For nearly 30 years, the Bouncing Souls have brought the very best of the New Jersey punk scene to the rest of the world. With the release of last summer’s Simplicity, the quartet shows that they can rock out just as well 10 records into their career as they did on classics like Anchors Aweigh and Hopeless Romantic, even if their entire worlds are different than they were a couple of decades ago.
“We’re all different people now, because those first few records were when we were in our early 20s and life was completely different,” says guitarist Pete Steinkopf. “Everything around us was completely different too. It was before the internet, and it was a whole different world. I think all that stuff comes out in what you’re writing about. Those first couple of records, we were these road dogs who were on tour all of the time, and a lot of that came out in the music too.”
But while some artists have a hard time listening to their previous works, the Bouncing Souls are pretty happy with their lengthy catalog of catchy punk rock. From 1991’s Ugly Bill EP all the way through Simplicity, few bands have maintained the level of consistency and steady growth of the Bouncing Souls. From their lighthearted humorous tracks to the heavier and more thought-provoking material, Steinkopf believes each record has its own special place in the band’s discography.
“It’s cool to look back at all of the records,” Steinkopf says. “We recently did a thing where we had to rank our records, and it was cool to look back on them and see what we liked and didn’t like about each one. When you’re a band for as long as we are, every record symbolizes a moment in time in our collective lives. They’re cool little benchmarks.”
These days, the lives of Steinkopf, vocalist Greg Attonito, bassist Bryan Kienlen and drummer (since 2013) George Rebelo are certainly different than when they were high school kids, and the additions of families, side projects, and a multitude of other distractions means the Bouncing Souls aren’t quite the road warriors they once were. For a band that used to be on the road for months at a time, the group’s new touring schedule of anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks on the road each time out is quite the change, but it also keeps things exciting for a band that hasn’t taken a formal break since forming in the late 1980s.
“It’s pretty cool because now, everyone’s really excited for every show,” Steinkopf says. “We’ll go out and do a couple of weeks’ worth of shows, and everyone’s excited for each one. Sometimes, when we were touring over half of the year at a time, there were times where it would feel like you’re punching a clock every now and then. Now, we all have our lives at home, so it means even more when we get together. It’s extra special now, and I think that comes out in the shows.”
Of course, with the Bouncing Souls having been together for longer than many millennial punks have been alive, their diehard fanbase will travel to make whatever tour dates they can when the group announces a run of shows. Thankfully, the Jersey foursome mixes plenty of festival dates into their runs of headlining mid-size venues, so fans of all types get the chance to see the band nearly every year. This month alone, the Souls just got done with Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise, and they’ve already got festivals lined up in Phoenix and Boise lined up in the coming weekends along with a handful of headlining dates up and down the West Coast. With upcoming sets at events like Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas, there’s really no reason for the Bouncing Souls to stop splitting their time between festivals and headlining shows in the future.
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“I like the vibe of a really small intimate show, but doing the big outdoor festivals are cool too,” Steinkopf says. “We like to do a little bit of everything. We like the intimacy of all of the fans in a small place, but then you get to play in front of all kinds of different people at a festival.” “I like the vibe of a really small intimate show, but doing the big outdoor festivals are cool too,” Steinkopf says. “We like to do a little bit of everything. We like the intimacy of all of the fans in a small place, but then you get to play in front of all kinds of different people at a festival.”
Beyond the usual festivals and gigs, the Bouncing Souls are already preparing something special for their 30th anniversary in a couple of years. There’s nothing set in stone yet, but a retrospective of their 10 albums and numerous EPs could prove to be a massive undertaking for everyone involved. After all, sifting through the hundreds of tracks to come up with the perfect hour of music each night is tough enough for Steinkopf and the band.
“It makes it hard to write a setlist because we have so many damn songs,” Steinkopf says. “There’s the handful of real staples — we never had a hit, but we definitely have hits with our fans, so we get all of those in there. Then we try to surround those with other cool songs, and we try to play a little bit of everything off of all the different records.”
The Bouncing Souls are at the Observatory tonight (3/16). Tickets cost $26.50 and are available through the Observatory's website.