Thursday, June 22, 2006

Interview: Greg Attonio of The Bouncing Souls

This is a bit of an act of contrition. I've been fairly slack with my updates of late. So in an attempt to appease you the good reader, I present an interview I conducted with Greg from The Bouncing Souls for Time Off magazine a few weeks ago. If you kids are nice, I'll even re-post the interview I'm conducting with Pennywise tomorrow morning. Or not. So without further ado.

You’d expect a band like the Bouncing Souls - one with a near 20 year history and who’ve just completed their 7th full length record - to utter clichés about keeping things fresh. But as vocalist Greg Attonio explains, the old adage, that familiarity breeds contempt, is merely a well worn truth.

Like all great punk rock, the Bouncing Souls were born out of boredom, alienation and angst. The band first jammed while the members were still in high school, playing out of necessity more than want.

But after eking out a comfortable existence and a fan base that spans the width of the globe, the Bouncing Souls found their angers tempered and their passions waning. Attonio explains the process the Bouncing Souls undertook to keep things novel for ‘The Gold Record’.

“I think you have to hit it from a different angle every time and be fresh about it,” he says from his father’s house in New Jersey. “We got together and wrote all the songs together which we hadn’t done on our previous records.

“We also had Ted Hutt, who’s a producer, involved in the song writing process. It’s like a relationship. One you’ve had for a long time. You tend to do the same things. You have to mix it up. And it’s not always easy to do that on your own. It was good to have his perspective. To look at it objectively.”

Because the Souls congealed while the members were in their formative teenage years, one could imagine the function of their music shifting from the therapeutic one it once took on. Attonio explained the process of reconciling his artistic ambitions with the realities of the road.

“When I was a kid, music was my release, we’d go into a jam room or a basement and it was my release from life. Now we’re musicians and we’re going and getting paid for it. It really was a dream come true.

“You find yourself in a job that’s fucking hard. You play for one hour every night. But what people don’t see if that you’re in a van travelling 10 hours a day. And it’s like torture. You’re almost better off having a normal job.”

While few would doubt the Bouncing Souls’ zeal for life and romanticism, their music has never been marked by political commentary. Instead their catalogue is littered with boisterous drinking anthems and tales of comradery.

But on ‘The Gold Record’ the song ‘Letter From Iraq’ strays from the Bouncing Souls’ usually a-political tone.

“You know love songs are great but sometimes you feel you want to say a little bit more.” Attonio says of the origin of the song. “We had a friend, Garrett, who was just about to leave for Iraq. We met him when we were in Germany. We became friends and (Bouncing Souls’ bass guitarist) Brian decided to make a letters from Iraq spot on out website, where we could put up his letters.

“When we started writing the record we were looking for ways to express ourselves and it didn’t make sense because we didn’t have that true experience. Jarrod e-mailed us the next day. And we thought ‘yes, we can just put this to music’”.

Record Review: Bouncings Souls - The Gold Record

The Gold Record is another serving of the Bouncing Souls’ variety of anthemic pop punk and it’s very much by the numbers. Stylistically, The Gold Record is the standard Bouncing Souls fare: the falsetto harmonies, the gang vocals, the grandiose ‘woah-oh’s, the octave change between the second chorus and the third verse.

But there never has been much variation amongst their music, with the appeal of each Bouncing Souls record depending upon just how catchy the songs are. Unfortunately there is nothing of the calibre of ‘Hopeless Romantic’ or ‘True Believers’ offered up here. The only songs that go close are ‘Sarah Saturday’ and ‘Lean On Sheena’. But you have to wade through pap like ‘The Pizza Song’ and ‘Letter From Iraq’ to get to them.

Two Thumbs Up

Make Up Your Own Mind
The Gold Song

Record Review: Marked Men - Fix My Brain

The Marked Men’s third long player ‘Fix My Brain’ is by and away their most memorable and best to date. Because their music never was marked with much variation, by mere virtue of the fact that most of the songs are instantly memorable makes ‘Fix My Brain’ stand above their previous efforts.

The first two Marked Men records earnt them gushing reviews and a fervent fan base. Deservedly so, their brand of power pop via Rip Off Records was both novel and fun. And they don’t disappoint on ‘Fix My Brain’. ‘A Little Time’, ‘Wait Here, Wait For You’, ‘Fix My Brain’ and ‘Sophisticate’ are the kind of jangly garage punk anthems that earned them their legions.

