New Jersey punk legends, The Bouncing Souls, recently released ‘Volume 2,’ a cheekily titled album filled with reimagined songs culled from the band’s extensive back catalog.
With the help of producer Will Yip (The Menzingers, Title Fight, Tigers Jaw), ‘Volume 2’ offers a new take on ten classic Souls songs that highlight the band’s knack for writing melodies and heart-lifting lyrics .
Just days before the US presidential election, we had the chance to catch up with vocalist Greg Attonito about the album, life during the pandemic and carefully looking toward the future.
Oh, and if you want to see the Souls live this year, then don’t forget to tune in for the band’s upcoming livestream version of their annual Home For The Holidays event. The livestream, which is part of Will Yip's Live at Studio 4 series, wil take place on December 12th at 8pm EST and tickets are available now.
PRT: Right before the election, you guys posted something about voting... how worried were you about the results?
Greg: (laughs) Framing it that way is pretty much exact. I have not been that anxious about any political event in my entire life. And I just turned 50 so that says a lot. It’s just the environment that we have been living in that has encapsulated so many of the troubles and inherent issues in America. And it’s also bigger than just America. It’s a reactionary kind of mentality that is happening in different ways in various parts of the world. But the presidency these past four years has sort of personified it in a way that is very alarming and has also been giving it more energy. And then obviously with the pandemic, it has made things more intense. People are more stressed out.
PRT: You live in Idaho, which has traditionally been a red state. What’s it been like living there for the past couple of years?
Greg: It’s frustrating because of the electoral college here. It frustrates me to no end because essentially it will nullify my vote. Where along the way did this political control move, this power play get put into the government system? I don’t see the electoral college making any sense beyond this very complicated power play and control tool for whoever created it. Why can’t we just have the popular vote? Maybe that’s just too logical for politics. I don’t know. But yeah, that’s frustrating for me living in this state.
And yes, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster through the pandemic and how the people over here have been managing it and then with the protests that have been going on through the springtime. There was a little demonstration here in town, which I went to. And was almost nervous about going to because it wasn’t like a march. It’s a small town so you’re just standing on a corner. So I actually felt a little bit vulnerable going there. But I felt I had to be there to show my support because this was the moment, you know? It meant so much. And it ended up being very cool. There was a good amount of like-minded people who were supporting human rights for everyone. We had a few hundred people, which for up here is pretty good. And yeah, there were a few drive by haters but they couldn’t stop the good vibes.
PRT: Speaking of stopping good vibes... when you were recording the new album, did you already feel this would to be the last time you were going to be able to be together like that for quite some time?
Greg: Just the last few days. We recorded for two weeks and took three or four days off after the first week, and I was with my family in New Jersey. And the beginning of that recording, that first week, we were seeing it on the news and we're like, "What's going on? There's this pandemic. It's spreading in Italy, there's word of it popping up in New York”. It was really not a huge news thing, yet. And then during that break after the first week, that was when people started getting panicky in the New York area. We were all staying in New Jersey and the numbers started going up and the news was really ... It was not flooding the news. So then we came back that last week and we're like, "What's going on? This is for real. Maybe this is really going to be something that's not these previous smaller pandemics that got squelched without too much of a big reaction."
So that whole week, while the world was getting squeezed into a vice and everyone started getting more and more anxious, we were having this amazing creative experience. We were having such a good time, and we were really being spontaneous, working with our previously recorded songs and reworking them and getting really creative and having fun, spontaneously with them. Each day that went by, we were like, "This is so much fun. We don't want to go out in this scary, terrible world." Everybody's freaking out and buying toilet paper and they were losing their minds. It really was a weird feeling of this really good positive energy we had amongst us in the studio, and that we knew it was going to end and be extreme opposite, which it was.
It was like we entered that month or two of just real anxiety. And it hasn't fully gone away, but I think we're all adapting. For better, for worse, we're adapting to this new existence; trying to figure it out and not in this, "Are we going to work? When are we going to play?"
So we were happy that we got this really great creative moment in together as a group. And it's a real marker of that time, too. Because now the record's out, and I'm glad we have this release now, when we can't really tour.
Not being able to perform music live is really tough. In ways that we can't even really imagine. As an energy release, a sharing of positive energy, I don't even know how deeply this is affecting all of us. I mean, we can go down the list of all the ways we can't be together right now and live performance is just one of them. But it's a big one. And it's not really close on the horizon. So I'm glad we're able to share some good vibes and positivity to people at the moment.
PRT: I have to admit that when I first heard about the new album, I was like, "Oh, great. Another acoustic album." But it's more than just an acoustic album. I read that the idea comes from the acoustic shows that you did last year. But was there any hesitation to turn it into an album?
Greg: Oh, yeah. We've talked about it in previous years, but we never really had a full motivation for it. And with those live shows, we would have people come up and ask us if we were going to do an acoustic record as well. And that got us to be like, "Why not? I mean, we've done everything else. Why not do it now?" We have always written songs on acoustic guitars and we play some acoustic songs, so this seemed like the logical next step.
So then we had lots of conversations about whether or not we should record it live. Or if we should just do it naturally in a room and make it sort of very causal. But then we decided against that because usually that ends up sounding janky and turns into a curiosity thing that you only listen to once or twice.
So we had all these conversations, we had a long list of songs after going through our whole catalog. But then when we got into the studio with Will Yip, who is a great producer, a good friend, and he essentially was like, "Guys, we're not going to just do an acoustic record, right?" He just laid it out like that the first day and brought it to that next level.
Because we are a bunch of old dudes that have been playing these songs for years. We needed someone's fresh perspective to be like, "Look at this song, we could do this, we could do that. Try this". And then to our credit, I'm proud that we weren't like, "Oh, Kids And Heroes can't be like that," or, "Gone can't be like that. It's like this." You know? We were just like, "Yeah, okay, let's play that song."
And we ended up not even looking at our list. We just kept like, "Oh, this is fun. Let's try that." And we would sit and sort of rethink things and have a real fun creative energy. Nobody was poo-pooing anything or being like, "No, we can't do that. No", which made the experience a lot of fun. That's the kind of thing that ruins a studio session.
So yeah, that was sort of the evolution of it. We kept putting the idea out there that we were putting out an acoustic record. But it's much more than that. I'm so happy with it because I was able to put more experience into those songs as a singer. The original versions are good, but I've evolved performing them over the years on stage. So to me they are what they were plus more.
PRT: I was meaning to ask that. Does it happen that songs take on different meanings for you throughout the years?
Greg: Oh, totally. I think that's the wonderful magic of music, and when it coincides with your spiritual growth. You listen to things that you listened to in high school and then you revisit them and you're like, "Whoa." I did a lot of that over these past few months. I reread some books that I hadn't read in a long time, revisited some music. And when you're bringing all this experience back to this, it becomes a whole new thing.
So yes, the same occurs in songs you've written. And it occurs for better and for worse. As we were reviewing our catalog, some songs we're like, "Nah. Not going to redo that one." There's a reason why we don't play certain songs. We did records under pressure lots of times where you have to have 12 songs by this date.So you’d have seven really good ones, and then five sort of crappy ones or ones that aren't done. We just gave up on that whole deadline and business aspect of writing songs.
PRT: You talked about how it was a lot of fun recording the album. But isn't it also kind of a challenge to take these songs that you know so well and then have to do something completely different with them?
Greg: Yeah, but in the way that a challenge is really fun and rewarding. It's not like work. As soon as it starts to feel like a chore, where you're like, "We have to get through this," that’s when you disconnect from that joy of childlike creative discovery. If you're off that track, the trick is to stop for a minute and be aware of that. I think that's what makes a good artist great. When they are able to recognize that and either reposition or just drop something and go get a coffee or something. Change your frame of mind and know when that's happening.
So it can be tricky and challenging, but it's also this fun sort of challenge that you really want to tackle and you're positive about it. That's the place to be in.
