bill bodkin interviews Bryan Kienlen and Pete Steinkopf of New Jersey rockers The Bouncing Souls and reviews their new album, Ghosts On The Boardwalk …
Growing up in central New Jersey in the mid ’90s, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the best skater-punk rock ever. The fist-in-the-air anthems, the hyperactive guitar work, the mosh-inducing fury inspired legions of multi-colored hair-styled, skate-board riding, Vans-wearing youth of the Garden State. At the forefront of this sound was The Bouncing Souls. Born in the college city of New Brunswick, The Bouncing Souls produced a sound that captured the spirit of youth — its energy, its passion, its emotion. Romantically tinged songs like “Quick Check Girl” werethe soundtrack to many a “hopeless romantic” (a title of one of their early albums), while their seminal hit “Ole!” has inspired soccer players of all ages to strap on their Adidas.
Their latest effort, Ghosts On The Boardwalk, finds the Souls with 20 years under their belt. They’ve relocated from their home base at 174 Commercial Ave., in New Brunswick to the legendary Jersey Shore town of Asbury Park. They’ve become the elder statesmen of The Warped Tour. Yet, the same youthful energy, the same clap-hands-mosh-pit-inducing frenzy their songs create is still palpable, still prevalent. At the same time, there’s a sense of maturation and moving on with the album. Different musical styles are employed, the songs’ subject matter are a little more serious.
The crossroads of the Souls’ career, the meeting of youthful energy with mature themes and subject matter, can be found on the album’s title track. “Ghosts On The Boardwalk” is an absolutely beautiful song — Springsteen-esque in its scope. Rousing choruses mixed with soulful and intimate lyrics are a perfect reflection of where the Souls are at their career, both literally and metaphorically. The song captures the beauty and sadness that is the Jersey Shore during the winter months — the time of year which inspired the song. The rousing chorus of “Where the city meets the sea” raises the hair on the back of your neck and sends chills up and down your spine. It’s hauntingly beautiful, while at the same time fun and energetic. It’s a bit mysterious how it came to be this way.
In short, this album is a must-have. It’s a relevant and fun record for those who were there at the beginning of the Souls’ run in the world of punk, as well as those who are strapping on their first pair of Vans.
B&B’s Bill Bodkin had the opportunity to interview to Bouncing Souls bassist Bryan Kienlen and guitarist Pete Steinkopf about the band staying relevant for the past two decades, the new album and their holiday shows at Asbury Park’s most famous venue, The Stone Pony.
(Please note: Kienlen started the interview with us, then had some tattoo appointments he had to go to, so Steinkopf took over.)
B&B: How much did living in Asbury Park influence the record?
Bryan Kienlen: Where you live definitely influences every part of your life, and it definitely permeated into our songwriting. New York City was a big influence to the album, especially the self-titled track. Asbury Park [influenced it] for sure, too — both The Gold Record and Ghosts On The Boardwalk. It never would’ve influenced it if we didn’t live here year-round. After the summer ends, you get the Jersey Shore to yourselves. You have a more intimate relationship with it when you’re left alone. There’s so much energy and beauty coming from the ocean. There’s also a lot of history and energy coming from the town, and it’s something you can tune into and feel. When you walk along the boardwalk by yourself, you can feel that, like they’re ghosts walking along with you.
B&B: How is this record different from your previous records?
BK: Every record is different, it’s a snap shot, a cross section of where you are in your mind and geographically, too. It is what it is, and that’s what happens when you write from the heart. As a policy, we write from the heart, and we’re never short on things to write. Sometimes that works for us, and sometimes against us. Call it lazy, but we don’t do a lot of intellectualizing about what we write.
B&B: You’ve been around since the late ’80s. What do you think it is about your music that has kept you around for so long?
BK: I don’t know, but we sure are thankful. Maybe it’s related to my last answer. The material goes to a place that’s deep, and when it gets there, it’s universal. It’s about the human experience — it’s hard to describe, but it’s the wavelength we all share, and people can relate [to our songs] on a more intimate level.
B&B: What is it about that band that’s made you stay in it for 20 years? I mean, you’ve been coming to the same “office” for over two decades.
BK: Man, coming out on tour every night to a new crowd, you’re creating a new moment. Last night in Portland, Ore., that show felt as good as any show I’ve ever played. We traveled from Salt Lake City to Portland on our day off, cooped up in our van. Then we hit the stage and we’re like “AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” We were so fired up. It was a giant room, everyone was locked in. The love in that room was really strong and it was such a great energy. We love it. If we didn’t enjoy this, we would’ve quit a long time ago.
B&B: What’s your biggest accomplishment, outside of longevity, that you’ve accomplished in your 20-plus years as a band?
BK: We got to meet and play with most of our punk rock heroes. Also the places around the world we’ve gotten to see.
Being in the new RockBand
B&B: How cool was it to get your song “Gasoline” on the new RockBand video game?
Pete Steinkopf: It’s kinda cool. I mean, I really don’t play those games. It’s just another cool way for people to come across our music. Hopefully, hearing our music will inspire them to learn how to play a real instrument.
Asbury vs. New Brunswick
B&B: You and Bryan both relocated from your residences in New Brunswick, a great artist community, to Asbury Park, a legendary music city. So what’s the difference between the original music scenes in the two cities?
PS: I was in New Brunswick from ’89-’92, and I have to say they’re similar. Back then, there were a lot of great new bands coming onto the scene, and it’s the same with Asbury. It has a good, young music scene.
The Stone Pony Holiday Shows
B&B: What was the impetus for this week-long Holiday show?
PS: It’s an idea we first had in 2007, sometime in the summer. We were sitting around talking about cool things to do with tours and stuff. Then we came up with the idea to do a hometown thing like the [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones do in Boston every year. So we decided to do it in Asbury, which is our adopted hometown. Then, we thought: Why not do it at The Stone Pony, which is just a legendary spot. After that first year, we decided that we’d keep doing these shows until we can’t do them anymore.
B&B: What bands are you excited to see on stage this year? Who should people checking out?
PS: I’m excited to see Yuppicide (performing Dec. 29) — haven’t seen them in forever. I’m actually excited to see all the bands play because they’re all our friends.
B&B: Where did the idea for playing your back catalog come from?
PS: Every year, we have concepts for the show. Last year, we had the fans pick the setlist. The year before, people voted on the top 40 songs they wanted to hear us play. We figured since have eight records and are playing four nights, why no do two albums a night.
Asbury Music Awards
B&B: You guys recently won the “Beyond Asbury” Award at Asbury Music Award for Ghosts On The Boardwalk. What does winning this award mean to you guys?
PS: It’s always nice to be acknowledged. A lot of songs from the album, especially “Ghosts On The Boardwalk,” were inspired by Asbury. So it’s nice they awarded us for something like this.