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When married couples celebrate twenty years together, they’re usually showered with anniversary gifts. The Bouncing Souls are celebrating their milestone by reversing that tradition and giving back to the fans, releasing one original song per month throughout 2009. More on that later, but first let’s look back on some earlier days…
Picture it: 1989, a Knights of Columbus Hall in Bernardsville, New Jersey. A supportive music-loving teacher throws down $120 to cover expenses. A bunch of sweaty high school kids gather to sneak beers and rock all night at the debut show of a band called The Bouncing Souls. And a Jersey institution is born.
But the Souls’ story actually begins a few years earlier than that historic gig. “Pete [Steinkopf] and Bryan [Kienlen] had a cover band called The Switch around ’86 and ’87,” recalls frontman Greg Attonito. The band was largely booked at parties teeming with college chicks and kegstands, and occasionally, their friend Attonito would join in to channel his inner Roger Daltrey or Billy Idol.
“Then we started another band called Brad Karma and the Absent Minded Fruit Bats,” says guitarist Steinkopf. “There was one song that we had called ‘Quest For Goodie’ and Greg would jump around and sing all kinds of crazy shit to it off the top of his head. We were all teenagers growing up in the suburbs, just looking to create our own fun.”
The threesome spent ever more time hanging at shows in New York City and haunting Trenton’s legendary, late, great City Gardens. The chemistry was undeniable and unstoppable, and it wasn’t long before their creative juices flowed together. Tapping original drummer Shal Khichi, the band holed up in Greg’s dad’s attic and started writing what would make up the early Souls songbook.
Like any young band with energy to burn and original songs under their belt, the boys took to the road in order to share their music and spirit with any crowd that would listen. While there were aspirations to find audiences across the globe, even college parties and basements were enough to keep hope alive in the early days. As bassist Kienlen puts it, “We never spent too much time worrying about the future. The point of the band was always celebrating the here and now, trying to make the best of whatever was in front of us at the time.”
Though it wasn’t until 1995 that the band was able to tour on a full-time basis, they soon found the road to be a more frequent home than the comfort of their own beds. From headlining tiny rooms in remote towns to playing Wembley Arena with Green Day and Tokyo’s Budokan with My Chemical Romance to spending time on seven different editions of Vans Warped Tour (totalling 11 months, with more sure to come), The Bouncing Souls have clocked more travel time than most airline pilots.
Since 1996, the band has had a constant traveling companion and honorary fifth member – their primary touring vehicle, lovingly called The White Castle. For ten years, she gave dutiful service, until The Gold Tour, when her engine gave out – with 300,000 miles on the odometer. Regarding her decade of service before temporary retirement (the proceeds from that tour are rebuilding the old gal’s guts), Attonito says, “We converted those miles into road hours. Estimating about 40 MPH – because a lot of them aren’t highway miles, with plenty of time sitting in traffic – it was staggering. Our estimate rounded out to 333.33 days driving in our truck! No exaggeration: that’s about a full year!”
Fortunately, there are many more tour dates in store for both the band and their beloved Castle. Exactly how many of those dates is impossible to say, though, since the band hasn’t exactly been keeping score. “I’d love to figure out how many shows we’ve played…I wish we kept count,” says Steinkopf. “I know bands that have and it’s awesome. It must be way up in the thousands by now, though.”
Frequent attendees of those gigs (true believers, all) hail the Souls as one of the best bands in the world, and the boys feel the same devotion to their fans. “Bouncing Souls fans are the greatest friends ever,” enthuses Attonito, “They’re passionate and full of life. They really are part of the band in the sense that we’re plowing a path through life together in good times and in bad.”
“It’s pretty much across the board too,” adds Steinkopf. “every age group…all different kinds of people. My favorite is when we meet people that were there from the start and now they have kids of their own that they bring to our shows. We really are a part of each others’ lives.”
“And any time someone says you’ve influenced them certainly makes an impact on you. To know that someone has looked at something you’ve done and they have taken something from it – whether it be in a lyric or the way you play your instrument – has got to be the highest compliment paid,” says drummer Michael McDermott. As a final piece of evidence, Kienlen points to the MySpace gallery of band-based tattoos adorning their admirers: “Last I checked it’s up to almost 300 and counting. Our fans are hardcore in their unwavering support. We really are one big family.”
And families share things, which is why this year, the Souls have decided to gift their family of friends and fans with twelve spanking new songs, available for the standard less-than-a-buck download on the first of each month in ’09, or for purchase on 7″ vinyl in quarterly compilations on their own Chunksaah Records (each featuring one additional bonus track).
