THE BOUNCING SOULS: Messing Up Stuff and Doing Things RIGHT
A 30 Year Old Music Story You Probably Never Heard
“Play it safe and don’t make a sound, but not us we won’t back down…”
Words that perfectly capture the –kick doors down– spirit of punk rock, lyrics from a little band from New Jersey celebrating 30 years in 2019.
Starting that golden punk year of 1989, the Bouncing Souls (vocalist Greg Attonito, guitarist Pete Steinkopf, bassist Bryan Kienlen, joined currently by drummer George Rebelo ) have been one of the best kept secrets in music. Sure, thirty years as a band means you’ve had some success but they’ve never received the attention they deserved. No Grammys, no LA radio play, and yet they’ve soldiered for the love of what they do. Wikipedia exists to give you the full history of the band, I’m only here to tell you why they matter, even if it’s just to me.
Just as Rancid, The Ramones, the Descendents, and The Clash played their furious unsuitable for the masses songs; all these punk bands including the Souls also made a few anthems that had catchy melody and sharp riffs that emotionally grab you. What the Bouncing Souls do better than anyone is make music about the changing of your life and celebrating when you get through the hard times. Sure there’s a catalog of simplistic songs in the band’s repertoire about riding bikes, chasing girls, being from the east coast, and rebelling. But their memorable stuff for the heart is what made them an exclusive club. One that opened an odd door for me once.
Back in 2013, I was bright eyed and naive jurno covering my first WWE press conference about Summer Slam in Los Angeles. No one ever told me anyone who wasn’t doing on-camera interviews didn’t have to dress like some khaki wearing toolbox. Amid the sea of cargo shorts and JC Penny (yes that was still barely a thing back then) shirts, I felt a bit over dressed. Inside my bag was a black zipper hoodie with a small broken heart drawn where a pocket square would go on a suit. While the back was adorned by a bigger version of it which definitely let people behind me know where my heart is.
If you look closely you can see that same Bouncing Souls broken heart inked near the bicep of Phillip “Entertainment” Brooks. One of the best wrestlers of all time and comic book writer, better known as CM Punk. He’s never made any secrets about how important music is to him and when he was an indie wrestler, I’d seen him serenaded to the ring by music from Ice Cube to H2o and everything in between including the Bouncing Souls “True Believer”.
At the end of press a conference there’s a blob of photographers that hyena over one another to get that sellable shot of the various talent. It must be insane for the subject of their lenses to be bombarded by shouts of “over here!” “this side!” or “look here!”. Punk to his manners above everything nature didn’t cater to a single one of those photographers. Being on the outside of the pit, I shouted at the photographers “Say please”. While my words may have caught Punk’s attention, it was my Bouncing Souls sweater that got me a word with him. He’d turn and say “I’m only listening to the guy in the souls hoodie”. CM Punk granted me an interview and did a plug for my tiny terrible podcast at the time. Being part of the Stonecutters society of Bouncing Souls fans opened a door to a guy whose code I still admire, but there would be times the Bouncing Souls would change my life as they changed their sound.
Think about their own story for a moment. To even try to be musicians from New Jersey. Having to live up to the likes of Bon Jovi and Springsteen would be daunting to any aspiring artist. Funny thing is when you look at the very early days of the band…they kind of sucked. Many of the tunes were over played and lead singer Greg Attonito was this weird dude in a robe and shaved head ponytail. It was all part of some clash of punk and spirituality that made you think the band might never get past VFW halls and backyards. The legend according to a BYO split CD jacket goes that one day Greg found an old suit in a family trunk. He cut off his monk hair whip, put on that suit and from that day on…The Bouncing Souls never sucked again. I believe it, because to this day I’ve never stopped wanting to listen to their music.
Personally, I could talk about a 2003 late night when a skinny fat dude in a denim vest pulled me back over to the right side of Pier 39 in San Francisco when my no swimming a** was about to toss myself over and how the first sight I saw as my head hit the moist wood of the wharf was a Bouncing Souls shirt on someone I don’t think I ever got to say thank you to. But there’s soo much music to talk about.
After putting out mostly intense punk records with catchy rhythmic bright spots like “Hopeless Romantic”, “Kate is Great”, and “Night on Earth”; The Bouncing Souls released what I consider to be one of the few perfect albums any band or performer has. How I Spent My Summer Vacation in 2001 was the first album with the band’s second drummer Michael McDermitt and the Souls were something reborn.
Finally understanding that less can be more allowed their music and thoughts to take on the life it needed. The record launches right out of the gate with a fast-paced jam called “That Song”. A tune that doesn’t depart from the sonic energy Bryan, Pete, and Greg had that couldn’t be contained, like water from a leaky faucet. It’s track three where “True Believers” kicks in and you understand this isn’t the band cranked up to 11, it’s an evolution from kids being in a band to musicians creating art. Every song on that record is its own story.
Those tracks are some of my favorite tales of never being anything other than true to you and taking a leap of faith when you’re afraid to grow. At end resonance point is “Gone” a song for anyone who’s ever felt like the world makes them less than. It’s told in circles the song was made when one of the band members was homeless, and he wrote it as he was on a street corner and he heard some kids listening to a song in their parked car when a certain song came on that gave him hope…he wanted to write a song that would give others hope. Regardless if it’s true or not, Gone shows just how powerful music can be for those that make it and for anyone who just listens to it. “I built this cloud, I can break it, the world can’t change how I feel, because I know it’s a lie, my heart is real”, damn I got a chill just typing that.
More than anything there was the day I finally understood why the Bouncing Souls were it to me. Years of listening to punk rock had finally caught up to nearly 10 years of working in a place that just made me a depressed person every day of my life. On a cold November morning in 2010, I’d just snapped, ripped off an ugly blue polo and tossed it in a garbage can. There’s nothing wrong with working any 9-5 (or for me 6am-2:30), but some people just aren’t wired to punch a clock. Sometimes you need something different.
Change is scarier than any horror movie. Not everyone is capable of it. Motivational books will tell you we’re all ultimately responsible for changing our situations. What they don’t tell you is about is an anxiety the unknown can bring and the doubt you’ll have to fight every day because you opened a new timeline. That November morning, I said my goodbyes to a few people I could stand and hopped in my tan Corolla. As I sat in that car wondering how I was going to eat or even what I was going to say at my next family reunion of Mexicans who value 60hr a week jobs more than anything. In my frustration, I’d punched my own dash in the car then my CD player kicked on and I heard “I’m leaving everything behind for a peace that I can’t find.” It may not have made the fears go away but in that moment listening to a song called Night Train by the band, I felt like I’d made the right decision.
Just before Thanksgiving that year, I’d myspace messaged Bryan Kienlen, from the band. I’d asked him if following my gut and my heart was right? Someone who didn’t know me from a hole in the ground took a minute to tell me what I needed to hear. What the Bouncing Souls had been about from their early days sucking at music in New Jersey, you might fall following your heart but it will never be wrong. Since 2010, Out of all the bands, artists, writers I’ve been charmed enough to know and talk to chasing a life I always wanted of telling stories; the Bouncing Souls are the one band I always wanted to have a conversation with. Today with everything I’ve been through in recent times, I understand what Night Train as a song means and I have an entirely new reason to say thanks.
On March 15, 2019, the Bouncing Souls release a reflection of the moments they’ve lived. Their 11th album, Crucial Moments, is the musical equivalent of a personal scrapbook of their 30 years as a band. Not only will it have some of the most personal songs they’ve ever written but there will be a collectors book available that fills in the story I couldn’t tell here. Through old flyers, casual show photos, behind the scenes stuff, and hand-written notes, you’ll get a look at a story. One of growth, pains, friendships, hardships, and above everything else…the music.
As you’re reading this on my birthday today, I don’t write this to sell a record. But those who know me beyond these screens know what a hard year it’s been and what I may have to deal with in the coming months. Despite being a jerk, I’ve known the value of saying please and thank you. Today, I’m grateful for my choices, the things people have put me through, the fires I stress over daily, and the change I still need to make. I find myself thinking who doesn’t know how grateful I am for their part in my life and nearly 10 years ago I made a promise. When I could, I would thank the music, and the people who made it, which got me and still gets me through the unknown times of my life.
The Bouncing Souls may not be the most successful band but they are one of the most inspiring around. Not for being from New Jersey, not for making some of the best albums like Summer Vacation and the incredible Anchors Aweigh. This band is my X-Men, they grew up part of a hated and feared subculture to find a cause uncanny about them. Their mark on the world is about the thing we all struggle with…change, whether it’s internal or the situation. Sometimes as a kid you’ll find yourself alone in a new school/new city, other times you’ll lose the person you loved more than anything, every now and then you’ll look in a mirror and be tired of getting called fat. When you need it, a song will come on the radio and go straight to your heart. There’s a comet vortex beauty in music that lifts you for the exact reason you need picking up off the ground and this band, my favorite band of all time, are the popes of it.
Thirty years of The Bouncing Souls, and I still have that same sweater.
https://www.bouncingsouls.com – Do it!