Rank Your Records: The Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf Puts the Band’s Nine Albums in Order

Ahead of the release of the Jersey vets’ tenth album, ‘Simplicity,’ the founding guitarist chooses his favorites in their huge catalog.

|
Aug 11 2016, 2:00pm

Photo: Danny Clinch

In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

When a band kicks off their career with the lyric, “I like your mom and it’s no fad. I wanna marry her and be your dad,” it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have the maturity and foresight to endure for over 25 years. Yet, somehow, the Bouncing Souls have lasted for that long, and are about to celebrate the release of their tenth album, Simplicity. Over that timespan, they’ve written dumb songs, they’ve written heartfelt songs, they’ve lost and gained some drummers, and they’ve put New Jersey punk on the map with forceful hometown pride anthems like “East Coast! Fuck You!”

“We were just a band that played our friends’ backyards,” says founding guitarist Pete Steinkopf. “Back when we started the band in Greg’s attic, we never thought we’d be around 25 years later, making ten records, all this crazy shit. It was so far from our minds. We feel lucky every day to make music and be best friends.”

It seems like every few years, a new generation discovers the Jersey vets and latches onto their favorite releases in the band’s expansive catalog. Some longtime fans cling to the sloppy sounds of their 1994 debut, The Good, the Bad, and the Argyle, while newcomers dig their most recent material in 2012’s Comet. But how would the Souls themselves rank their records? We recently talked to Steinkopf ahead of the release of Simplicity to find out. Here’s what he came up with.

9. Ghosts on the Boardwalk (2010)

Noisey: Why does this one get put at the bottom?
Pete Steinkopf:
That record was a 20-year anniversary collection of our seven-inches. It was never meant to be a record. It was just like, let’s put all these seven-inches together and resequence them. There are a couple songs on there that I love, like “Ghosts on the Boardwalk” and “Never Say Die.” There are some songs that I’m really fucking proud of. But it was never a cohesive collection. We recorded over a year’s time. It never felt to me like a complete thought or a whole concept.

If this hadn’t come out, though, this would’ve been six years between records. Did you feel obligated to put something out?
We had the concept of doing the 20-year anniversary series. And you kind of feel that even though you’re putting out 12 songs separately. That was six years ago, it felt like a foreign concept to not put a record out. But now, even more, people are just putting out songs. At the time, we were in that strict regimen.

Are you ever worried that, since the internet is so fast-paced, if three or more years go by without an album, people will lose interest in you?
Our fans are the kinds of people that stick with what they like. And that’s how I am about bands I love. I’ll stick with them until I fucking die. I think it’s more like feeling relevant in the world. I don’t want to be one of those bands that put a record out in 1989 and goes and plays festivals because they have one huge song. I want to produce music and have something that hopefully people care about.

8. Comet (2012)

Bill Stevenson recorded this one, right?
Yeah, that was awesome. That was such a cool experience. Bill Stevenson has been such a hero of ours. I grew up with Descendents cassettes in my car in high school. They were the band. We’d been friends with them for so long and played shows with them, but we’d never done a record together, which we all thought was really weird.

How did his recording sensibilities influence your sound?
Just being around Bill is an inspiration, just his whole presence. That one, we recorded really fast and we could’ve taken more time to chill the songs out and write more. That one too, it might have been a pressure thing, where we had to put a record out. But the whole Blasting Room experience was amazing. That place is so cool. Bill is just a fucking genius. Just look at his body of work—Descendents and Black Flag.

7. The Bouncing Souls (1997)

That was the first one on Epitaph. How did that come about?
We did a tour with Descendents in 1996 and Brett Gurewitz came out to a couple of the shows and ended up taking us out to dinner one night and was like, “Do you want to be on Epitaph?” So Descendents were a big part of us being signed to Epitaph. So that was our first release with did with Epitaph and our second record we did with Thom Wilson. We’ve had the luck of being able to work with so many awesome producers, and Thom Wilson was a guru. He recorded so many of our favorite records. It has so many songs that stand the test of time like “Kate Is Great” and “Say Anything” and “East Coast! Fuck You!” but I felt like we put everything we had into this giant pot and stirred it up. I think there were 18 songs on the record. It wasn’t super focused, but there are some timeless gems that I still totally love. Thom passed away about a year and a half ago, but any time we got to spend with him was such a blessing to be in his presence. He was such an inspirational guy.

