By Adam Liebling & Jennifer Kao
Photo by Jennifer Kao
I once read an interview with Rush from the mid-80s, and in the intro, the journalist sums up the atypical rock band with this observation: "Rush prefers to dabble in art than in drugs." I wouldn't (and couldn't) say the same about the Bouncing Souls, but that phrase came to mind when Jennifer and I sat down to interview them. Even though they're one of the best punk bands today, they're just not your typical punk band.
For an hour, the Souls (minus Michael the drummer who was doing sound check) answered our pesky questions thoughtfully and conversationally. Even though they got to the club late because their van broke down, and even though they were hungry, they never complained. Even though there was a huge bin of beer, they never got out of their seats to fetch a can.
Pete, guitar, and Greg, vocals, are the two most mellow, soft-spoken punk rockers I have interviewed. Brian, bass, is the most charismatic of the group, but was also laid back, friendly, and without punk rock airs. It's hard to imagine that a few hours later these people would take to a stage and drive the sold-out crowd into a moshing, singalong frenzy.
The interview begins with us retelling the story of running into Pete at our wedding DJ's office (long story). Brian asks about our engagement...
Brian: Let's see your ring!
Jennifer: I left it at home...
Adam: We were scared the punks would steal it for crack.
B: Those damn dirty diamond-stealing punks!
A: Pete, how was your wedding?
Pete: It was awesome.
Greg: I had an awesome time. He had the best DJ. Played great music.
J: What was the highlight of the wedding?
G: The music! And I'm not just saying that because you're picking the same DJ.
P: The highlight was when our friend Jody and Michael, our drummer, went out on the dance floor for "I Like Big Butts" and did this routine that was...
G: Bordering on pornographic!
P: It was bordering on porn and it was not rehearsed and totally off the cuff and amazing. It was like Dance Fever.
B: God, I wish I could have seen it. I left after the service-I had pneumonia.
P: He was the best man, and he came through.
A: Did you teleconference in or something?
B: Yeah, I phoned in the speech (laughs)
P: You can't even laugh, because he was on his death bed.
A: Was it weird having a bunch of punks hanging out with your grandmother?
G: We're used to it! It's our life!
B: It was kind of cool, really. Worlds colliding is a lot of fun.
G: I love that.
A: So I take it your families are supportive of this loud, harsh music you play?
B: They don't really rock out to it as much as we do, but hey, they support us at this point. We're years beyond "Oh, it's a phase." They got through that-it was a phase for them. They accepted it.
A: Would you allow your own kids to follow the same path?
B: Whatever they want to do, I'll tell them they should do it.
A: Let's talk about the documentary. How long did it take to put together?
G: It was process spanning over ten years. It has years and years of footage, but the editing took a good three or four months. We originally had a three-hour version of the documentary, but had to cut a lot out.
A: Is there anything you wish you could've kept in?
G: Oh yeah. There was a ton of old footage... like Ambervision...
A: What's Ambervision?
G: It was, like, Pete and Bryan cruising into a truckstop, and I followed them with a camera. And they were "being dudes" shopping for Ambervision-the sunglasses. Really not much more to it... They'd try them on, go into the bathroom and look at themselves.
B: Fuck! I haven't seen that in years!
A: Watching all the outtakes and home movies, it's like you guys should've done a public access skit show, or something.
B: Yup! We could've. We have friends who have that exact thing on cable. And it's just skits and whatever they come up with and it's called the Slack Pack.
A: Is there anything in the final documentary that you regretted saying?
P: We cut all those things out. (laughs)
B: There's more stuff that I wish I could've said. Like, I wanted to talk about the truck now. We had a whole big dedication to the Hovelpod, which is awesome, but we have a box truck that we've been living in for the past 200,000 miles.
A: The Hovelpod Mach 2?
B: Yeah, this would have to be part two of the Hovelpod. I wish the old girl could've made it in there...
A: Did you originally pitch the documentary to Epitaph?
G: I thought about it for one minute, and decided to do it ourselves.
B: It's too "ours". Like, they put our records out and they own them. They would own the DVD.
A: Let's talk about the new album. It's of course much darker, much more brooding. Are you guys becoming emo?
B: Not even close!
P: It's darker and more personal but I wouldn't say it's emo. It has emotion, but it's not emo. But we've always had those moments, ever since the first record.
A: You guys have always had a very.. Umm.. What's that word? Starts with a W?
A: Yes, all of those, but... ah screw it. [I was actually thinking of "wistful"] Are you guys happy with the entire shebang?
B: Yeah, it's perfect.
A: Your best one?
B: At the moment.
J: I noticed the cover art is very different, and a departure from your other albums. Was it done in a different way or by someone else?
B: No, it was done by me; I've done all the covers. Somewhere around the end of the process of writing the songs, I come up with a... I try to visualize the record. Around the time the record starts to take shape, I try to find it in my mind visually. And this is what this record looked like. So I pictured it, and I was like, this has to be done with oil paints. Thus, I couldn't do it in my usual graphic, two-dimensional comic-y style. I don't know, it needed to be dark.
