Today we bring thrilled to bring to you an artist on artist interview by Justin Conigliaro of Brooklyn based punk band Up for Nothing with the great Bryan Kienlen of New Jersey punk band The Bouncing Souls and Beach Rats. The two sat down and spoke about the band's legacy, new material, tattoos and life in quarantine. Check it out below.
I got my first tattoo just a couple of days after I was legally able to do so. There wasn’t much of anything that I knew I wanted on my body forever at that point in time, but I absolutely knew without hesitation that it had to in some way represent The Bouncing Souls. At that point I had been a part of the Souls community for about 4 or 5 years and truly never felt more comfortable than I did at a Bouncing Souls show. I got the classic anchor/heart logo (designed by Bryan Kienlen) tattooed on my leg that day back in early 2004 because I wanted to have something that would help me remember that feeling and those moments, forever.
I was introduced to Bryan for the first time back in 2006 by our mutual friends, Ernie Parada and Alex Volonino when their band (GreyArea) was doing a reunion show as part of the final run of shows to ever be played at CBGB’s. Ernie and Alex were kind enough to ask my band to play since we already had played a bunch of shows with the project that they were focusing on at the time, The Arsons.
I remember reaching out to Bryan back in 2010 for some advice as my band was about to put out a new record. Our ol’ mutual pal Ernie had just finished up doing the cover art for us and we were about to move to the pressing phase. We spoke for a bit and then Bryan asked me to mail him a physical copy of the record. About a week later, he sent me a message and said that he really liked the songs and that he wanted to get us on the next New York Bouncing Souls show. I brushed it off and assumed it just would never get to that point, but I appreciated those words so much. About two months later I got a text from Ernie, he mentioned that I should be expecting a call from The Bouncing Souls’ booking agent any day now. Before I even had a chance to process that text or even properly re-read it, that call came in. Turns out that Bryan made good on his word and landed us on night 3 of a 4-night run with The Bouncing Souls over at the Highline Ballroom in New York City in the summer of 2011. We would also go on to play one of their annual New Jersey “Home for the Holidays” shows later on that year. From my perspective, this was my favorite band in the world and they just welcomed my band into their family as if it always belonged. It was the ultimate validation for us as a band, and I will never forget the opportunities that we were given to be on those stages and the ones that we would ultimately end up on later on as well. I know for sure that Bryan saw in us what he had seen in his own band before. We were young, genuine, hardworking, hungry and absolutely needed a break. Thanks for that boost!
That tattoo on my leg when I was 18, started out with true and substantial meaning laced in countless memories, feelings and passion for music created by people that I had never met and never expected to meet. It now serves a reminder of all of those things and so much more. Fifteen years after it was etched into my skin, I now consider that band my friends and people that I am proud to know personally. Coincidentally, the conversations that Bryan and I have these days mostly circle around scheduling tattoo appointments and artwork ideas and ironically, less about music. I recently had the pleasure of running some questions by Bryan about some new Bouncing Souls music, touring, tattooing, artwork, etc.
(I would like to also mention that this interview took place right before George Floyd’s murder and Bryan requested to hold off on its publication to give the internet and the world some time and space to process, mourn and heal from that tragic event in Minneapolis. It has begun a conversation about inequality, systematic racism and police brutality which will hopefully continue toward some positive changes.) Anyway, been sitting on this interview awhile so here it is.
I saw that The Bouncing Souls were back in the studio with Will Yip a couple of months back. Tell us about what you guys are working on and when we should be expecting a release.
Yeah, the original idea was to go in for two weeks and do an acoustic record, but we ended up with something a little different. It’s acoustic-ish, in that most of the instruments are acoustic but not all of them. It’s kind of hard to describe, we were jokingly calling it “medium-rock”, it’s kinda chill re-worked versions of some of our older songs, plus one original song added. It’ll be released this fall. We finished recording just as the shit hit the fan here with Covid 19. The timing really worked out for us in that we had also just finished touring all year in 2019 and were planning to stay home most of this year. Also, I am so grateful that we got to get in and do that record just in time too. We never rest too long though and right now we’re recording a sort of mini-series podcast thing which we’ll release as we record them or something.
What is the songwriting process like for you all with band members living in other parts of the country? Where does it start? and how does it all come together?
We’re all writing lyrics and recording song ideas in our phones all year around. We sometimes exchange notes remotely but mostly we save em up until we can get together and really write and build songs in person. The real magic with this band is what we end up with after everyone’s input, it’s always greater than the sum of its parts.
You all just recently got through celebrating your 30th anniversary as a band with a lengthy tour, EP / book release, and the release of the Stoked for the Summer short documentary. What are some personal highlights of that year-long celebration that you can share?
