Bouncing Souls interview: how Zoom calls with fans inspired their new album ‘Ten Stories High’
Greg Attonito’s internet is a little spotty. It’s understandable. These days he’s calling in from the Idaho forest about 100 miles from Boise, a pretty far stretch from The Bouncing Souls’ usual homebase in Jersey.
When the world shut down around this time three years ago, good internet was crucial. Suddenly, it was the only connection we had to the outside world. Our jobs. Our friends. In the case of the Bouncing Souls and every other band whose tour schedules suddenly went up in flames, their fans.
With touring no longer an option, a lot of bands took the “work from home” route and did things like livestreams and Patreons to stay busy and try to recoup some of the funds they weren’t making from touring. Attonito and the rest of the guys in the band weren’t sold on the idea at first, though.
“We all felt very awkward,” Attonito says. “Playthrough videos? This is stuff that nobody was really used to obviously.”
The idea of a podcast where they invited their musician friends on didn’t seem like the most heinous option, and eventually they came up with an idea that would both connect them with the fans and keep their creative gears turning. Ten people who paid for the top-tier of the Patreon would get to hop on a Zoom call with the band and just chat. It could be about whatever they wanted. At the end, the band would take the conversation and turn it into a song, and they’d get a digital copy and a special one-off 7” record. That was it, really. There wasn’t any plan for making a record. But now, here we are in the future, and the songs and stories have been polished and perfected with help from the Punk Whisperer Will Yip. The record is “Ten Stories High.”
The Bouncing Souls guys might’ve grumbled at first, but after decades of working together, finding a way to keep things fresh and find new inspiration felt valuable.
“You know, after 30 years, we’ve made Bouncing Souls records every kind of way,” Attonito says. “So, having this as far as bringing other people in and bringing their stories into it, or even just interesting conversations we had to create the songs, has inspired us to have a spark as opposed to being the same old thing.”
More than just being a way to do something new, it was a way to do something at all. Being a working band for this long has left very little time to sit on their hands. This forced timeout almost pushed them to the breaking point as a unit.
“It was the first time we were all faced with this idea – ‘Oh, we can’t just do what we love and how we make a living. We just can’t do it,’” Attonito says. “That in itself was so bizarre. And then we were even like, ‘Are we even going to be a band? When are we going to be a band again? Or play music again?’ We had no idea. Those things were really strange.”
Armed with nothing more than the belief in their crowd work and interviewing abilities, the band took to Zoom and introduced themselves to fans. More specifically, the fans introduced themselves to the band, and Attonito tried to recognize moments from the conversation that he could expand into a whole narrative.
The first meeting, which turned into the song “Higher Ground,” involved a guy from Vermont who had a little too much to drink during a Frank Turner livestream and thought the advertisement for the Bouncing Souls Patreon was an ad for Bouncing Souls tequila.
He’s like, ‘Yeah, a couple Thursdays ago, I drank a little too much and I was watching the Frank Turner livestream, and I saw this Bouncing Souls … it looked like you guys were selling tequila.’ Because our Patreon logo was the Patron bottle, but it said ‘Patreon,’” Attonito laughs. “So he’s like, ‘So I’m like, kind of a little too drunk and I’m like, Oh, cool, I’ll get a bottle of Bouncing Souls tequila for 100 bucks. So I just clicked on it.’ That was our first one. So we’re like, ‘Oh, dude, I hope you’re not bummed about it.’ He’s like, ‘No, no it’s cool, man. I’m so psyched about it.’ Now we’re like, we’ve really got to deliver to this guy, you know? That was that vibe. We realized that these people were investing a fair amount of money into this, so we really cared about it. We wanted them to be stoked.”
They did deliver. You won’t hear it on the record for the general public, but this guy’s version of “Higher Ground” includes some backup vocals from Turner himself, a friend of the band.
“On his version, the song starts out, it rings out, and Frank’s voice is like, ‘Olroight let’s go!’” Attonito sings in his best Frank Turner accent. “Frank is actually on his version, which makes that first one kind of a gem. It was really fun.”
You can tell that one was the first, too. The lyrics open with lines about making it work with what you have, making it through this night and getting to the Higher Ground, an apt metaphor from when we all thought the pandemic shutdown would only be a couple of weeks.
Other stories included a couple who met on Grindr, which the fan called a “terrifying place,” prompting Attonito to start the song “Andy and Jackie” with “I met you in a terrifying place.”
