Interview: Bouncing Souls (2013)

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Some 25 years ago, a group of friends from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, got together to play some music. What they didn’t yet know is they would eventually become some of the most influential punk rockers to ever punk rock. They helped put New Brunswick, New Jersey on the map as something other than a rowdy college town, put out some of the catchiest and most iconic records of all time, and forever changed the face of the genre. They are The Bouncing Souls.

And after roughly a quarter-century of continuous success, they’re still rolling along heavily. They recently released a split with The Menzingers, announced the retirement of longtime drummer Mike McDermott (and his subsequent replacement by Hot Water Music’s very own George Rebelo), and are currently gearing up for their seventh-annual Home For The Holidays shows this week at The Stone Pony, in Asbury Park, New Jersey. And I spoke with Souls frontman Greg Attonito and [brand spankin’ new] drummer George Rebelo about all of it! Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!

Photo Credit: Eric Van't Zelfden
Photo Credit: Eric Van’t Zelfden

Pop-Break: Everyone said, upon the announcement of George’s arrival to the Bouncing Souls, that it made the most sense in the world. Why do you think the majority of your fans saw this coming?

George Rebelo: For me it made sense because well, we’re all older. It’s kind of hard to find people that get along on the road. It’s one of those things where you’re stuck in a van or a bus together, and I would imagine the Bouncing Souls would want someone they know, they’ve hung out with plenty of times, and someone who wouldn’t be star struck by it and knows how to do it. The Bouncing Souls and Hot Water [Music] have done plenty of tours together, have hung out backstage together, and we just get along as people. It just made sense to me.

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Greg Attonito: Yeah, that was pretty much how we saw it on our end. We already knew 90% of all that stuff was fine. Personality-wise, we’re already buds, and that’s honestly 90% of it. After that, it was just a question of whether George was willing and able to do it. Once he said yes, and once we played together, the last 10% was there.

GR: That was actually my main concern, because I respect Mike [McDermott] as a drummer a whole lot. But, he’s a totally different drummer than I am, so I was kind of apprehensive in the beginning. I had a conversation with Pete [Steinkopf] about it, about the faster tempo and everything, and I just said, “Dude, I’m going to work real hard at this. I’d love to be part of your band, and I’m not sure I can handle all of it, but I will bust my ass so we can get together and see if this works. If it doesn’t work, there’s no hard feelings. You’re still my bro!” So I got up to Jersey, Pete, Bryan [Kienlen] and I practiced a little bit, and it seemed to work out OK. It fit.

PB: That’s definitely something I’m interested in. Greg, how has George’s transition been for The Bouncing Souls? You’ve had made Mike for 14 years. That’s a long fucking time. It has to be weird looking over at the kit during a set and seeing somebody new there, or adapting to the subtle stylistic differences that come along with every musician. Was it a difficult transition?

GA: Well, I have to say — and to George’s credit — given what he’s done just in these last few gigs, has been a massive, awesome accomplishment. Because we are such an established band, because there are so many frickin’ songs to learn and because none of them are really easy to play, he’s done an amazing job. In the sense you’d probably think, it wouldn’t really go very smoothly. You’d think, “Well, we’re going to have to rehearse a ton before this goes anywhere.” But it wasn’t the case at all. There were very few rehearsals. I hadn’t even played with George until the day of our “rehearsal show” at The Asbury Lanes. It was supposed to kind of be a live rehearsal, but it turned into a full-on show.

Stylistically, yes, George and Michael are very different. Mike’s a great drummer and he’s been awesome to play with. But what I’ve enjoyed about George is that George is a little more steady, I have to say, whether it gets me in trouble or not [laughing]. It’s nice to have that aspect. Mike is a great drummer for plenty of different reasons, and it’s been awesome to play with him. I don’t want to say one is better or worse, but to George’s credit, again, when, as a singer, you can just forget the drummer is there, they’re doing a really good job.

PB: Now, I wasn’t at the show. I won’t talk about how bummed I was after receiving all of my, “OMG BRO, YOU TOTALLY MISSED IT!” texts, but I will talk about how tight everyone said the band sounded.

GR: [Laughing]: Really? That’s weird, because that day was literally the first time I ever played with Greg. I literally couldn’t eat because I was so nervous. I went to this Cuban restaurant on the boardwalk [Cubacan], and I was so nervous I physically couldn’t eat. And just when my girlfriend calmed me the hell down, I went back to the Asbury Lanes and saw the line around the corner and I was just kind of like, “Ohhhh my Godddd. This is terrible. I’m gonna blow it, I’m gonna blow it.”

And I went backstage, and the first people I see are Greg, Pete and Bryan, and they’re just relaxed and calm, and it reminded me that I’m just in a band with a bunch of my bros. It wasn’t perfect, and I was very nervous, and I’m definitely surprised to hear that people thought we were tight [laughing].

PB: Greg, I know you spoke before about how George’s style is a little more consistent than Mike’s, but aside from that, do you think there’s anything George brings to the table that Mike didn’t?

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GA: I think each is a great drummer in their own ways. Michael would stylistically play things that were just awesome. He was just awesome. He’s fun to watch, and Mike brought a lot of character The Bouncing Souls; his own character. It’s all on the records, and it’s at all the old shows, and you know it’s him when you hear it.

So far, George has a different feel. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m experiencing that, but the same songs can even feel different. They’re still great and still the same songs, but they can definitely feel different. Like I said, George is a great drummer to sing to, because he has a real steadiness that makes singing almost effortless.

GR: And you have to realize this: We’ve had three band practices and five shows [laughing]. We’ve literally had more shows than we’ve had practice. It’s something I only hope can get better, but it’s there.

PB: Your split [release] with The Menzingers just recently came out. Tell me a little bit about that, especially with a band like them.

GA: We had talked about doing a couple things over the past two years, since we’d done a bunch of dates with The Menzingers. And we had some ideas about doing a split. And then it was mentioned that this was the 20-year anniversary of Chunksaah Records, so we decided it was really a great time for it to finally happen.

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PB: When I think of The Menzingers, The Bouncing Souls isn’t the first band that comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong — they’re great in their own right — but both bands just have a way, way different sound.

GA: Well, uhhh, I mean, not really. I just picked up the acoustic guitar and learned the song. I liked the song we did, so it made it better. I brought the version to Bryan and Pete, and they thought it was cool. It did take a little effort, I guess, to Bouncing Souls-ize it, but it wasn’t bad. We didn’t want to translate their song exactly, because that’s not that fun.

PB: I think it’s fair to say that many of the people who like The Bouncing Souls also like The Menzingers, and vice versa, but I just see you as you totally and completely different bands, stylistically.

GA: Yeah, definitely! But that’s what made it so interesting, too. It just wouldn’t have been as much fun if we picked another band that sounded similar and just traded off songs. That just gets old.

GR: And also, to go back to a band like The Menzingers, yes, they’re totally different than The Bouncing Souls, yet they’re the same. They get in a van every day and they go on tour, and they’re doing the same thing now that The Bouncing Souls did to get to this level. So in that respect, they’re really very similar.

There are no egos there. They’re doing it the right way. It’s not a bunch of YouTube bullshit that a lot of the newer bands have done over the years. Four or five years ago there would be all these bands that would come through a bar that I worked at, and every single one of them had brand new laptops, a big bus, tour managers, proper laminates and all that shit, and it’s just like, “Really? You’re playing a tour and there’re only 30 people are your show. Who’s paying for this? Whose dick did you suck?” [Note: George placed special emphasis on excusing his language, as he’s far less of a potty mouth than I am.] I remember back in the day when nobody knew my band and we had to actually had to work for it, and I think that’s exactly what The Menzingers did and are doing, and that’s what The Bouncing Souls have done. It makes total sense that they did a split together, and The Menzingers totally deserve all the recognition they’re getting.

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PB: The Home for the Holidays shows. These shows are what many of your biggest fans look forward to every year, and you always have the best lineups for them. They’re always new, varied and really very fun. Some of this year’s invited bands are: Mephiskaphales, The Brigantines, Lost in Society, Youth Brigade, Titus Andronicus and The Flatliners. How do you guys decided on the lineups for these shows?

GA: We always make these really long lists. The list is huge and ongoing, and it’s really usually handled by Kate [Hiltz, the band’s manager and promoter]. She reaches out to all these bands, and a lot of the times bands aren’t available during the holidays. It’s really not easy to get bands to come out during the holiday time. It’s a giant process of elimination, and thanks to Kate and Pete, who are more in tune with the local bands, they always have these great ideas for the shows. And if somebody in the group has a band they’re really excited about for one reason or another, that band gets put into the mix.

