Interview with Greg Attonito of the Bouncing Souls conducted in the fall of 1996 in Denver at the Mammoth Event Center, prior to the band’s set on an all-day bill that included The Descendents, Buck-O-Nine, and other bands I can’t remember.
Greg S: How are things going for you at the moment?
Greg A: Okay. This is our second show of a tour, about a month and a half. We toured for 20 days, had a week off, and this is the start of another one. So we’re good. We toured with The Descendents. This is one show with them, and we’re gonna tour with them later. So we’re psyched for that.
Greg S: Did you grow up listening to The Descendents?
Greg A: Yeah, one of my favorites. They were always one of my biggest influences.
Greg S: What’s an average day like on tour?
Greg A: I’ll tell ya what happened today. Finished the show early in Kansas City, went out to eat at about 10, hit the road, I woke up at 3:30, drove from 3:30 to 6:30 on my three-hour shift, slept till about 10:30. When I got up, we were parked across the street here in Denver. I had to piss like crazy and there was nowhere to go. It was kind of like a busted neighborhood, and I’m like in piss panic. And people are coming up to me asking for change and shit, and I just had no patience at all. I had to piss so bad. So I’m walking around, looking for a place to piss, nowhere to go, I get back in the truck, and we gotta bail. Everyone’s kind of waking up, we’ve gotta find a place to eat and piss. We went to a diner, got a piss, something to eat, I felt like a human again. So that’s one average day, out of many different days. I’m kind of beat, but I’ll be alright.
Greg S: What’s the story behind “Born to Lose”? Is it a Johnny Cash song?
Greg A: I think did it before him. It was an old classic standard that a lot of people did. I knew the Johnny Cash version, I have that record. We all learned it from that. The chords are all the same, it’s pretty much just all the same, but faster and a little different.
Greg S: One of the things that I think gives you a lot of substance is that you have a lot of songs about friends, like “Lamar Vannoy” and “Johnny X.”
Greg A: Yeah, they’re real people alright. I guess writing about your friends is the easiest thinng to do, and you know a little bit about them. It works pretty good.
Greg S: How do you usually go about writing? Do you write the lyrics?
Greg A: Yeah, I write them, and everybody else kind of puts their ideas in too. It definitely wouldn’t be something I could do by myself. I need everybody else’s input, everyone helps each other out in that way. So I start out with an idea, and then everybody puts something into it. So it works out good. Sometimes it doesn’t sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
Greg S: How do you usually come up with ideas for songs?
Greg A: I don’t know. There’s no particular way. Sometimes we’re just all talking about something, and we all think of an idea, like some stupid shit that you’re just talking about, and that turns into a song.
Shal Khichi (Bouncing Souls drummer): Usually he just wakes up, writes everything down, and goes back to sleep.
Greg A: Sometimes I do that.
Shal: He’ll wake up in the middle of the night: a flash of brilliance, and if he didn’t write it down, it would never happen.
Greg A: Exactly. That’ll happen that way sometimes, but that doesnt’ necessarily work either. A ‘flash of brilliance’ might not be very brilliant.
Greg S: What the deal right now as far as recording goes, new songs?
Greg A: We have no new songs. We’re not gonna be recording anytime soon, and — we’re gonna go home and this is it, our last run. For a month and a half we’re gonna play the same set, then we’re gonna go home and start over.
Greg S: Do you think you’re gonna stick to putting out a few seven-inches and then, once they’re all out, re-record on the record?
Greg A: There are lots of ideas of what we’re gonna do. We were gonna do an ’80s-cover seven-inch, we were gonna do a superhero seven-inch — a lot of things, a lot of ideas that we have, but we’ve toured so much we haven’t been able to do it. So we were gonna do a live record, we were gonna record in New York or New Jersey, but we’re not gonna do that, we’re gonna do that later, in a year or something. But what we really need to do is write songs. Can’t put anything out unless we have the songs. So that’s what we’ve gotta do for now. How we’re gonna put them out we don’t even know.
Greg S: You seem to have a pretty strong DIY ethic, with the records and the ‘No MTV’ t-shirts. In what ways is it important to you to have that kind of way of doing things?
Greg A: Well, let me explain it a little more. When we first started, we didn’t know what to do at all. We got shows and played. We made a demo, we didn’t know what to do with it, we just handed them out. So we finally decided that we wanted to put out a record for real. We borrowed money, which isn’t exactly doing it yourself. I don’t know of anyone that could really do it all by themselves. So in that sense, we never really did it by ourselves. We always had help from people besides us, financially and all kinds of different ways. Every random thing. When we got bigger, we got BYO to distribute and manufacture it, and now that our contract’s up with them, we’ve gotten a bit bigger, we have a friend that we can pay to take care of mail while we’re away. We have her, we have Wig — he buys all the shirts, takes care of that. So getting your records in the stores is the hardest thing. It’s a day-to-day job. It’s not something you can do and tour at the same time. You want to do it so everybody’s happy. Making the music you want to make, it’s in the stores, out there at a decent price, so we need that. We need to be comfortable with a distribution deal, a factory deal, a record deal; so we’re exploring the whole avenue of how to do it. There’s many ways to do it. We’re gonna write songs, we’re gonna try to get a record together.
Greg S: Are a lot of bigger labels putting interest in you, like Epitaph or Fat?