The band shared plenty of laughs with fans going through their own versions of pandemic cabin fever, but it wasn’t all loose and fun. Songs like “Vin and Casey” deal with a fan remembering deceased friends who introduced them to punk music and the Bouncing Souls, and now uses listening to Bouncing Souls to feel connected to their friends. The song in their honor once again includes a friend of the band featuring on vocals – 7 Seconds vocalist Kevin Seconds.
Still, armed with all of this material, the band wasn’t sure this would be album-worthy. They knew they liked it and they enjoyed writing together and spending time with fans again, even from afar. But it started as just a project like so many other pandemic hobbies. It wasn’t until they sent some of the tracks to Yip to see what he thought.
“He came back and was like, ‘This is definitely a record,” Attonito remembers. “Let’s get in and do it.’”
In the studio, guitarist Pete Steinkopf decided that the album needed a song to tie it all together, one that set the tone. It ended up being the title track, “Ten Stories High,” which acts as sort of an overture for it all. The album is a journey through these stories, where the Bouncing Souls are the narrator, and “Ten Stories High” is the theme song to start it all off.
Ten Stories High sounds like a Bouncing Souls album. By this point in time, the Bouncing Souls are a band who know who they are. They’re not afraid to venture outside of the punk rock comfort zone of distorted power chords and relatively simple chord progressions, but they’re not trying to reinvent themselves either.
That made crafting songs so quickly an easier task than it could be if they were, say, Radiohead. But they didn’t all come easy. They hit creative roadblocks on songs like “Magnus Air Organ” and had to work around different schedules, picking up songwriting slack from one another when they had to in order to get the songs done. That restriction turned out to be a blessing, actually.
“You need to make choices at some point,” Attonito says. “When we recorded with [Descendents/ALL drummer] Bill Stevenson, he said something that’s really fun. I always like to mention it. He’s like, ‘We always had such little time. We had this short time in the studio. If I had as much time as I wanted, I’d still be trying to place the bass mic on the Black Flag record right now. I’d still be searching for that kick drum sound.’”
Even though it was their own project, they had made promises to fans, and they stuck to them. No time to overthink things.
“You’ve gotta make a choice, and that’s where you go for it,” Attonito says.
They’ve taken that message to heart since the album’s completion, too, like when the opportunity came up to submit a song for a compilation, but the band was short on time.
“We were like, ‘We can do it Patreon style!’” Attonito says. “So now it’s a new tool in our tool kit, I guess you could say.”
Not to make the Bouncing Souls guys sound like old people who learn Microsoft Office and Facebook at the community center – and certainly not to say “you gotta give it to the pandemic” – but the forced education in Patreon ended up giving them a gift they might have otherwise never gotten had they been able to record and tour the way they have since the early ‘90s.
“The Bouncing Souls Patreon Method,” Attonito confirms. “We’ve developed that. It’s sort of like having a new kind of wrench or a new power tool. I know how to use the grinder now. I can put the metal up with my new grinder. I can do that now.”
Ten Stories High arrives this Friday (3/24) via Pure Noise, and we've got an exclusive cloudy royal blue vinyl variant up for pre-order now, limited to just 350 copies. Get yours while they last. Tour dates below.
The Bouncing Souls -- 2023 Tour Dates
04/07 Minneapolis, MN @ The Varsity Theater * +
04/08 Milwaukee, WI @ The Eagles Club +
04/09 Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue +
04/10 Cincinnati, OH @ Bogarts * +
04/12 Buffalo, NY @ The Town Ballroom * +
04/13 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop * +
04/14 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop * +
04/15 Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix Concert Theatre * +
04/16 Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall * +
05/11 Chicago, IL @ Metro ^ #
05/12 St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall ^ #
05/13 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade ^ #
05/15 Orlando, FL @ The Social ^ #
05/16 Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Room ^ #
05/17 Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum^ #
05/19 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall ^ #
05/20 Austin, TX @ Empire Control Room ^ #
05/21 Dallas, TX @ Amplified Live ^ #
10/12 San Diego, CA @ Observatory Northpark * ~
10/13 Los Angeles, CA @ The Belasco * ~
10/14 Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory * ~
10/15 San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom * ~
10/17 Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall * ~
10/18 Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile * ~
10/19 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw * ~
10/21 Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall * ~
10/22 Calgary, AB @ Palace Theater * ~
12/07 Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live * %
12/09 Charlotte, NC @ The Underground * %
12/10 Nashville, TN @ The Brooklyn Bowl %
12/11 Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel %
12/13 Boston, MA @ The Royale %
* w/ Anti-Flag
^ w/ Samiam
# w/ Swingin' Utters, Pet Needs
+ w/ A Wilhelm Scream, The Venomous Pinks
~ w/ Catbite, Urethane
% w/ Catbite, Blind Adam and The Federal League