PRT: Are there songs that stand out for you personally? Where you feel you've added something to the original?
Greg: Yeah. I mean, I think ‘Simple Man,’ which was primarily written by Bryan (- Kienlen, bass). Most of the times a Bouncing Souls song is brought in by a primary songwriter. Someone will come in with a few verses, maybe a chorus, maybe some chords. And then we all kind of connect to what that person's trying to express and try to make it more. Find out what that is and make it clearer or bigger or cooler sounding, or whatever.
So ‘Simple Man’ came from Bryan and we all thought it was such a cool song. But for some reason, no matter what we did when we recorded it or started playing it live, it never worked. It always sort of died on certain points that we had made too long, or there was something to the arrangement that we were never happy with. Which is why we stopped playing it. That was one where we felt like we got a second chance to bring out the heart of the song even more. And it blew me away how it came out. I was just so happy with it.
And the same for ‘Ghosts On The Boardwalk’. I love the way it came out. We were really going to go big on that one, and it turned out great. ‘Argyle’ is another one for me. It's one of the earliest ones. The lyrics are very personal and Bryan pointed out that he felt the lyrics of Argyle are really good, but that they go by so fast on the original. So he wanted to break it down and let it be more intimate.
PRT: You mentioned that you recorded the album with Will Yip. What does he bring to the table that makes him such a great producer?
Greg: Well, Will is so great because you have to be good at everything to be a good producer. The best producer has to be an engineering whiz. Which Will is. He’s fast and gets great sounds effortlessly, in no time at all. And that part isn't getting in the way of the creative thing. You don't even notice all the stuff he's doing, he's so good at it. And that's what a great engineer should be like.
But beyond that, he's got the great instincts as a songwriter. And you also have to be a total psychologist, because you're dealing with band dudes who are maniacs. Everybody's got these different ideas, everybody wants something different that they want to put into this thing. Emotionally, egotistically. So you have to be a freaking ninja psychologist to manage this kind of thing.
And I think Will enjoys working with us because we've been around for a while and we've already gone through those ego battles and stuff. We're just about the good times, and we're not going to get caught up in a lot of that stuff. Which means that he doesn't have to waste his time trying to talk someone into a certain thing that he's very confident will work musically or melodically.
He's good at all that stuff. He's so positive. He brings that positive energy into it and helps you do your thing. And that's what a great producer does.
PRT: There is one new song on the album, as well called World On Fire. Was that a last minute addition, or just very prophetic?
Greg: No, it really couldn't have been more last minute. We wanted to do one new song and we were all working on an idea I had come with. A cool tune, but it wasn't totally done. And then, like I said earlier, as we were doing all this stuff, the pandemic and the news was ramping up and ramping up. So Pete came back after our break that last week, and said he had an idea for a song about what's going on. At that point we probably had four days left in the studio but we worked it out in a day or two, tracked it, and then that was it. It was about that moment, how we felt. And it's still valid. The world's still on fire. No doubt about it.
PRT: So throughout this whole pandemic, is there something new you learned about yourself?
Greg: Yeah. First of all, I've stayed home for eight or nine months now, which I haven't done since 1995. So just that in itself. My wife and I have actually sort of talked about this for years. We're like, "Imagine if we just stayed home for a year." I pretty much haven't done it my entire adult life.
We did a lot of positive stuff and got a lot of things done around our home that we always wanted to. We built a greenhouse, which is just amazing. Super proud of it. My wife, essentially did most of the finishing work and stuff.
And I get to spend every day with my son who is turning three. And the first few years are the most crucial times so it is really cool that I've been able to spend that time with him. I'll never regret that.
As for performing music, that has never been taken away in my entire life. So I've learned a few things about how that affected me. It is definitely emotionally weird. I had some tough moments. And it's not a choice where you're like, "Okay, we're not going to go on tour for a year." If that was the case, you would still have the option. But there really isn't a world to go out and tour in. There's no real shows to be had, in the sense of a true punk rock show where everyone's just high-fiving and going nuts. And that's really what a Bouncing Souls show is.
But again, it's been a growing experience. 2020 has been a very challenging year. And you've got to figure out what's important to you. We've all been made to stay in place. I'm an introspective person anyway, so I enjoy being home. I enjoy being alone. But even I reached my point where I was like, "I need to get out and see people." Usually, I get more than my dose of that. Because I go on tour and I am literally around people all the time, for weeks. And then I go home and I'm kind of like ... I'm cool. I don't need to go out. I don't need to go see shows. I need to actually reel it in and recover from all that people energy.
So it was funny because now that I'm off that treadmill and get to be at home, I realized how much I enjoy touring. But I was on tour 9 months a year for 10 years. I was on tour so much that we all began to hate. It was too much of a good thing.
And that is something we've figured out the last five, six years. Too much touring is no good. But no touring is no fun. Because we love it, and we love to play music.
So yeah, I've learned a ton. And in that way, I think we all have to sort of find these silver linings. And even though it's not easy, we can grow from it.
PRT: You did that new song, and then last year you had the EP. But we are still waiting for a new full length. Are there new things in the works already?
Greg: I think everyone's been writing through this whole experience. But not being able to be together is definitely going to slow us down. We've had some chats about working out some things remotely, but I don't think anyone's really inspired by that. We need to be like, "All right, this is what we really want to do," as opposed to being like, "Yeah, all right dude. I'll send you a track. Check it out," and then you're like, "Okay, I'll send it back." So we just got to wait. We're not in any hurry. Again, there's no deadline. When we feel the inspiration, we'll do that.
PRT: You've recently started a Patreon page as well. Is that a fun way to tie things over?
Greg: Yeah, it was. Especially that first month when for the first time in our lives, it felt like we were dead in the water. When are we going to be a band again? We have no idea. We have no plans. We can't make plans. We can't even be like, "All right, we'll start doing stuff again next year."
We could have looked at booking for two years in advance or a year and a half. But that just seemed even more depressing. That moment was really tough for me and everybody else. And then as soon as we made that choice to do the Patreon and make a podcast and add other things, we had some proactive, positive action that just helped everyone feel good about it. And we missed each other. So every Monday we would get on and either have a guest or record a podcast of some sort, and it felt better right away.
PRT: And are you already back to planning shows? I know you're supposed to play Punk Rock Holiday next summer and Brakrock in Belgium.
Greg: Yeah, I have to. Just for my own mental stability. Our manager and our booking agent are taking care of that and I'm like, "Okay, cool". But at the same time, you cant' invest a lot of yourself into that. Like yeah, I love playing Punk Rock Holiday. It's so much fun. I love the site, I love touring Europe. It's one of my favorite aspects of touring. And it's even more special now, because we only do it every two, three years.
But I can't let myself get too invested into it because nobody can really be sure about, to what degree they will even happen. So yeah, we are booking but...
PRT: You are just careful about looking forward to it.
PRT: I have one last question. There seems to be some confusion about the album title, ‘Volume 2’. There are people who think they've missed out on Volume 1. There are people who think it's a reference to you guys taking the songs you've done before and doing something else with them. And I thought it was in references to the guitars being turned down to volume two.
Greg: It's kind of all those things. Initially, we were coming up with these songs, had about four or five tracked. We were just having a lot of fun with it an were kind of like, "Man, we could just do a lot of songs. We have a lot of songs. We should do two volumes, like Volume 1 and Volume 2." And then somebody - it might have been me - suggested we should just call this one ‘Volume 2’. And then Pete said, "Yeah, because it's kind of chilled. It's like the volume's down to two."
It’s like many things with the Bouncing Souls. It starts out as a joke and we think we'll beat that title. And then we couldn't really beat that, because it was cheeky, too. Like yes, "Where's Volume 1? This is Volume 2? Did I miss Volume 1?".
And I know for me, I thought it was most important that people who know us, knew that this is a reimagined Greatest Hits or whatever you'd want to call it and that it was a creative and fun exercise and not some serious thing. But it doesn't take away from the quality of the songs in the production.