Tattoos for the True Believers — Bryan Kienlen of The Bouncing Souls

Tattoos for the True Believers — Bryan Kienlen of The Bouncing Souls

Kienlen, the bass player for the Bouncing Souls and tattoo artist specializing in American Traditional, talks to us about his dual passions.

Welcome to Tattoodo's Punk Rock Week! We're celebrating everything punk this week — from some scary dudes in New Jersey to heartbroken nerds from SoCal, and everything in between. We bitched about how being a NOFX fan used to be fun and weird, but now it's just problematic. We sniffed glue with The Ramonesdove headfirst into a New York Hardcore circle pit, and went down to DC to pay homage to the progenitors of Straight Edge. Now we're wrapping it all up by talking to tattoo artist and bass player for the Bouncing Souls, Bryan Kienlen.

Roughly a trillion words have been written about New York City’s vibrant musical scene, especially when we are talking about the punk genre. While NYC was home to the Ramones, Murphy’s Law, Madball, Sick of it All and hundreds of other bands, we’re choosing to ignore the Big Apple for a second and take a trip to New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was there that the Bouncing Souls first started playing their light-hearted, poppy punk rock that we’ve been singing along for almost 30 years.  

Over the years the Souls’ sound has changed, but their heart has always been in the same place as they sing about the lows of heartbreak and the importance of friendship. All these years Bryan Kienlen has been right in the middle of it all, holding down the bass lines, belting out the band’s signature sing-along background vocals, and drawing up a bulk of the album art and shirt designs. Bands can’t be on tour all the time, so when he’s at home Kienlen follows his artistic passion and works as a tattoo artist at Neptune Tattoo in Neptune, New Jersey.

Kienlen works in the American Traditional style; his work is recognizable by his strong black line work and bold use of color. Among the anchors and pinups that you would expect in a traditional tattooers portfolio, Kienlen also has a slew of pieces referencing the Bouncing Souls and their beloved New Jersey.

Despite being on the road at the moment with Rancid and The Dropkick Murphys, Kienlen took some time to talk with us about his two passions, and how the two compliment each other.

Bryan Kienlen (on the left) and his bandmates in the Bouncing Souls. #bouncingsouls
Bryan Kienlen (on the left) and his bandmates in the Bouncing Souls. #bouncingsouls

Tattoodo: Which was your first love, music or tattooing?
Bryan Kienlen: Music. Thanks to a musical family, my earliest memories include great music like Johnny Cash (thanks Dad) and classic rock thanks to my oldest sister. But punk rock, especially Black Flag truly changed my life around 6th grade. I mean that music permanently rearranged my molecules.

Right now, do you think of yourself as a dude in a band that also tattoos, or a tattooer that is also in a band?
Great question, I feel about 50/50 but constantly tipping the direction of tattooer.

Is it hard to balance the two separate jobs?
They seem to compliment each other well, and I never burn out on either one. Both keep the creative juices flowing all the time.

How can you explain the connection between punk rock and tattoos?
I think Rollins gets most the credit for inspiring me to be tattooed back in the ‘80s, also Harley Flanagan and [Vinny] Stigma. I wanted to be all those guys as a kid (laughs).

Do you remember the first time you were asked to do a Bouncing Souls tattoo?
Right around the time I completed my apprenticeship at Immortal Ink, word was spreading and some folks came and made appointments with me. I wanted to be a tattooer back when we started the band, built a machine and practiced on friends but dropped it due to the band getting full-time busy. Much of the artwork I did for the band was tattoo-influenced so it just all made sense when I got to finally do it the right way years later.

A bunch of tour tattoos celebrating the current tour with The Bouncing Souls, Dropkick Murphys and Rancid. (Via IG - bryan_kienlen)

How does it feel to place a band logo that you designed onto someone’s skin forever?  
Pretty good, as I believe in the Bouncing Souls and all that we represent and stand for. For a lot of people it represents a period of their life, being young, friendships or even a specific experience. Sometimes it's fun to tweak the Souls art and personalize it to the individual getting the tattoo.

What’s the strangest Souls tattoo that you’ve done? My vote is the leather jacket clad shark drinking YooHoo.
That's the most recent fun one. I did a skinhead chick bullying a jukebox a few years back at a convention which was fun to draw. The possibilities are endless, especially with us having well over 100 songs recorded and other there.

This tour that you are wrapping up is insane, to see all those bands in one night is kinda crazy. How has it been going?
It's really one for the books! Shows have been amazing and it's been fun to catch up with all our old buds. We played together with Rancid on their first time to NYC back in ‘93 and then toured the states together in ‘94. And we go almost as far back with the Dropkicks. Al Barr is like a brother to us, we go back to the Bruisers days with him. Punks and skins!

What else is coming up for the Souls? And do you have any tattoo related projects coming up?
I think I'm gonna be doing some tour tats tomorrow, in a bus no less, to commemorate this historic run. (See above)  As soon as I get home I have to compete a painting for an art show, as my boss Patrick Dean just opened a new art gallery called "Trident Arts" in Long Branch, New Jersey, and we have a big art show coming up in September. I really want to paint more but have been booked a month out for so long there hasn't been a gap long enough to get any done. Monday to Friday it's appointment life and then weekends have been busy band-guy life. On that note, come see me for some ink at Neptune Tattoo! Anyone can reach me to book on Instagram, @bryan_kienlen.

That's it! Punk Rock Week has come to a close. Hope you enjoyed rocking out with us. Maybe you learned a little something about your favorite bands, perhaps you got nostalgic for days gone past, or maybe you got inspired to finally bite the bullet and get that sick Misfits tattoos you've wanted since you were 13. We just hope you had a great time, we know that we did. 

- See ya in the pit

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