The Bouncing Souls are Greg Attonito (vocals), Pete Steinkopf (guitar), Bryan Kienlen (bass), and Mike McDermot (drums), and are currently releasing a series of seven inches on Chunksaah Records to commemorate their 20th anniversary. Their last proper studio output was The Gold Record in 2006. Our very own Ollie Mikse caught up with the band to bring us this extensive interview.
Iâm on my way to the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, playing the Bouncing Souls in my car and realizing, "Sweet Jesus, Iâve been listening to these guys for ten years now!" Granted, as of late Iâve fallen a bit off the bandwagon when it comes to The Souls; their last output, The Gold Record, just didnât 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. Heâs 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, Iâd 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, letâs get started. Howâs the tour been going?
Steinkopf: Great! Weâre 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] Thatâs 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 itâs this high harmony. Usually, by that point in the set I canât sing that high. Iâm always like, "Dave!" Because, itâs his favorite song off the record anyway. "You gotta come out and sing!"
[Cop cars drive by, sirens blazing]
Kienlen: Iâve 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 itâs fun hanging out with friends. If youâre going to be away, you might as well be surrounded by your friends.
How do you know the guys from Black President?
Kienlen: Thatâs 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, "Whoâs this?!" Thatâs 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, tooâ¦
Kienlen: Oh yeah! Then we learned that Roy Mayorga, whoâs a really old friend of the band, was the drummer! Now heâs in Amebix.
Heâs in Amebix?!
Kienlen: Yeah! Thatâs why heâs not on tour with Black President, so we were like "Oh crap! Royâs not going to be there!" But, then they got Dave from Lagwagon. They go from one great drummer to another.
It doesnât sound like Royâs coming backâ¦
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: Itâs really fun. In the end weâll put it out on CD, because everyoneâs 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 thereâs way too much of a demand for a CD. Even our friends were like, "Whenâs the CD coming out?" I think our crowd still buys CDs. We didnât 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: Itâs 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 canât think of a single thing you guys put out that wasnât on vinyl [ed: this is a lie, the Live albums arenât available on vinylâ¦yet!]. Itâs 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. Vinylâs cool!
So, you said youâre 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 donât know.
Kienlen: I think we might do an LP.
Put some bonus stuff on thereâ¦
Kienlen: The 7 inches have bonus stuff on them, so thereâs fourâ¦
Steinkopf: Thereâs lots of bonus stuff going onâ¦
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, itâs a lot of scheduling.
Is everything done and recorded?
Steinkopf: It is now, yeah!
Kienlen: Not all mixed and masteredâ¦
Was it all done in the same studio?
Kienlen: We did all of it basically in Peteâs 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 werenât 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, Epitaphâs old punk roster was diminishing, and everyone was pretty surprised, I think, that you guys stayed with themâ¦
Kienlen: We were the last punk bandâ¦
What made you guys stay with them?
Kienlen: I donât know. Because it was the path of least resistance, maybe.
Did your relationship with Brett Gurewitz affect the decision at all?
Kienlen: No. It didnât 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 donât 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, whoâs the drummer of the opening band today.
Is it strange to you that this tiny label is now full fledged?
Kienlen: Itâs awesome to be able to put out another bandâs record when itâs great. Usually, itâs a great way to lose money, but itâs a cool feeling.
Itâs so strange now with major labels falling apart that indie labels are the ones still running.
Kienlen: Yeah, itâs because weâre 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 nahâ¦
Greg has started doing solo stuff by himself. Have you two ever thought about going solo?
Steinkopf: I wouldnât want to do anything solo, because itâs just not what Iâm into. Other bands, thoughâ¦
Kienlen: We have another band formed with Dave Hause. Heâs our front man.
Uh oh! Lotâs of whoas.
Kienlen: Oh, we got whoas, man! Weâve got a band called the Roadside Prophets. Itâs Tad and Bobby from the Hold Steady, and me and Pete, and Dave Hause. Weâve already written one song. Itâs a supergroup.
Bryan, youâve 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 youâve been doing. Do you feel like your art is maturing with the band over the years?
Kienlen: I think the art is whatâs called for by the music. Anchors Aweigh; thatâs 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. Thatâs pretty much how itâs always been. I guess between the beginning and now, Iâve learned Photoshop. That doesnât mean the next one wonât 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: Itâll 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 donât know if itâs harder, itâs different. We have our own lives and we respect that.
Kienlen: In some ways itâs easier. You just trade some things that are hard at the beginning for things that are hard later. Itâs different challengesâ¦
You guys spent a lot time together at the beginning of the bandâs 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 weâre talking about]
Attonito: Itâs getting easier. If itâs not getting easier, then you should probably quit.
What do you think has kept the band together for twenty years?
Kienlen: The musicâs 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 otherâs songs.
Attonito: Itâs 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 itâs not that good. Itâs the golden rule, you know?
Steinkopf: Then, nooneâs going to be psyched about your song.
Attonito: Thereâs just this thing, where, "Look at how everyone responded to this song." And thatâs your meter. You just have to go there. We all know what that feels like, and this doesnât feel like that.
So, you test the temperature of the song. You might like it today, but next weekâ¦
Kienlen: Thatâs exactly it. Sometimes, we put it out in such a hurry that six months later, itâs like "Ehâ¦itâs not that good"
Has that ever happened, where songs shouldnât 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, thereâs something for everybody in those. We like those old records.
What made you go with Ted Hutt, out of everybody? Iâm 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, "Ehâ¦letâs 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 wasnât 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, youâre not going to write the Toilet Song againâ¦
Kienlen: Youâd be surprised. Thereâs a new song that we worked on that sounds like it was a lost song off the old records. Itâs called Badass, thatâs one partâ¦I Like Your Mom, one part East Coast Fuck You, and one part 80s Movies.
Is there a certain song that you just arenât able to write anymore?
Kienlen: I donât think so. We donât 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, itâs something where you feel like youâre hurting its feeling or something.
Kienlen: Iâd have to go with what album we play the least songs out of.
That doesnât mean itâs bad, thoughâ¦
Kienlen: Thatâs true.
Steinkopf: They all have their own charm, in some way.
Attonito: Itâs 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,] Whatâs your least favorite song to play live?
Attonito: [laughs] Oh, shit!
Steinkopf: That comes and goes.
Youâve got to give me names, though.
Attonito: Weâre not giving you dirt!
Kienlen: Itâs true, man. Weâre not giving you dirt. When that happens, we change the set. Weâll write a whole set, and weâll play it night after nightâ¦
Attonito: Itâs not about that one song. Itâs the whole set.
You guys are clean, man.
Steinkopf: I know! Weâre so clean.
Attonito: Youâre not getting shit, buddy!
You have that song Shark Attack. Whatâs the worst Shark Attack you guys ever had staying at someoneâs house? [Laughs all around]
Kienlen: Shawn Stern, man. We raided that guyâs 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 youâve 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 donât know anything thatâs out this year.
Kienlen: NOFXâs is good.
Attonito: Weâre never like that. Weâre never current.
Do you think that works to your advantage?
Attonito: I donât know. Thatâs a good question.
Anything else you want to add?
Steinkopf: No, it was great, man!