Interview: Barry & The Penetrators

giuliano messina makes his pop-break debut with an interview with the Jersey Shore reggae legends …

When you’re at the Jersey Shore, especially at night, there will probably come a point where you hear house or techno music. And you’ll roll your eyes.

But wait, what’s that you hear in the distance? It sounds like people having fun to reggae and punk music, and without dropping ecstasy. It sounds like live music with soul and energy. And it sounds like you should be there, because it sounds like …

Barry & The Penetrators.

For more than a decade, Barry and his crew of Penetrators have dominated the Jersey coastline (and beyond) with a blend of dub reggae that you didn’t know existed anymore, combining it with loud, dynamic punk rock and turning any old show into a full-on party. The crowd never knows what to expect, but after thousands of albums sold, that can’t be a bad thing.

Pop-Break’s Giuliano Messina sat down with the gang (Barry Peterson, Jeanna Peterson, Charlie Schafer and Mark Sisom), strapped them up to lie detectors, and got down to business talking about where they came from and how they survive as a successful band today. One thing was immediately obvious: This band is in it for the fun. The genuine connection they feel to their music is a rare thing in today’s world. Plus, we were all a little drunk.

Charlie: [burp] Testing, testing.

Barry: I’m nice and high, so this should be a nice interview.

Pop-Break: Can…can I write that down?

Barry: Yeah, of course.

PB: I guess that means we should get started. So, how long have you been, as you say, “penetrating” people’s ears?

Barry: Yes [laughs], we’ve been penetrating eardrums since 1998, going on 13 years in March.

PB: Have you had the same members the whole time?

Jeanna: These are all original members right here, except for the drummer.

Barry: He’s been with us seven and a half years now, so he’s it.

Mark: By far, he doubled all the other drummers’ times with us.

PB: That’s expected though, every band that’s been around longer than 2 years seems to go through three or four drummers! [laughs] So, is there a secret to all being in the same band for 13 years?

Barry: [laughs] There’s definitely a lot of give and take. Knowing how to say sorry and how to forgive each other.

Jeanna: Or just knowing how to let shit fly over your head and not letting it get to you.

Charlie: If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s how to compromise. You have to think, it’s always about the music.

PB: You guys have three albums so far. The first one sold over 10,000 records, how have the other two done?

Barry: Uh [laughs], not as many! I just think, back then, there was no Facebook, there was barely Myspace. At the time, that was the last era of selling and buying CDs. None of our new fans even buy a hard copy CD. If you’re under 13, well, none of these kids have ever bought a CD at all.

PB: You can find it in five minutes online.

Mark: They still download our music. It’s almost like that’s for promotion now, getting your music out there. You get paid more for performing than for selling the product. If you can’t perform, who’s gonna come out and see you? [laughs]

PB: You have to change your whole dynamic, how you get out to people.

Barry: Yeah, that’s why these acts are getting so much money from shows. $45 a ticket to see Slightly Stoopid, or other bands in our genre. Used to be 15, 16 bucks, now that’s gone. They’re not selling CDs like they used to. So we fall in that same category, can’t avoid it.

PB: Alright, onto the music itself. Tales From Dirty Jersey is your newest album, but it’s two years old now. How have you guys developed your sound since then? Has anything changed?

Barry: Definitely, a lot’s changed. It’s definitely way more mature.

Mark: [laughs] That’s the word I was gonna use.

Barry: I’ve played harmonica here and there, but in the last year and a half it’s become a very big tool live. People really love that.

Mark: I think it’s come full circle, back to a kind of original lineup again. Everybody’s come back in it with a new mature outlook. I took a break from the band for a couple years, but when I came back, I came in focusing on tone, something I never did before. Thinking of the overall sound, not worried about me so much, but how it fits overall. Everybody’s brought something more to the table.

Jeanna: And we definitely have enough songs to record a new album now.

PB: Well, when’s that gonna happen?

Barry: By the end of the summer, hopefully.

PB: I wanted to mention one of the songs on the album, “Everything.” The first thing that came to mind is that, well, it has everything. Some distorted guitar, the chanting, ska guitar, and the slower reggae thing. What are your thoughts on having the privilege to work with people that, for the last 13 years, have been able to cover all that ground, and do it unselfishly?

Charlie: We all bring our influences to our music. We’ve definitely bridged the gap between reggae, funk, and rock. That’s, in my opinion, the concept of what we do songwriting-wise. We’re kind of scattered, but we like it to be interesting. That song is a perfect example of bridging the gap between different styles.

Jeanna: It’s fun to just come in with a punk song and wake everybody up and then, OK, next is reggae, and it’s a great contrast.

Mark: You know what it is, spanning across the members of the band, you get a variety of styles that people can listen to that’s as diverse as you can get, and that alone helps develop everything.

Barry: My thing growing up was reggae and punk rock; that was it. My favorite music is, of course our genre, but one of my favorites all time is Mike Ness, and I guess that’s kind of two different worlds.

PB: I hear that more when you’re talking. You could probably pass for him on the phone.

Barry: [laughing] Wow, fucking sweet.

Charlie: Or at a gig, “Hey, this isn’t Social Distortion, who the hell are these guys?”

Barry: One of our first write-ups, we played the Asbury Park boardwalk. They said, “Barry is a Sam Kinison and Mike Ness mix!” I was like, wow.

Mark: And plus you’re hair was a little more fanned out back then.

PB: Things certainly have changed.

Jeanna: When you think back to how raw and unrehearsed that show was, ‘cause that was definitely one of the first Penetrator shows …

Charlie: [laughs] We’re still raw and unrehearsed.