Steinkopf elaborates: “We all decided that we wanted to do something different. We’d been on the same schedule for years: write a record, record a record, wait for the record to come out, then tour on it until we wanted to start the cycle again. We also wanted to break our own patterns and do something that was going to be inspiring and new for us.”
Attonito adds “I remember being in New Zealand and saying we should do a release that doesn’t come out all at once…I was thinking in the context of a TV series. Somebody else might have come up with the first of the month idea but usually all the creative stuff we do is a process. Everybody kind of throws a stick on the fire at the right time in the collaboration.”
Doing it for the sake of the music, the fans, and their own inspiration for twenty years, the group – and their White Castle – are going pedal to the metal on a full tank of gas. According to their frontman, “The shared driving force is part of the mechanics that keeps the beast truckin’ down the next highway. We were – and still are – a few passionate, rebellious, creative, idealistic, party loving punks looking for a good time, for something to believe in, and for something meaningful to live for.”
With twenty years behind these legends from the Garden State, there’s a lot more still to come from The B.S. – and that’s no bull.
– Bruce J. McDonald
The first time one of his friend’s fathers saw singer/songwriter Tim Barry perform, he summed up his thoughts with a Yogi Berra-worthy declaration: “You’re old-timey in a modern way.”
That’s a near perfect description for the artist who sums up his latest solo release, Lost & Rootless in a single word: WOODEN. “That’s the feel that I was going for when I picked the songs,” says Barry. “There’s violin, voice, a wooden resonator guitar…there’s a very subtle electric bass on one track, but otherwise I wanted to do a wooden record.”
To create that stripped-down, earthy sound, Barry (along with sometime accompanists Josh Small and sister Caitlin Hunt) selected an equally wooden venue: his own shed, mic’d up and MacGyvered with blankets, bits of carpet, and pallets for soundproofing. This gave Tim an opportunity musicians are rarely afforded: the ability to record any moment that inspiration struck, without racing the clock or pulling out the wallet. “It’s not always relaxing in the studio unless you have so much loot you don’t care how much time you spend in there. To be able to go into my shivering cold shed and play music whenever it hit me was pretty awesome,” he says.
Opening Lost & Rootless with the forlorn “No News From The North” (drawn from 2005’s solo debut Laurel Street Demos, one of which he has re-recorded for each subsequent release), Barry then unspools twelve more songs toggling between spare soliloquies and toe-tappers, telling tales of sadness and of celebration, and portraying the narrator as both partier and poet.
With a cohesive musical feel, a vivid cast of characters, and not one but two mentions of his own daughter Lela Jane, one might think there’s a larger tale being told here. Don’t spend too much time trying to tie it all together, though: “I’m not bright enough to make a concept record!” Tim exclaims. “Going all the way back to the early days of my music, I just write what’s around me, what I feel, who I know.”
The album is thick with examples of that that autobiographical (and auto-geographical) writing style, featuring references to Richmond’s Laurel Street, its Manchester neighborhood, and the James River (each also calling back to Barry’s past recordings). His surroundings also set the scene for one of the album’s story song highlights: “Solid Gone,” about one family’s fight to survive outside the confines of the law. Tim notes that the subject matter reads a bit like a country music stereotype, “But that’s what it’s about: drugs, guns and family. I’m not sure the average fan of Willie Nelson would like it, but it’s what happens in the state of Virginia.”
The one song on the album that’s not drawn from Barry’s background or environment is a reverent cover of “Clay Pigeons” by the late Austin musician Blaze Foley (the subject of the Lucinda Williams song “Drunken Angel”). Originally turned on to the song via a mixtape from a friend, Tim quickly became obsessed. “It was just TOO GOOD,” he stresses. Seeing that the song only had a paltry number of YouTube views, “I started asking everyone I knew if they knew the song. Only two people out of maybe twenty did, so I said, “F*** that, I’m recording this!”
Of course, the challenges of making an album don’t end with the recording: figuring out the best order for the songs is another chore entirely. In keeping with his old-school approach to creating the music, Tim took to a slightly vintage sequencing method. “My favorite part of the entire recording project is using cassette to sequence the album,” he says. “I really believe in listening beginning to end, and it forces me to listen all the way through. Then if I want to change it, I’ve got to sit down with the CD and hit play and record and do it all over again. That’s how I’m going to do it from now on.”
With the release of Lost & Rootless this fall, and the tenth anniversary of his solo career in 2015, you can bet that Tim will be playing a town near you soon, whether it’s a bourbon-soaked hole in the wall or as the opener for one of his longtime comrades. As he chuckles, “All my peers are becoming stars, and I’m staying exactly the same. I’m just excited to get the record out and get back on the road!”