Words: Miljan Milekić
The New Jersey scene has a special place in my heart. Although it did take me a while to get there. I was well into my twenties when I was able to fully understand and embrace it, and The Bouncing Souls were the band that played a big role in that process. They slowly crawled under my skin and become one of my favorite bands, and seeing them live only solidified that. Now, in the year they turn thirty years as a band and celebrate the jubilee with the new EP and a book, I was lucky enough to catch singer Greg Attonito for an interview. Check it out below.
First of all congratulations on the huge achievement. I turned 30 just months ago, so I can’t even comprehend three decades as a band. How proud are you when you look back and see everything you did over the years?
Greg: I can’t overstate it. I’m really, really proud of it. I’m really proud of all of us in so many ways. But the one that I always keep going back to sum it up is that I’m proud of us for maintaining our relationship among the band members. And actually, we have more fun now than we ever did. So I feel that is one of the biggest achievements, if not one of the best. You know, we still like each other. We still have fun and even have more fun than ever. So that is a personal achievement I think I’m really proud of. And then beyond that, having the impact The Bouncing Souls have had on people, that our music has affected people in real and deep ways, is so gratifying. It’s just endlessly gratifying. I feel fortunate to be a part of something that has such a great, positive, deep impact on lots of people.
And you managed to last for that long with almost no changes in the lineup, without breaking up, going on hiatus, or taking long breaks. I know it’s time to focus on positives, but how hard can it be to keep going for so long, no matter what? In your opinion, what was the toughest thing you had to overcome?
Greg: We really grew up from kids through all of those phases. You know, when you’re teenage friends, and then you hit your 20s, life changes dramatically. So in some ways, the music and becoming, sort of, business partners kept us together through times where we began to, not be into the same things, and everybody was going off in a different direction. Essentially, it was the love for the music, in the end, that kept us trying to figure it out. ‘Cause life is a series of constant adjustments, isn’t it? The world’s changing, we are changing, so we’re trying to navigate all these changes.
I think respecting each other and loving each other enough to see those things – and there were certainly times where we didn’t, so we all saw that and were able to talk about things and figure it out. Sometimes it was easier than other times, but in the end, we compromise certain things for each other, and that’s what a relationship is. You figure it out and try to try to stick it together because, I think, all of us knew there was something greater involved. When we all got together to create music and play music, that was something bigger than any of us as individuals. And I think that was something that all of us were equally aware of, and willing to work towards as we had to change, and as life changed.
Obviously, with your personal growth, your music grew too, but was it ever the other way around? Do you ever feel like music and the band made you and other guys grow as people, because of it?
Greg: That’s a good question. Yes, I think so. Just by the music, sort of, pushing us into this more adult world, when we were young, in our early twenties, and then traveling around the world… Yes, it helped us. I mean, without The Bouncing Souls, I wouldn’t have seen so much of the world, so I wouldn’t be aware of a lot of things that I might be aware of. So in that sense, yes, the music helped me grow by bringing me all these amazing experiences that are pretty special, and onto all these places where I was able to meet people from different cultures, and all those kinds of things. So yes, absolutely. The music did create a bigger world for us as individuals.
What I really love about your band is your consistency in creating amazing music. You did grow as musicians, as songwriters, but you kept your sound, kept the vibe, and stayed true to yourselves. Is it something that came naturally to you, or did you sometimes struggle to do it?
Greg: I think this is the dynamic that works between mostly me, Pete, and Brian. We arrive at a consensus when it comes to songwriting. So someone will come with an idea, maybe it’s a couple of chords and some melodies, and then it’s important for all of us to stay open, you know, so we don’t shut it down right away. Nobody tries to shut anybody’s ideas down. If the person’s enthusiastic about something, then the other two guys are going to see that, and they receive it. Then, we’re like – okay, we’re going to look at this with an open mind, and give it X amount of time, until there is a weird consensus where all three will have to agree onto whether it’s worth pursuing, putting more time into it or being like – no, these other ideas are really stronger than this idea, so it’s time to let that one go. Then maybe if some person really loves that one idea, they just start over like – all right, I’m just going to have to go with the trust. If they’re not into it, then that’s that. (laughs)
That process has been the one thing that’s carried us through all the songwriting. That’s been our process, and I think that’s where you feel that vibe. There’s a certain vibe that we all want to create for ourselves in our music, whether it’d be a positive feeling or a genuine feeling, or some sort of feeling that connects us to other people. That’s the kind of music that we’ve connected to, so we’re inspired to create that. All three of us agree on that. We want to try to create that feeling of breaking the boundaries of the world and connecting to the human side of some person as an individual. So, I think that’s the feeling. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the thing we chase after to feel within ourselves when we’re creating it. And then if it works, then hopefully other people will feel that as well.
