The Bouncing Souls
An interview with Bryan Kienlen, Greg Attonito, Pete Steinkopf, and Shal Khichi
by Margo Tiffen
Every once in awhile (i.e. very, very rarely), a band comes along that quells the all-too-audible quiver in my voice when I find myself protesting “Punk is not… uh… dead.” I think this is something those of us not quite old enough to have been there the first time around (i.e. I was just learning how to pick my nose when Johnny Rotten was spewing his mucus prolifically around Britain) find ourselves saying quite often. A little too often for my taste. As a person who believes in a lot of the ideals that find their way into punk society, who spends a great deal of time going to punk shows and listening to punk music and knowing that there is a rather large number of people out there who do the same, I’d like to clear something up once and for all. The fact is, at certain moments (usually during a great show or while listening to bands like the Bouncing Souls or Anti-Flag), I realize punk really isn’t dead. It’s just evolved into something none of us can rightly claim a birthright to in fashion or in music or even justifiably define (pop punk, political punk, gutter punk, old school punk, ska-punk…). It’s a feeling that’s out there, in the streets, in a dark club dungeon on sunny days smelling of beer and leather and Aqua Net mixed with egg whites, ecstatically singing along and pounding fists in the air. It’s feelings of frustration, anger and release, sometimes of all-out silliness and camaraderie and good, clean fun. It’s a feeling that is being captured in music by certain bands who are carrying on the safety-pinned and tattered flag of punk rock. Who the fuck cares if Johnny Rotten is a bloated bitter old man and the glory of the Clash may never see its equal again? Those bands aren’t around anymore but that doesn’t mean their legacy doesn’t live on. Good ol’ Elvis has been dead since ’77 but whoever said you gotta stop listening to the man? Who decided that punks were all of a sudden the only group of people who weren’t allowed to feel something from the music after it was gone? Punk rock is something that no one owns or can lay specific claim to, even though there are those of the school of Malcolm McLaren who would like to think so. Maybe they could’ve at one point, but that’s the whole point of art – an artist creates something that others can find truth and beauty in and use as inspiration. Whether the artist himself believes it’s art or not isn’t the point – it’s what people get out of it. Truth is, there are bands that are here, now, who believe in what they do and fans who feel and need the music and believe in the bands. Whether it’s “punk” or not, it’s what we’ve collectively decided to call it. What matters in the end is that it’s here and it’s relevant and it’s good, and some of you should stop being so fucking jaded and start getting used to it. Oh, yeah… and the Souls’ new album kicks ass.
You’re on Epitaph now and not BYO, how come?
Pete: A bunch of people were offering us a bunch of shady deals. Major labels, they’re creepy and bad. So then Brett said “just let me show you the label, you have to see how it works.” So we’re like ah, shit. Free trip to California. We’ll go. So we went and we looked and we were really impressed with the vibe at Epitaph. Everyone was into what they were doing, showed pride. For California people, they seem to have a good deal of pride. We don’t want to get real raw on California people or nuthin’. It’s just a vibe we can’t deal with.
You live in New York now, but you’re originally from New Jersey. It says in your bio that you consider yourselves a NYC band now…
Pete: We came from New Jersey, so in a sense we’re a New Jersey band, but we live in New York, so in a sense we’re a New York band.
Bryan: We’re always from New Jersey, you know? You can take the boy out of Jersey but you can’t take Jersey out of the boy.
Pete: You’re from where you’re from and that’s how it is. You are what you are. You eat what you eat. In the big picture, it’s the East Coast. It’s the same thing, Jersey and New York, really.
I really liked the clips of letters that are printed on the inside of the new album. What’s the deal with that?
Pete: Yeah, those are our friends that go on tour with us. They’re our merchandise guys. Those guys are both brilliant writers and actually, they’re putting a book together. They’re going to have a small ‘zine format book to sell on our next tour with more of their writing, poetry, and letters.
A lot of your songs are about frustration, about things that are pissing you off at the time. Do you want to elaborate on any ideas behind the album other than what we’re given in the lyrics?
Greg: Well, you’re pissed off; and then you write a song, and there it is forever on the record. So we did that sometimes. Sometimes you think about things, about yourself. You go to the bar, you get a drink, you write a song about that. That’s what it is, it’s all there on the record.
