Bryan Kienlen of the Bouncing Souls Talks About Touring and Tattooing
By Rose Riot
The Bouncing Souls are one of the staple bands in American punk rock. These four New Jersey boys have managed to travel the globe, playing shows with some of the world’s premier punk rock bands. But the band remains true to their punk rock roots as they still do a portion of their U.S. tours in their iconic white van. I had conversation with Bryan Kienlen, the bassist about his work with the band and a little but about his tattoo experience…
RR: The Bouncing Souls have been together for about 23 years, how long had you been together before you felt like you had made it?
BK: I think when we got signed to Epitaph is when we felt like it got real. I think we’ve been able to make it so long because we have this desire to constantly make music, to outdo ourselves.
RR: You have played some amazing tours and places, do you have a favorite?
BK: I don’t really have a favorite anything but I would have to say Japan is very special and for sure one of the most memorable.
RR: What is it about Japan that you love so much and in light of their recent disaster, have you done anything to contribute to the cause?
BK: There is something about Japan that feels truly different from everywhere I’ve visited. There seems to be an air of respect and pride there, I mean honestly, they make Americans look bad. People treat one another (and visitors) with a higher level of dignity and respect. There is a noticeable pride they take in their work, at least that has been my impression the handful of visits I’ve had there.
The hell they have been through with the earthquake and the tsunami and the resultant nuclear problem is heartbreaking. We donated a song for a compilation that is downloadable on iTunes. The profits go to Japan’s relief. [Editor's Note: If anyone has the link to this compilation record please leave a comment below with the link.]
RR: You have toured with legendary people through the years, who are some of your heroes that you have had a chance to play with?
BK: Man, it started really early on when we were still a little crappy band. We played with The Ramones, we’ve opened for Rollins and Fugazi, we toured with 7 Seconds. I played with Jello Biafra once, that was awesome. I’ve had a bunch of totally great moments.
RR: You are about to play North By Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto, is this your first NXNE?
BK: Yes, it is. It’s pretty cool.
RR: There are some great bands playing this year, who are you looking forward to seeing there?
BK: To be honest, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had a chance to look at the line-up.
RR: Devo is playing, they are one of my favorite bands to see live.
BK: Devo is playing? That’s awesome! That’s my answer then, I’m looking forward to seeing Devo.
RR: On Bouncing Souls tours, you do different albums in their entirety on different nights, for your NXNE show will you do this or will it be a mix?
BK: It will be a mix, we will wing it and probably come up with a set list that day.
RR: You have played many Warped Tours, would you ever play Warped again?
BK: Yeah, I think we will but who knows. You gotta play every Warped Tour like it’s your last!
RR: How do you feel about playing to so many kids at Warped versus adults at clubs?
BK: The answer is simple actually. I get lots of energy back from an enthusiastic crowd no matter how young or old they may be. Playing in a variety of venues is something the Bouncing Souls have always enjoyed. We are kind of an anomaly in that way, we are just as comfortable and happy playing to a huge crowd as we are playing in a basement and everything in-between. If the love is there, everyone wins.
RR: You have an additional member of your band, the legendary White Castle, your van. How is the White Castle doing?
BK: She is doing great! She is truly a trooper, on her second engine after about 300,000 miles.
RR: How often do you guys still tour around in the White Castle?
BK: The White Castle is still home away from home, we have lots of miles planned for her this year.
RR: God-forbid but when it’s time to put her to rest what will you do with her? Maybe a museum?
BK: It’s funny you mentioned that because the going idea is actually to turn her into a museum for a far off day down the road. We’ve even spoken to the curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame about it.
RR: You design the album covers and the merch for the band?
BK: Yes, that is correct. I’m the artist in the band so naturally I’ve been doing it the whole time all the way back to the very first t-shirt. Maybe it’s partly because I’m a control freak, ha-ha. I try to color my world as it should be!
RR: Are you a self-taught artist?
BK: I’ve been an artist my whole life. After high school, I took some courses at the local county college but that was the same time we started the band and I decided to focus more on the band and not on school.
RR: Speaking of school, I read that you had a teacher that fronted the money for your first ever show. That’s pretty cool, do you still talk to her?
BK: Yeah, she’s a sweet lady and a friend of the family now.
RR: How do you feel when people associate your band with the term, college band?
BK: We grew up in a small town in New Jersey then we moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey. New Brunswick is a college town. We were there because we believed it was a music town. There were a lot of college kids that were “willing victims” to listen to us but that is really our only association with college music.
RR: How did you get into tattooing?
BK: In high school I started hand poking myself and the rest of the band. In 1989 when the band moved to New Brunswick, I sent away for a Spaulding and Rogers starter kit out of the back of a magazine… It never came! I got ripped off! My friend Ugly Bill and I built a tattoo machine and that’s really when it started. Somewhere around then, the band got busier and busier and my focus became the music and tattooing took a back seat.
RR: Would you rather be a famous tattooer or a musician if you had the choice?
BK: To be honest, I like having both in my life. Who gets to be so lucky to have two great outlets? I get to tattoo every day then on the weekends hop on a plane and play festivals. Nothing ever gets mundane or boring.
RR: If you could play bass with anyone in history who would it be?
BK: Wow, that’s a good question, maybe Tom waits or Johnny Cash.
(Rose Riot is a photographer in Atlanta and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine)