The Band They All Ache to Become
The Bouncing Souls are true sons of New Jersey---and have the tattoos to prove it.
Ask any band member to ruck up the left leg of his jeans, and you'll see crude tattoos of the house the four men lived in at 174 Commercial Avenue in New Brunswick, where the punk rockers came of musical age in the early 90's.
"I used to have a room right there in the attic," the Souls' Bryan Kienlen said before a recent show at the Starland ballroom here as he pointed to the top window etched on his leg. To raise rent money, the band charged Rutgers students two dollars to mosh into the house on Commercial and watch them play.
Jim Testa, editor of Jersey Beat magazine, goes so far as to say that 174 Commercial back then was the epicenter of Garden State punk. "The Bouncing Souls didn't change the punk scene in New Jersey," he said. "They created it. In the late 80's, there was no local punk scene and very few all-ages places to play. So the Souls moved into a big old house together and started having shows. This created a D.I.Y. [Do It Yourself] subculture that exists in New Brunswick to this day."
"Bands like Thursday and Senses Fail not only look up to the Bouncing Souls, but consider them a huge influence and mentors in how to nurture a local music scene. You can take these boys out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey out of the Bouncing Souls."
And on a dark, foggy November night straight out of a Goth girl's dream, the boys, who grew up in Basking Ridge, were back home. Even before the Souls---Greg Attonito (vocals), Mr. Kienlen (bass), Pete Steinkopf (guitar), and Michael McDermott (drums)---started playing, the 3,000 fans at the Starland chanted, clapped and stomped. Men and women in their 30's, wearing more leather than a Hell's Angel, drank beer next to preteens sneaking cigarettes.
"I'm just bursting with Jersey pride!" the stocky Mr. Kienlen bellowed into the microphone.
And New Jersey should probably be a little more proud of him. While Springsteen and Bon Jovi still drown in a sea of sycophantic ink, it's a safe bet that more kids picked up a guitar and started a band after listening to the Souls than to the Boss.
Fifteen years ago, at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, the Souls were just your typical sweet, pierced, rock 'n' roll outcasts. And because they were high school wretches---honestly, aren't there any punks anywhere who were captain of the football team?---they say it was satisfying to film their video "Gone" (2001) in the halls of their old school. "You think back to who you were in high school," Mr. Attonito said before the Starland concert, "when you had no grasp on who you were. Being there and chatting with the kids made us excited things worked out the way they did."
If they hadn't? "We'd probably be pumping gas somewhere along the Turnpike."
But what did mom and dad think? "My dad didn't really get it until a colleague asked what I was up to, and he mentioned the Bouncing Souls," Mr. Attonito said. "This guy said how much his own son loved our music, and I think that really impressed Dad." Mr. Kienlen's father, Jerry Kienlen, was the mayor of Basking Ridge for two terms in 1991 and 1994, years when the Souls sometimes practiced in his basement.
"At first it just seemed like noise," Jerry Kienlen said recently, laughing. "The sound would reverberate, and eventually we had to move the group to the opposite end of the house. But later my wife and I started to hear the music."
As their popularity grew, the Souls played well-known clubs like the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and City Gardens in Jersey City, where bands like Blondie, the Cramps and Misfits once made ear-bleeding history. "We had seen all our heroes play there while we were all still in high school," Mr. Attonito said, referring to City Gardens. "They made us proud to be from New Jersey. We grew up in a great punk scene, and that's where we picked up our values. Most of the country gets their music fed to them via MTV. We learned about upcoming bands through word of mouth."
Now, new bands come to them. To nurture New Jersey rock, the Souls, based today in Asbury Park, formed Chunksaah Records. "We created Chunksaah to promote Jersey bands suck as Sticks and Stone," Mr. Steinkopf said.
And what do they think about the surge in New Jersey cool, with television shows like "The Sopranos" and movies like "Garden State"?
"It's always been cool to us," Mr. Attonito said.
By Kate Rockland
New York Times