‘Fix My Brain’ also features more variety than on ‘Marked Men’ and ‘On The Outside’. ‘Sully My Name’ is as close the Marked Men will ever come to writing a ballad. Jeff Burke nasally croons like a gruff Lou Reed or Chris Bailey over a rattling guitar tone. ‘Sophisticate’ is uncannily reminiscent of the bass-heavy, hyped-up Kinks punk sound Green Day captured on ‘Warning’. ‘Someday’, ‘You Said Enough’ and ‘Don’t Look At Me’ are jittery garage punk that exude anxiety and provide a brief respite before they launch into one of the numerous ball-tearers that litter the album.

Four Thumbs Up

Record Review: Toys That Kill: Shanked!

Toys That Kill are the reason I want to write about music. Where the punk rock landscape is littered with generic, fashion-conscious pap, Toys That Kill are everything that’s good about punk rock: distinctive, aggressive, energetic, melodic, fun and smart. While ‘Shanked!’ isn’t decidedly different from their past efforts, it’s ripe enough with hooks and novel song writing to render it interesting.

Formed in the wake of the demise and comprising several members of F.Y.P., Toys That Kill picked up where F.Y.P. left off. While Toys The Kill don’t exhibit the snotty hardcore flair F.Y.P. did in their early days. Instead they’re more similar to the noisy-pop punk on their latter records, specifically and appropriately, F.Y.P.’s swan song ‘Toys That Kill’. Comparisons to the Replacements and Dillinger Four are just.

Considering the breadth of F.Y.P. and Toy’s That Kill’s sizeable body of timeless works, it’s difficult to make statements about the relative value of ‘Shanked!’. It’d be naïve to call it their best work to date, but there is some value to this claim. ‘Bomb Sniffing Dogs’, ‘They Tied Up All Our Lace’ and ‘Katzenscheibe Uber Alles’ are some of their most accessible and memorable songs.

This emphasis on melody is not at the expense energy, which F.Y.P. possessed in abundance. There is a jangly, staccato element to Toys That Kill, maybe similar to Midwestern punk bands like the Modern Machines and Grabass Charlestons.

Four Thumbs Up

Record Review: Copyrights - Mutiny Pop

The Copyrights’ second LP, ‘Mutiny Pop’, is 10 songs too long. While their brand of pop punk is infectious, by the third song it seems as if they’ve tapped the wells of inspiration dry. They rely on the same group harmonies and chord progression on each song. This renders each song decidedly monotonous by the third odd listen. While their debut LP, ‘We Didn’t Come Here To Die’, exhibited enormous potential, they fail to fulfil any promise, instead resting on their laurels.

The Copyrights take queues from the likes of Screeching Weasel and the Lillingtons. Their music smacks of Ramones-core. Mutiny Pop opens with ‘Cashiers,’ a buzzsaw pop punk ball-tearer that rips the listener from their complacency and hauls them in. But after that, every song runs together. The Copyrights fail where they try to go for the jugular on each song. Because every tune is so uniform, you can’t help but tire of their aural assaults. It’s not that their jabs lack potency, it’s just they don’t have the repertoire to work the entire body. Where their progenitors knew the value of varying their songs, the Copyrights fail.

There’s no doubt the Copyrights possess enormous potential, they just have to expand their palette. While they’ve proven their ascendency of the genre, it just happens to be a narrow one. And unless they can expand on it, it’s unlikely they’ll appeal to anyone besides the small, fringe dwelling core of Ramones-core fanatics.

Two Thumbs Up

Make Up Your Own Mind

Record Review: Lillingtons - Death By Television (Reissue)

The Lillingtons’ ‘Death By Television’ is one of the most underrated punk albums of the past 10 years. ‘Death By Television’ was a revelation. The Lillingtons earned a cult following with the blitzkrieg, balls-to-the-wall pop punk and the smart science fiction theme that pervaded the album. Problems at Lookout! Records precipitated the album being pulled from print and fans scrambling for copies on E-Bay, laying out exorbitant sums of money. Now Red Scare have taken the appropriate action and re-issued it for the greater good.

Pop punk. If you find yourself turning up your nose and images of wind-swept asymmetrical hair cuts and shitty emo-metal hybrids running through your head, find someone to bitch slap you back into place. The Lillingtons come from the stream of pop punk where bands like the Ramones, Buzzcocks, Undertones, Descendents, The Queers, The Dickies, Sloppy Seconds and Screeching Weasel are revered. If you’re looking for a reference point, the Lillingtons were reared on Lookout! Records pop punk. And it shows. The 1-4-5 chord progressions are reminiscent of Screeching Weasel and the Groovie Ghoulies. The clumsy lead breaks are lifted directly from the Screeching Weasel song book. But the Lillingtons put their own slant on the genre. Their slick, yet fierce pop punk wall of sound was unlike the amateur punk rock stylings of the Screeching Weasels and the Queers of the world. So unique, that the Lillingtons themselves have their own imitators in the likes of the Copyrights and a slew of other lesser bands.

