A handful of veteran punk rock bands formed in the late 80s still exist today, but not many can claim a fairly consistent lineup, with The Bouncing Souls being one of the few exceptions.
Formed in 1987 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the quartet originally consisted of singer Greg Attonito, guitarist Pete Steinkopf, bassist Bryan Kienlen, and drumer Shal Khichi. The latter, however, left the band in 2000 and was replaced by Michael McDermott.
This summer, The Bouncing Souls toured Europe for three weeks, playing club shows and festivals such as Greenfield, Hurricane, and Southside, an experience that Attonito referred to as “a blast.”
However, at the end of the tour came the announcement that McDermott would be leaving the band, which now puts The Bouncing Souls down to a three-piece, albeit one still consisting of all original members. And given that there were no hard feelings involved in his decision, McDermott will play one more show, in December, before officially leaving the group.
In addition to maintaining its lineup, the band has also steadily been releasing albums over its more than 25 years of existence, with the most recent being last year’s Comet. The record is the ninth studio recording, and also one which the members are particularly proud of, because they accomplished everything that they set out to do with it.
“The whole band is very happy with the latest record…I think out of all the records we have recorded, it is the one where we realized everything we wanted to accomplish. It seems like there was always something on the other records we had wished was different after it came out, but this didn’t happen with Comet,” Attonito shared. “I think a big part of why this sense of satisfaction was achieved on Comet is because of the collaboration with Bill Stevenson and everyone at the Blasting Room where we recorded. It was a great writing and recording experience from beginning to end, and I think it shows in how the music feels.”
That said, however, Attonito was careful to note that as proud of he is of the newest record, there is no clear favorite among the bunch because they all belong to their own particular place and time.
“All of the nine albums are like a puzzle that fits together perfectly,” he said. “If you take one out, the whole thing doesn’t look finished.”
On that same note, however, Attonito did share that while removing one album from The Bouncing Souls’ discography changes things, his own relocation – he lives in Idado while Kienlen and Steinkopf remain in New Jersey – has changed very little.
“You can take the boy out of New Jersey but you can’t take New Jersey out of the boy,” he said. “I don’t know where this quote came from, but I think now is a good time for it. New Jersey and the Bouncing Souls are really part of one thing that can’t be separated. The Garden State has influenced us in countless ways, and we, in turn, have influenced it. It’s been a great mutual evolution, I think.”
To celebrate this history, the band did something special for its 20th anniversary a few years back, releasing singles, which then went on to form seven-inches, which then turned into the 2010 album, Ghosts on the Boardwalk.
“We wanted to break our own creative mold and do something special for our 20 year anniversary…so we decided to record in a totally different way and release the songs in a totally different way,” Attonito said. “Instead of recording the whole record in one session, we recorded three songs at a time over the course of six to nine months or so.”
In turn, a new single was released for download on the first of each month. Then, every three months, a seven-inch with the songs from that quarter came out. At the end of the year, an additional four tracks were made available to those who subscribed to the series.
“We were also lucky enough to have the amazing Arturo Vega collaborate with Bryan on a 20-year anniversary logo,” Attonito added. “He just passed recently, so I am so glad to have had the opportunity to know him. All of his visionary work with the Ramones and the way he lived his life was such an inspiration for us.”
In the same way, Attonito acknowledged how just as Vega was influential in his artistic vision, The Bouncing Souls are aware that what they do also has meaning.
“The most rewarding aspect of what we do may be doing something we love and saving someone’s life doing it,” he said, perhaps referring to the band’s collaboration with Music Saves Lives, or simply pointing out how music can be someone’s salvation.
As is the case with many punk rock bands, the members of The Bouncing Souls have strong opinions on political and social issues, and have publicly supported certain causes. Be that as it may, Attonito did mention that they have made a concentrated effort not to let it sneak into the music too much.
“We have always tried to keep specific details of issues out of the music on purpose. Even though the individuals in the band don’t agree on all worldly topics, we do all agree that our music should be a liberating experience free of heady intellectual politics and lots of stuff to think about,” he said. “We just want to free our minds in the musical experience and have everyone else join the party. This kind of mind-liberating musical experience can be a catalyst for seeing the world and our own personal lives in a new way. This is how we like to make our statement.”
As an example, he offered up one of his convictions.
“In my personal opinion, I think the world would be relieved of many of its problems if people stopped eating so much meat. I think people eat way more meat than they need, but they are conditioned into thinking their bodies really require it. It’s not true,” Attonito explained. “There is a great documentary that describes the science of this in detail. It’s called Forks Over Knives. Choosing not to eat meat is something everyone of us can do right now with the awareness that our choice will make a difference in the world.”
But while Attonito has no problem discussing this idea with others, he made it clear that the songs don’t have room for political or personal agendas, because they not only impose upon the audience, but they also keep him from enjoying the music as much. After all, while punk rock is undeniably linked with politics, the mindset also speaks to the idea of not allowing the way of the world to weigh you down.
“I’m not interested in singing a song about vegetarianism because I don’t want to think about those kinds of issues when I’m singing,” he said. “When I’m singing I want to be free.”