How The Bouncing Souls Inspired A New Generation Of Punk
When most bands form, they rarely assume they’ll still be making music 30 years later. Especially punk bands. And to be fair, most of them won’t be. But there are some exceptions to that rule, and New Jersey’s The Bouncing Souls are one of them. Since forming three decades ago, the band — now completed by original members Greg Attonito (vocals), Pete Steinkopf (guitars), and Bryan Kienlen (bass), with drummer George Rebelo — have combined their infectious zest for life with a streak of bittersweet realism to create an extensive back catalogue that truly captures what it means to be human.
The band’s new EP and book Crucial Moments traces the history of the Souls through a series of testimonies from friends and fans alike, taking stock of their remarkable (and somewhat unlikely) 30-year journey while also offering fans six new songs which show fans that they’re just as fired up and inspired as they’ve ever been. The Souls may have grown up, but they’ve been careful to keep their youthful exuberance at the forefront of most everything they do.
“You can lose it,” admits Greg, “and if you lose it, you know what it’s like to be gone. That’s part of life, too, and I think all of us have gone through that in the past 20 or 30 years of our adult lives to one degree or another. Sometimes you get spun off into all these things that really aren’t as important. And then hopefully you can reel it back in and be like ‘The things that are most important are the things that keep me feeling youthful and connecting to that youthful spirit.’ But now that I’m an adult, I can also separate my responsibilities and my real world crap and it doesn’t bowl me over and ruin my youthful spirit. That’s what I think growing up is. It isn’t becoming responsible and becoming a boring, sucky person. To me, growing up is being a functional adult — you care about what you need to do to survive and take care of the people you care about, but it doesn’t bowl over your youthful spirit.”
That’s something the band have not only instilled in their legions of fans, but in the many bands and musicians they’ve crossed paths with over the years. In celebration of that spirit, and of The Bouncing Souls celebrating their big 3-0, we asked some of those artists to provide us with their own crucial Bouncing Souls moments and memories.
Matt Caughthran (The Bronx)
“My love affair with The Bouncing Souls began in 1997 with their self-titled Epitaph debut. They are badass, dedicated musicians, and I’m lucky to call them friends. They’ve got a zillion great tunes, because their music comes from the heart, and Greg’s voice comes from the soul. They are one of those bands who can never be duplicated because their sound is directly attributed to who they are and where they’re from.”
Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem)
“I remember a few years ago, I was walking somewhere in Asbury Park with Greg and he said something to me that I’ll never forget. He said, “Now, you have a career. You can do music for the rest of your life and someone will always be there to listen.”
“I never had someone I looked up to as a musician point that out to me. I never realized that I had done something valuable to people’s lives until Greg said that. I’m not sure why, because I had had “successes.” But success by music industry standards doesn’t equal success in my mind. People listening to and loving the music we create is success to me, and until Greg actually said that out loud, it never dawned on me that I already had what I was looking for. I thought I was getting there, but I didn’t think I’d gotten there. Now I know. And no matter what happens from here forward, I know that someone I admire gave me validation and a sense of pride in what the music meant to people.
“Pete, Bryan, Greg, and George — you all inspired me to take the risk on being a professional musician and follow my heart. Crucial moment, indeed.”
Thomas Barnett (Strike Anywhere)
“Find what’s good and make it last. Even before the Souls found us in the fall of 2003, adopting us into their awesome world and taking us on a series of tours and weekends and reunions that still seem to be happening to this day, I knew they had a special place in the avalanche of generations of punk. The first song I heard from them, Old School, came to me out of the analog punk Pandora’s box of the early ’90’s on a mixtape from some friends who put on shows in Amish country. It was breathtaking, and had this iconic topical and sonic heat that all great songs possess.
“The Souls roared into my life with this of surging octave chords and drum fills that hung you right off the cliff of each bar, then these humble yet effortlessly insightful lyrics that cut right to the bone of the dilemma facing ‘our generation’ of punks and hardcore kids. We needed it then; we fucking need it now. What do we do with all these truthful, intense and even contradictory ideas in our scene? What can punk mean to us as grow older, and the world gets infinitely more connected yet more and more diffused of meaning? How do we defend the rebellion and self-awareness from the adult crash that pushes us to retreat?
“The Souls have always had the answer — they hold it like a fire that never goes out. And they share it. Punk ideals and community anthems were made into a physical space for so many years at [longterm manager/Chunksaah Records owner] Kate [Hiltz]’s house: of infinite floor space for tired friends and strangers, of basement demos and songwriting, front porches for acoustic guitars and coffee to help tired punks from everywhere wake up and blink in the Jersey sunlight. Then into the world alongside them, in box trucks criss-crossing the continent to play every kind of show, and always have a reason to take it beyond music and into a full life. The Souls always knew and they share it without fear.
“From my earliest conversations with Brian and Pete, I always got a deep sense that they knew that their duty and unique gift was to ride the line between all the tribes, traditions, angst, and humor, and open this up for all of us. And all of us get to come. Their songs are literal handbooks on how to build families from isolation, strength from tenderness, and hold onto passion – to find what’s good, and make it last.”
“Growing up, I saw The Bouncing Souls play every time they came to London, and loved everything about them. As a grown up, I’ve been lucky enough to share the stage with them a few times, and I always pinch myself watching them kill it from the wings.”
Mike Warne (Pkew Pkew Pkew)
“If I’m picking a ‘crucial moment,’ then I guess it’s the ‘Woah-oh-oh’ Greg does in It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humanity at 1:52 in. That ‘Woah-oh-oh’ has been stuck in my head for 20 years now and I have no idea why. In Pkew’s song Stop Calling Us Chief, at 45 seconds, we tried to do the same ‘Woah-oh-oh.’
“I wish I had a more impactful or emotional reason that The Bouncing Souls are one of my favorite bands ever, but it all comes down to their character and their songwriting. Of their generation, which is LOADED with great bands, to me, they are the best. And, they’ve been the best for 30 years. No one has influenced my writing more than them. Say Anything was the first song I ever played in front of people. I learned it on www.punkguitartabs.org, I did a great Greg impression, and I made everyone at the recital a little uncomfortable.”
“Truthfully, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I fully realized the ubiquitous role The Bouncing Souls have played in my life. The first time I ever left my hometown in rural Northwest Pennsylvania to see a show, I rode in the trunk of my friend’s car two hours west to Cleveland. I was 11 years old at the time, and that night The Bouncing Souls were playing at the Agora Ballroom.
“That night, I crowdsurfed for the first time, which I didn’t really know how to do, but I think my friend Marc thought it’d be funny to hoist an 11-year-old with leopard-print hair up to the stage. I remember falling onto the monitor and Greg reaching down and pulling me up. He asked my name, and if I’d sing the next song with them, to which I agreed, though I was terrified. I did my best to follow, but was mostly just nervous. The only way off the stage was to crowd surf my way back down so that’s what I tried to do. The first time I was ever on stage was that night. I wouldn’t say it went great, but I’ll always remember that moment and that show.
“When I was 14, my friends had been asked to go on the road opening for The Bouncing Souls on the west coast. That was the first time I had been so far outside of the Northeast, aside from visiting family down in Texas. Watching the Souls every night and what they were able to create through music, as well as traveling through areas that seemed so foreign to me, deconstructed the confines of my little hometown. I felt hopeful for the first time, like music was a way out, and it was on that trip that I realized that I had to follow it.
“There is a sort of magic that the Souls emanate. Later in my life after establishing myself more with my songs, I reconnected with Kate before a show I was playing down in Florida. Our friendship reintroduced the Souls into my life in a big way. I’ve learned so much about the way I want to approach making music from being able to watch, listen and share with the Souls over all these years. Most recently, I got the opportunity to travel abroad with them. On that tour, about 20 years after the show in Cleveland, Greg taught me how to properly crowdsurf.
“I can’t help but wonder where I’d be if it wasn’t for that first show, that tour in California, and all the other moments I’ve been able to share with them. Music brought us together, like it has so many, and I’m grateful that it holds us here. As a music maker, it’s easy to be discouraged. There is no shortage of things in this era that can make the creative individual want to hang it up. But it seems that so often when I’ve found myself at those crossroads, the Souls have come back around, showed me that there’s a different way, another world, and reminded me to keep going.
“This, to me, is the magic that is The Bouncing Souls.”
Crazy & The Brains
“NYC is a seven-minute train ride from Jersey City, New Jersey, my home base. When my friends and I took our first trip across the water on our own, we were about 13 or 14 years old. The mission was to find the legendary Generation Records in the Lower East Side. It was at this record store where we first discovered The Bouncing Souls.
“We would pick up cheap CDs and singles based on how cool the cover art looked. Maniacal Laughter had everything in an album cover a young punk could ask for: cartoon punk rocker zombies crawling out of toxic waste. We were excited by the idea of song titles like The Ballad Johnny X, a song that we were soon to find out referenced Journal Square, a section of town just a few steps away from my high school. We had never heard of this band before, but me and my best friend fought over who could buy the store’s only copy of the album. I lost the argument because he reminded me of how he spotted me cash for pizza a day earlier. He purchased Maniacal Laughter, and I went home with a Bikini Kill one-inch pin and a Bad Brains sticker.
“The track Lamar Vannoy seemed to be telling the exact same story we were living: ‘Me and Lamar in NYC on the avenue/Talking about nothing much with a bag of brew.’ No Rules was our anthem and inspiration for skipping school on a Friday. The Freaks, Nerds, And Romantics spoke of ‘street number 9,’ which we only assumed had to be referring to the same 9th Street we would walk down every weekend after getting off the NJ PATH train. Quick Chek Girl completely blew our minds — I wasn’t even aware other human beings outside of my hometown knew what a QuickCheck was. This was the corner store where we would buy shitty sandwiches and steal cigarettes from…and now there was a song about it! Here We Go was the go-to song for chugging a 40oz or attempting a new skate trick. Born To Lose became our mournful yet celebratory break up song when we got dumped. Moon Over Asbury was a song titled after the beach town our families would visit for summer vacations.
“After I heard Maniacal Laughter, I bought all the albums and went to all the shows. Sometimes we would stop ourselves in awe mid song after hearing certain lyrics and singalongs and ask, ‘Is this about us?!’ It sounds corny to write it out, but it’s just what the truth is. Everything about the band’s energy was familiar. This was the music that felt like what we might be, if we were in a band. This was the music that made us realize we could be in a band.”
Fat Mike (NOFX)
“At the end of the tour, we were saying goodbye to the Souls. I asked Hefe if he remembered their names. He said ‘Their name is Brian, right?’”