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The Souls keep bouncing on

The Baltimore Sun

After 20 years of making solid punk-pop albums with little mainstream recognition, the Bouncing Souls still find a way to keep the music crackling with life.

And that's no easy feat.

"There have been moments when I feel like we put so much energy into it, and you're not getting paid enough to make it worth it," says lead vocalist Greg Attonito. "But I don't wanna trade my life with anyone. I've traveled all over the world, and you can't put a price on people loving your music."

At this point in their career, the guys of the Bouncing Souls (including Bryan Kienlen on bass, Pete Stienkopf on guitar and Michael McDermott on drums) joke about their lack of a pop breakthrough. The title of the quartet's latest album, The Gold Record, started out tongue firmly in cheek.

"We were joking around with the title because we never had a gold record," Attonito says. He and the band will perform at the Ottobar on Saturday night. "It was a joke, but then it became a theme - gold being the color of your youthful spirit."

It fits the feel of the music on the latest CD, which hit stores in June. As expected, tight rhythms and fun, fist-pumping choruses abound. The quartet's seventh full-length release, The Gold Album is a vigorous power-punk set with glints of engaging lyrics here and there. A fine example is "Letter From Iraq," whose lyrics are culled from a letter by an American soldier named Garett Reppenhagen. The Souls had been pen pals with him since meeting at a 2003 performance for troops in Germany.

"There are several big differences on the new album," says Attonito, calling from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he and the band performed last week. "We paid more attention to the songwriting. We don't always turn our passionate bursts into good songs."

Taking time to refine the material has paid off, making The Gold Record one of the Bouncing Souls' most artistically satisfying efforts. The quartet added more textures to its rousing punk formula. "The Pizza Song," a quirky highlight on the album, folds in accordion touches and nimble acoustic guitar. The results are surprisingly smooth and affecting.

"With that song, we seemed to have created another style within the punk context," Attonito says. "We try to step outside the box."

That hasn't always been the case. When the band started out in 1987 in their native New Jersey, the Bouncing Souls was, for the most part, a conventional party band. The members were in high school, and the music gave them something to do. Around 1991, the band started to seriously pursue a career in punk. But the guys couldn't land steady gigs in New Jersey or New York clubs, and record labels wouldn't give them the time of day. So in 1993, the Bouncing Souls formed its own label, Chunksaah Records, and released two EPs: Argyle and Neurotic. The quartet's first album, The Good, the Bad & the Argyle, was released in 1994.

Word of mouth helped build momentum, and by the next year, the group was signed to BYO Records. The company reissued the full-length debut along with Maniacal Laughter. But the band's international profile received a major boost when it struck a deal with Epitaph Records in 1997. By this time, the Souls were constantly touring, building a sizable base along the way. (In 2000, original drummer Shal Khichi was replaced by McDermott.)

But despite generally good reviews and an enthusiastic following, the Bouncing Souls remained on the margins of pop. As younger (and less talented) punk-pop bands such as Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy racked up gold and platinum sales, the quartet has toiled away, traveling constantly and recording regularly.

So what if the Bouncing Souls aren't all over MTV?

"We have fun anyway," Attonito says. "If you feel the world isn't inspiring you, it's up to you to inspire yourself. At times it's easy; at other times, it's not. You want to create that positive outlook. We want to see where the road takes us."

The Bouncing Souls perform Saturday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. The show is sold out.rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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