The Bouncing Babe

A love story between a punk band and their biggest fan — their manager.

The apocalypse that is rumored to take place today, the well-rounded date of June 6, 2006, does not happen, and so Kate Hiltz, longtime manager of the Bouncing Souls, sleeps in.

But while the snooze button slams, at least temporarily, on the end of the world, it’s still a momentous morning for the 33-year-old and her quartet of charges: singer Greg Attonito, guitarist Pete Steinkopf, bass player Bryan Kienlen, and drummer Michael McDermott. On this evening the band concludes a sold-out six-night run at New York City’s Knitting Factory, precisely timed to coincide with the release of its umpteenth disc, The Gold Record. “I slept late,” she says, “and then I called the boys this morning and told them I loved them and I was proud of them.”

Surely Hiltz is one of but a handful of music industry mavens to greet her band with a wake-up call in which the “L” word is uttered, but that’s pretty much the way things work with her. Call it a family affair, a relationship that goes a great distance toward explaining why the Bouncing Souls — who play the Warped Tour in San Francisco’s Saturday, July 8 — may be the most appreciative punk band in history.

In the twelve years she’s been with the Souls, Hiltz has done damn near everything for them, including stints as both guitar tech and road manager. She handles the band’s accounting and runs its label, Chunksaah. Most of The Gold Record was written and rehearsed in her Asbury Park, New Jersey, basement, and this afternoon she will lock down opening acts for the group’s fall tour. Tonight, at the big event, she will welcome a barrage of band friends, family, label folk, publicists, producers, and sundry industry types, though when her boys start their set she will duck inside the main hall to watch with pride.

But as much as Hiltz would like, the eighteen-month project that is the release of The Gold Record, doesn’t end in total celebration. “I drove our truck from my house to New York,” she says, “and I stopped along the way to buy the record for good luck and couldn’t find it. So then I spent a lot of time on the phone with the record label talking about getting in touch with the distributor to make sure the record’s on the shelves in the big places where the kids love us. That’s been my day.

“It’s kind of stressful because you’re like, ‘Okay, I did all this, and is it going to work?'” she continues. “And then immediately you’re like, ‘How can I have a good time if the records aren’t in the store?'”

Hiltz professes undying love for the band, but the music business? Yeah. “I hate it a lot of the time,” she says, “but I just have a role here that I don’t feel like I can leave. It’s not guilt, and it’s not lack of options or whatever. It’s just, ‘This is where I belong.'”

Kate Hiltz and the Bouncing Souls have belonged to each other since 1994, when the four musicians, recent high school graduates all, moved en masse from Basking Ridge to New Brunswick, New Jersey. They had a greater interest in avoiding college than building a music career at a time when Hiltz, who graduated from Skidmore College in just three years, found herself similarly adrift.

“In college I tried real hard to be kind of normal and live a normal life,” she says, “and then I realized, like, ‘Wow, I’m not going to be able to do it.’ I liked school but I just didn’t like the people. I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I was freaking nineteen years old.”

So she followed her Rutgers student boyfriend to New Brunswick, entered graduate school, and signed on to manage a futon shop. There, she met bass player Kienlen: “They lived down the street, and Bryan would ride his skateboard by every day and come in and ask me if he could have a job.”

Despite the fact that Kienlen wore “a Mohawk and looked like a total weirdo,” Hiltz hired him. But the day after he finished his job training, Kienlen announced that his band were going on tour. Soon enough Hiltz was on the road as well as the fifth member of a five-person collective.

“They said, ‘You should come with us,'” she recalls. “‘Maybe we won’t fuck up so much if you come with us.’ And I was disenchanted with school, disenchanted with the boyfriend and life in general. You know, early twenties. Full of hate. Hating everything. So I went.

“That was the fall of ’94 and it was like, ‘There we are.’ Six of us in a van and they smell, and so did I probably. It’s the only time in my life I think I felt like I fit in.”

The Souls’ reciprocal love for their caretaker is readily apparent in their song “Kate Is Great,” the highlight of the band’s 1997 eponymous disc. “It’s sort of a funny story,” Hiltz says. “The song existed before it was called that, and I was, like, sitting there while they were writing the record and someone made a joke, like, ‘What are we going to call this song? This song is great.’ And they would say, ‘Kate is great.’ So it was a total punk shout-out, you know?”

The world survives its superstitions on 06/06/06, but as the sun goes down in Manhattan, Hiltz hasn’t. A crowd is beginning to form at the Knitting Factory door with yet another displaced teen walking the line in a fruitless search for just one extra ticket.

Kate Hiltz, on the other hand, has but one ritual on her mind — the purchase of her band’s album on the day of the record’s release. “I’m very superstitious,” she says. “I have to go to, like, Union Square in the next half an hour and buy our record.”

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