Back in the mid-1990s, there was a punk scene driven by labels such as Epitaph that was widely ridiculed by the old guard. In hindsight, that was one of the most exciting and vibrant periods of punk.
Many of the bands that came out then, such as Pennywise, the Dropkick Murphys and the Bouncing Souls, were lumped under the pop-punk banner; such was the success of the Offspring, Green Day, Good Charlotte, and Blink-182. But New Jersey's Bouncing Souls was a punk-rock band, pure and simple. Elements of Oi! and British soccer chants blended with a hardcore sensibility and good-time attitude, and the results were, and are, magnificent.
We caught up over the holidays with frontman Greg Attonito, who is in a very different place in his life than he was when the band formed in 1989. He was enjoying Christmas and New Year's with his two-month-old son, and fatherhood certainly has a way of changing people. But, of course, humans evolve over the course of three decades, anyway.
“As far as musically, we’ve made explorations,” Attonito says. “Some are hits and some aren’t. If you look back on any musician that you think is amazing, they’re always putting out some sort of real pile of crap at some point. Music is about the moment. Somehow you made some magic, you spun some gold, and it’s awesome. But sometimes you don’t. Also, as buds, we’ve known each other since high school. I can’t even begin to explain what we’ve gone through together — as business partners, as friends in relationships and touring endlessly. One of the greatest achievements is that we still like each other. I’m really proud of that.”
With nearly thirty years in the business behind him, Attonito is an elder statesmen of punk rock at this point. As a result, he has tons of experience that can be of value to those new to the game. But on the flipside, asking old people for advice is kind of the opposite of what punk is about.
“In one way, I have a perspective that’s good and interesting because I’ve been around for a while, but then again, the young people create what is the new thing because they haven’t been there for the past thirty years,” Attonito says. “There’s this balance of knowing your history and then not knowing anything or caring about it. That’s how punk was born. There’s always some level of that going on out there.”
It’s been nearly two years since the Bouncing Souls put out their tenth studio album, Simplicity. Ordinarily, it would be time to jump back on the horse and get to work on a new full-length, but because of the forthcoming thirty-year anniversary, the band has bigger plans.
“We're in the works to start writing, and we’re preparing for our thirty-year anniversary in 2019,” Attonito says. “We’re writing and planning, and brainstorming what our thirty-year project will be. Is it some sort of retrospective and some new songs, and some touring? This week, everybody’s connected via email. It’s time to start making a plan. We have lots of ideas that have been kicking around for six months, so it’s time to start getting the ball rolling. We’re digging up old photos, fan stories... . We’ve been doing this thing on Instagram called #SoulSunday, getting fans to tell stories about their past — anything Souls-related. We’ve been getting great stories, and we’re trying to think of ways to incorporate that into some sort of career retrospective.”
The celebrations start early in Denver, with the Bouncing Souls performing three successive shows at the Bluebird Theater this weekend. Each night will have different openers (the first two are sold out), and there’s a mix of punk vets such as Dwarves and Mustard Plug, and local heroes like Potato Pirates and the Bunny Gang spread across the three nights. For Attonito, it’s a three-day party that Denver deserves.
“Since day one, for some reason, Denver has always loved the Bouncing Souls,” he says. “We’ve always had a great time there. We did a New Year’s party there a few years ago; we did two nights at the Bluebird, and it was a blast. So we said to the promotor that we should do it again some time. It seemed like it was time.”
Attonito says that the bills were picked by working with the promotor, but the band is very excited about what has been put together. Those lucky enough to have tickets to all three dates can rest assured that the sets will be different enough to keep things interesting.
“It’s a really tricky balance with that,” Attonito says. “We want to make it different, but if you go too far, then the guy who comes that one night says that we just played super-weird tunes. He’s the one bummed guy. We constantly have that crazy balance of figuring out ten to thirteen real solid Souls hits that we have to play, and then we mix up stuff in-between so it’s still interesting for repeat people. Then we’re trying this new thing — we’re doing this website called setlist.com where it’s essentially the same thing we always do — we hit up people on Facebook and ask them what we should play. It’s just more organized. If they want to go out of their way to come up with a set list and have fun, we can be a little more organized about it. We’re gonna try that out and see how it goes.”
Allowing fans to pick set lists online is certainly not what the Bouncing Souls was doing thirty years ago, but that’s the fun of the journey that the band has been on, and continues to be on. Three decades in, these guys are having as much fun as ever.
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