And I love the way you translate that feeling to the people who listen to your band.
Greg: Yeah. I mean, I love music, too. I’m a fan of so many musicians, too. So when I feel that in a song, it has such magical power, to put it in a very unscientific kind of way. (laughs) You know, that empowering feeling, that emotional feeling, a deep-down feeling. Information, essentially, that you’re trying to transfer from human to human. In this very material, physical world, it is not easy to convey this kind of very deep feelings, more so than ever, with the world the way it is today. To try to like, keep our deep human connection, and remember that level of connection is the most important thing actually.
I couldn’t agree more. However, I’d go back to your thirty-year celebration. You didn’t take the easy way, releasing a “best of” compilation, or re-releasing old material. Nothing wrong with that, but you once again did things your way, releasing a book and a brand new EP. How different was it to write and record this EP, comparing to some other stuff, knowing that it was supposed to mark a huge milestone for a band?
Greg: A couple of things were a little different. Essentially, we’ve not been able to have too much forethought about how we want to do things. We had a couple of rough ideas, like, we wanted songs that we liked how they sound live, you know? We want to focus, on songs that we want to play live. We’ve had some very vague ideas like that. A lot of the times we’ve recorded some songs that are good songs, but we didn’t end up liking playing them live. They don’t work live. So, we’ve had made that choice a few times.
But to pick out two things that are specific out of that six-song EP. Pete came with the idea for the song that turned out to be ‘1989.’ He had an idea, and he said he wanted to write a song that might sound and feel like a song that we wrote in like 1989 or 1990, as far as what we were into and what was popular at the time. That was a bit of an interesting, different approach. And at first, we were very self-conscious. We were like – this is terrible. This is just so corny. Like, this is so bad. But again, this was the kind of thing that we all thought the idea was cool. We were like, this is a great idea, Pete, let’s pursue it, let’s keep pursuing it. But we ended up sort of laughing at it. (laughs) There’s sort of this chugging away at something in creativity, and there’s a balance between chipping away at it, and then putting it aside and giving up on it at the right time.
So, what’s cool about that is, it started off as the weakest link of the batch of songs we recorded, and then by the very end, became everybody’s favorite song. Which is really, really cool when that happens. And you know, that’s what I love about writing songs and why I think I could never stop, is going down this dark hallway. You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what’s gonna happen, but you love the journey. I love this adventure, and I’m going to keep going down this dark hallway. And the other thing besides that is producing with Will Yip. Will really puts his positive spin on everything. He’s a fan, he’s really stoked, and he’s great at what he does. And the funny thing that also happened when we first sat down with him and ate dinner, and we told him – yeah, we’re recording this, it’s going to be for our 30-year anniversary. And he’s just like – man, I’m 31 years old. (laughs) So, it’s kind of like what you said. That was kind of fun.
Along with the EP, you released a book, which, unfortunately, I still haven’t got the chance to have in my hands, and I’m sure there are quite a few fans who also haven’t read it yet. Can you tell us more about it and the collecting process for it? How did you get the idea to do something like that?
Greg: Well, work on it started over 10 years ago. We started talking about doing something for our 20-year anniversary, so we had already collected some materials. And a good friend of ours, who is a photographer and knows us for many, many years, he was interested in managing the whole project, from way back then. Ten years ago. So he started on it, and then we didn’t end up being able to finish it for the 20-year anniversary, and then it sort of just got put aside. And every once in a while, Josh, the guy who did it, he would bring it up. He’d be like – you guys want to start working on that book? And it never really worked out until a couple of years ago, where I was like – 30 years, it’s time.
