I’m on my way to the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, playing the Bouncing Souls in my car and realizing, “Sweet Jesus, I’ve been listening to these guys for ten years now!” Granted, as of late I’ve fallen a bit off the bandwagon when it comes to The Souls; their last output, The Gold Record, just didn’t speak to me. So somehow, I forgot about these guys, and as I play Hopeless Romantic while driving well past the speed limit, old memories are starting to resurface, and I start to remember old friends and loves past. It takes a special band and a special album to do this, so I felt (and rightly so) that my night would be surpassing my expectations.
Later that evening, Greg Attonito and I are sitting outside the back entrance to the Chameleon sharing stories about music, being in bands, living away from friends, and our general outlook on life. He’s one of the few people who has ever been able to pick out my accent, so my sheer amazement at this sparked a conversation between us that lasted longer than I could have expected. Talking to Greg feels like talking to an old friend, where every defensive wall is absent, and every sentence feels sincere. The rest of the band is no exception. We trade emails, and go backstage where I talk to the guys for a while longer. As I start getting psyched for the show I ask Pete what the chances are of Dave Hause coming up on stage to sing anthems. He laughs, puts his hand on my shoulder and, like the old friend I feel he is, says:
“Oh, I’d say one hundred percent!”
Have you ever met the guy from Dinosaur Jr?
Steinkopf: J Mascis? I TRIED to meet him.
Yeah, he just stared at me when I tried to meet him.
Steinkopf: He did a lot of psychedelics in the 90s.
Anyway, let’s get started. How’s the tour been going?
Steinkopf: Great! We’re on tour with our friends the Loved Ones and Black President.
Yeah, last time you guys played here, you played with the Loved Ones.
Steinkopf: Did we? [laughs]
Yeah, how hard is to keep Dave [Hause] from coming up on stage and singing for the headlining band.
Kienlen: [laughs] That’s funny! We actually encourage it. When we do Midnight Mile, which is a song off of Gold Record, the chorus comes right in the song and it’s this high harmony. Usually, by that point in the set I can’t sing that high. I’m always like, “Dave!” Because, it’s his favorite song off the record anyway. “You gotta come out and sing!”
[Cop cars drive by, sirens blazing]
Kienlen: I’ve seen twelve cop cars in the last couple of hours.
How do you guys decide who to bring on tour? Because it always seems like a friendly affair. Do you ever try to highlight smaller bands?
Steinkopf: We like bringing friends on tour with us, because it’s fun hanging out with friends. If you’re going to be away, you might as well be surrounded by your friends.
How do you know the guys from Black President?
Kienlen: That’s actually a strange story. We discovered them, or heard them, on the radio. On Sirius they have a station that plays punk. Faction sometimes plays great music. We actually discovered them in the van, we were working on the new songs with Ted Hutt, and we were all driving in my van for lunch. Black President came on and everyone was like, “Who’s this?!” That’s kind of rare to discover a band that way. We made a note of it to look into this band.
I think there are friends of yours in the band, too…
Kienlen: Oh yeah! Then we learned that Roy Mayorga, who’s a really old friend of the band, was the drummer! Now he’s in Amebix.
He’s in Amebix?!
Kienlen: Yeah! That’s why he’s not on tour with Black President, so we were like “Oh crap! Roy’s not going to be there!” But, then they got Dave from Lagwagon. They go from one great drummer to another.
It doesn’t sound like Roy’s coming back…
Kienlen: Yeah, they talked to him, because he was turning down incredible gigs.
You guys are doing a run of 7 inches for the new album. Do you feel like, in that sense, the band has come full circle?
Kienlen: It feels fun like that.
Steinkopf: It’s really fun. In the end we’ll put it out on CD, because everyone’s asking.
Kienlen: We were going to do just this, you know? Like, we were going to be totally weird and not put out a record, or CD, but what we learned is that there’s way too much of a demand for a CD. Even our friends were like, “When’s the CD coming out?” I think our crowd still buys CDs. We didn’t know. We started to get the feeling that nobody buys CDs anymore, and that we were just going to do a digital download. We turned out to be kind of wrong!
I think you guys were thinking the same thing when the Gold Record came out.
Kienlen: It’s a really awkward and weird time, you know?
Steinkopf: For bands like us, people still want that.
And for a band like you guys, I can’t think of a single thing you guys put out that wasn’t on vinyl [ed: this is a lie, the Live albums aren’t available on vinyl…yet!]. It’s right up your alley!
Kienlen: Sure, but it was a question of CD or wholly digital. We were going to put out the vinyl, anyway. Vinyl’s cool!