Greg A: We walked to them a little bit. I didn’t talk to Epitaph. I talked to Mike (of Fat Wreck Chords – ed.) a little bit, which is cool, he’s totally cool. We’re interested in that. Major labels are interested. We’re just figuring out now how to do it, and what’s the best deal. There are a lot of opportunities, so we want to take the best one. It’s good to have a lot of opportunities.
Greg S: How important is it to you to keep things relatively independent?
Greg A: Everybody wants to be independent. It’s something we all have to agree on. You gotta realize too that a lot of independent labels are no different than major labels. They’re smaller, they have their own distribution, but they just have the same attitude; they make records, they make money, they either rip you off or they don’t — it’s the same idea. In the end, you wanna have an independent label that’s cool and that works for you, and you know that you can go in there and hang out with them. But at the same time, they do a good job and handle it. So that’s our preference. We want to keep an independent label who aren’t destroying that more so.
Greg S: What’s the whole attitude towards MTV?
Greg A: We just didn’t like it, and just made a shirt, put it on our record, thought it was cool, like “maybe this will make people think,” or “it’s a cool thing.” That was all it was, and people thought I had some strong opinions about MTV. And my opinion was I just never liked it. I thought it was cool in the very early ’80s when they played a lot cooler shit. And then it turned into just — “game show,” then it was just not about music or about bands. That’s all. So it was a fun huge corporation to attack. You know, like “that sucked.” You know, we’re not gonna be on MTV, but we like videos. People are like “you don’t like videos, you’ll never make a video,” and yeah, I’ll make a video, they’re cool as hell, really fun. We won’t put them on MTV, but videos are cool.
Greg S: Didn’t you make one and give it to a punk show?
Greg A: Yeah, I made it with my sister. I brought my camera on the road.
Greg S: What song?
Greg A: “Joe Lies.” It’s pretty cool, it’s just like tour and stuff.
Greg S: To me, that’s the song that defines the thing about MTV.
Greg A: Oh yeah?
Greg S: The part where you say “all these jobs, and these words / they’re nothing without honesty.”
Greg A: Right, I guess so. I never thought of it that way.
Greg S: Do you think that it got to be bigger than it was originally? It seems so representative to so many people, and I know that Bad Religion will say that the no-crosses thing at first was just a little thing that they stuck on their record, and then I guess it was easy for kids to spray paint and it looked cool, and it got blown really out of proportion.
Greg A: Exactly. We made the thing, and we made patches. We didn’t even put out name on them. We didn’t want it to be like “this is our symbol.” We were just like “maybe people will see the symbol, and they’re write it.” We didn’t give a shit. We just put it on our record, thought it was cool, you know, maybe MTV would notice or see it. And they did. We were playing a show in New York, and our manager was there, and she came up and she was like “the guy on MTV, some of the people on MTV” actually liked us, they heard our record. And one of the heavyweight types of MTV was at the show and he bought one of the t-shirts. I thought it was funny. I totally got the best kick out of it.
Greg S: That’s awesome. Most people I talk to don’t think so, but I tend to see the Bouncing Souls as being pretty universal. People who are into old-school punk like it, people who are into ska like it, some people who are into hardcore like it. Do you notice a variety of kids in your audience?
Greg A: Yeah, I think it’s great. I always want anybody who’s there who’s out there and gonna listen and be into it, I don’t care what they’re into. If they’re gonna be into the band, then I’m into that. So a more universal audience is a cool thing.
Greg S: Who are your five favorite bands of all time?
Greg A: That’s a tough one, man. It fluctuates, your tastes. You’re into some bands and then you kind of go back and rehash other bands that you’re into. One thing I can say is that I’m not into any bands now, newer bands. There are very few that I really like. I love The Clash, The Descendants, The Replacements, old bands, The Damned, I like Sick of it All, Token Entry, and some New York hardcore bands, not all of them.
Greg S: The Replacements’ Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash is a great record.
Greg A: Right! One of my favorites, I love the Replacements. I just saw Paul Westerberg in New York.
Greg S: He does some interesting stuff now.
Greg A: Billy Bragg! He’s playing down the street. Do you know Billy Bragg at all?
Greg S: No.
Greg A: He’s from England, and he totally has that English punk thing, but he doesn’t do it with a band. His songs are totally punk songs, but he plays by himself. So yeah, I’m into that. I wanna go check that out maybe later, after the show.
Greg S: When you’re not on tour, what’s your average day like?
Greg A: I’m either staying at Wig’s house on the beach, crashing there, maybe going surfing, or I’ll be at Pete’s house in Hoboken, and then I’ll get my BMX and be hanging out in the city or something. Run around the city, drink some beers, hang out, do whatever, see a show, go out.
Greg S: So you have a BMX.
Greg A: Oh yeah. We’ve all got BMX’s. Not doing any crazy riding or anything, it just gets me around.
Greg S: You say you surf?
Greg A: Yeah.
Greg S: So “Moon Over Asbury”…
Greg A: It’s for real. Bryan surfs, Shal surfs, Pete has surfed but doesn’t that much. But yeah, it’s cool. No one ever thinks that you can surf in New Jersey.
Greg S: Is there anything more you want to say?
Greg A: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I like Denver. It’s alright.
Greg S (noticing his ‘Born to Lose’ symbol tattoo): Is that new?
Greg A: No, this isn’t new, but I just got a new tattoo a couple days ago, in Kansas City. It is “Niños en Cruz.” The technical translation is “kids in crossing”; “traveling.”