Interview: The Bouncing Souls
In September, The Bouncing Souls packed up and left their beloved Jersey home to hit the road for a sold-out mini tour. Although brief, it would be good prep for a busy six months, which will have the band roaming the globe with some of their biggest peers, and then trying to write some new songs. That’s right: after celebrating a twenty-year anniversary in grand fashion last year, these guys are showing no signs of slowing down. So, the evening that all this hard work would kick off at the Black Cat in Washington D.C., TheInertia.com settled into the band’s equipment van with drummer Michael McDermott for some pre-show reggae and relaxation.
INERTIA: First off, would you mind drawing a doodle for us?
Michael, drums: Well, that’s not really my department; our bass guitarist Bryan always does the band art thing, like for our merch and our albums. If he turns up out here, he might be a better candidate– oh, hey Greg? There’s a part of this interview that I can’t do…
Greg Attonito, vocals: Alright, tag me in! [commences doodling]
I: I’ve heard once or twice that your band might possibly be from New Jersey. Hopefully, you can provide a ruling on something for me. When I was in the neighborhoods of Hoboken for their roaming St. Patrick’s Day festival this year, every single house I ended up in had a nice, framed photo of The Boss hung on the wall. I ask you: a bit much, or completely appropriate?
M: Oh man, you know…to each his own. Let’s preface the statement with that. If Bruce Springsteen does it for you, and he does it a little bit for me – maybe not to the point of a framed…photograph in my home – that’s great. But oddly enough, my friend, I was just removing things from my bookcase, and I too have a picture. But in mine, it’s at The Stone Pony, coming from stage right, it’s Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Bruce Springsteen, and then our friend Jonny Two Bags. So, I like that picture. But it isn’t framed and there’s a lot of dust on it.
G: I don’t understand; all these different houses were unrelated?
M: Yeah, like it’s a festival in Hoboken, you’re just going from house to house. And Bruce Springsteen is just kinda…the governor of New Jersey?
M: Appropriate. Because he should be the governor of New Jersey.
I: Gotcha. The Bouncing Souls’ fan base has a reputation for being very devoted. What’s the craziest Souls tattoo you’ve ever seen on someone?
M: Hmm. We see so many…but nothing too crazy is really coming to mind. We have a lot of pretty good art, I think, because of Bryan as I said…and I guess now, because of Greg–
G: [produces doodle]:
M: …but we have a lot of hearts, anchors, things that lend themselves well to your standard tattoo.
I: This might be a question for Bryan, but where did that “Ball Guy” logo on so much of your stuff come from?
M: Oh, that kinda represents him. Bald, aggressive, with the fists…that’s him, man.
I: What was the hardest tour you guys have ever had to make it through?
M: Um, maybe like 2003, Anchors Aweigh? We just toured a LOT. I mean, we always tour a lot, but then some people were also in some darker places. You see some of your brothers not doing as well, and you feel for them, and then continuing on tour, it just felt so much longer. The days sort of ran into each other, and there was nothing you could do about it. But obviously, you look now and it’s 2010, and everyone’s prevailed and is happy and sane and everything.
I: You guys play a lot of songs with that pump-you-up, anthem-type feel, but people comment that on stage, you’re almost Zen-like. I certainly see a lot of that in Greg’s performance. Where does that muted vibe come from?
M: I think it’s because no one in the band is really up there trying to be “that guy,” you know, that over-the-top, rocker, star…dude. It’s just us concentrating on the music, makin’ that rad, so that everybody else can kinda go off.
I: What was the first record that you ever owned?
M: The first record that I ever owned. I really want to say, Led Zeppelin I? I had older sisters, a hippie older sister definitely influenced me, and got me into the Zeppelin thing, I had the poster above my bed…but I think the first record I ever actually bought was a cassette tape of Purple Rain.
I: The best show you ever attended as an audience member?
M: Oooh. Practically any Fishbone show. Older Fishbone, and I hate to say that, but the energy was beyond belief. There’s nothing to compare it to. Angelo [Moore] jumping off the stage, surfing past the soundboard and all the way back, being thrown up on stage just in time to roll over, gasp for breath, run up to the drum riser and grab one of the many saxes, run to the front and rip a sax line, throw it to his tech, and then grab the mic and start singing like an angel. Even just visually, it’s amazing. There’s also been a couple great Bad Brains shows. We just saw Billy Bragg at Bumbershoot a week ago, and that blew my mind. Not only his songs, but his interpretations of Woody Guthrie songs, his stage banter…it was a heck of a show.
I: A lot of your songs are singalong-style. When you tour the rest of the world, what’s the crowd participation like?
M: Well, the “whoas” kind of translate. Occasionally you do hear a little something. It’s funny in Germany, sometimes you get these big, krauty guys singing “whoooaa” with a deep voice. But that sort of thing is pretty universal. It is cool how kids get “True Believers,” though. People in other countries who don’t speak much English will still learn some from the music they listen to. Meanwhile, the average kid in America is speaking one language.
I: What are some of your influences on your instrument, specifically?
M: As a drummer, John Bonham from Zeppelin, for sure. Fish [Philip Fisher] from Fishbone. Anything, really! Kevin Conroy [nods toward his buddy/drum tech]. If you’re smart, you can learn, or take from anybody. Kevin’ll take from me and make it his own, which I in turn take back. It’s a cycle for sure.
I: This is a short tour, but you’ve got a lot coming up afterwards. What’s different about how you approach this?
M: Yeah, we start a proper tour with Bad Religion on October 7. This is mentally different, so if you’re like me and you jones to be out here, you wanna be awake the whole time. If we were on a long tour, I might’ve eaten dinner and taken a nap. But on a night like tonight, I’m gonna be hanging out here in the gear truck instead, smoking and listening to reggae.
I: You do anything special before a show?
M: Not much. We get in a circle and put our fists in, and then say absolutely nothing. That’s all we do. Other people that are around are kind of waiting for that yell, that chant, and it’s kind of anticlimactic. We just go, “Okay. Cool.”
I: Dave Hause [ex-Souls guitar tech & creative energy behind The Loved Ones] has been soldiering out and making a career for himself, sort of like a Tom Brady, who was sitting on the bench a little while and then came out and surprised some people. Where’s the next Dave Hause coming from?
M: [nods] Kevin Conroy.
I: The band spent the whole last year looking back at its career, putting out the 20th Anniversary Series releases, playing special shows, and so forth. With that big milestone in the rearview mirror, what are things like looking forward?
M: We have the couple different runs with Bad Religion coming up. Then we go to Australia & New Zealand with Hot Water Music in December, and a NOFX run in January. We’re pretty busy up through then, and in February we’ll take a month or so off, and regroup, maybe write some songs. A lot going on.
I: What is the worst thing about New Jersey?