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The Bouncing Souls: Positivity Through Punk Rock, New Jersey Style

Updated on July 25, 2013

The Bouncing Souls have mixed personal reflection with optimism, shaken it up, and poured it over the catchy sing-along punk rock for two and a half decades.

“Get up, now’s your chance. We are here and we make you dance. You are not alone. This is your home.” The Bouncing Souls triumphant call to optimism has been their credo for the past twenty five years. The New Jersey Punk rock band’s anthems of hope and joy defiantly express their never say die attitude onto the disenchanted, the wayward, and the heartbroken. The Bouncing souls sing about the light at the end of the tunnel without disregarding the fact that some of life's most poignant moments occur when we feel lost or broken. When we emerge from the darkness we can see that life is a beautiful thing.

Punk rock is the music of revolution through peace and social justice. Punk Rock seeks changes in antagonistic forces that threaten happiness and prosperity. Some bands fight for political change. Some are a call to action against immorality. Some take an ethical stance against exploitation of the masses. At its core, it lends a voice to the voiceless. It pushes for strength through principles and accountability. It provides elements that contrast and contradict contentment in regard to the lower rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. The Bouncing Souls' revolution lies within the soul. Their music taps into insecurities and self worth. "Remember that you are born free," they proclaim.

Punk rock is a call to arms. Sometimes the negative elements aren’t presented through political legislation, sometimes they are our own personal demons. The Bouncing Souls use hope and optimism to inspire audiences to suck the marrow out of life. Remorse and a lack of direction are inherent parts of the human journey. Sometimes things look bleak. Sometimes the road ahead is not well lit, but music doesn’t have to commiserate. It doesn’t need to empathize or sympathize. How long are you willing to sit alone and feel sorry for yourself? Sometimes music finds you in a dark proverbial tunnel and helps lead you out.

“It was a cloudy night, or so it looked to me. I felt so lost, I couldn’t say why.” The song “Gone” off of the 2001 album “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” is inner conflict resolution in verse. It’s an exorcism of personal demons through music. Self -doubt clouds the soul. Anguish obscures clarity. Negativity conflicts with hope. Sometimes we all get lost in ourselves, and music can find us in a dark corner and bring us back to reality with a renewed positive outlook on what it was that made us sad in the first place. We have the strength imbedded in our souls to battle with adversity. Music can inspire us to reach down and draw it out no matter how hard our demons fight back. “I needed strength to change my mind, but this ghosts stick to me like glue, hating life, believing I was no good. I was a darkness all my own.” Singer, Greg Attonito combines feelings of futility with self- isolation. “A song played on the radio. It went straight to my heart. I carried it with me until the darkness was gone.” The resolution highlights the verse. Overwhelming sadness plays like a broken record. When burdened by it, the intrusive thoughts play over and over, like they are never going to end. Just change the record, or find a way to finish the song. Nothing lasts forever.

The Bouncing Souls make records of inclusion. People listen to cliché songs about lost love, or unrequited love, or heartbreak because they feel as though the song on the radio is part of the soundtrack of their life. The part of the human condition that compels people to wallow in their misfortune is pervasive. At our weakest moments we don’t want to accept rationality. We want to cling to something as downtrodden as we are. We want art that we can resonate with. That seems counterproductive. Listening to pessimism only prolongs pain. Pain is unavoidable, but it shouldn’t be permanent. There is an appropriate time to mourn. Everyone mourns differently, but life ought to be defined by the pursuit of better things. Time goes on, regardless of whether or not we are reluctant to go on with it.

The Bouncing Souls sing about forward momentum. Stagnation doesn’t lead or move on to anything. Movement beyond one’s current state doesn’t necessarily come from a naïve point of view. Optimism isn’t unreasonable. Sometimes there isn’t a quick fix to a broken heart. The song “Night Train” of the 2003 album “Anchors Aweigh” is a bluntly insightful narrative about running away. Sometimes emotional freedom is found through distance. If a place void of possibility, leave it behind. Take action. Accept responsibility for yourself. Be accountable for your own destiny. Sometimes there are greener pastures elsewhere. Sometimes there aren’t, but we can’t know for sure until we look.

The Bouncing Souls have released nine albums to date, each one either through Epitaph Records or their own label Chunksaah Records. Each one displays maturity that naturally comes with longevity. Be it the way they explore more complex themes, such as the War on Terror on the “Gold Record” song “Letter from Iraq”, or the way each album is recorded and produced, they have never lost their ability to create catchy songs. To describe their sound as lighthearted is both spot on but not entirely true. The pogo element that reverberates through the crowd at their live shows is a testament to their writing style. They make the listener aware of challenges, but always seem to offer simple solutions. The trailer for the 2003 documentary “Do You Remember” hits the nail on the head when it defines the Bouncing Souls concert experience. “The Bouncing Souls are that feeling you walk away with from a show, when you’re just, inspired,” Inspired to take on anything, inspired to accept the woes of life as they come. The joy they derive from playing to crowds is contagious. Life is way too short to be miserable. Obstacles can be overcome. Wake up and smell the coffee and realize your potential. The Bouncing Souls aren’t afraid to be silly, honest, deep, or optimistic. They convey an ethos of jubilant exploration into the soul. Their mantra accepts the passage of time and that it is our nature to reminisce fondly about the good times. Keep one eye on the past and one on the future. We can learn more about where we are headed by acknowledging where we’ve been. It’s important that we take the best parts of us and adapt. “All my experiences ride with me.” Bryan Kienlen sings the lead on the song “Night Train.” Even in the event of a full life change, you rebuild on what you’ve learned in the past. You take all of the pain and awkward moments of your youth and use them to your advantage.

They are doing what they love, and have been doing it for over two decades. Vocalist Greg Attonito, Bassist Bryan Kienlen, Guitarist Pete “The Pete” Steinkopf, and drummer Michael McDermott(McDermott’s tenure with the band began after the departure of original drummer Shal Khichi following the release of “Hopeless Romantic” in 1999) show no signs of slowing down. They continue to tour and release new music. Every time that signature Bryan Kienlen metallic sounding bass twang intro to the song “Argyle” is plucked, every time The Pete strums the opening chord to “Hopeless Romantic”(This clip features Shal on drums), every time Michael McDermott counts off a song on his high hats, and every time Greg starts the chant “Here we Go”, young and old punks alike will be there to pump their fists in the air and “sing along forever.”

Have a look around. "You are not alone," remember? Accept the fact that anything worthwhile takes work and dedication. Stay the course. Above all else, stay true to yourself.

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