Just how much fun it was for us! Living in a truck together, seeing the Bronx (and all the other great bands we toured with) play every night. Just hanging out and living it, and being at shows. I’m really stoked on the Crucial Moments EP and the amazing job that Josh and Coat did on the book, but man those shows were rad. The shows are always the highlight for me.
One of the first conversations that I had with you was me reaching out about advice on how to power through rough patches as a band and continue to keep moving forward. You responded by saying something along the lines of keep writing and let the excitement of constantly creating something new reignite the flame. After decades of playing, writing, recording and touring; Where does the inspiration still come from to keep the engine of The Bouncing Souls running?
It just feels so good being in a band with your best friends. I feel very fortunate to have kept these guys close in my life, we are the brothers we never had for each other, I couldn’t imagine life any other way. We’ve been creating new things together since high school and it always feels the same. Even now doing this podcast thing that we are trying to roll out, we don’t take it too seriously and so we just have fun bullshitting and telling stories, it’s all effortless. What can I say, it’s just all fun and it feels good. Maybe fun is what drives us. Is fun-drive a thing? Yeah fun-drive.
I remember you all announcing tour after tour for a long stretch of time in what appeared to be a constant road warrior schedule. That constant touring has seemed to slow down a bit in more recent years. What type of mental and personal adjustment comes along with not being on the road as much after spending so many years living that way?
It’s funny, all those years we never slowed down enough to consider anything else, like starting a family, maybe exploring other parts of ourselves. Broadening our own perspectives has somehow led to being even more stoked than ever about writing new music and touring more. Fuck, I have a rad wife and kid, am a full time tattooer/shop owner and play in the Beach Rats. I think I have more to bring to Souls songwriting than ever before. Same with all of us, everyone has cool shit going in their personal lives now and so there is just that much to the Souls.
Who are some bands that you particularly enjoyed playing and touring with over the years?
Definitely too many for me to remember, but here are some bands we’ve personally enjoyed touring with in no particular order (excluding Warped Tour, which would be a ton more): Lifetime, 7-Seconds, Youth Brigade, Descendents, Avail, World Inferno Friendship Society, Pietasters, Dropkick Murphys, Rancid, Hot Water Music, TSOL, Green Day, Strike Anywhere, Vision, H2O, Sick of it All, Bad Religion, Screw 32, Pennywise, NOFX, Street Dogs, The Unseen, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Millencolin, US Bombs, Social Distortion, Flogging Molly, One Man Army, Madcap, Loved Ones, Against Me!, Casualties, Leftover Crack, Dillinger Four, to name a few. Ok, my brain hurts now (haha!) And I know I’ll keep thinking of great bands after this is over.
One of my favorite things that you all did was the ‘Do You Remember: Fifteen Years of The Bouncing Souls’ documentary release. I can’t tell you how many times I watched that thing when it was released. I started my own band just a few months before that came out and that honestly set the tone for so much of the work that we put into what we were trying to do as a band. In thinking back on the earlier days of The Bouncing Souls as documented in that release; What moment do you think about as the turning point in terms of the band being a sustainable endeavor for many years to come? Yeah man, well your band, Up For Nothing ended up being well worth the effort, a lot of great music there dude. As for turning points for the Souls, it was more of a series of chances we made for ourselves. Luckily, we really loved building the whole thing from the ground up, and kinda got ourselves to the point of a self-sustaining band by touring our asses off (haha). The only problem was that we couldn’t do that and also pay rent, so we were homeless and kind of had to stay on the road so that we’d have a place to be. In 1996 signing to Epitaph helped expose us to a broader audience, we seized that and went hard at it nonstop. We would do Warped Tour all summer and then hit the road in the fall headlining, try to get to Europe etc. Somewhere in there it became an actual living. It was rad to see the whole thing sort of grow, and that wouldn’t have happened without the help of not only the label but Kate helping us navigate it and all our best friends/road crew sweating it out with us.
I grew up going to punk shows in NY/NJ and have seen a million bands play, a bunch of which I have seen a ton of times. Bouncing Souls shows were always just….. different. I’ve seen you all more times than I can count over the last 20 years and have kind of grown up with the people in those NY/NJ crowds over that span of time. I may not have ever hung out with them outside of shows, may not know some of their names or phone numbers, but when the house lights go down and a Bouncing Souls show starts, we all become like a family every single time. What do you think it is about your shows or the community you all have created that fosters this sense of family and comradery?
I think it’s all about music and how it makes us feel. And that feeling is even better when it’s shared like that. It really is hard to describe, but it’s something we are all experiencing together in the moment and it’s powerful. I think that sort of creates a bond between everyone at the show.