So we talked to Josh, got him on the phone went like, – okay Josh, we’re really going to do this, and he was like – really? Are we really doing it? And I’m like, yes, we’re really gonna do it for 30 years. We’re going to get a budget, and we’re going to help you. It was essentially him, and a graphic designer who is his friend who did it. We just gave them the materials – like photographs and posters, and worked on getting quotes from fans, from friends, and other fellow musicians. They essentially created the design for it, and it turned out great. I’m proud of us, I think they did a great job, and I’m really glad it’s out. It’s something that you can be like – okay, we did that, it’s out in the world. We’re actually sold out of the first pressing, and our record company didn’t press the new ones quick enough to bring to Europe, which I was pretty frustrated about. We weren’t able to bring any to Europe. But hopefully, you can get your hands on one at some point.
And how does it feel to go through this book, and to see what people had to say about your band and how much your music impacted their life? Especially because there are some random fans and not just your friends.
Greg: That was the most special treat for me because the idea of the whole book was, it not being from the band. We did a DVD, a documentary. All of our songs are, essentially, about us, they come from us. You know, you see pictures of the band, you see videos of the band. What about hearing from people who care about the band talking about the band? I’m interested in that as far as a documentary about a band that I like. So that was a treat for me because I just see our world. But then, when I hear stories of people write us messages about their lives and how The Bouncing Souls show or The Bouncing Souls record impacted their lives, those things are really interesting to me. So it was a treat for me to be getting all these different stories from different parts of the world and different people. Different levels, too. Some people just wrote how much they love the band, and other people had more elaborate stories about how it impacted them seriously. And those are great to hear.
And what do you see as the main reason for your music to be so relatable for so many people? You have rarely loyal and devoted fans who deeply and personally relate to your music, which is something that not a lot of bands can say they have.
Greg: There are lots of theories, but I think it’s from the three of us, from our experience of being fans and having a real, personal relationship with the band. Like, you love a song, and then it follows through, all the way to the people who make the music that you could get behind, as people. I think that’s been a big part of our impact, and it’s, sort of, from where we come from, the punk scene and where we grew up, and what we’re connected to. It’s tough to put your finger on, but I think it’s that the three of us created the band that we would love to see. And that’s another thing, we keep trying to follow that feeling, and I guess it worked on some level.
You are also known as some of the friendliest and the most down to earth guys around. How hard can it be to keep that personal relationship in some moments, especially on tour?
Greg: It’s been challenging, especially for me as a singer, I’m always the guy that needs to rest the most after the show. There are moments when I’ve been exhausted, and I just want to go to sleep, and there’s like five really drunk dudes are like – yo, bro, can I get you a shot? In those times, you have to remember, these people, they’re so drunk, so their social graces are gone, but they’re so stoked and they’re so happy to see me. I have to try to remember, even though they’re being really rude, you know? (laughs) There’s been a few times where I’ve gotten frustrated. I’ve not done anything crazy other than just be like – I gotta go. Or not even say something friendly enough, like usually. Usually, I just try to tell’em straight up – I’m really tired, I gotta go, I gotta be on my way. And if people don’t understand that, then that’s their problem, you know?
I only had one chance to see you play live – at Punk Rock Holiday in 2016, it was pouring rain by the end of the show, and it was one I remember like it was yesterday. Where do you find the energy and the motivation to give your heart out on every show after so many years of touring, playing shows, and being on the road?
Greg: Yeah, it was a great show, it was a lot of fun! I think, the more you do something, the more you learn how to get better at it. I personally learned my limitations, and as a band, we learned our limitations. The 30 years has gotten us to a place where we can do that. And that works by saying – okay, we only tour for two weeks now. We only play in certain places where we know we’re going to do well. We’re not going to go to Europe for four weeks anymore and try these new markets and places that we don’t really do well. It drains our life energy. So, we kinda like figured that out. (laughs)
We have become that band that’s special, by not doing it right for some years. We know the kind of shows we want. For example, not coming to Europe for three years, so this past European tour we just came back from, it was one of the best, if not the best of our European tours. And it’s because of the things we’ve learned. We stayed away for three years, we put out some new music, we did the 30-year anniversary thing, and then it all reflected in the tour. And because of that, we are able to be really stoked and enjoy ourselves, genuinely enjoy being there, enjoy getting on stage. People can feel that. You can feel when you see a band if they’re enjoying themselves. It really is contagious. So we’re aware of all those things, and we try to create a situation where we can bring that.