Texans Bowling For Soup cut a striking image on stage. The fun loving four-piece are an instantly recognizable entity, with their chunky axe-man Chris Burney and bouncing, vivacious live style. You might not think it to look at them, but the band itself is now old enough to drink (though clearly that particular pastime started well before the music). It turns out they nearly fell apart before reaching school age: “we celebrated eighteen years in June”, bassist Erik Chandler explains. “Probably five years in we got a new drummer, replacing Lance with Gary and it literally changed the attitude of the band. We were starting to not really get on very well at that point. The new drummer came in and all of a sudden we were all hanging out again. The old drummer was a source of tension, as he didn’t really want to go on, and he didn’t really want us to go on without him.”
At the time, Bowling For Soup were only a moderately prosperous entity; their most successful albums ‘Let’s Do It For Johnny’, ‘Drunk Enough To Dance’ and ‘A Hangover You Don’t Deserve’ still ahead of them. All of them were to appear on pop-dominated label Jive; a glistening time in the band’s career, accompanied by a relationship that was eventually to become very sour. Remembering the period still brings a tinge of disappointment to Erik’s voice, particularly with regards to the ‘Best Of’ album. “We had nothing to do with the best of. When we left Jive, we found out six weeks later that they were releasing it. We had no input on it, we had no say on its release and we don’t encourage people to purchase it. They’re definitely not the songs we would have picked. We are considering doing a ‘Greatest Hits’ on our own label.”.
Despite their successes, with hindsight Erik sees the label and the band as a poor match: “We developed the reputation around Jive that we didn’t listen to our product managers, and we just did what we wanted to anyway, which was pretty much true. We were an experiment, because it was a pop label, and they wanted to sign this rock band and see what they could do with it. They were still trying to apply the same old pop formulas to what we were doing. It kind of doesn’t work that way in our world. All our suggestions would fall on deaf ears, and they would set about their plans for marketing, and we would set about our plans. Within a few months they’d be like ‘we should do this’ and we’d already set it in motion two months before. They just didn’t know what to do with us”.
“The last album we did with Jive, ‘Sorry For Partyin’, we recorded, put it out and they dropped us four weeks later. Honestly, we were in the middle of touring that album when we got the news that we were getting dropped. It took the wind out of our sails for about an hour and a half. Then we realized, ‘this is what we’ve been trying to do for years’. A couple of years before that we’d actively pursued getting out of our contract. It didn’t make sense at the time so we stuck it out. We’d almost fulfilled the contract anyway, so we had decided to power through and see what happened. It all turned out for the best. Now we’re absolutely in charge of our own destiny, we get to make all the decisions.”
In more recent times, then, while less commercially successful, Bowling For Soup have been entirely in charge of their own destiny, and have found the experience to be far more satisfying. “Our first move after getting dropped was to go into the studio and record an album without any outside influence, we decided to worry about how to put it out afterwards. Very quickly we got the opportunity to start our own record label, so that’s what we did. With the recording process for the next one, ‘Fishin’ For Woos’, we recorded it in two weeks. We had spent a month to six weeks on the previous couple. We just got in there, guitar, drums and bass, and made an old school Bowling For Soup album.”
The song writing process isn’t anything like as quick fire as the recording can be, though, even if Bowling For Soup’s most successful tracks could be characterized as more fun than poetic. “If you take all the songs that didn’t make it, there’s probably five albums worth of material that didn’t make the cut. There will be anywhere from 40-60 songs written for an album, demos and whatever. When you’re writing that many, they can’t all be great. You weed some of those out. Others go because they don’t fit with the album. We normally get it down to a list of 20 or 25. The process in the past has been we all sit in a room and everybody makes the case for the songs that they want on there. Normally there are seven or eight that everyone is totally in agreement on. That makes it a little bit easier.”
Along the way, the Texans even forged an unlikely alliance with a little known American based Irish singer: “The work with Lesley Roy on ‘Much More Beautiful Person’ was absolutely random. We’d just finished our most extravagant recording process to date. We got a really big budget, so we recorded it over a month in three different studios in Atlanta, Tulsa and LA. One of our actual friends with Jive was in LA with Lesley, she was writing songs, and funnily enough she was in the hotel room next to me. I’d been listening to someone play guitar all week and realized one night that it was her next to me all along. They stopped by the studio, and we were doing vocals on ‘Much More Beautiful Person’. I was about to lay down my parts, which were the parts that she sang. Fortunately she was up for it. It just seemed a cool idea and totally changed the scope of the song. It was a spur of the moment thing. “
Another unusual quirk for the pop-punkers is the annual acoustic tours, a set-up that turned out to be an unlikely success story at loggerheads with their normal style, particularly in its regular UK jaunts. Originally they were a means to an end: “The acoustic shows started fourteen, fifteen years ago. That’s how Jared and I were initially able to quit our day jobs. We played in pubs for tips and beer. Very quickly, we started realizing we were making way more money doing that then at our regular jobs. A couple of times a year we started doing an acoustic show around Texas. All the big radio shows around here want to do an acoustic Christmas or something like that. We would do those. Then we started noticing people flying from overseas to see these shows. Diehard fans were flying from out of the country, so we brought the idea to our booking agents in the UK. We thought people would love it, because it was something really different. For two years they told us ‘no, nobody does that, it wouldn’t go over here’. Finally we convinced them after two years. After the first show the promoter and booking agent both went ‘yeah, okay, we get it now’.”
What’s abundantly clear to their fans, though, is that Bowling For Soup remain, above all, about fun. If it wasn’t enjoyable any more, Erik readily admits that the band would pack up and go home tomorrow. The good times usually peak on tour: “The fun side of Bowling For Soup’s easy. We’re never having a better time than when we sit down on tour with a case of beer in front of us, and we just talk about nothing for hours. We’re absolutely still out partying every night. Maybe not quite as crazy as we were back in the day, but it makes it a little easier traveling on a bus and getting to a hotel, and if somebody wants to go to bed and everybody else doesn’t want to, we don’t wind each other up. But you’ll often find us on the dance floor a couple of hours after the show. That’s just kind of what we do.” Can we see the band still singing songs about beer and girls right through their forties? Perhaps not, but as things stand, it seems the Bowling For Soup party bus has plenty of miles left in the wheels.