PB: Speaking a little more about that, who are you both most excited to play with for the shows?

GA: It’d definitely be pretty cool to see Youth Brigade. Definitely.

PB: I’ve also always wondered why you guys do these shows to begin with. Is there some kind of personal significance to them?

GA: Well, to me, it’s pretty awesome because it’s really like a completely overblown family party for the holidays. In that sense, when I’m there, it always feels great to be apart of something that always feels so genuine. It’s four nights of fun and people are so enthusiastic and come every year. People travel from around the world and it’s great to be apart of such a cool localized thing. It’s about feeling the love, the music and all the people who’ve been coming out all these years for something centered around our music are just as much of a part of it as we are. I think that’s why it feels so good.

GR: I can’t wait for it.

PB: I was actually just going to ask about that. How are you feeling about it, George, this being your first Home for the Holidays run?

GR: I feel pretty good about it! It’s going to be a blast. But I don’t know … I think I have another 15 or 25 songs to learn and like, three practices to do it in, which I think we can handle. I’m going to be away from home on Christmas for the first time, but I’m also going to be with my extended family, which is going to be interestingly cool. I don’t know; we’ll see how it goes! But right now, I’m definitely looking forward to it.

PB: Oh my God, I can’t believe I didn’t touch on that. Can one of you explain how this is even working? George, you still live in Florida, right? And Greg, you live in Idaho? How does all this shit even happen?

GA: (Laughing) Well, if you think about it, The Bouncing Souls have all these years of playing so much, so we can really take a month or two off, fly somewhere and play. With George in the picture now, we’ve had to rehearse more, which means I’m going to fly to Jersey about a week before Christmas and we’re going to do some serious rehearsing. We’ll be all set!

GR: Starting tomorrow, actually, I’m going to begin learning the rest of the songs. So I guess figure between 20 and 25 more to get down. Hopefully I get all 25, but if I don’t, we’ll deal with that when we get there.

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PB: Greg, I’m from Woodbridge, which is literally right down the road from New Brunswick. I spent most of my high school and a good portion of my college years partying in that town, going to shows and having fun. The Bouncing Souls have always been a huge part of that, for me. Do you credit New Brunswick for a lot of the success you achieved earlier on in your career? How pivotal a role did it play in making your band what it is today?

GA: We’ve been through so many stages in our musical careers, and New Brunswick was perfect for us at that time. We just left high school and we needed to get to the next level as far as living, as people; getting our own apartment, growing up. It was a college town, so there was the opportunity to interact with all the kids and the activities, the music. It wasn’t a big town, but it was big enough to take that first step, and it was really just perfect. I wouldn’t trade my time there for the world.

PB: Now, my next question is something I ask everyone, but it’s about beer, and I don’t really want to offend you, Greg.

GA: Eh, occasionally I’ll have a beer. Go for it.

PB: If you were stuck on a desert island for the rest of your lives, and you only had one beer to drink forever — that was it. What would it be?

GA: I don’t know! (Laughing) I don’t drink enough beer to have a favorite! We’re on a desert island?

Photo Credit: Mike Black Photography
Photo Credit: Mike Black Photography

PB: Yeah, you’re on a desert island. Fuck survival, nutrition and general common sense. This is all about the beer!

GR: Yeah, I’d take water. I’d give up all beer ever for a nice glass of water.

PB: Fuckin’ lame.

GA: I’m gonna think outside the box here and go with Kool-Aid.

PB: Kool-Aid? Jesus Christ…

GA: Yeah. It’s like water, but better.

PB: Way to go, George. Ya blew it.

GR: Ok, ok. Well, if you’re asking for a warm beer that I’d enjoy in the sunshine, it’d probably be a Coors Light or a Miller Lite or something. But if you were asking me what I’d drink at a bar or something, I’d go with an Amstel Light or a Guinness.

PB: Now you’re talkin’ my language. That’s fair.

The Bouncing Souls will headline The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey December 26-29. Tickets, if there are any left, can be found by clicking here.

Photo Credit: Mike Black Photography
Photo Credit: Mike Black Photography

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