We all got introduced to Beach Rats (A band you formed with Brian Baker (Bad Religion / Minor Threat), Ari Katz (Lifetime), Pete Steinkopf (The Bouncing Souls) and local genius Daniel “Dubs” Windas) with a debut ep back in 2018. How did the idea and formation of that band come about?
It kind of started when Pete Tabbot of Vision organized a big memorial show for our beloved friend Dave Franklin who had recently passed (way too soon). Both Lifetime and the Souls had Toured extensively with Vision and we were all old friends going back the early 90’s. For various reasons both Bouncing Souls and Lifetime weren't able to perform at that show, so we decided to form a band together and rip though some classic hardcore songs just to be involved somehow. Dubs on drums was a no-brainer. Even if he never played drums in his life, we’d probably still try to make him the drummer to just to be in a band with him, but Dubs is an amazing drummer and was the obvious choice. We practiced a couple times and it felt so good that we were already thinking we should write some originals and record a 7”. Right about that same time our longtime bud Brian Baker was moving from DC to our Jersey Shore world. He was like, “Ok I’m here let’s start a band” and we were like “yep we have the lineup ready, let’s do this!”
Most people familiar enough with The Bouncing Souls attribute so much of the band’s iconic artwork to your creativity and artistic ability. At what point did you feel comfortable enough to start tattooing people and when did that really start becoming an area for you to further expand on?
Right out of high school while the band was forming, I was getting tattooed as much as I could afford to (not much haha), and also figuring out how to do them. I was obsessed, I started out hand-poking stuff on myself and the rest of the band, then began building machines out of walkman motors fastened to rapidograph pens and using guitar strings as needles etc. I wanted to become a tattoo artist but didn’t know the first thing about doing things the right way (through a tattooing apprenticeship, etc) and more importantly, the band was requiring more and more of my attention. I remember thinking that whatever does or doesn’t happen with the band, I never want to look back and regret that I didn’t try hard enough so tattooing as a career choice took a long ride in the backseat, it would have to wait years. In the meantime, I was drawing and creating what would become our logo, along with every shirt and record. I’ve drawn/created every record we’ve put out along with all the shirts. Somehow my love of tattoos came through in some of the aesthetics along the way. When the touring slowed down just a little around the 20-year mark (sometime around 2009), I focused my attention again on my other dream of tattooing. Luckily, I got a chance to do it right, when I was given an apprenticeship at Immortal Ink. I worked there, then I worked at Neptune Tattooville until finally opening my own shop, Anchors Aweigh Tattoo in Bradley Beach NJ where I live.
Tell us about all that you have been up to with Anchors Aweigh Tattoo recently and the impact that has had on your life.
Life at my own shop has been awesome. I work alongside great artists and we have a lot of laughs all while pushing ourselves and each other artistically. Feel free to check out the shop on social media or at our website.
The country (and the world) has seemed to come to a halt with the spread of COVID-19 this year. How have you been spending this time away from human interaction and how has this affected your 2020 plans both personally and musically?
Tattoo shops in NJ remained closed as we speak, so I haven’t worked at the shop since back in March. I really miss the fun we have at the shop, but I’ve been making the most of it by catching up on other parts of my life. I’ve been hanging with my wife, taking care of our 6-month old Cora, and doing paintings whenever I have the chance. As a result, I have a bunch of new paintings up on my website and am planning to launch a little webstore to sell prints soon. As far as the affect that this has had on the bands touring plans; we recently made the decision to abandon all touring/shows for the remainder of 2020. With all of the uncertainty around public events and entertainment in general, we feel it’s best to continue when we know that it’s safe to.
The Stoked for the Summer series seems to be working out really well for you guys especially with pre COVID-19 idea of expanding it to other cities and countries this coming summer. With that said, do you all ever toy with the idea of bringing back the Home for the Holidays shows?
Yeah Covid 19 sure took a big turd on us all this year (haha). We’re definitely not ruling out a return to Home for the Holidays in the future but honestly, who knows?
Thanks for taking the time to hash through this, BK. I want to end this with a thought rather than a final question. Thanks for being the soundtrack to so much of my life. The ups, the downs and the in-betweens. There is a Bouncing Souls lyric, riff, melody, song or show that played on through so many of my life altering moments and I am truly forever grateful for the band’s presence in my life. To myself and so many others, The Bouncing Souls is a feeling more so than it is a band and I hope you all take the greatest level of pride in not only your musical accomplishments but even more so in the fact that you gave so many people like me something to strive for, look forward to and most importantly; be a part of. From the absolute bottom of my heart, thanks.
Hey, Justin first of all thank you for the kind words and for being part of it with us. I feel that same level of gratitude about the band. I’m grateful to have played a role in it and for everything it’s done for me as well. Pretty sure it has saved my life many times. It’s not about the guys on stage, it's about everyone in the room. That’s what it should always be.