Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, December 7, 2001

Strung out

Bands bring contrasting
styles to punk party

By Gary C.W. Chun

If you haven't noticed, punk music nowadays is just as much a genre as an attitude. Maybe even more so, in light of the popularity of today's rap/metal screeds. Punk has grown up to become the standard-bearer of today's independent rock.

There's enough of a history to the music that there are groups out there who've been together for at least a decade or two. Tomorrow's 2nd Annual Punk on A Rock festival will feature four mainland bands (plus local openers The 86 List), with two of them, Swingin' Utters and Youth Brigade, coming back for seconds after last year's debut. The San Francisco-based Utters continue to mine that Rancid street-punk/Pogues folk-punk sound they've loved since 1995, and Youth Brigade celebrates a little over 20 years of taking Southern California punk to the kids.

Swingin' Utters

The other two bands making their island debut, Bouncing Souls and Strung Out, share at least a decade's worth of history, but couldn't be more different in their approaches. Yes, the bands' common bond is punk, but the Souls of the northeast would rather celebrate life than trash it, while the guys of Strung Out brilliantly combine metal and progressive rock into sustained sonic fury.

Speaking long-distance to Souls' guitarist "The Pete" Steinkopf from his New York City home last week, he misunderstands his interviewer's opinion that the music on the band's CD "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" could be called "buddy punk," with its muscular sound and male-bonding sing-along choruses.

"Well, it's not just some kind of 'guy punk' -- the music's for both the guys and the ladies," he said. "The songs show how we live life and how we perceive it.

"I've always liked music, ever since I was a kid," he said. "The main reason I picked up a guitar was because of one band, The Who. I've always appreciated the way Pete Townshend played, even if I didn't do the windmill wind-up moves he sometimes did while playing. But, when I was in a New Jersey high school band, me and Bryan (Kienlen, Souls' bassist), did The Who's 'The Seeker.'"

Now the Bouncing Souls have propelled their way into the big time, indie-speaking. They've graduated from their own recording label, Chunksaah, to longtime punk label BYO, and now the Los Angeles-based Epitaph label. Ever since "Summer Vacation's" release in mid-year, the band's been on the road more often than not.

The 2nd Annual Punk on A Rock Festival

With Strung Out ( top left), Swingin' Utters (above), Bouncing Souls (left), Youth Brigade and The 86 List

Where: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
When: 4 to 10 p.m. tomorrow
Admission: $16.50. Tickets available at all Tower Records locations, Jelly's in Aiea and Cheapo Music at Puck's Alley and Pearl Kai

"We just got back from touring yesterday, doing a six-week U.S. cross-country tour. Before that, we did Europe, and before that, the Warped Tour, before that, a U.S. tour ..."

When Steinkopf is not on the road, "it's just my girlfriend and the cats. Me and Bryan live in the East Village, our singer's (Greg Attonito) in L.A. and the drummer (newest member Michael McDermott) is in Philly, although we're all originally from New Jersey.

"Like I said, our songs are about how everyday life changes; we don't write political songs. There are already so many bands out there waving all kinds of flags, but our songs are just as much heartfelt, but in a way, we feel without being preachy," he said.

Youth Brigade and The 86 List

DESPITE the band's moniker, Strung Out is anything but. Vocalist Jason Cruz, speaking long-distance on his cell phone somewhere in Southern California, said the band is at its most energized right now. Its latest release, an EP titled "The Element of Sonic Deviance," blows away that silly pop/punk stuff. The element of inspired sloppiness is not tolerated here; the EP is a seamless 25 minutes of hardcore punk with the technical intricacy of the best metal and progressive rock.

Cruz said the band just finished its next full-length album, to be titled "An American Paradox," a couple of weeks ago and should be released sometime next March.

If Strung Out's live sound even approximates what they accomplish in the studio, tomorrow's audience will be in for a treat.

"Playing live, for us, is our music's ultimate expression," Cruz said. "Our roots have always been in more progressive kinds of music, whether it's Bad Religion, Iron Maiden or Rush.

"We've been together for 10 years now, seen a lot of bands come and go, and we've never had to deal with management or some major record label who would determine what we'd do both creatively and financially. Everything we do, the live act, the CDs -- right down to the artwork (which Cruz helps with as co-art director and designer) -- is all about getting it straight to the kids."

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