Did this one do better, commercially? Is it your bestselling record?
I think our bestselling record is Hopeless Romantic. It was just the time. Punk was so big in the late 90s. We were doing Warped Tour every year and just riding that wave. It was the peak of sales, just before the internet hit and changed everything, for better or worse. That’s a whole other conversation you can have. I think the same amount of people hear our records since the 90s, they just hear them in different ways.

6. The Good, The Bad, and The Argyle (1994)

It’s so funny that the song your career came out of the gate with was “I Like Your Mom.” It was so goofy and dumb. At that point, did you ever dream that you’d have a 20-plus-year career?
That’s us, personified—us sitting in a room cracking mom jokes. But then we have introspective songs like “Old School” and “Joe Lies” and I think that record had all those things. It was at a time when we discovered what we were. At the time, we were into all kinds of shit—punk and funk and hardcore, ska, reggae. We wrote all kinds of music and we were horrible. People would come to our show and say, “Man, you guys suck… but there’s something about you.” It was our spirit or… what’s the word? Our never-giving-upness. [Laughs]

Did you feel at all a sense of obligation to this formula? Like, you wrote some goofy songs that connected with people. Did you think you’d have to keep giving them those?
I think there have been times where we forgot that it can be totally fun. Sometimes it’s like, “Let’s write a fun song again, let’s write a stupid song.” That kind of happened on Comet. We wrote “We Love Fun.” Again, going back to Descendents, they had those songs on their early albums that were just fun—funny fucking songs where their personality showed through. That’s one thing that, to me, has been kind of lost sometimes in newer music. Watching videos, hearing songs that could be made by any human being. But there are some bands I can hear and say, “That’s that guy.” Their personality comes through. That’s what I connect with the most.

Lots of homages to 80s movies here. You covered “What Boys Like.” Some people thought that was a fuck you to homophobia? Was that your intent or were you just goofing around?
We had that in mind, but it was also just having fun. We did “What Boys Like,” “I Want Candy.” I don’t think we were trying to make a statement, but subliminally, absolutely. We grew up in the 80s and love John Hughes movies. It molded our romanticism for high school love affairs and the awkward kiss. That was us. We’d just sit around watching 80s movies and quote them all day long. We were driving to a show one day in Virginia and started throwing out quotes in the van. And we said, “Let’s write a song about that.” We wrote it on the spot and played it that night.

Your music definitely set a tone for what it was like to hang out with you guys.
Yeah, like I said before, that’s what I always connected with in music or art, and a couple of those records we talked about—Ghost on the Boardwalk and Comet—I think maybe we forgot that.

Was it because when you wrote The Good, the Bad, and the Argyle, you were living together all the time and now you have families and obligation? Is it hard to keep that interpersonal connection?
I think now, it’s just as easy if not easier. We have our own lives, but when we get together, it’s a special thing that we covet. We really value that time and that friendship, now more than ever.

When you guys get together now, is it primarily just in the studio or do you guys hang out outside of that?
Both. Me and Bryan, we’re neighbors, we hang out all the time. Greg lives in Idaho now, so he’s kind of far away, but when he comes to town, we’re always hanging out. We’re friends first. We’ve been friends since high school, and that’s what keeps us going.

5. The Gold Record (2006)

This was a little past the midpoint of your career. How were you guys doing as a band this time?
We had a lot of interpersonal band politic problems after Anchors Aweigh. Greg had talked about leaving a couple of times before that. He was on his own trip and we were all partying, so he didn’t always love being around us at the time. On Anchors Aweigh, we toured endlessly, and he wanted to be home and we were partying. He wasn’t having that much fun. By the end of that touring cycle, we weren’t even sure if we were going to be a band anymore. So The Gold Record was when we kind of got back together and reunited and said, “Let’s make a record and change how we do things.” It was a pivotal time and I think a lot of great songs came out of it.

4. Hopeless Romantic (1999)

You went to India before making this record. How did that help the band get back on track?
Shal, our old drummer, his family always went to India, so we all went there to reunify ourselves after the self-titled record and all that touring. It was a place that he really wanted us to see and go to. I think we came out of that experience way stronger. I think some of our best stuff is on that. I think “Night on Earth” is one of my favorite songs.

