Interview

w/Greg Attonito and Bryan Kienlen of The Bouncing Souls

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (Sanchez/2016)
Lisa Sanchez

The Bouncing Souls are one of those bands that just won't die and one of the few bands where I appreciate their resilience. The New Jersey four-piece has been delivering their infectious brand of pop-punk since I was born and their latest album Simplicity is another solid addition to their extensive catalog.

When I first heard Simplicity, it wasn't like 2003's Anchors Aweigh that got me into The Bouncing Souls or the classic Hopeless Romantic from the late 90s. No, Simplicity took some time to grow on me. Then I realized that not only were The Bouncing Souls still killing it, but they weren't phoning it in like many other bands with a career lasting more than 20 years.

The Bouncing Souls are still touring, but they're going in two to three week spurts, or as bassist Bryan Kienlen put it, the band is moving across the whole country "just very slowly." I got a chance to talk with Kienlen and vocalist Greg Attonito about the band's impressive career, their latest album, and their post-presidential election blues.

I caught The Bouncing Souls at The Agora for their first show of their tour jot. The band was playing with Philadelphia-based Cayetana and Toronto punks The Flatliners. Greg described the first show coming together as "puzzle piecing" and reminisced about the great shows The Bouncing Souls have played at The Agora in the past. However, almost thirty years of touring tends to blur everything togehter.

Considering the band has been on the road for so long, I asked them: Is there an upper echelon of tour professionals? Once you’ve been on the road for more than 20 years you get a smoking jacket or something?

Bryan: I wish there was.
Greg: There should be, right? I was joking with my mom, she turned 70 a couple weeks ago and it’s the same idea if you just actually get to be that old you just deserve some sort of medal for surviving this world for 70 years.  Maybe the same goes for, we’ve been on the road for, more or less, 25 years. We should get some small medal. We’ve dedicated our lives to the road. Most of our lives.
Maybe some award is awaiting us in the next life cause I don’t think we’re going to get it here.
 
What would that look like, I wonder?
 
Bryan: Some kind of car part. Couple of car parts welded together. Blown out trailer tire.
Greg: A golden blown out trailer tire on a track.
Bryan: We have Wig on tour with us and he’s always telling these stories about our early tours. The one thing you could have from 25 years of touring is amazing memories, but most of them are just fuzzy memories. I wish I had that capacity.
 
Greg: We’ve played here four or five times. (Agora), we haven’t been here in a while, but they mix up.  
Bryan: I have great memories of this place, but they’re not super specific.
Greg: We did play the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Warped tour had an exhibit there. We were in the exhibit. That was memorable.
Bryan: Check us out remembering stuff!
Bryan: We kind of snuck into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not really inducted, but nonetheless we have things there.
 

So Bouncing Souls have been around for as long as I’ve been alive and you just released your tenth studio album Simplicity. Honestly, what keeps you going, man? 
 
Greg: it’s a lot of factors. The spirit of how we started and why we started never went away no matter how old we get. Keeping a hold of that was the most challenging thing amongst all of the other challenges.
Bryan: It’s a matter of staying inspired. And on record number 10 we couldn’t have made it without another big gust of inspiration and that is the wind in our sails. If we’re inspired it’s not work.
Greg: Keeping that, the gem of inspiration, and you have to manage everything else so you can allow that to happen. We all have different projects and jobs that we do and that takes the pressure off of The Bouncing Souls. George [Rebelo-drums] coming into the band has made a big shift in energy and refreshed it. Those are two big factors that have helped us keep that inspiration and the stuff that we love about it as opposed to
Bryan: You can’t produce it on demand. It’s not a full time thing that we do. If we’re not inspired, we just won’t make a record.
 
It’s amazing that 75% of the original members have stayed in the band for over 30 years. How do you even still like each other?
Greg: One of the small miracles that I always appreciate is that we still like to hang out.
Bryan: We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t. If we’re not having fun why would we do this? We’re choosing this.
Greg: That’s from learning from our mistakes, working too hard…we don’t want to hate each other and tweaking those things.
 
You ever think that your band has lasted longer than a lot of marriages?
Bryan: It’s the most successful relationship I’ve had in my life. This goes back to when we were kids.
Greg: Being in a band is kind of marriage.
Bryan: Like marriage 101. You learn about yourself, like when you’ve got to reign it in.
Greg: You’re making a commitment to people beyond a regular commitment.

 
You released Simplicity in July after 2012’s Comet. What was your mindset going into this most recent album? 

Bryan: We went into writing Comet with that attitude. We’re not going to overthink it. We’re going to write songs from the gut. Simplicity we were still on that mission and we achieved it even more so. The process of how we recorded it, just tried to capture the live band without dissecting it and disassembling it and getting every single note right. We wanted more raw and we removed obstacles so the pure “us” was able to flow. I feel like this record is more pure.
 
How has your album writing/recording process changed since the early days of Maniacal Laughter or even Hopeless Romantic

Greg: I think the early albums...there is a magic when you don’t know enough. You don’t know what you’re doing. You just do what you’re inspired to do you don’t have the experience to think about stuff enough. We went through a time, with the beginning records, that was more pure because we didn’t have enough to let thoughts get in the way.
Bryan: We were winging it for sure.
Greg: Really winging it, but our spirit came through. We started to “learn” about making records and then we had a body of work to compare yourself to. Everyone compares you to the two or three records you’ve made. It turns into a new thing.
Bryan: We went into the brain with our producer…we didn’t give ourselves any credit. We didn’t even know what a bridge was. We called it "the music part." Something got lost.
Greg: It was more intellectual. It didn’t have the same spirit. We can’t be a 22 year old forever either so we were just trying to figure that out.
Bryan: That’s us in a nutshell, just shooting in the dark.
Greg: Now we’re mid 30s dudes making punk records. How do you do that? Let’s figure it out!
 
Next month you guys are touring with Masked Intruder and Off With Their Heads on some dates. Considering the Bouncing Souls have had some staggering longevity, how does it feel to play with a different generation of punk bands?

Greg: It’s always nice to know people were influenced by you.
Bryan: It doesn’t feel unusual anymore to be the oldest guy in the room anymore. Everywhere in my world I’m the oldest guy. For the most part we’re usually playing with younger bands. We’re men of a different time.
 
Do you think the scene has evolved into something you’re proud of?

Greg: I don’t think there’s enough people for me, commenting or making a statement. Maybe that’s me being a grouchy old man. It is happening in the punk scene, there is so much to say that isn’t being said.
Bryan: Let’s wait and see what the Trump presidency brings. I’ll answer that question in four years. If we have the 80s, because the Reagan era made for a great punk scene.
 
I'm glad you brought that up. Punk rock tends to have more to say about political discourse, so with that said, how are you doing a little over a week after the election?

Greg: To sum up, and not go on too long about it, the citizens of America, whether it was accurate or not, have elected a person that doesn’t show common decency as a human being. The bottom line, regardless of your politics, is it’s shameful. It’s hard to swallow and it’s difficult to see, just after a week, the negativity and making this sort of behavior, that isn’t ok, making it ok. That’s the real alarming part of it. I’m being optimistic and hoping that won’t snowball. Regardless of whatever politics.
Bryan: Every step of the way has been breaking further boundaries. Everything he’s done has pushed that line and pushed that line and pushed that line.
Greg: You put it in that perspective and then you’re like “Wow there are so many American people where that’s ok with them.” That’s discouraging. I thought we were all evolving. Are we not? There is a lot to say about that. Things may get a lot worse before they get better.
 
From a historic punk stand point, do you think the United States is incredibly fucked or only marginally fucked?

Greg: It seems like we were marginally fucked before Trump was elected president. And I mean that because the system has been hijacked. The people who own things are having a lot of influence, if not complete control. Now Trump’s in office, so how does that all factor in? If our system is a good system and it was working on some level, it’s been hijacked. It’s not the system it was meant to be. With Trump in there it’s like anything goes and more likely than not it doesn’t seem like good stuff.
Bryan: He’s not going to do anything cool because A) he’s not cool and B) he’s just assembled a bunch of cold, hard, alt rights, lobbyists, and Wall Street insiders. It Could bring out the best in humanity or the worst or both.
 
I keep hearing the justification that social strife will create great punk music over the next four years. Do you think there is any merit to that? If so, let’s get started now.

Bryan: It’s not a bright side. It’s a bit tongue in cheek. The grim truth is not likely anyway. People in 1984 were a little less apathetic than the same age kids are now. It’s a lot of how this shit is allowed to happen.
 
The Bouncing Souls will be continuing their tour on the east coast throughout December, but they're taking a break through the winter. The quartet will continue their leisurely tour of the United States and will be playing on a cruise with Flogging Molly in March 2017.