s why we tried to do as much of that as we can on this record…of just keeping it really stripped down. [We added] in a little bit of instrumentation here and there, but not so much that it’s overbearing or it just becomes this huge band song. But yeah, I think that’s what really drew me to it, is growing up listening to those artists. My dad actually played me a lot of Waylon Jennings and stuff like that. 

But it’s funny, one time I had written a song for Pennywise and we went and we recorded it, and Fletcher (Dragge, guitarist) said, “There’s something weird about that song. I don’t know what it is…like the melody line and the way he wrote it.” I said, “Yeah, it’s a country song, except played 225 beats per minute on a distorted guitar.” And when I played it slowed down and all the acoustics, “Oh, my God, that’s a fast country song.” [Laughs]  

I’ve always had that in me, and I think it’s coming out on this record. I don’t think I’m ready for the Grand Ole Opry yet, but hopefully it won’t turn off people too much. 

That leads me to my next question in that, how does this solo work and this album particularly satisfy you in ways that Pennywise doesn’t?  

Well, I think whenever I’m writing for Pennywise, I know I’m writing for the guys in the band and our sound, and also for our audience. Even though I may not go at it like, “Okay, I’m going write the next Pennywise anthem.” A lot of times I’ll have something specific I want to say. For example, on the last album, I had a chord progression on the guitar, and then I was like, “Oh, this feels like an energetic, angry, Pennywise anthem.” And so then the lyrics just start to flow after that. When it comes with the acoustic stuff, I think it’s just coming from a different place. Obviously, there’s a lot more room to explore other emotions instead of a thousand miles an hour and a middle finger to the world. [Laughs] 

It’s a little more melancholy, especially with songs like, “It’s Only” and “Not One of Them” and different things like that. But there are songs in the Pennywise catalog that I wrote. There’s a song called “Alien” that I wrote that’s a little more plaintive. I can’t believe they wanted to play that song, but it ended up becoming a pretty big song for us. And so there are times that you can intersect, but for the most part, playing the acoustic stuff is an opportunity to try different themes and words. 

I have to ask, are you guys working on a new Pennywise record right now?  

At the moment, it’s all about touring. [Pauses] And doing a Pennywise record is akin to a world war. 

[Laughs] 

So is the stress and arguing that goes on with that. So I don’t know if any of us are ready to go there yet after a pandemic and with everything going on in the world. But I think the time will come around where Fletcher, and I, and Randy (Bradbury, bassist), and Byron (McMackin, drummer) will be like, “Oh, I’ve got a couple of songs, you wanna check them out?” And that usually gets the ball rolling. 

Hopefully soon… 

I hope so. I’d really love to record at The Blasting Room once in my life so I’m looking forward to hitting up Bill Stevenson to finally get in there at some point. 

Is that official? Are you going to record there for the next record or… 

I wish it was official. Every time I see Bill I’m like, “I want to get in there – I want get in there at some point.” So I hope to do it. There’s a legacy here in Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach – the middle of the South Bay – with The Descendants because we all went to the same high school. The guys in Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Descendants, and Pennywise, we all went to Mira Costa high school. 

That’s pretty rad. 

Yeah, it’s crazy…the South Bay of LA is a real fertile breeding ground for anti-establishment, erotic, hardcore. [Laughs] But I’ve always wanted to get back in the studio with them. So if Fletcher doesn’t do it, I’m going do my next acoustic album with Bill then. 

Does it surprise you that “Bro Hym” is the legendary closer it has become over the years? 

You know what? That was one the first time when we recorded…it came in at the very end; where we had had the album written and we were up at Brett Gurewitz’s tiny little studio that’s behind the Hollywood Palladium here in LA. And it’s still there.  

So you imagine this is 1991? 1990? And we’re in this tiny little studio recording this album and Dave Smalley, from Dag Nasty, is helping us sing backing vocals. We’re having the time of our life because we just signed a record deal with Epitaph Records and Brett Gurewitz from Bad Religion is the engineer on the thing – it was crazy. 

Wow. 

And then right when we were done, we were kind of like, “Well, is anything else that we should do?” It’s like, “Oh, remember Fletcher had that guitar riff and Jason wrote some words about these friends of ours that passed away?” And it was just like, “Hey, let’s try that. Let’s go in there and see what happens and then we’ll get everyone to sing the background vocals.” So it was really kind of a last-minute thing. 

