Punk rock is often characterized as angry and discontented. Who knew it could also be happy? Well, Bouncing Souls frontman Greg Attonito, for one. While Attonito may have started out as a snarling young punk in the 1980s New Jersey scene, today he seems genuinely happy, and not just because his band will soon enter its third decade together. Rather, he's finally able to appreciate where he is now, where he's been and where he's about to go.
Over the course of 20 years and seven records, little has changed musically for Bouncing Souls. Sounding a bit more SoCal skate-punk than New Jersey hardcore, the tunes are set to hyper-speed, the guitars chug along, and Attonito's booming vocals ride the wave. Though a bit better produced and more melodic than the official 1994 debut, The Good, The Bad and The Argyle, songs from 2006's The Gold Record still pound away with that familiar pogo beat and sing-along choruses. What has changed is that Bouncing Souls aren't bratty punks anymore -- they're forefathers of a genre.
"I really feel happy with what we've done, not only in being in a relatively, if not very successful band, but also I feel more creative and more excited about music than I ever have," Attonito said in a recent phone interview.
And it shows. The Gold Record is the band's most accomplished effort to date, especially with its emotional high point, "Letter From Iraq." Previously more a band of broad, fun-over-guns politics, the Souls wanted to address the war, but had no connection to Iraq besides "watching the news and all that glossed-over bullshit." A letter from Garett Reppenhagen, a G.I. they'd met at a 2003 show, helped the band tell the story truthfully.
"To think that we could say anything about the war with any real value just didn't make sense," Attonito says. "Then we got this letter from Garett telling us about his experiences -- it was perfect, like, 'Of course.' Why should we write it? We couldn't say it any better. We just had to do the sorting and shoveling of music to put the words to."
Attonito seems truly moved by the music that he and his band pump out on record and onstage; it's almost surprising to hear such excitement from a man who's been doing this for 20 years.
"When we started, a band was in its own environment. Back then, man, we'd leave Jersey and go play in D.C. and afterwards we'd have 10 or 15 interested fans in D.C. And we had to keep in touch with them through a mailing list and post cards," he says. "And now, the Internet is just monstrous in its impact. Even local bands now can get interest from other cities without even going on tour."
Attonito tells stories of using payphones (remember them?) on tour, of gaining fans that feel more like family and of "having everything ... just not money." He uses "awesome" in about every other sentence, especially when at a loss for words to describe how he feels about having played London's Wembley Arena or "that stage in Tokyo, the first place the Beatles played in Asia" (the Nippon Budokan Hall, in 1966).
So is Greg Attonito simply too happy to be a real punk? Not at all, he says. "You need to step back and think how we've made something and judge it for itself. It only falls under the category of punk or rock 'n' roll because that's what we all call it," he says. "But to us, it's just who we are."
The band plans to spend 2008 touring minimally (including a Fri., May 2, stop at Mr. Small's), and writing songs that will be released online all through 2009, along with a world tour, to mark its 20th anniversary.
Again at a loss for words, or, rather, anything more eloquent, Attonito sums it all up with, "Man, I'm just havin' a good time."
Bouncing Souls with Tim Barry and Gaslight Anthem. 8 p.m. Fri., May 2. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $17. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com
- Get awesome: Bouncing Souls