So, you said you’re going to collect everything on an album, are you going to do that for the LP also, or keep that as 7 inches.
Steinkopf: I don’t know.
Kienlen: I think we might do an LP.
Put some bonus stuff on there…
Kienlen: The 7 inches have bonus stuff on them, so there’s four…
Steinkopf: There’s lots of bonus stuff going on…
Kienlen: Yeah! We got video shit we might throw on there.
NOFX did a similar thing, where they put out a 7 inch each month for a whole year, and the band considered it a nightmare. How much planning was there for these 7 inches?
Kienlen: We went from nothing, to all the songs being written in one go, right?
Steinkopf: Yeah, it’s a lot of scheduling.
Is everything done and recorded?
Steinkopf: It is now, yeah!
Kienlen: Not all mixed and mastered…
Was it all done in the same studio?
Kienlen: We did all of it basically in Pete’s basement, aka Little Eden studios. We tracked all the drums at once in New York in a place called Magic Shop, and we did all the bass while we were there too, so it was all done. So, the foundation of these songs was built, but we were writing lyrics right up to the last minute. Some of them weren’t songs at all; they were music parts. So we were building songs in a weird way.
When the Gold Record came out, that was still officially on Epitaph. At that time, Epitaph’s old punk roster was diminishing, and everyone was pretty surprised, I think, that you guys stayed with them…
Kienlen: We were the last punk band…
What made you guys stay with them?
Kienlen: I don’t know. Because it was the path of least resistance, maybe.
Did your relationship with Brett Gurewitz affect the decision at all?
Kienlen: No. It didn’t have anything to do with our relationship with Brett or anyone at Epitaph. Really, we were kicking around the idea during the making of the Gold Record that maybe we should do something different. I don’t know, it was just like everyone knew to find us there. Everything is a well worn path.
You guys also run Chunksaah. Can you talk about the evolution of the label? Because it started out as just a label to put out your stuff.
Steinkopf: Well, Kate runs it. We just say “yeah” every couple of times. Do you want to do this? “Yes.”
Kienlen: Kate and Zack. Zack, who’s the drummer of the opening band today.
Is it strange to you that this tiny label is now full fledged?
Kienlen: It’s awesome to be able to put out another band’s record when it’s great. Usually, it’s a great way to lose money, but it’s a cool feeling.
It’s so strange now with major labels falling apart that indie labels are the ones still running.
Kienlen: Yeah, it’s because we’re a little smarter. The way major labels run is like a house of cards where you just pull something out of it, like, what am I trying to say? Just the way they spend money.
Have you had offer from major labels?
Kienlen: Yeah, we were courted, but nah…
Greg has started doing solo stuff by himself. Have you two ever thought about going solo?
Steinkopf: I wouldn’t want to do anything solo, because it’s just not what I’m into. Other bands, though…
Kienlen: We have another band formed with Dave Hause. He’s our front man.
Uh oh! Lot’s of whoas.
Kienlen: Oh, we got whoas, man! We’ve got a band called the Roadside Prophets. It’s Tad and Bobby from the Hold Steady, and me and Pete, and Dave Hause. We’ve already written one song. It’s a supergroup.
Bryan, you’ve been the go-to artist for the band over the years. While your early work is very comic book oriented, there are more serious undertones for the newer artwork you’ve been doing. Do you feel like your art is maturing with the band over the years?
Kienlen: I think the art is what’s called for by the music. Anchors Aweigh; that’s what it looked like. After the songs start to take shape and the record starts to take shape, I visualize what the record should look like. That’s pretty much how it’s always been. I guess between the beginning and now, I’ve learned Photoshop. That doesn’t mean the next one won’t look like a comic book again.
If you do a CD or LP for the new songs, will you do new artwork for it?
Steinkopf: It’ll be its own thing, you know?
Can you talk about the dynamic of the band over the years? Is it harder to be in a band now than before?
Steinkopf: I don’t know if it’s harder, it’s different. We have our own lives and we respect that.
Kienlen: In some ways it’s easier. You just trade some things that are hard at the beginning for things that are hard later. It’s different challenges…
You guys spent a lot time together at the beginning of the band’s life. Does it feel like rediscovering each other every time now?
Kienlen: That was a way to grow at the beginning. Then, going off and building our own world and lives was a way to continue.
[Greg comes over from across the street with a cup of coffee and I fill him in on what we’re talking about]
Attonito: It’s getting easier. If it’s not getting easier, then you should probably quit.
What do you think has kept the band together for twenty years?
Kienlen: The music’s kept it together: creating new music.
How are songs written in the Bouncing Souls? Are they done individually or in groups? Any quality control along the way?
Kienlen: You just answered your own question! [laughs] Most often, we complete each other’s songs.
Attonito: It’s a collaboration where each song comes from a different place. Ted - the things he brings are good for the group, because we were getting into old habits and it was time for us to learn from someone else. It was time to let somebody into our songwriting world. At certain moments, when we were like, “No this is the way things should be!”
Has stuff ever not made it?
Kienlen: The golden rule is, if you have to sell a song to your friends and explain it, then maybe it’s not that good. It’s the golden rule, you know?
Steinkopf: Then, noone’s going to be psyched about your song.
Attonito: There’s just this thing, where, “Look at how everyone responded to this song.” And that’s your meter. You just have to go there. We all know what that feels like, and this doesn’t feel like that.
So, you test the temperature of the song. You might like it today, but next week…
Kienlen: That’s exactly it. Sometimes, we put it out in such a hurry that six months later, it’s like “Eh…it’s not that good”
Has that ever happened, where songs shouldn’t have made the cut?
Kienlen: Yeah, like maybe one or two down the way.
Want to drop any names?
Steinkopf: A couple on the older records.
Kienlen: Yeah, there’s something for everybody in those. We like those old records.
What made you go with Ted Hutt, out of everybody? I’m pretty sure you guys can have your pick of who to work with.
Attonito: Not exactly.
Like Rick Rubin!
Kienlen: He was at our show the other day! Or just a guy who looked like him.
Steinkopf: Phil Spector called, and we were like, “Eh…let’s go with Ted”
Attonito: He worked on a band called Madcap, and I just stopped by because they were doing a record miles from my house, and I just noticed how he was working. The record came out, and we all liked it, and we noticed what he had done. We brought Madcap out on tour with us, and we saw what he did with the songs. After that, it was pretty mutual. Not that Madcap wasn’t good, but you can tell he brought out the potential.
Bouncing Souls have written a lot of different song styles over the years. What are the hardest kind of songs for you guys to write? Like, you’re not going to write the Toilet Song again…
Kienlen: You’d be surprised. There’s a new song that we worked on that sounds like it was a lost song off the old records. It’s called Badass, that’s one part…I Like Your Mom, one part East Coast Fuck You, and one part 80s Movies.
Is there a certain song that you just aren’t able to write anymore?
Kienlen: I don’t think so. We don’t think about it, we just write.
Attonito: As you go, these are all things that you can access.
Winding down here, there are passionate feelings amongst fans over what the best and worst Bouncing Souls record is. What do you think is your worst record?
Steinkopf: Oh, it’s something where you feel like you’re hurting its feeling or something.
Kienlen: I’d have to go with what album we play the least songs out of.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad, though…
Kienlen: That’s true.
Steinkopf: They all have their own charm, in some way.
Attonito: It’s hard to pick.
[At this point, some guy comes up and asks the band to sign a picture of them. Greg and I talk coffee for a bit while this is happening,]
What’s your least favorite song to play live?
Attonito: [laughs] Oh, shit!
Steinkopf: That comes and goes.
You’ve got to give me names, though.
Attonito: We’re not giving you dirt!
Kienlen: It’s true, man. We’re not giving you dirt. When that happens, we change the set. We’ll write a whole set, and we’ll play it night after night…
Attonito: It’s not about that one song. It’s the whole set.
You guys are clean, man.
Steinkopf: I know! We’re so clean.
Attonito: You’re not getting shit, buddy!
You have that song Shark Attack. What’s the worst Shark Attack you guys ever had staying at someone’s house?
[Laughs all around]
Kienlen: Shawn Stern, man. We raided that guy’s house.
Steinkopf: He bought two pints of ice cream. One for his girl friend, one for us. We just ate all of it.
Attonito: He specifically said. We crushed both of them!
How come no one except Greg has a personalized Wikipedia page, and Mike has two pages?
Kienlen: Because you have your own MySpace page!
Attonito: Maybe because I put out that book.
You should ask fans to make pages for you.
Kienlen: Make us one, dude!
What are some bands you’ve been listening to a lot lately?
Kienlen: The Bronx.
Attonito: Black Presidents. I just toured with Vic from the Slackers. His stuff is really good.
Kienlen: He listens to the Replacements.
Steinkopf: I do listen to them a lot. Gimme Drugs!
Finally, what are your favorite albums that are out this year?
Steinkopf: I don’t know anything that’s out this year.
Kienlen: NOFX’s is good.
Attonito: We’re never like that. We’re never current.
Do you think that works to your advantage?
Attonito: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Anything else you want to add?
Steinkopf: No, it was great, man!