But then, pretty quickly it just became the song that we would play last at every show. And then, more and more we’d hear people singing it as they walk away from the venue, and it still happens to this day.  Now it’s in soccer stadiums and football stadiums…baseball stadiums. And that’s just when you go, “Okay, this has taken on a life of its own.” 

That’s incredible. Do you think Jason would be proud? Dumb question? 

No, I think he would be. I’ve talked about this before and not to get metaphysical on you….I’m not sure how much I believe in all this, but when Jason passed away, I had the most realistic dream I’ve ever had in my life, and he came to me at Mira Costa High School in the auditorium and he just had a look on his face, and he communicated to me that it was a huge mistake, and that he didn’t mean for this to happen, and that he was sorry and felt bad about it. 

And then I brought him into the auditorium and all of Mira Costa was there and they gave him a standing ovation, and then he said, “I’ve got to go now.” This happened right after he died. And Jason was extremely proud of what we’d accomplished with Pennywise and I told his mom that when we were comforting her after this happened. I said to her, “There were times when I would look at Jason on stage and we’d be in Europe or Australia or somewhere, and the crowd would be singing along to a song that he wrote, and he and I would look at each other and smile.” A lot of people don’t get that in their life, you know?  

And to have that feeling of having people, that you’ve never met around the world, love your music so much is… He experienced real happiness in the short time that he was here and it’s tragic how he left this world, but he made his mark. 

You all met in high school. What was that like? 

You don’t wear… We would call these shoes, called Winos. And the LA/OC version of hardcore had a real uniform, it was really like… You could tell who was into punk rock. You had a shaved head, you had a long white t-shirt that was six sizes too big for you and some khakis and some Winos. Everyone just had this look and I definitely started seeing different people around the school that got into it. And obviously in that school newspaper you had an article on my cover band and The Descendents had just put out their Fat EP. 

So it was really kind of crazy. And I saw in that one kid Fletcher is obviously dressing the part, so he must be going to the shows and stuff. And we were all kind of part of this loose-knit gang that hung out around the O’Conner’s house and they were these two twin brothers who were just brawlers and into punk rock…surfer brawlers and crazy. Those were the people that the bands talk about who ruined it for the LA punk scene, it’s those guys in particular. Definitely back then, I saw him cruising around and then I went off to college and then I had several different cover bands that I played in; we played Clash music, Elvis Costello, anything. 

And Fletcher came to see me playing that show, and afterwards I talked to him and I said,” Hey, when are we going to jam some music?” Because I heard that him and Jason were playing music together and he goes, “Oh, we’re looking for a singer, why don’t you come over?” I’ve said before I was like… I went over to the practice place and I heard him playing in this little graffiti-covered shed, and I knew that I was walking into the rest of my life. 

I played a little bit more but I knew it right then and there. I thought, “This is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.” Even though I had a college education, I was working a job in advertising. But I was like, “I’m going to go in here, we’re going to make a killer band and it’s going to be the rest of my life.” 

You beat me to my next question in that what album did you realize the band was life-long gig?  

That’s when I knew…that I could just tell that I always wanted to be in a band with Jason. Jason lived on the next block over from me. And I just thought he was the greatest guy in town. Everyone loved him, it felt like. 

I knew Fletcher was into punk and he was a crazy man. And I knew that I had the English degree and could write the words. I’m like, “This is a perfect combination right now, let’s just get to it.” But I think it wasn’t until we got signed to Epitaph and put out that first record that I realized it was going to be something that we could quit our day jobs. And then especially after that, once we got into all the surf videos and things like that. The surf and skate soundtracks was the next jump up, and then Green Day and Offspring happened and it was all over. 

Yeah, all over. I know you get asked about this a lot, but watching you on the Other F Word kind of showed me how punk rock and fatherhood could work together despite what people told me.  How do you look back at that time now your daughters are grown up and things have changed so much?  

Yeah, it’s funny because yeah, my youngest daughter… I was just looking for… it’s right here, hold on. 

(Leaves screen and returns with framed photo of his daughter.) There’s my youngest daughter. This little one is now about to graduate high school, so that’s how long it’s been. 

But I ask them all the time. It’s very important to me and I ask them, “Do you think of me as a dad that was gone all the time, or one that was around all the time.” And they always say, “No, you were around all the time.” In the sense that, I could go on tour and stuff, and do things I had to do, but when I was home, I was home. I think some kids, if their dad has a nine-to-five job, it’s like, they leave the house early, they come home late, they’re grumpy, they tell the kids to shut up and go to bed. Whereas, when I was home, I could interact with them and hang out with them after school, and I was around a lot of the time. But that being said, it was difficult also in the sense, to have a dad that’s in a crazy punk band, you know. A lot of the times it was really cool, and then sometimes it was embarrassing. Like when dad gets in the newspaper because his guitar player threw up on somebody. You know, you got to take the good with the bad. [Laughs] 

They’re coming to my shows next weekend, and my daughter is going to see us play in Amsterdam. It’ll be the first one.  So, they’re coming around. Yeah, they got through their Taylor Swift phase, and Justin Bieber phase and One Direction phase. They’re down with the ‘wise again. 

[Laughs] Do they ever hold lyrics against you?  Like, from Fuck “Authority”? 

Well, that was the one. That was the one that really stood out. I write about that in the book (Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life). About going to a teacher conference and the teacher was like, “Oh, I heard your song on the radio, it’s very interesting. I recorded it,” and feel like I was going be sent to the principal’s office. [Laughs] 

That whole experience writing the book and then coming out with the documentary, I thought… Obviously, I know some people are like, “Oh, that’s going be so corny.” But it was just reality. People have kids, and so what’s it like if you’re a truck driver having a kid? What’s it like if you’re a football player and you have a kid? What if you sing for Pennywise and you have a kid? Or Blink-182? Or The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, you know?  

I thought the film, especially “The Other F Word” movie… I really loved it, and I really loved hearing everyone talking and hearing the stories of everything they went through and their relationship with their fathers. Some people had terrible fathers and deadbeat dads. Like, I had a great relationship with my dad. So it was interesting to see what fuels a lot of these guys in the bands. I think it’s time for someone do a punk rock moms film.  

100 percent – that needs to happen. Looking at the punk and music scene now, how do you feel? Do you feel like a proud father? Or do you feel the opposite, and a little like, “Oh my God.”  

[Laughs] That’s a good question. I think most recently, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel a little sense of… That we somewhat failed in our task. Because in the sense of we were really trying to rally people to avoid where we are right now. And it seems that even in the punk rock community, there’s some polarization that’s going on…that it’s the exact opposite. We were singing about unity, and trying to find the ways that we could agree and make the world a better place and things like that – and not like some little stupid punk band from Hermosa Beach could do that. But it’s sad to see that we as a people – and this isn’t just in the United States, it’s going on all over the place – have let this division creep in, instead of trying to get to a place of peace, love and harmony that they dreamt about in the 60s. It’s like, that is the more intelligent existence for mankind, it’s a place without war and place with a more fair society. But we’ve seemed to let hate in. 

And you know what? I wrote about it in the song, “Nothing.” You just direct all your anger and fear, and then you follow it through. Because that’s what I see in a lot of this, it’s fear. People are afraid of the changing world and things that are happening. And for a lot of tough-guy dudes, especially, they don’t like to be afraid. So they get mad. And then they try to find the enemy. And who’s the enemy going to be, and it’s so ridiculous for me to think that my neighbor up the street thinks I’m a disgusting dirty scumbag, because I voted for the opposite guy that he did; even though our kids go to the same school. Our version of utopia is probably very simple but similar. But for some reason, we’ve let this polarization invade our way of thinking so much now. So, in that sense, recently I’m having some trepidations about what the punk scene was able to accomplish?  

But on the other hand, you could look back at The Clash, or Bad Religion, or NOFX and Rancid and Green Day and The Offspring…all these bands. Everyone put out some really inspiring, amazing music. On that side, I think it was awesome. It was amazing and I hope it continues to be that way. I just hope that we still have a place to play. 

There’s a genuine concern after everything we saw with the pandemic, and now who knows what’s going to happen with political violence down the road of what could happen to music. So, there’s still a lot of challenges out there, and still a lot of things to write about. I guess, looking back I’m cautiously optimistic that punk rock can still shine a light and help people. 

[Pauses] 

 And I hope it does. 

Follow Jim Lindberg: Twitter/Instagram

 

 

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