Interview with The Bouncing Souls: Eternal Youth at Amnesia

The Bouncing Souls. Photo: Jaded in Chicago/Katie Hovland. The Bouncing Souls. Photo: Jaded in Chicago/Katie Hovland.

Rockfest, Canada’s biggest rock festival, was graced this year by many famous bands and musicians like Linkin Park, Snoop Dogg and The Offspring. The event had several stages however, and I found myself often gravitating towards the more intimate Tony Sly Stage to see lesser-known bands. This stage was named after No Use For A Name frontman Tony Sly who passed away in 2012, shortly after performing at Rockfest. Like No Use For A Name, many of the groups to perform there were smaller-scale punk bands who perhaps don’t have the following of a band like Linkin Park, but foster a great sense of communality in their performances. I found the moshing at this stage to bands like The Descendents, ALL, and Randy to be friendly and un-claustrophobic compared to the atmosphere at giants like System of A Down and Rob Zombie. I got hold of The Bouncing Souls, one of the great punk bands to perform there. The Bouncing Souls have been around since the late ’80s and are known for their fun, friendly performances.

I met the frontman Greg behind the Tony Sly stage and we decided we’d search for somewhere quiet to conduct the interview. Greg is known for his edgy style, having often in the past worn suits to perform onstage. He’s in his forties now, but still renown for his vitality and his beautiful paintings. I looked into his eyes and saw a strange twinkle that I couldn’t quite place, but that made me feel really at ease. He led me into a hotel-like building nearby and as we passed through, I saw punk musicians around me, conversing and drinking. The place where the Tony Sly musicians were staying was like one big frathouse. He led me through winding corridors to find somewhere nice to sit. We entered a weird boardroom with all-pink walls and five chairs with a small table. “This’ll do,” he said. Soon enough, the other members of the band entered and set opposite to me at the table, all drinking their afternoon beers. Through the window, musicians could be heard from the Tony Sly.

Kyle Lapointe (KL): Thank you guys so much for this interview. It really means a lot.

Greg Attonito (GA, vocalist): No problem, man.

KL: So you guys played today on the Tony Sly stage. Did you guys know him?

GA: I met him once.

George Rebelo (GR, drummer): You know what’s fucking bizarre? He was on an acoustic tour with Joey Cape and they were playing in Gainesville. They were both sitting backstage and I offered them shots of Jameson. Tony accepted my shot but he looked grey. It was fucking weird. I’d never met the dude before, but his skin looked grey. He looked shaky and weird. They played the show and then a day and a half later he died. It was fucking bizarre. He even kind of didn’t want the shot. I think he was being polite. I didn’t see him drink it.

KL: When you guys die would you want to be remembered for anything? Do you think that’s important? Would you want a stage named after you?

Bryan Kienlen (BK, bassist): I think making a song is creating a vibration of good energy. You like to think that not only is it doing good now, but it will continue to do good. Not that we’re some kind of pharaohs that want our legacies and names to live on.

KL: Do you think that there’s narcissism in this whole idea though? Some parents create kids to live vicariously through them. Do you think what you’re talking about is living vicariously through music?

GA: I think it’s human nature. At the deepest level we’re here, we grow up and then we become an adult. There’s an inclination to leave a mark or create positive thing that hopefully lasts. It could be writing a song, or having a child or having a job- I think it’s hard-wired into humans to have purpose and meaning. You’re asking a good question.

Pete Steinkopf (PS, guitarist): That’s a whole interview all in itself.

GA: You don’t need to have a big statue with writing saying, “The King of Pop.”

BK: The way I see it, if you’re putting something in the world, it’s no longer you or a reflection of you. It’s just a wavelength of energy that you hope is good.

PS: But still, you never write a song hoping that people hate it. We write songs hoping that people like them, but I don’t think that’s narcissistic.

KL: I’m sure there are different artists who have different approaches though.

PS: Yeah, I’m sure Axl Rose wants a statue.

KL: You ever play with Axl Rose?

GR: I did. Thirty bands all had the same backstage room. Half an hour before Guns N Roses even appeared, they kicked everyone out of backstage. Everyone. I don’t care what bands you are; they were the only band that could be backstage, when there were forty or fifty dressing rooms. It sucked. My backpack was there, and I’d left my cymbals and I couldn’t get them back. At least he slipped onstage. It was raining and he was running. He slipped and it was kind of awesome.

Through the window, from the Tony Sly stage, Michale Graves of Misfits could be heard taking the stage. His music starts blaring into the room.