Over the course of the album, the Lillingtons blaze through 14 pop punk gems. And that’s no bullshit journalistic hyperbole. ‘Death By Television’ is swollen at the seams with hits. ‘Don’t Trust The Humanoids’, ‘I Saw The Apeman’, ‘X-Ray Specs’, ‘You’re The Only One’, ‘I Need Some Brain Damage’, ‘Codename Peabrain’ and ‘Phantom Maggot’ are all certified classics.

But there is diversity on Death By Television. They knew the value of mixing slower songs with the faster ones, the harder with the softer. While there isn’t a great disparity in the songs, a saccharine ballad like ‘You’re The Only One’ seamlessly runs into a certified fist-pumper like ‘I Need Some Brain Damage’. When you’re finished ploughing through ‘Black Hole In My Mind’, you launch head first into the anthemic ‘I Saw The Apeman (On The Moon)’. This all lends a sense of purpose and anticipation to each song.

The combination of the success of Kody’s new band, Teenage Bottlerocket, the re-issue of ‘Death By Television’ and ‘Backchannel Broadcast’ (due later this year) and a new Lillingtons LP (tentatively titled ‘The Too Late Show’) also due later this year will hopefully result in renewed interest in the band they so richly deserve.

Five Thumbs Up

Record Review: Methadones - 21st Century Power Pop Riot

‘21st Power Pop Riot’ was always going to be a gamble for the Methadones. For all intents and purposes, it is a concept album. A record consisting entirely of power pop covers. Its success depends on whether they can do justice to the songs and not offend fans of their influences in the process. Conversely, it also depends on whether they can lend a new hue to the songs and not discourage the casual listener. But ‘21st Century Power Pop Riot’ is a success in both these senses. It is a resounding triumph of everything that is right about pop music, a record pregnant with hooks and diverse enough to warrant repeat listens.

Power pop is today one of the most neglected genres. In the late 1970s and early 80s, a fertile mod scene emerged. Bands like the Raspberries and Cheap Trick mined British Invasion pop for inspiration. Meanwhile bands like the Pointed Sticks, Paul Collins’ Beat, the Plimsouls combined this with the primitiveness of punk rock. The common thread was always the emphasis on harmony and a three-minute song format. But all most of these bands seem to have been relegated to the dust bin of musical history.

It’s not surprising that it’s taken Dan Schaefer (or Danny Vapid as I and every other Screeching Weasel fanatic prefer to refer to him as) to try and inject new interest into the genre. The man knows his way around a harmony. And that’s the biggest understatement I’ve ever committed to words. Through his work with Screeching Weasel, Sludgeworth, the Riverdales, Mopes and the Methadones he’s proven himself to be one of the most prolific pop-punk song writers of all time. Consider ‘Riverdale Stomp’, ‘High School Psychopath’, ‘Teenage Freakshow’. His pedigree speaks volumes.

But the Methadones were always an anomaly in his output. The emphasis wasn’t always on Ramones chord progressions and simple hooks. They were more driving and had a pointed social conscience. The three previous Methadones albums were a departure from the snide-pop ethos that pervaded his other work.

‘21st Century Power Pop Riot’ is in a sense a return to his roots for Vapid. Vapid and The Methadones go about Ramones-ifying a slew of timeless power pop classics. They take Brownsville Station’s ‘I’m The Leader of The Gang’, Paul Collins’ Beat’s ‘Walking Out On Love’, the Jags’ ‘Back Of My Hand’, Scandal’s ‘Goodbye To You’, Cheap Trick’s ‘He’s A Whore’, grasp them by the man-berries, distil them into their most primitive form and breathe new life into them.

The guitars blaze in a wall of sound. Vapid’s voice bellows with his trademark intonation. Their cover of the Pointed Stick’s ‘Out of Luck’ is the zenith of pop punk. I always thought the Pointed Sticks were a punk rock band masquerading as a power pop band. The Methadones version is how I imagine they originally conceived it, or at least played it live.

And this is exactly why ‘21st Century Power Pop Riot’ is an unqualified success. Every song is a buzzsaw pop gem. Vapid and the Methadones inject each song with enough personality that you can’t dismiss it as a mere novelty record.

Five Thumbs Up