The Bouncing Souls: “It’s Not Even About Politics. It’s About Common Decency.”
Text by John N. McGuire.
Greg Attonito isn’t too stoked about the way things are right now.
“In my opinion, our society, from top to bottom, is in bad shape,” says Attonito, vocalist of lighthearted Jersey punk veterans The Bouncing Souls. “People are struggling to just survive and we’re supposed to be the most powerful nation in the world. It’s just completely wrong.”
Attonito is in Cleveland, waiting for his bandmates to arrive for the first show of the The Bouncing Souls’ fall tour, which includes a stop at Union Transfer on Saturday.
It’s shortly after the presidential election and it’s clear that the results are still fresh on the frontman’s mind. For Attonito, Donald Trump’s victory proves that the current state of the American political climate is worse than he thought.
“With the whole situation with Trump being elected, it’s gone from a level of being frustrating and difficult into absurdity,” Attonito says.
Attonito affirms that things have “taken a turn for the worst” since February 2016, when The Bouncing Souls recorded their tenth studio album, Simplicity, at Lakehouse Recording Studios in the band’s beloved Asbury Park. A recurring theme on the LP, which dropped over the summer, is The Bouncing Souls’ discontent with the beliefs and ideas championed by people like Trump. On the upbeat and sarcastic “Hey Aliens,” Attonito offers extraterrestrials “livestock organs and artisanal beer” in exchange for Earth’s rescue from the super-rich. Attonito says he suspects the president elect will do nothing to address the disproportionate balance of wealth in the U.S. and that Trump will work to ensure that billionaires remain at the forefront of making American policy decisions.
“They are going be the ones that are in control while everyone else is suffering,” Attonito says.
“Everyone else” includes women, Muslims, Latinos and every other group of people Trump has made frequent derogatory comments about. For Attonito, the fact that (nearly) half of voters consider Trump’s behavior and policy suggestions acceptable is a step backward for American society.
“[Trump] embodies in a person a lot of the things that are wrong with our world, like not being responsible for yourself in your words and your actions,” Attonito says. “It’s not even about politics. It’s about common decency.”
Attonito says he had hoped, even expected, that the American people would rise above Trump’s rhetoric rather than succumb to it, though he admits that he’s not entirely surprised.
“It’s that anger, that frustration that’s been brewing inside of people,” Attonito sighs. “I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they would at least be like, ‘Well we can’t go that direction even though we are very frustrated.’”
On one of Simplicity’s most climactic tracks, the anthemic “Writing on the Wall,” Attonito belts his resistance to social injustice over guitarist Pete Steinkopf’s trusty chords and Bryan Kienlen’s ever-unrelenting bass.
“I thought there was enough writing on the wall / It’s not so hard to see the truth of it all,” Attonito sings. “The last bits of our integrity are getting squeezed out / Replaced with fear and doubt, like we’ve lost control.”
Longtime listeners might notice an energy that pulsates through Simplicity, reminiscent of seminal Bouncing Souls albums How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2001) and Anchors Aweigh (2003). Attonito credits the familiar vibe, at least partially, to producer John Seymour, who worked on all three records. Seymour used his technical chops and hands-off approach to capture the heartfelt blend that The Souls pull off so well—one of optimism and reflection, goofiness and rage.
“The best producers, they don’t force themselves into the situation. The best kind, I think, make the right choices and say the right things to help you do your thing,” Attonito explains. “It’s like, ‘I’m trying to make you guys make your record the best record that you want to make.’ That’s a tricky thing. It’s not easy to be that person and [Seymour is] really good at it.”
While The Souls tapped reserves for the production side of Simplicity, the band also has a new dynamic—drummer George Rebelo, best known for his work with Hot Water Music. Rebelo joined The Bouncing Souls in 2013 after the departure of Michael McDermott, who was in the band for about half of their nearly 30 year career.
“[Rebelo] was the undeniable new energy that was just involved in every moment of the process,” Attonito says. “He’s got a different approach. He’s got a different playing style. So that’s reacting and it’s bouncing off the three of us in a different way.”
As The Bouncing Souls prepare for Trump’s America, Attonito holds onto a perspective that’s as grim as it is hopeful: maybe society needs to hit rock bottom to pave the way for a better future.
“I’m trying to see it in a positive sense,” Attonito says. “[Trump] may be this bad catalyst, but hopefully it leads to some sort of change where people have to wake up.”