Bryan: It’s a little cross-section of our lives at that time. It’s basically everything that was on our minds the winter that we wrote the record. A couple of the songs are based on an old punk house that we lived in years ago. That came from sittin’ around talking and having a laugh about it and then all of a sudden we wrote a song years later about it. Like the party at 174 and throwing the toilet off the roof.
So it’s almost a picture book to you, snapshots…
Bryan: That’s it. Nothing’s really preconceived, it just happens spontaneously. Therefore it’s very full of transient thoughts.
How was the Warped tour?
Bryan: It was fun for awhile. It’s like a traveling circus. Interesting, as it would be, to see something like that and be part of it for the first time. We only did nine shows and that was plenty for us. It’s like, being surrounded by California-type people. It was fine. We don’t want to keep dissin’ California.
What’s up next, you’re touring?
Bryan: We’re going to Canada. We’re touring the U.S. with the Pietasters and then when we come home, we’re playing D.C, Boston, New York, and Philly. We don’t know who we’re playing with yet.
What other interests and hobbies do you have besides riding BMX bikes and playing?
Bryan: Lately, we’ve been making home movies. Greg’s got a video camera so we’re always doing stuff with it. We’re ultimately trying to put together a VCR tape with a whole bunch of stuff. Home movies and skits, live shit and actual videos for songs that we’re starting to film. Put it all together. Just basically, we’re into the visual thing now, and all we know is we’re going to do everything but MTV. We’ll do cable access, kids with shows, or maybe VCR tapes we can sell at our shows.
Greg: No more time for the in and out, love, got to go feed the…
Bryan: Greg’s going to feed the meter.
I’m running out of questions, I think we’re going to have to wing it.
Bryan: It’s okay, we’re good at winging it. It’s better that way, anyway. We’ll have a panel discussion on something. We like Tom Waits. We like Seinfeld.
You live in NY, you have to like Seinfeld.
Bryan: We watch that show every chance we get. NYI, which is news, also. Pete’s a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He thinks she’s sexy.
That show is so campy. I saw an interview with the chick who plays Buffy and she’s a total moron. She was talking about what kind of hair products she uses.
Bryan: What a letdown. You really upset Pete, man, you blew his whole image of her.
She’s Buffy, what do you expect? It’s not like she’s a Shakespearean actress.
Bryan: So what else is going on? Ska’s big. We don’t care.
You don’t like ska?
Bryan: No, we love ska.
The Bosstones are getting real big.
Bryan: We like the Hepcats and the Bosstones. They’re good people. They’re good Boston human beings. We love Boston, by the way. We come there regularly.
You know Showcase Showdown and the Dropkick Murphys?
Pete: Yeah. We definitely like the Dropkicks. We’re going to see Showcase this weekend at Coney with Blanks 77 and Niblick Henbane, they’re a good band. We like the Bruisers, too. They’re from your area. Boston’s got a good thing going, man. We like the Suspects, too, down in D.C.
What’s going on in New York?
Bryan: Well, it still has a lot of its good charm, but its also got a lot of corny people. Just this neighborhood is kind of trendy and corny.
What’s going on with Times Square?
Pete: With Disney and everything? No more whores. It’s sad, I don’t go there. We fear Disney. Disney is not cute and cuddly. They bad.
Bryan: We like Fall. Fall is upon us and we’re excited, because for East Coast people, Fall is good. That’s a big part of California peoples’ problem. They don’t have Fall.
I know, they don’t have seasons. They need seasons. They need to freeze their asses off and know what it’s like.
Bryan: It makes you tough. So now we know, we’ve cracked their big secret.
I was in a blizzard awhile ago and I was all pissed off. Fuck all those West Coast bands, they’ve never been in a blizzard.
Bryan: That’s right, man. West Coast bad, East Coast good. You like our East Coast song?
Yeah, I saw you play it on the Warped tour.
Bryan: They really loved us on that tour with our East Coast bad attitude. We got along with some people, though. We liked hangin’ with the Descendents. They’re good people.
When you played the Massachusetts show, you looked kind of tired. It was an awesome show, I just kind of felt bad for you.
Bryan: Oh, man. Yeah, that’s just us. We have a lot of problems. It’s true. We’re mentally retarded. That’s why we’ve got a big plan. We’re going to India. We’re going and hanging out at an Ashram.
Are you thinking about doing a live album at any point?
Pete: Yeah, when we’re good enough. We’re gonna do really queer Christmas songs, too. Bing Crosby. So, what’s up with Lollipop? Full color, right?
Well, the front cover is color.
Pete: It’s really pretty.
You guys ever read it?
Pete: All the time.
Well, you should.
Bryan: We’ll start now. Pete and Shal have read it. Me no read.
Pete: We had to teach Greg how to read so he could write lyrics.
Bryan: We figure, we learned in the cornfield. With Ma and Pa. We got our schooling in Jersey. In the Jersey prairie.
I’ve actually never seen a prairie in Jersey. I think you guys are lying.
Bryan: Have you seen industrial buildings? And turnpikes and tolls? That’s the prairie.
…and big trash dumps and boardwalks.
Pete: If you look at it right, it could be a prairie. If you’re in a Jersey state of mind. Put on your green glasses and everything’s all groovy.
Are the crowds different these days when you go back to Jersey?
Pete: Sometimes Jersey gets mad because they don’t think we represent, but they love us there. Anybody who knows what’s up, knows what’s up. Come on, man, we put in eight… nine… seven… five years… Um, we put in five years! We played and played in Jersey. We must have done like ten and twenty shows there.
Bryan: We put all the shows on in New Brunswick at our house because there was nowhere to play. We would talk the local clubs into giving us an all-ages show and then they would, and then they’d not let us again. The cops kept buggin’ us. It was hard to keep it going in Jersey, you know? That’s where all our energy from the first decade of this band essentially went. We’re trying to create something out of it.
So you’ve been together ten years, how’d you first get together?
Pete: We figure it was 1987. We knew each other from back in ’77. We were 7 and 6.
Bryan: See, we all went to the first Sex Pistols show together. We really did know each other back then. We didn’t know anything about punk, but we knew about soccer.
Why do you have a soccer ball on the front of your CD?
Bryan: ‘Cause we did a lot of that. Especially when we were recording it. That was the only thing we had on tour. We couldn’t really get the bikes out there in California.
What were the first real punk albums you got into – where you knew this was what you wanted to do?
Bryan: Black Flag, “Jealous Again”, the 10-inch. Misfits’ Walk Among Us for Shal. Pete says the Descendents. The Clash, can’t forget the Clash.
What’s your favorite Clash album?
Bryan: London Calling.
Pete: Sandinista!, but that’s just for right now. I’ve got this new Clash On Broadway big fucking box set, it’s good stuff. It has all those notes in it, all the Clash words you can never, ever figure out.
It’s awesome. The box set isn’t new, though, it came out, like, years ago.
Pete: Really? I didn’t know that.
You Clash fools.
Bryan: Ooh, Shal, she called you a Clash fool.
Shal: My momma didn’t raise no dummy.
Bryan: I’m kind of a Clash dummy. Shal, he’s like the high priest of Clash.
Shal: Oh, don’t quote that please. You know, I was listening to the Clash when I was five…
You were all born at a Clash show…
Pete: You ever interview punk bands that talk about how they were punk when they were like five?
No, most of the bands don’t do it. It’s the kids who say that more. You know, I was born at a Sex Pistols show.
Pete: I’m actually Sid Vicious’ bastard child. Him and Nancy Reagan. He raped Nancy Reagan at a Sinatra show… and that’s me. I was born with a mohawk. I came out wearing leather.
That must have hurt.
Pete: My mom’s Nancy Reagan, who cares? As soon as I got out I beat them both up because they’re Republicans. I smashed the state right then and there. Punkest baby ever.
What do you think about what’s going on in music these days?
Pete: A lot of shite, right? Too many machines and not enough people.
What do you think about electronica?
Pete: We don’t. That scares us, like Disney, man.
It’s all a giant conspiracy.
Pete: It is. They’re trying to take away our souls. But, you know what? Fuck it, ’cause there will always be good bands. So fuck the rest of them.
Is that the great big answer? Fuck it?
Pete: Fuck it. It’s the start and finish of it all.