“The very first Bouncing Souls show was a battle of the bands in high school,” says Pete Steinkopf, guitarist for the New Jersey punk quartet, as he fixes his thoughts on his group’s ignominious late-’80s public debut. “We took third place out of four bands. We sucked, though — we were terrible. Horrible.” Making things worse, he chuckles, was losing to a Rush cover band. What became of that fierce competition? “They’re probably working at 7-Eleven now. Or on Wall Street, probably.”
TOUR OF DUTY: “I’ve done the math — I’ve spent a year of my life on Warped,” says Pete Steinkopf.
Either way, what they aren’t is the fierce, well-respected, globetrotting force that the Bouncing Souls have evolved into over their lengthy career — which is just short of its 20-year mark. Keeping a band together and thriving for two decades is no small feat; keeping a punk band together and thriving for two decades is near-impossible.
But with their always improving combination of classic hardcore, Oi!-style street punk, metal, and pop (and versatile songwriting that’s both silly and serious, personal and political), the Souls are anything but tired, boring, or (gasp!) irrelevant. Their most recent, The Gold Record (Epitaph, 2006), was punk-as-Springsteen: tales of love, longing, celebration, and escape, straight from the Jersey shore. They sure don’t sound like four dudes in (or closing in on) their 40s.
True, maturity can be detected in the little bits of piano, organ, and accordion sprinkled amid the charging guitars and rhythms. And the Souls — Steinkopf, singer Greg Attonito, bassist Bryan Kienlen, and drummer Mike McDermott — did recently embark on a brief tour called “An Evening with the Bouncing Souls” — which seems more Dockers than Doc Martens. And they did play older songs in mostly acoustic fashion, throwing in a cover of Sick of it All’s “Good Lookin’ Out” with Attonito on ukulele and McDermott on spoons. And it was entertaining, even rowdy in its own way.
Steinkopf says that jaunt was designed as a way to keep things interesting for themselves. This summer, however, they’re back to raising ruckus on the Warped Tour, which over the years has been a home away from home for the Souls. They’ve done the whole thing four times and two-or-three-week legs (as they’re doing this year) several more times.
“I’ve done the math — I’ve spent a year of my life on Warped,” Steinkopf laughs. It’s a good chance to road-test some of the material the Souls have been penning over the past few months. They expect to have a new album out for their 20th anniversary next year.
Steinkopf allows that he’s always glad to see new punk and hardcore bands feeding the scene every year when he heads out on Warped, and that the Souls don’t mind being seen (or approached) as punk-rock elder statesmen by younger bands. “I like being able to give advice, but I don’t ever wanna come off like I know it all or anything, because everybody’s got their own path. We never signed to a major label, we did everything our own way, and it worked out for us — but that might not work out for everybody.”
And though the Souls are always looking ahead, Steinkopf says that some of the reminiscing that naturally accompanies being a successful band marking 20 years together is crucial. “I remember just playing anywhere that would have us play — anywhere, like every fucking night, just to get someone to care. We played little clubs in New Jersey where we learned to be a band. Our first couple of tours were basements and weird pizza places and laundromats and things like that. It’s always important to remember where you come from.”
BOUNCING SOULS at Warped Tour | Comcast Center, 885 South Main St, Mansfield | July 23 at noon | $26 | www.livenation.com