When word dropped a few months back that Ignite front man Zoli Teglas would be picking the vocal reigns for Pennywise I got a excited. I was weened on both Pennywise and Ignite during my formative years (1994-98) and to call them two of my favorite bands is a bit of an understatement. While it is sad to see Jim Lindberg leave Pennywise, Zoli is hands down the best real singer in punk rock today. I don’t think anyone can match his pipes–he’s like the Bruce Dickinson of hardcore.
I got the chance to chat with Zoli while he was in the studio with Pennywise finishing up demo vocals for a new record. The first thing I did was mark out because I thought I’d have to pry hard to find out any news of a new record. Instead he was very forthright and excited to talk about his new day job fronting one of the biggest punk bands in the world.
So what does it feel like to be the singer of Pennywise? I assume you were a fan of theirs too back in the day.
It’s kinda surreal. I was at my house in Budapest, Hungary and I was trying to call a friend of mine in Australia, and I accidentally called Fletcher. So I talked to him and he told me that they were having some problems and Jim was quitting the band. He told me that they were going to be looking for singers and I should come back to America. A couple months later I’m on stage with them.
It just seems like it fits. It’s not like one of those things where you jump for joy, but it seems like it was meant to be. We have the same background musically. The only difference is that my voice is a lot higher and I write in a different style. The cool thing is that the new songs we’re writing are a mix of my voice and the Pennywise style of songwriting.
Do you need to adapt your singing style to work with the Pennywise songs? Obviously you need to maintain your integrity, but I was wondering how you were mixing Jim’s gruff vocal style with your melodic style.
Pennywise has been around for 20 years. There are guys that have their logo tattooed to them. My responsibility to the Pennywise fans is to give them an album that they are going to like. The really cool thing is that I’m learning a new style of writing. The way they wrote their albums in the past–especially the vocal melodies–was to place it right on top of the beat. The way I’m used to writing with The Misfits and Ignite was on the back end of the beat. It’s almost like the vocals start the song.
Did you talk to Jim before or after the break up? I assume you were friends with him too.
I called him before my tryouts and I said, “Jim, we’re friends and I want to stay friends. I want to do justice to these Pennywise songs that I’m going to be singing. If I get the gig, can we sit down over dinner so you can tell me what you wrote because there’s a lot of history behind the songs. I really want to have your blessing.” He said yes and told me I’m the first person he’d want singing for Pennywise. We’re still good friends and there is no bad blood at all.
The last thing I wanted was any sort of beef between me and him and there shouldn’t be any, because it was his choice to quit the band. At the same time, I want to do justice to his music and to the fans. I thought it was my responsibility to talk to him and ask him for his permission.
This is the second time I’ve seen you fill in for a pretty big singer. The first time was with The Misfits, now Pennywise. You are like the fill-in guy for legendary punk bands.
Dude, I’m like a musical prostitute. I got a call from the Aerosmith camp and I told them absolutely not. Led Zeppelin is looking for a singer too, but that’s not my thing at all. It’s funny, but I did the musical for The Who and Roger Daltrey came on stage and told me it sounded great and I said, “Mr. Daltrey, that’s the way you are supposed to sing it.” <laughs> I’m like a living karaoke machine.
That said, if I write an album with Pennywise, I’m not just going to be stepping in with them, I’m going to be the new guy–the new singer. My whole vision and purpose and drive is to make sure that this new album is Pennywise, particularly for the fans that completely believe in the band. They have such loyal fans and I don’t want to let any of them down. I want them to say, “I’m bummed that Jim left, but this is great stuff.” My goal right now is to just write an album that is going to kick ass.
Are you guys writing the record from scratch or were some of the new songs already written by Jim?
We’re starting from scratch. We have 15 tracks demoed and we just finished another today. At first we were going to try to put out an album and then go on tour, but we decided to go out on the road first. Touring helps me get molded a little more to their live show and the writing process.
It also makes sense to introduce you to the new fans, because while older guys might remember Ignite, Pennywise has a massive fan base worldwide.
Yeah I think so too. They also haven’t toured that much recently for different reasons. Now we are going to tour our asses off and I want the live show to really kick peoples’ asses. We played the Long Beach arena in front of 13,000 people and I jumped into the crowd and really tried to be on for that show and they seemed to love it.
Ignite was a band that would play for a while and then disappear for a while. Is Ignite going to remain a part time situation?
Those guys have another band on the side, and we’re still going to do another album, but my focus right not is doing Pennywise. I don’t want to let Ignite fans down either and a new record is due. When you are on the road you have 23 hours of doing nothing so it’s a good time to write and focus on music. I’m going to be writing a lot.
So is there anything you still want to do? Did you think that at your age and at this time, you’d be doing something like this?
You know, I have a solo album coming out called the Zoli Band…
Wait, didn’t that come out 10 years ago?
It’s that one, plus another–It’s a red and blue album and it comes out in three or four days with like 15 new songs. That music is stuff that I can never put out anywhere, but it’s music that I really like.
Have the fans been supportive? I know in some cases fans can get pretty annoyed with the new singer.
So far they have been very supportive. I never visit the forums to see what people say about me, but as a joke I went on the comments section the other day and 90 percent of them were positive. The thing about it that they have to remember is that Jim quit the band and the rest of the guys don’t want to stop playing. They need a singer to fill in for Jim that has a message and a meaning that stands for something. If they found some guy to just fill in then I think it would have been a different case.
I stand for environmental causes, social issues, and I stand on so many different political agendas that I think I fit the Pennywise mold a little better. I try to talk the talk and walk the walk, and on top of that I do a good live show, and on top of that I want to make a better album–and the fans come first. I think that with me being in the band, they’re not going to be so let down. People say that they wish Jim was still in the band, but hey, if Jim quit, it’s not fair that everyone else has to stop playing, because Pennywise is these guys’ lives.
It’s like AC/DC. The first guy died, but that doesn’t mean that they had to stop doing AC/DC. They just got a really good singer that wanted to do AC/DC and write hits and that’s what he did. Just because a singer leaves doesn’t mean the band has to break up. They put 20 years of their lives into this and if someone doesn’t want to do the music anymore, they need to find a person that can not only replace the lead singer, but maybe do better.