Words & Photos: Jeff G. Holt
If you anything about So Cal punk rock you know that Pennywise has anchored a large part of it in the band’s 30-plus year history. The sound is hard and fast as you can imagine, but one thing that separates Pennywise from the thousand sound-alike “one-two fuck you” bands that have come and gone is the guitar work of Fletcher Dragge. With a melodic quickness that cant be rivaled, Fletcher just plain fucking rips. And that guitar sound has been the backbone of a band that has excelled in every way possible with an unwavering sound and attitude for an astounding 12 albums.
I personally have been a huge fan of Pennywise since the beginning of their career with Epitaph records. For years I have written about motorcycles until the wee hours of the morning with pennywise as my soundtrack. I have seen the band countless times and their live shows are not ever to be missed.
So, what does this dude have to do with custom motorcycles you ask? A few years back at a motorcycle show I was talking to a group of guys and this massive guy walks up to me and sticks his huge hand out and introduces himself. I already knew who the guy was, due to the fact there is no mistaking Fletcher Dragge for anyone else in the world. Then the he tells me that he reads my stuff. I was floored.
I knew that Fletcher was into bikes and cars like most other musicians. But not at what level. Its not some rockstar situation with covers on competed cars and rows of shiny chrome bikes that other people built and sold to him. His garage and its contents, just like his music, are D.I.Y. and done in a very punk rock fashion. Just the way it should be.
I was lucky enough to strong-arm Fletcher into this interview during the bands incessant touring schedule for their newest release Never Gonna Die, a record I think is one of their best to date. Here’s how the interview went…
How did you get into riding motorcycles?
I guess its the usual answer. My dad got me rolling on a mini bike at about 5 years old. He rode the Baja 500 on an enduro in like 1971 or some shit. I am sure he had that kidney belt in full effect. From there it was pretty much any bike I could come up on, or borrow. I am very surprised that survived the no helmet law days. Splitting lanes at 70mph in dead stop traffic on PCH was fun as hell, but stupid as fuck.
What do you currently ride?
Its a collection of a bunch of swap meet parts and leftovers on a stretched softail frame. Yea I know, but back problems negated a hardtail. The bike has a bulletproof Evo motor and a 5-speed trans. Its a total rust bucket that me and my buddy Donny (ex Black Cat workhorse) put it together about 12 years ago and it still running hard!
What do you like about riding motorcycles?
Not having to think about all life’s daily bullshit when riding. The escape, friends, stories, close calls, side of the road repairs with zip ties. You know, all the usual cliches.
What do you like most about the construction of custom motorcycles?
I like the freedom to build what you want. Its like any other art form, you get a lot of different things to look at and be stoked on or hate. To me if your building something whether it fits into the “what’s cool now category” or not, as long as your building and expressing yourself thats cool. I might not like certain builds personally, but I will always have respect for anyone who’s out there trying. Remember kids, billet was cool not too long ago. And skinny bikes weren’t.
Who are some of your favorite bike builders/fabricators?
Chopper Dave is one for sure. Trevlen at Super Co is the man, no bullshit just good bikes. doesn’t give a fuck about “the scene” or whats cool. Jeff Cochran at Speed King builds rad shit. Jeff Wright of Church of Choppers is always on the innovative different tip. Anything Indian Larry built when he was alive. Cole foster of Salinas Boys. And my guitar tech Donny Nemarnik. Slim from Slim’s Fab. Jason Sheets. The reality is that there are so many good builders out there I could really go on forever.
Are you currently building up any new motorcycles?
Yup. I have been collecting parts and putting together a 75 H-D Shovelhead with a 4-speed ratchet top, on a stretched rigid Billy Lane frame I scored for $20. Its got a 17-inch 180 rear tire for my fat ass, an old AMF-era tank, and bunch more random swap meet shit. Its been in the works for 5 years now. I’m a slow mover I guess.
Do you have any sort of dream bike?
Nah, not really. Im good with whatever fits my oversized body and gets down the road. Anything that’s fun to ride and fits will do..
Where is your favorite place you have been on a motorcycle?
Probably British Columbia. The roads have long sweeping twisties up in the mountains and there is no one around. Its really peaceful on the roads up there.
Idaho also has lots of good shit there too. The Friso bridge circuit is insane as well.
From your perspective, what do you currently think of the motorcycle industry?
The good, the bad and the ugly. Its all there if you look. While I appreciate innovations (Softails are cool now?) I could really careless about new shit. I don’t care if its “better” I like old shit. Always have and always will. I like the “less is more” fast and scary bikes, not the smooth and predictable ones. Dont get me wrong, I like seeing all the new shit and all the different ways people tweak on new bikes, but ill always be more interested in the beater sitting in the corner dripping oil. Its all about character.
Do you have any other things going on besides Pennywise and custom vehicles?
I’m part owner of Screaming Leopard recording in hermosa beach. Its a cheap spot for local bands to get in and make records. I am also part owner of 3rd street tattoo in Hermosa also with my buddy Jeremy Heartland. And I’m a small partner at the Standing Room with my bro and head chef Lowell Bakke. its a burger joint with booze and bands. Basically a spot for me to throw crazy gigs and parties with no rules and free booze. All that along with helping local bands when I can. It all keeps me way too busy.
Lets get into some questions about the band. What gear do you play with live?
Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier amps and cabs in stereo and Ibanez RG guitars. Thats it really. I dont play with a bunch extra shit.
I have always wanted to ask you this. With such big hands how can you play the guitar so technically?
I cant. You must be listening while your drunk!
I have heard that your personal guitars have bigger bodies on them so it doesn’t look like you are playing a toy. Is that true?
Yeah. Bigger guitars and bigger bikes. I’m a fucking large mammal. I need big shit to offset my size. Even tallboy beers look normal in my hand. Im a XXL X-tall, so nothing stock fits my giant Viking ass.
Do you find it strange that the lyrics Pennywise were singing 20-plus years ago are more relevant today than ever?
Not strange, more like lame. Lots of bands have been screaming for change for a long time. It seems like this world is going backwards. We’re fucked! But we won’t give up, we will keep yelling till shit gets put on right.
Releasing an album every two years for three decades is pretty nuts. How do you do it?
Its not easy. We fight a lot, but in the end were always proud of what we’ve done. Pennywise has had a lot of motivation to write shit, with all the crazy shit going down all the years. Its hard, but in the end its pretty fucking fun.
We know you have a dream job, but it is still a job. How do you keep yourself interested after so much time in the band?
Its actually pretty fucking easy, Do what you love and fuck the rest.
And then there is the touring. You seem to always be on the road. How does that work?
Its basically a paid vacation that never stops. I get to travel the world and drink free booze while playing for our die-hard fans. On tour I get to ride bikes all over the world, eat the best food, and meet the coolest people. Its easy as fuck to keep that train rolling.
Do you have a few favorite places that touring has taken you?
I like everywhere we have been while on the road. I really do, but if I had to pick one spot it would have be Japan. Its a fucking playground over there. Some of the best times of my life so far were had there.
Will you please play Sturgis and bring some bands that are not from the early 1970’s with you?
I would love to play Sturgis! The Chip? or did it burn down? Oh wait, that was Ballard’s place. C’mon man get us in there with all your connections Mr. V-Twin Visionary!