A: Have you thought about directing any Souls videos?
B: Ummm... I don't know.
A: Maybe create cool stage sets with giant flaming skulls?
G: Not that kind of dark! Not AFI dark!
A: No black mascara?
G: Little cages with us in straightjackets...
B: Bats! I love bats, though. But it's not spooky like Halloween spooky, it's like dark I might kill myself dark.
A: Are you still doing graffiti?
B: A little bit.. Just like tagging bathroom walls in clubs, throwing up little Bouncing Souls things.
J: Name five reasons why Kate is great.
G: She's really good at math.
P: She loves us... even though we totally suck sometimes.
G: That's the best part about Kate.
A: Suck personally?
P: Just as a unit.
B: Yes, suck as an organization, or lack thereof. (laughs)
G: She helps us communicate better.
B: She has pretty hair. She's more manly than any of us when needed to be. She could kick any one of our asses.
A: Has she ever defended you guys? Beaten anyone up?
B: I think if shit went down, Kate would be there. Kate would not be running into a corner, she would break a bottle and cut someone's face open with it.
J: Have you ever seen each other naked?
G: We caught glimpses here and there...
B: You kinda look and you're like uhhh, I didn't see that... (laughs)
P: If you're on tour, you might walk in on someone on the toilet or something. And really, what can one say about such a thing?
G: You're like, okaaaay...
B: I once played a show naked, so these guys definitely had to stand on stage and play a show with me naked.
J: Who among the bands you know have the hottest groupies?
A: You can't have groupies!
P: You can have groupies, you just can't, like, touch them or anything.
B: I'm just trying to think if I know any metal bands, cuz they always get the hottest groupies.
P: The Explosion have model hipster groupies.
B: Yeah, that's true. Cutting edge groupies.
P: Yeah, fashion groupies.
J: Like the Strokes. Metrosexuals.
B: Metrosexuals! Good one!
J: Have you guys spent more time in California since you're on Epitaph?
G: I live there. Lived there for about three years.
J: Wow, what do you think of it?
G: I like the weather. There's not a lot to it, as far as socially, that I care much about.
J: What part of California do you live in?
G: In Los Angeles, in the valley.
J: So I imagine you know how to drive..
G: Yeah, I'm just getting to know my way around after being there for so long. You know, anywhere it's hit and miss as far as people. You find people that are cool, you find people that aren't.
J: What made you move out to LA?
G: Well, I had a girlfriend out there, and we have since gotten married.
J: Ohhh, congratulations! So you're the surfer in the band, then? How did you get into surfing?
G: When I can, yeah. I always loved the ocean, and in the early 90s, we actually moved in with a friend Matt O'Brien, and he surfed, so he's kind of my surfing mentor.
A: Have you guys ever read something in print or on a website about you that was completely wrong?
B: On Napster, or any file-sharing thing, there's a song called "The Irish Drinking Song" by the Bouncing Souls that we never wrote.
P: It was like a ska-Dropkick Murphys mix. It might be Voodoo Glowskulls, I think. But every few months, at a show we'll hear someone in the crowd scream out: "IRISH DRINKING SONG!! PLAY IT!!!" And it's not even us!
J: Does it sound like you guys?
B: It doesn't sound remotely like us. And people are like, that's the best song you guys ever wrote! Um, thanks?
A: But have you ever read stuff like, "I went to the Bouncing Souls show last night and they were such assholes and they kicked my friend's ass!"
G: It happens very rarely, put sometimes something will leak through.
B: The only misconception is that Greg is wasted.
P: I hear that ALL the time!
B: Yeah, that's like every kid I meet, "Dude, I went to that Bouncing Souls show and Greg was WASTED!" He's just mellow, that's just the way he is.
P: I went to high school with Greg, and Greg would always get in trouble because teachers always thought he was stoned all the time.
J: Then you must really fit in in LA. They're really mellow out there.
G: In a way, they're not, though, because there's something different... Like on the freeways-people are totally insane!
B: Yeah, they're mellow, but they're not hella-mellow. (laughs)
G: From individual to individual, there's an element of LA that's totally psychotic.
J: Who are some celebrities you'd like to meet?
B: Shane McGowan. I'd love to meet him and get drunk with him.
A: Yeah, but he wouldn't remember it.
P: Who cares-you would!
B: And I'd like to meet Bruce, the goddamn Boss, one of these days.
A: Jersey boy over here.
B: Just like John Cusack in High Fidelity, and the Boss just appears with his guitar and answers questions. I just want to have him, like when I really need help, appear with his guitar and be like "Brian, dude, tell her that you love her..." Just sit on your couch and give you advice.
J: Did you hear that John Ritter died today?
G: And Johnny Cash!
P: Sucks on both counts...
A: But more for John Ritter. I mean, c'mon. Who here really listens to Johnny Cash?
B: Umm, you're kidding right?
A: No! I went to all these ska and punk websites today and all these little kids were crying over someone they don't listen to.
B: Hey, sorry man, but Johnny Cash is actually my favorite artist.
G: He's my total hero.
P: He's amazing.
A: You guys suck.
J: Greg, now that you're in California, what do you think of the whole gubernatorial situation?
G: I haven't been paying attention, to tell you the truth.
P: Jack Grisham!
B: Jack Grisham from TSOL.
G: Yeah, I would vote for Jack Grisham.
A: I dunno, the Joykiller stuff is pretty ehh.
B: True, true.
A: What's the best compliment you've ever received? Like, something that made you stand back and go "whoaa"?
B: Anybody who has ever said we actually saved their life. We'll see that in the guestbook sometimes with a real story. Today on the guestbook, a kid posted that his best friend pulled him up on stage during Manthem-it's a song about your best friend. And like, that was his last memory of his friend. And he just wrote an entry about it today. He talked about how his best friend just died and now what Manthem means to him... Music gets into your life. No matter who it is, it locks you in a moment.
A: What bands are like that for you?
B: For different moments, it's different things. Definitely Johnny Cash. Definitely Bruce Springsteen. Bob Seger. 7 Seconds was a big moment. All my punk rock in those years... those were massive years for me. There's too many... narrow it down for me.
B: Yeah, just really Rush. An all-encompassing banner of rock. (laughs)
P: Rush never really moved me.
J: Rush moved me... away from the radio! (laughs)
(Michael pops his head in)
A: I bet Mike's a Rush fan.
Michael: How do you know when a drummer's risers are off-kilter?
Michael: The drivel comes out the other side of his mouth. (Pops back out of the room)
G: Drummer humor.
A: So who is your weirdest fan?
P: This guy in Ottawa.
G: He was AWESOME! Tell the story!
P: We were playing Ottawa the day of the blackout, and then the blackout happened and we couldn't play. So we started playing acoustic outside, but there's this kid with this giant red curly fro. He's like screaming at us, like song titles and "YEAAAHHH!! OI OI OI OI!! I'M A HOPELESS ROMANTIC!!! AHHHHHH!!!!!" Like so loud, and we had no amplifiers. And it was awesome because there were all these kids sitting around us-it was a sold-out show and no one could go back in the club after the power went out. So we went out in the alley and us and Hot Water Music were sitting and playing acoustic guitars, and all the kids sat around. And this one kid was just SCREAMING.
G: FULL VOLUME SCREAMING. It was amazing to see, this kid.
A: What's the most challenging thing about being in the Bouncing Souls?
B: Umm, we're all challenged.
G: Keeping my ego in check is pretty hard.
A: Shut up and fetch me a beer. (laughs)
B: I feel like I become more and more of a freak every year. Like you had a place in society being a young punk kid, but as you get older, slowly all the people you were surrounded with, as time goes by, all get reabsorbed into society. And you go on, and you're sort of more and more isolated from society.
A: It'll be worse when you have kids. You could be the most punk rock person, but you'll still be an embarrassing dad.
B: You're right, if I was a dad, I'd probably be very, very embarrassing. It becomes more apparent to me though, that I'm a total freak. That sometimes is weird.
J: Do you guys see yourselves doing this for the rest of your lives?
P: As long as we're still viable and writing good songs and good records.
B: Yeah, as long as we still like doing it. I'll always do what I like, and I can't see myself stopping to like this, because every time I write a song, I make a stride in doing it and getting better at it. It's always rewarding.
A: Not to age you guys, but in 9 or 10 years, you'll be eligible for the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.
P: We better get crackin at writing some good songs then. Sell some records.
A: What did you think of Rob Santello's book?
B: Awesome, it's great.
A: So you liked the way he portrayed you as... pedophiles? (Laughs)
B: I read a review in Maximumrocknroll and it said the book portrayed us as fratboys.
A: There was a lot of drug use, but it seemed atypical of you.
B: Yeah, we don't do that stuff.
A: The whole book though is about Rob's search for drugs. But then I saw him on the documentary and he was...
A: Like a college professor in training.
B: Well, that is the essence of Rob Santello. He is a well-read, well-spoken.. drug addict! (laughs) He's one of those rare guys who get funnier when you give him a couple pills.
J: What's something about you that your fans would be surprised to know?
G: That I don't drink.
P: I think that's the biggest one, because everyone thinks he's always wasted.
A: All right guys. We'll let you go and eat dinner. Thanks a lot.
All: Thanks a lot!!
Pete stayed behind so we could ask him more questions about his wedding. That mini-interview will be featured in the next READ, tentatively the Wedding Issue. The Souls' new album is Anchors Aweigh on Epitaph Records (epitaph.com). Visit the band at bouncingsouls.com and chunksaah.com.