This is how The Bouncing Souls roll
Three blocks from the Stone Pony in New Jersey, one of the world’s most famous music venues and across a freshly paved municipal parking lot, sits The Bouncing Souls’ home: Asbury Lanes bowling club. The heart of The Bouncing Souls (named from the Dr Martens “With Bouncing Soles” tag), Bryan Kienlen and Pete Steinkopf, invite us into their joint.
“We’ve been coming here since, well, when they started doing shows here, like six years ago or so,” Steinkopf says over the cracking of pins and blaring music. Glancing to his left, Steinkopf catches the eye of Kienlen, who is sitting alongside him on the orange, vinyl couch. “We started just coming down here and hanging out so often that it’s become our home.”
“Yeah, we’re family with everyone who runs this place,” Kienlen adds, scanning the venue: black velvet curtains, vintage vinyl couches overflowing with throw pillows, and geometric cream-coloured tables, all atop a red and orange checkered floor and illuminated in a red glow. “This has kind of become like our living room.”
A living room that the punk band — Steinkopf on guitar, Kienlen on bass, Mike McDermott on drums, and Greg Attonito behind the mic — have played many times over, effortlessly transforming the bowling lanes into a stage and dance floor. A living room they’ve stumbled into many times over after spending hours writing albums down the block in manager Kate Hiltz’s basement.
The Lanes, the boardwalk, the ocean that continuously crashes against Asbury Park’s shores colour everything The Bouncing Souls do. This is their scope of reference. But they recently left home and broadened that scope, to an extent, for their ninth album, Comet. They went west.
In January, at the Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, Colorado, the guys hooked up with Bill Stevenson of Black Flag and Descendents — if it weren’t for them, there would be no Bouncing Souls — and banged out the 10-track album in a furious and electric 12 days.
“This record is sort of a throwback to the way we used to do things early on in our earliest records, which was really organic,” Kienlen explains as he reaches for his beer. “We’d get the whole band together, go into the basement, turn our instruments on, and just see what happens. And that’s how this record was written, for the most part. Pete and I kicked it off in the beginning with acoustic sessions, and when the whole band was present it just came together. It was kind of an old-school style for us.”
“Yeah,” Steinkopf agrees, tipping his beer toward Kienlen. “The whole thing just started by being inspired and stoked. We were like, ‘We’re going to write 10 good songs, record them, no fluff.’ And Bill got that.”
“We purposefully gave ourselves a very short amount of time to write and a short chunk of time to record to keep the focus centralised on just that inspiration,” Kienlen adds. “Just the ideas and not to overthink things, and not to fuck around in the studio with bells and whistles. Just real old-school and real direct.”
Old-school, in this case, means the melodic, rapidly paced, lighthearted yet poignant sing-along anthems The Bouncing Souls have created over the past 20 years. If the band’s closest friends had to gauge the inspirational bump on this album, they’d compare it to Maniacal Laughter, which was the band’s second album in 1996. But for Steinkopf, he’d put it up there with 2001’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation; while Kienlen agrees, he feels Anchors Aweigh in 2003 was the last time the band was this centred and in their element.
“Sometimes you’re more united, and you can feel it as you’re writing,” says Steinkopf. “And you can feel that this one is different. It doesn’t happen every time, but every now and then, there is this moment in time.”
For both Stevenson and the members of The Bouncing Souls, though, there was this overwhelming sentiment of, “How the hell did we not do this sooner?” After all, they had been friends since the Souls toured with the Descendents in 1996. But getting together in the studio wasn’t the only first for the band and Stevenson. Looking to blow off a little steam, they took a break from the marathon recording session, and Kienlen, who regularly tattoos out of Jersey, called up his friend Ryan Willard, a tattoo artist in Denver, and had him stop by the studio with his whole convention setup to convert a little kitchen into a tattoo studio. Kienlen had planned to tattoo Stevenson’s wife, but the plan quickly took a turn.
“I made a deal with Bill. It was, ‘I’ll tattoo your wife for free; all I ask is that in exchange you tattoo Black Flag bars on me,’” Kienlen recalls. “And Bill has never held a tattoo machine. This is the first time the guy has held a fucking tattoo machine. So I prepared everything and kicked my leg up on his lap and handed him the machine. It was like, ‘Here, hold it like this. Here’s the foot pedal. Okay, just go for it!’”
Right near Kienlen’s left shin are four uneven scratch marks, reminiscent of some of his and Steinkopf’s early tattoos: pin tattoos of music notes and the words “Oi” and “Punx” done by none other than Kienlen himself, plus a few ink and razor ones that miraculously held for 20 years.
Now, though, their limbs are coated with more professional pieces that hold the same nostalgia. Especially their legs.
“We do this thing where we have tour legs,” Steinkopf says, hunching forward and pulling at his pant leg. “We tattoo our legs wherever we go. Like, Kienlen and I got these in England.” He points to the Rolling Stones logo, the tongue wrapped in a British flag.
Kienlen, pulling up his pant leg, chimes in, “Yeah, Steinkopf and I have a lot of the same tattoos.” He rattles off one after the other: Dillinger Four, Seven Seconds, Strike Anywhere, Hot Water Music, and so on and so on, quickly twisting his leg back and forth.
“You have a lot more than I do, though,” Steinkopf laughs.
“You can look down the years – our collections of tattoos are over 20 years old,” Kienlen says. “It is like sawing off a tree and looking at the rings. There’s a timeline there for sure. They tell a story.”
The Bouncing Souls definitely have quite the story when it comes to punk rock. These guys have never broken up or gone on hiatus, and have only had one member change.
“Yeah, we’re like old reliable. We’ve never really seen any real reason to break up,” Kienlen says. “We’ve always said that if we stop having fun then we’ll break up, you know, ’cause life is short and you should be doing what you want to do. When you’re inspired, that’s the wind in your sails. The Bouncing Souls is like a cool, big, old, wooden ship, and the sails work, the boat’s afloat, and inspiration is blowing. That’s what keeps us moving.”
“That’s deep, man. That shit’s fucking deep,” Steinkopf says, easing back into the couch. “You blew my fucking mind.”
Words by: Ellen Thompson
Photos by: Jonathan Pushnik