Jeanna: But now we actually know how to be unrehearsed!

PB: Before it looked sad, but now, not so much.

Jeanna: [laughs] We played our first shows, and were just like, A to G! We had these shows booked and we didn’t even have songs. Our first few shows, we didn’t even practice anything! We got up there and just played.

Charlie: And then we had this girl dancing.

Jeanna: Yeah, before you knew it there were strippers dancing.

Barry: That was the era of our dance girls.

PB: The era’s over?

Barry: Aw, well, yeah.

Mark: People would say, the only reason to go to their shows is because of the strippers on stage!

Barry: I was just trying to be like Motley Crue. We’re rock stars! There’s bands on the radio that look like they should be teaching fucking elementary school! Where’s your shit at?

Mark: Alright [laughs], I think we lost whatever that last question was.

PB: I don’t even know what I asked anymore. [laughs] How was it for Jeanna being in an otherwise all guy band with strippers around?

Barry: I never start it, but you always have one stupid dude, when there’s a chick in the band, they think she’s like, I don’t even know. I remember this dude was spitting beer, trying to get her attention, spitting beer on her keyboard, I’m like, ‘This motherfucker’s spitting beer?’ Does he know that he’s jeopardizing his life? And that was it! He got a little fucked up! [laughs]

PB: I’m going to leave that alone. [laughs] It seems like, in media and pop culture, you don’t hear a lot of punk or reggae, it’s kind of restricted to people that actively search for it. What do you want to tell people that don’t even know that it’s still out there and alive?

Barry: Well, being in the scene, right now, I was told it’s one of the biggest growing genres now. This is 15 years after Bradley’s dead, and we’ve been together 13 years, but there’s a lot of bands in this area that are one and two years old that are playing the reggae punk thing, and it’s really a growing thing. Granted, it’s not really on the radio, not on MTV, definitely underground, but you have these bands like Slightly Stoopid and Pepper that are selling out 4,000-, 5,000-person venues every single night, with no radio play. It’s amazing. But ultimately it’s still somehow a very underground kind of reggae punk culture that just never hit the mainstream.

Mark: When Sublime did it, they were huge, but there were no other bands sounding like that. After Bradley died, it was like that genre died for a while, but now it’s resurging.

PB: Well, unfortunately you never got the chance to perform with him, but you’ve still played with a lot of my personal heroes, like Dick Dale.

Barry: We played with Dick Dale, probably five times.

Mark: Because of playing with Dick Dale and befriending the drummer, I got to go see Agent Orange during one of the last four days of CBGBs before it closed and go back stage, so check off dream come true. [laughs]

PB: Anyone you haven’t played with yet that you still want to?

Mark: I’d love to play with Israel Vibration.

Charlie: I’ve got two dream shows, for us. A reggae show with Israel Vibration and a punk rock show with Pennywise.

Jeanna: I would love to open up for No Doubt. I want to make some money! [laughs]

Barry: I would love to be with Snoop Dogg or something like that. My favorite, like I said, is Social D, but I’d never want to open up for them because their fans are just into that. They look at us like, “What the fuck?”

Mark: We’re like a circus show to them.

Barry: I would definitely like to do some collaboration with some rap acts, we’ve been with every band that I could like and want to play.

Charlie: Matisyahu!

Barry: No! Never in a million fucking years. [laughs]

PB: Music’s not enough, though. You guys are living the lifestyle, too. You’re big surfers, right?

Mark: Between me and him (Barry), we’ve got deep ties to the surf industry.

PB: Is that something that comes from growing up in California?

Barry: Oh, yeah.

Mark: His roots, yeah, but me, I grew up in Jersey.

PB: Because it seems, to me at least, that in Jersey you don’t really hear about or see surfing.

Barry: Well if you live on the coast you do, but as soon as you go in five blocks, people don’t know what the ocean is. [laughs]

Mark: It’s finally on the map now, but it’s only recent, and it took this long. I was a part of that timeline myself, so I understand it’s taken a long time and so many efforts.

Barry: It’s really just being by the beach, surfing or skateboarding, just being on the beach is where it’s at. None of us lives more than a mile from the beach. I’ve been at a surf shop for 15 years, the owner’s like my dad, he gives me the flexibility to leave and go and do shows, so that’s why I’m lucky I don’t work at some…bakery.

PB: Does anyone ever have to get dragged out of the water to go practice?

Charlie: Mark’s the only one.

Mark: I get my surf in, but I make it!

Barry: By the time we practice, it’s at night, but we haven’t had band practice in like seven years. That’s part of keeping the band together, there’s no practice.

PB: That’s some great advice, I think.

Barry: Write that so all these kid bands realize! Get off your fuckin’ computer, just go live life!

PB: I can get behind that. So, surfing’s on the map now, have you guys helped that happen?

Mark: Barry and I are both part of the production of the Foster’s Belmar Pro, which is one of the top surfing competitions in North America now. It’s a huge deal, we’ve been doing it seven or eight years now. Between the two of us we know everybody that has anything to do with surfing in Jersey.

PB: Are you the best?

Mark: No. [laughs] Hell no.

Jeanna: Mark surfs really great actually.

Mark: Well, OK, I can surf, I used to compete, I was sponsored for 12, 15 years.

Barry: Huh, sponsors? We should probably mention our sponsors.

[Barry & The Penetrators would like to thank Foster’s, Lost Clothing, Electric Sunglasses, Penetrator Kustoms, and Eastern Line Surf Shop for supporting the band’s success and crazy good looks.]

PB: Any last words?

Barry: Nope!

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