KL: A friend of mine recently conducted an interview with Michale Graves to promote Rockfest and was very proud of it. When she showed it to her mom however, her mom responded by asking, “What are you doing with your life — interviewing teenagers who never grew up?” What would you say to someone with that kind of mindset but who’s maybe the same age as you?

GA: I think I’d tell them they need to redefine what growing up is. Their definition is just their definition, you know what I mean? We all have our own definitions and opinions on whether it matters or not.

PS: If growing up means nine to five at a fucking job somewhere then fuck that. I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want that. When’s the last time that person was ever in Zurich? When were they ever playing a show in Australia? We sometimes get paid to do that. We get to see all these cool cultures and people and it really makes the world smaller. I dunno, that to me is pretty grown up.

GA: Right, it depends on what your definition is. To me growing up is following what feels right for you, and being responsible with what feels right for yourself.

PS: To say that someone isn’t grown up in following their own path shows an inability to respect the perspectives of others.

GR: I mean, I understand where an idea like that would come from. My parents probably though the same until they saw me on tv.

GA: In her way, that’s probably how her mom is showing her love for her too, you know what I mean? She’s caring for her the way she knows how, by saying “you’ve gotta grow up,” because that’s how she sees the world.

KL: You guys are probably confirming all the stereotypes and preconceived notions right now, drinking Budweiser midday, middle of an interview with feet up on the table.

GA: Yeah, she’s actually probably right.

BK: Michael Graves used to actually always buy our seven-inches when he used to work at the record store, 2 Tone. He used to work there back in the late eighties. 2 Tone was one of the only punk stores in Jersey. We had just pressed our first seven-inch and we wanted people to hear it. We tried to distribute it ourselves completely D.I.Y on the street, handing it to people. We drove all the way up there thinking, “We’ll get them to sell five of our seven-inches!” Michale Graves worked there. He’s a totally cool guy who had our back in the earliest days.

KL: Do you find there’s still a close-knit punk community like there was back then?

GA: It’s funny that you’d ask that. I was just talking to Karl from the Descendents about people who have nine to five jobs. He said, “I could probably find somebody I know in every city if I really tried.” That’s pretty cool. There is a network of people we’ve played with and toured with. You end up meeting a lot of people.

KL: Even out there, you can see smaller bands on the stages being watched by their idols. It’s pretty cool. When was the first time you guys ever played with someone you really look up to?

GA: Fugazi was the best example.

BK: Our second gig ever was with Fugazi. Ian told me, “Nice bass playing.”

PS: He didn’t compliment our band though, because we weren’t very good back then. He only complimented Brian.

GR: At least you guys got to play with them. My other band, Hot Water Music, tried to play with them and they said we didn’t need their help. They wanted to play with smaller bands and they said we were well off by ourselves. They were one of our favorite bands. We decided Ian McKaye hated us.

BK: I remember when Henry Rollins from Black Flag saw us play. It was probably in our first ten gigs. He hated us.

PS: We sucked. We worshipped the guy though. I went up and introduced myself and got the cold shoulder. We ended up in his next book. It had the date and the place. It said, “Opening band sucked so much it made me more stoked to play.”

GA: Yeah, that was bad.

KL: What was the shittiest show you ever played?

GR: Today (laughs).

BK: That’s a really good question. The shittiest show… Could it have been when you got bit? (Looks to Greg)

GA: That was bad. I got bit by a dog onstage once.

PS: A pitbull attacked.

BK: We were playing a squat and it was already an unwelcoming entrance. Nobody gave a shit we were there. We got onstage and a fucking dog was sleeping onstage where Greg’s supposed to be standing. We were going to start the set and the dog leaped out of its sleep.

GA: He just grabbed me by the arm. He had me. No one was really paying attention to us until the dog attacked. The whole place just turned and looked. It was a gnarly place. Picture a world war two bunker but with a bunch of punks living there. He clamped on and he had me. His owner spotted the whole thing and yelled super loud.

PS: What made it worse was that we were in Germany and the dog didn’t understand, “Stop!”

I looked back to Greg and as he laughed again I could see that twinkle in his eye. I thanked them for the interview and walked back through the frat house and I realized what it was. Although these guys were forty plus, they were some of the youngest people I’d ever met. We put so much pressure on ourselves in this day and age to grow up and adhere to social conventions. Hardcore punk rock fans might not get The Bouncing Souls, saying they don’t sing much about politics or anything truly rebellious. In today’s day and age though, trying to keep hold of your youth is rebellious in itself. If there’s anything this band stands for, it’s that. I left the interview looking forward to the rest of Rockfest and looking forward to being older like those guys so I could still be young.

Amnesia Rockfest took place from June 18-20 in Motebello, Quebec.