Yeah, it’s a really sweet song. But then you’d follow it with "¡Olé!" where you’re singing about Adidas. You’re all over the map.
[Laughs] Yeah, we were touring Europe a lot, I think it was right after the World Cup, and we were playing soccer all the time. It’s one of those songs where the chorus is really cool and people love to sing it, but the verses are so bad that now we’re like, “Oh my God, how did we write that song?” Those are the ones where you’re like, “God, if I could edit that part out on every CD that’s ever sold…”

Do you ever think about going back and rewriting lyrics?
Well, there’s times in retrospect, where you’re like, “Yeah, I could’ve done that better.” But that’s the whole thing about making records. It’s what you did in that time and place. Otherwise, you make a record for fucking 20 years and always change it. But yeah, “We drink beer and wear Adidas…” It might be corny as hell, but it’s pretty fucking funny. [Laughs] We still laugh about it. If anyone walks into the room wearing Adidas, they’re gonna hear the joke.

3. Anchors Aweigh (2003)

This album had “I’m From There” as a reference to Shal leaving.
Yeah, Greg wrote that for Shal, because we’d been friends for so long and went through so much shit. That one… that was definitely for Shal.

You talked a lot about how important your friendship was to the chemistry of the band, and it seemed like when he left, that affected you guys on much more than a musical level.
Yeah, it cut pretty deep. It was a hard time. We made the choice to continue being a band, even without our brother, which was really hard. It changed our dynamic, but it injected some energy in another way. We had to take it all and move forward with it. Losing Shal was a big, big blow to us.

What else do you remember about making this record?
Bryan had just gone through a pretty bad break-up, and he wrote a lot of songs about that. So the heavier songs were ones that Bryan wrote about what was going on in his life. Some beautiful songs. Like “Night Train” is one of our coolest songs and one of the best things Bryan ever wrote. When he sang it in the room, you could feel it. It was real.

2. Maniacal Laughter (1996)

If you don’t mind me saying, I think this is one of the most important punk albums of the 90s.
Wow, thanks.

This was your first record with Thom Wilson. He had just recorded the Offspring’s Smash.
Yeah, it became this huge hit, and he was being courted by these huge bands like KISS. We met Thom because we’d done some shows with the Offspring and he was doing their sound. We hit it off and became friends. He invited us to come out to California to do a record, and we were like, “Fuck yeah!” He turned down all these huge record offers to do a little shitty punk record with this band from New Jersey. To us, it was such a huge deal.

I heard that he turned down Aerosmith?
Yeah, Aerosmith, I can’t remember who else. He did what he wanted to do, man. Fucking badass. At that point, we were a machine. We’d been touring endlessly for two years. And when we got there, we had like, five songs. We had half-finished ideas. So half of that record was written on the spot.

What songs were done on the spot?
I know we had “Johnny X” and “The Freaks, the Nerds, and the Romantics” written. But “Here We Go” was written there and “No Rules.” Thom had the insight to see we’d been playing live for so long, that he was just like, “Let’s just record this shit.” There were no guitar overdubs, nothing.

Did that help inform what works for you guys going forward?
We relearned that on this last record—that’s where we’re our best, when we sit in a room and record live. I think that’s what connects to people who like us.

You did “Johnny X,” “Lamar Vannoy,” and “Kate Is Great” and had a tendency to immortalize people in songs.
Yeah, well they were just our friends, you know?

Is it weird for those people you’ve written about?
Well, Lamar has a great story where he was on the phone with some customer service person for the cable or phone company. And they asked for the name, and the guy he was talking to was like, “You mean like, oi oi oi Lamar Vannoy?” So some guy in like, Indiana knew him.

This record really put Jersey punk on the map. At what point did you feel like you were important to New Jersey?
We had so much Jersey pride. At that time, there were no bands from here. There was a great local scene. And now, all the great bands are from New Jersey. It’s endless. But then, all the bands were from California. We had something to prove, a stick up our ass, big time. We were not quiet about it at all. Growing up in New Jersey, people always talk shit about it, but it’s such a cool place. You get out there in the world and you feel like you’ve got something to prove.

1. How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2001)

What puts that over the top for you as being your favorite?
After Shal left, and we dealt with the heartbreak of all that, we found [Michael] McDermott, and it was a whole new energy and we were a whole new band. We spent years doing this one thing, and McDermott came in and gave us a little kick in the ass. Me and Bryan and Michael spent, like, half the summer in our practice space, just playing every day. He changed our dynamic in a cool way. We started writing songs together and it was a whole new world, a whole new band.

I feel like your fans have such a varied view of what your best record is. From talking to people, does this seem like the fan favorite?
I guess I judge things by our setlist. Almost all the songs on that record are played almost every show. Those are the ones that get you stoked. Going back to our new record, that’s what we were thinking about. Like, if a song doesn’t feel like that, we’re not gonna put it on the record.

Dan Ozzi is a hopeless romantic, you're just hopeless. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi