DS Exclusive: Greg Attonito on “Crucial Moments,” The Bouncing Souls’ thirty year retrospective book and new EP

The year was 1989. The first George Bush had just been inaugurated President, and yours truly was turning ten years old. Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel and Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 were in near constant rotation on the Panasonic cassette player in my southern New Hampshire bedroom. Elsewhere in the world, bands like The Cranberries and 4 Non Blondes and Wilson Phillips and The Black Crowes and EMF (remember them?!?) and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and Right Said Fred and SHeDAISY were in their formative stages. And down the I-95 corridor in a central Jersey college town, a group of four high school buds, Greg Attonito, Bryan Kienlen, Pete Steinkopf and Shal Khichi, had started a new musical project and were playing the first shows in that new band’s tenure. That band, of course, is The Bouncing Souls.

Fast-forward to 2019. With but a few changes to the role of drummer in their history (Khichi would be replaced by Michael McDermott in 1999; McDermott would in turn be replaced by Hot Water Music’s George Rebelo in 2013) the Souls have at this point carved out a career that includes ten full-length studio albums, countless splits and 7-inches, and long-ago established a reputation as one of the hardest-working groups in the punk rock scene. All the while, the band maintained – and even strengthened – reputations as genuinely good dudes, establishing personal friendships and relationships with fans across the globe.

To celebrate the Herculean achievement that is maintaining a band over the course of three decades essentially without interruption, The Bouncing Souls have a whole slew of special events planned. There are somewhere between 40 and 50 tour dates that’ve already been announced, featuring support from such heavy hitters as Swingin’ Utters, The Bronx and Off With Their Heads. Yesterday brought with it the announcement of Stoked For Summer, the band’s annual outdoor throwdown at the Stone Pony, located along the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey. All tour dates can be found here, but you’ll have to wait a little while longer for the full Stoked lineup.

But perhaps most intriguing amongst the 30th Anniversary festivities is Crucial Moments. Due out this coming Friday, Crucial Moments is a six-song EP of new material and companion 100-page book that culls stories and pictures and anecdotes from all stages in the band’s career. It’s a compelling trip down memory lane, regardless of when and where you first encountered the Souls on your own musical journey. There are requisite stories from longtime friends of the band like Tim Barry and Dave Hause and Benny Horowitz and Mark Stern and Kevin Seconds and Jack Terricloth. If you’re a longtime Souls fan, you’ll recognize some of the stories from the likes of Dubs and Wig and Johnny X and Matt Gere and Pedro Serrano and, of course, the mighty Kate Hiltz. There are myriad stories, most of them short and sweet, from fans, the true believers and hopeless romantics from all corners of the globe. There are even a few surprisingly poignant stories from the likes of Shanti Wintergate (Greg’s wife) and Dr. Neel Khichi (Shal’s younger brother).

We caught up with Souls’ frontman Greg Attonito via phone from his snowy Idaho home this past weekend to talk about both new releases. As always, we found Attonito to be open, honest, reflective, and pretty fired-up to chat about the legacy that he and his high school buddies Pete and Bryan (with assistance from Shal and Mike and George) over the course of the last three decades. Head below to check it out! While you’re at it, you can check out the first two singles from Crucial Moments here and here. The album is due out on Rise Records; you can still pre-order it here.

 

 

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I think the last time we talked was right around when “Battleground” came out, and you’ve become a dad since then! So, allow me to formally say “congratulations,” not just through social media! That’s awesome!

Greg Attonito (The Bouncing Souls): Thank you! Thank you so much! It’s been amazing, in a million ways. It’s the biggest transition in life, easily. Overnight.

Yeah, and I feel like if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.

Haha! That’s a good way of putting it it, exactly!

The thirty year thing is pretty monumental for a band, and I know you’re probably talking a lot about that and will continue to talk a lot about that this year, but the fact that you’ve done it with only two drummer changes and never taking an extended hiatus or a reunion tour or whatever is almost unheard of nowadays. Congratulations on that as well!

I appreciate it! And I actually don’t mind talking about it too much because I’m really super proud of us, honestly. Now that it’s here, this is the year to shine the flag and say “look at us, we’ve been doing this for thirty years!” It’s awesome!

I went back and looked yesterday, just for my own interest, at the list of bands that started in 1989. There’s a long list, many that I’d never heard of, and first off, I didn’t realize Dance Hall Crashers, whom I loved, started in 1989…as did The Cranberries and the Black Crowes and Wilson Phillips. They all fell apart a long time ago and for a variety of reasons. Pearl Jam started after you, Letters To Cleo started after you, Lagwagon and Rancid started after you –  a lot of the big punk bands that this scene grew up on in the 1990s started after Bouncing Souls. Do you guys even think about stuff like that?

No, but those are totally cool fun facts. Those little things pop up and it gets you thinking for a minute. Sometimes, if we’re together, we’ll chat and talk about how weird it is. I think that this is the year to acknowledge all of that, because in general now, in this age, we’re really living in the moment. I feel like I live in the moment now more than I ever did, so we’re not spending time thinking about those kinds of things, and that’s a good thing. It makes life actually more fun. This is the time to acknowledge those things and be proud of those things, because we have a lot to be proud of. I think we’ve had a great impact on people, and a positive impact in many, many ways, and that’s kind of what our book that’s coming out is about. It’s little snapshots … sort of a tip of the iceberg … of people that have had anywhere from a minimal but meaningful experience with the Bouncing Souls music or personally, or a huge impact. A lot of these stories are about those little details in people’s lives. I’m really proud of the book. It gives everyone a rough idea of the tip of the iceberg of the thirty years and what it means. It’s really meaningful; it’s meaningful for us as band members and we’ve carried that. One of the things that I’m most proud of, and I always say, is that our relationship within the band is how we’ve maintained it. We still actually like hanging out together. That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of.  

And you kinda make it look easy. And I know that, or I’m sure that, it’s not. But I think from afar, you three especially have made it look easy for the last few decades. But what has been the hardest part of maintaining that relationship as a band over the course of three decades?

I think we went through the gauntlet of the hardest part. Now is kind of like the gravy, because we’ve established ourselves in life. The hardest point for me, personally, was when I got married in 2001, and the other guys were not in that head. They were, like, on the pirate ship still. We started off as high school buds, and then we moved into a house together, and we were just like one head. We were making music together, going to shows together, drinking beer together. It was all just one thing. So the hardest parts were when we started splitting off and living our lives having to grow up a little bit! (*both laugh*) It happens to everyone, I think, in that early-20s/mid-20s time. Whether you’ve gone to college or not doesn’t matter; you have to start getting some responsibilities and figure out how to still have fun but also take control of your life. Those were the hardest points for me; maybe our mid-20s through our mid-30s, when we all were sort of trying to figure that out. Our heads were going in different directions, and you had this feeling of, like, “we don’t hang like we used to.”

But luckily we had our music and our business together, and we cared enough about each other and the music to sort of go past the differences and to go past compensating for certain things. Like, if someone needs extra time, or they’re having a difficult time, to respect each other and to figure it out. You have to look past the things that are, like, “am I really going to be annoyed by that? Am I really going to hold on to that and let it stop this train from moving?” You have to figure all those things out. They’re not easy; they’re not easy at all.

And then, I’ll say, as far as our relationship in the last ten years, our touring became different. Touring in general became different; it wasn’t as lucrative as it had been. We all had to figure out some other things to do! As soon as we did that, it was tough in the beginning; Bryan started tattooing, Pete started producing, I started doing art and making music with my wife. It was like starting things over, which is a good experience. It was a challenge. It was good for everyone, but not easy. Now, we’ve established all these other things, so financially Bouncing Souls isn’t what we all depend on, so we literally get together and we’re like high school buds again. We have no responsibilities, in a sense. Obviously, we’re responsible, but going away on tour together is like going away and having fun together, as opposed to “oh crap, I’ve been on tour for nine months, and I don’t even know what life’s like other than this anymore.” That part’s just weird, living in that head. And you obviously take it out on each other, even if it’s in subliminal ways. But we walked through all that, and now we get to enjoy the essence of each other that we really did enjoy hanging out with, and we get to have fun together!

The book and the new EP are both called Crucial Moments, and I know that this is like a junior high school journalism question, but through that gauntlet, is there a most crucial moment, where it wasn’t like “if not for this person or this decision or this opportunity, than all of this would have fallen apart a long time ago.”

There’s too many! There’ve been too many players that have done specific things to help us along the way. There’s too many choices. In difficult situations, every time, we’d end up choosing the same thing, which was “to figure it out.” I know this is “crucial moments,’ but in a lot of ways, there wasn’t any massive, massive event. There were a lot of small events that could have gone in different directions.

I’ve had maybe twenty-four hours to comb through the book so far, and I’ve spent most of the last twenty-four hours doing exactly that. I find it fascinating.

I’m glad you got a look at it! I haven’t talked to anyone that has seen it besides the band and stuff, so that’s cool.

James (Goodson, Let’s Go Publicity) forwarded me the digital copy. I will say it’s tough to read a book – I’m old school enough that I like to pick up a book and flip through it – so it’s tough to scroll through a PDF and get the same feel. Having said that, it’s really, really awesome. How involved were you guys in the process? I know that Josh Casuccio and Chris Napolitano are credited with pulling it together, but how in the loop were you guys throughout its production?

Well, I kinda was in charge of the stories, you could say. Not just me, but we all…Josh was managing the design and putting it together, we had to get the content together for him. Mostly the band guys had to amass the content. He had no idea; he was like “whoever you guys want stories from, get them and send them to me.” Justin, our manager, had the great idea of starting the hashtag #SoulsSunday, and it was intentionally to start collecting stories. What made it special was that people didn’t know their story might make it into a book. They just thought it was going up on Instagram, and we got a few really special stories that way that are short and very un-self conscious. People were like “oh cool, I’ll send a photo, I’ll send a cool story that means something to me, and it’ll go up on the Bouncing Souls’ Instagram.” They didn’t overthink it; they probably spent ten minutes finding a photo, putting a little story with it and sending it in. And I love those! When I pick up a book, I don’t need to read the whole thing to enjoy the vibe that’s coming from it. So, we were involved every step of the way. We spent almost all of 2018 amassing the material and photos and the stories. And then, as Josh started sending us drafts, we’d tell him what we liked and what we didn’t like. They did 105 drafts!

Whoa! It’s funny you say that, because the PDF I have of the book is just titled “Book Version 105” or something like that, and I figured that was just a generic file name, but not that’s because there’s actually 105 different drafts!

You got version 105! Yup! They really worked hard and we were really lucky that those guys were able to put as much time into it as they did.

One thing that comes through really loud and clear is that as you guys as a band continued to grow and evolve, I feel like a lot of your fans, specifically as people and in general as a fanbase grew and evolved with you over the years. I thought that came through in pretty much every story, it didn’t matter if it was big or small or who the person was that wrote it. It was really neat.

I’m glad that came through! I’m so happy to get feedback about this, this is my first feedback!

And there’s a lot of people who started as fans of the band, and learned of the music however, whether it was through warped Tour when they were a kid or through a Punk-O-Rama compilation or whatever and then became friends with the band, or became part of the family. I think that’s because you guys have always been so accessible and approachable and welcoming and not really taking yourselves too seriously but taking the idea of the band seriously. So that’s another thing that was loud and clear at least to me.

That’s cool that you pointed that out, because that’s one of the things that I don’t even think about. In that sense, we are not normal and like other bands, where we are so accessible and actually want to engage with a lot of the fans. And to the point where we actually get to know them. I’m so glad that comes out in the book, and I never even thought about it until you pointed it out. In a lot of books about bands, there’s probably not going to be barely any of that intimacy that is going on. I’m glad that shows, because to me it’s second nature. I don’t even think about it. It’s been that way for thirty years!

I was going to say, is that a conscious decision, to be approachable like that as a band and as guys? I mean, it seems like it’s just kinda who you are.

Yeah, it’s also where we started from. You remember the scene in the late 80’s, early 90’s, when it was so underground. You were really a person that was in to something that the rest of the world didn’t know about. If you saw someone that was dressed a certain way, (you connected) on more of a personal level. Especially for us! Not everyone was this way, but we were really about getting to know more and more people that were “like-minded” is the word for it now, but back then it was just people who were into punk, or into hardcore, or into an underground, different way of thinking and lifestyle and music, whatever you want to call it. We were like little rebels, and we didn’t want to do the same thing that everyone was doing. Back then, it meant something, so if you met someone that was on that same page as you, you wanted to get to know them and develop a relationship. We were forged in that fire, you know? It is deeply part of us, and we just didn’t stop.

We toured nationally, and it was all about engaging with people personally, that personal experience, and you know, the best music, when you turn it on and it becomes so personal, that’s what I enjoy. If you take it to the next level, and you just spend five minutes or ten minutes chatting with someone and having a personal experience with them, from my experience as a fan, it is HUGE! It’s AMAZING! When you get a chance to chat with a musician that you really like for a couple minutes and they’re super cool…it doesn’t have to be something amazing, you can just be talking about whatever…we all — me, Bryan and Pete — had those experiences where, as fans, we’ve talked to musicians that were rad dudes, and then some that were dicks. The ones that were dicks? It sucked! When you’re eighteen and you love a band and you meet them and they’re dicks…the music doesn’t sound the same anymore! It’s harder to listen to! So that meant a lot to us. That’s the long answer! (*both laugh*)

I feel like there’s less ability to get away with being a dick in that era of the punk scene, because people aren’t afraid to call you on your bullshit. This is a scene that’s fond of calling people on pretentiousness and bullshit. I feel like it was harder to get away with that the punk scene in the early nineties versus a classic rock scene or the alternative scene, or whatever.

For sure. There’s a cultural thing involved. And that 90’s politically correct thing went overboard too. I’m glad it’s not really like that anymore. (*both laugh*) And I also have to acknowledge that I haven’t always been like this “amazing guy.” I’ve had my moments, being on tour for nine months, where a show’s over and I just literally cannot talk to anybody. But I’ve had very rare moments where I was grumpy; I was never a dick, but I’ve been grumpy. But after I had a couple times where, to set the scene if you can imagine it, it’s me trying to just be done for the night, and there’s five drunk people who are excited…so my patience is at a point-one. Those are the moments when I responded in a way that I didn’t like. Where all I needed to do was be like “hey guys, thanks a lot, I gotta go,” and just acknowledging that I can’t talk right now. So I do have to acknowledge that side of it too.

That’s fair. Being self-critical is good.

Yeah! I’m not perfect, and I don’t have perfect moments all the time, for sure.

Well sure, but you guys also don’t come across like you are (perfect). You’re pretty honest about that shit. (moving on) There’s a line toward the end of “Here’s To Us,” on the new EP, about how “we all have strength and power/ in all our darkest hours.” I was hoping we could dive into that idea for a little bit, because there’s quite literally thousands of people throughout this country and the world, really, who have used your music as that sort of light in the darkness, and have for a long, long time. Do you remember the first time that somebody approached you and told you that either words that your wrote or that Pete or Bryan wrote got them through some really dark times?

Hmmm…oh, man. (*sighs*) I think it must have been when people used to mail us letters. That makes it even more meaningful, when someone hand-writes you a letter. I can’t remember the specific first instance, but I remember the first few letters we got. When we got our first real distribution on BYO, it was probably like 1995, 1996, and when the record came out, people started writing to us. We got letters forwarded to us, and we would go through them. I remember thinking “this is amazing! This is such a cool feeling!” And it just never really stopped. I do have to remind myself of it too. Like, when somebody sends you a message that they played our song at their parent or their brother’s funeral …When someone has died, and because they loved the Bouncing Souls, they use that music as a focal point…those kinds of things happen pretty often, and you don’t want to minimize the value or the importance of each one. It is amazing, I would never have dreamed of that impact on people. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to be part of something that does that for people.

What songs do you get that the most from? Are there a small handful of them, because I know I have mine personally, but I’m always curious to see what other people think.

I think that’s sort of the magic of the Bouncing Souls that’s unseen, is that everyone has different ones. There isn’t one or two or three super hits. I mean, we have sort of ten “Bouncing Souls hits” that we play all the time, but then someone comes at you and says “we played some odd song at our wedding!” and you’re like “okay, cool! That’s great!”

Are there songs from your own collection that you use as that sort of a thing, either as you’re performing them they make you call back to that particular song and how the writing process took you out of a dark place or a funnk or whatever: Do you use your own music for that too?

No, it’s too much of…every song we record is an intellectual thing. So for me, you’re just thinking about all the parts…

Oh, really?

Yeah, the inspiration (for a song) comes from a place that’s really REAL, and then there’s a whole process of trying to put that inspiration and spontaneous energy and create a recording where you fine-tune the edges so it comes around as a song. It’s work, and sometimes it comes really easy and sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, it’s too personal. I hear my own voice! When it comes on, I feel good, but I think that’s something special about connecting with another person, so I’m hearing another singer and their perspective on something, and it’s really special because it’s coming from outside my brain and the way that someone else sees the world, and that’s why you’re like “ah! Cool! I’m getting this light going on about something because it’s coming from outside me!”

Is it a different connection, then, when you play a song live versus if you just hear it on your CD collection or whatever, the that you see people sing and respond and stage dive and all that?

Yeah, oh yeah. I would say the songs have a life of their own, and as you’re playing them in the moment, they are coming alive and making the room come alive. In that way, I never get sick of them. I mean, you want to mix things up and not play the same songs all the time just to keep things fresh, but each song has its own life force, let’s put it that way. Bringing it out there and bringing it to people and exchanging it and enjoying it has its own life force as well.

How far back do you have to go to think of the first time that you realized that The Bouncing Souls were more than just “four buds from New Jersey playing music and drinking beers and hanging out together” and had become something bigger than that?

That makes me think of a story, and it wasn’t from my experience, but it’s an interesting story with my dad. My dad has always been supportive; he’s always supported the band and he loves all the guys and we used to practice in the attic. He would be downstairs and we’d be literally shaking the house, and he was pretty amazing about it. We’d play the same song like six times, and we’d come downstairs and he’d be like “can you guys learn another song yet?” I think about that now. We had written one song, and he wasn’t mad about it, he didn’t tell us to stop, he was just, like “write another song.” Later, there came more tension with my dad, because after we left high school, I didn’t really go to college – I went to community college for a little bit – but he really wanted me to go to college and he said he’d pay for it and everything. It rubbed him the wrong way.

I was living in the punk house, living in New Brunswick, I dropped out of community college because I kept blowing it off, and I was like “dad, I don’t want to waste your money.” It burned him up! I was being responsible to some degree by not wasting his money and doing something that I shouldn’t have been doing with his money, but he got burned up by it. A couple of years went by and we started getting bigger. We’d borrow money, buy shirts, print the shirts, and then pay the money back to a friend. And I remember coming home one night, I think it was a Sunday night, and we had played two or three shows over the weekend. We had played City Gardens. And he was like “how ya doin?” And I was like “good.” And he’s like “how’d you guys do this weekend?” And I said “we made ten thousand dollars this weekend, dad.” He was, like, watching TV, and his double-take was hilarious, you know? He was like “what?!?” And I said “yeah, we made ten thousand dollars this weekend.” It felt so good! And from that moment on, my dad was different. He was like “okay, yeah…” It was a cool moment!

Is that still a thing you guys will talk about or refer back to when talking amongst yourselves??

Yeah, I think all the guys have sort of a version of that with their parents. Our parents were always supportive, but they were also like “oh, they’ll get over this phase,” you know? But then there was a shift. And now? They love it! Bryan’s parents come out to the Jersey shows, my dad comes out when he can. It’s so fun to see how psyched they are! They can enjoy it as our parents. They get to see the joy that it’s brought so many people. Plus, I get to see Bryan’s parents; I knew them in high school when we used to just hang out. Those relationships are also just amazing. It’s such a cool thing, to see Pete’s parents that stoked too is the greatest!

I’ll tell you, my wife and I have driven down from Boston the last couple years for Stoked For The Summer, and I remember standing in the photo pit before you guys came out that first year, and I remember them sitting them setting up chairs and risers on stage right and seeing a bunch of what looked like family members come out, and just seeing how into it everybody was. That’s a real cool moment. They’re just as stoked as everybody else is.

Yeah, it’s really fun. It’s really special. Just the fact that everyone gets together too like a big family party. I don’t see those people a lot in regular life, so it has that element too. And I think that’s also what this book means to me. I know that that happens with all the people who go see us; they see people that they don’t see often and they connect. There’s that element of being old friends that you’ve seen at shows for years and years. That was fun for me to get those stories, because I don’t know about those stories! They know about our stories, but I don’t know about their stories!

Yeah, we have like a Jersey group of friends and hangout spots now and we’ll go visit, or their bands will come up to Boston. It’s really a fun thing.

I love that, that’s great!

One of my favorite stories in the book is actually written by your wife. She talks about the way “That Something Special” came about, and that sounds like one of those pivotal moments that you were kinda talking about, where you were trying to balance being in a band with being married and having those responsibilities as well, and I feel like it sort of perfectly encapsulated that time. You two end up trading lyrics back and forth and almost co-writing a song together that became a Souls song; that’s one of those moments, to steal the phrase, seems “crucial”…(*both laugh*) you know what I mean?

Oh man, I can’t wait to tell my wife that you loved that. She’ll really be stoked.

I actually read it out loud to my wife last night while I was sitting on the couch reading the book.

That is so cool, man! She is going to be thrilled! It was such a sensitive time. We were so serious about being a band at that time, and then I was presenting this idea where “now I’m going to be committed to this marriage.” When you get married, your marriage is supposed to be first on paper, but this band was first in my life for ten years. It was hard to just shift that. I didn’t know how to do that. Luckily, Shanti was aware of that. She was very patient. But it was not easy! And, again, I’ll add that Shanti struggled writing that, too. She wrote a whole different story, and then at the last minute, she said “I wanna try to write this..” and she literally wrote that in like ten minutes. I was like “this is magic! It’s saying something about us that no one will ever know, but you’re not trying to prove anything; it’s nice that we can get this across and people can know this side of being in a band and being in a relationship. If you’re married, you have to find your ways to get through those times. Instead of yelling at each other, we said “let’s write lyrics, let’s write our thoughts!” Shanti started doing it, and I said “yeah, this is better than yelling at each other!” (*both laugh*) And then, if it turns into a good song? Bonus!

I think that anyone that is married, or has been married, has those times where you have to balance old life and new life or individual interests with the responsibilities to the marriage. Now, granted, most of us aren’t in international touring bands, but the theme is one that everybody can latch on to. It’s such a perfect little story that sums up how much all of those things meant to you, and to everybody!

Thank you so much! Yeah, we have to be flexible! What worked before doesn’t necessarily work now, so we have to be flexible!


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