Once upon a time, young Jaret Von Erich was using–though some might say wasting!–his considerable vocal and songwriting skills in a death metal band in Wichita Falls, Texas. That is, until one fine morning in 1994 when a thoughtful Von Erich awoke, stretched, and realized: "I want to start a band that's happy. Wouldn't it be cool to see a band and leave the club singing their songs, smiling and in a good mood?" After all, Von Erich, a former toy shop owner nurtured on Tammy Wynette, Sha Na Na, REO Speedwagon, Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne, was a happy guy.

Thus, BOWLING FOR SOUP was born. The group's first rehearsal was June 4, 1994, the first show, July 3, and BOWLING FOR SOUP's self-titled debut, on their own Queso (si, it's Espanol for cheese) Records, hit in September of that same year. The genial pop-punksters had modest, but instantly realized goals: to write spirited, honest, sing-along songs, utilize their strong vocals and harmonies, and, in the words of Spinal Tap, "have a good time, all the time.

" In the new Millennium, BOWLING FOR SOUP's goals remain the same–and on the quartet's engaging Jive/Silvertone Records debut, "Let's Do It For Johnny," with its infectious first single, "The Bitch Song," those goals–and much more–are accomplished.

Or, as founding member Christopher Van Malmsteen notes: "The world is our playground. I’m a kid who can’t grow up and this is the perfect band for that." Given that radio jumped on "The Bitch Song" before its official add date, a lot of folks are finding BOWLING FOR SOUP "perfect." The 13-song album that takes its name from the Francis Ford Coppola flick The Outsiders is the culmination of years of touring in an '82 Dodge, and show-stealing at gigs with bands as diverse as Blink 182, Sammy Hagar, Stabbing Westward and Less Than Jake. Several "Let's Do It For Johnny" tracks, such as

"Belgium," "Scope" and "The Bitch Song" (remixed by Matt Wallace of Everlast and Faith No More fame), were re-done from previous BFS albums including "Tell Me When to Whoa!" and "Rock On Honorable Ones." Others, like "Pictures He Drew," which lyricaly tackles a painful true story, are brand-new compositions. And of course, "Summer of '69" is a creative cover of the hit written by Canadian treasure Bryan Adams. Additionally, the band has penned a new song, "The Greatest Day," for a new Tiger Woods video game.

Clearly, BOWLING FOR SOUP are serious about music–and fun–and that sense of surreal realism is evident on "Let's Do It For Johnny" as well as at the foursome's legendary live shows. "You see us walking into the club, you know we’re the band," laughs Von Erich, who adds, cryptically, "then, onstage, we do take our pants off a lot." (To answer the unspoken question: normally, boxers. On laundry day, sometimes none at all.) Testament to the powerful performances included a review of a recent gig during 2000's South by Southwest conference, which inspired one critic to rave: "...oozing oddball charisma... these guys rock. Watch for them." Of course, one writer who dared to do less than rave was fired from his gig following numerous letters in support of BOWLING FOR SOUP. Still, the modest Von Erich is quick to clarify: "I don’t think it was because of that....exactly."

BOWLING FOR SOUP, who germinated from the seeds of two Texas bands–Cool Fork (featuring Von Erich and BFS's original drummer) and Folkadots (Van Malmsteen and Rodham Clinton)–recruited "new kid" drummer Gary Wiseass in 1999. Wiseass, however, was a longtime fan and friend, checking out pre-BFS lineups at the Refuge, the non-profit club Van Malmsteen ran and booked. Yes, it's true: Van Malmsteen wasn't always the naked rock icon he is in BOWLING FOR SOUP. Once a church-going scholar, picking up the guitar was the beginning...of the beginning for the behemoth axeman, once also a pre-med major in college. "For me, the coolest players were ones who were flashy and entertaining, like Rick Nielsen, Angus Young, and of course Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhodes, guys who were good, but flashy," he notes. As for Van Malmsteen's onstage antics? "I don’t know about exhibitionist, maybe dumb-ass?" he chuckles. "I’m not ever going to be a Calvin Klein model, so who cares?"

Bassist Erik Rodham Clinton (who, prior to an unfortunate typo, was once Erik "Rodman" Clinton, quite a difference!), may harbor secret desires to be a CK model, however. He began his showbiz career at 11 by singing with his grandfather's band in front of 10,000 people for a Texas state celebration. Then it was on to stuff the chicks dig, including the trumpet and tuba. To date, Rodham Clinton's worst job was as a janitor at a jeans factory, where he'd wake up in the middle of the night coughing up blue lint. He was joined in this endeavor by Van Malmsteen, whose last name was indeed nicked from the fast-fingered guitar guru.

And speaking of names (yes, we actually were!), BOWLING FOR SOUP was somehow, surprisingly, not already spoken for when the band chose the moniker. And BOWLING FOR SOUP realizes that journalists have more pressing questions to ask the band than "where'd you get your name?" so they're happy to set the record straight once and for all. Von Erich, whose degree in marketing with a minor in psychology comes in handy in the music business, was not immune to the teachings of more esoteric subjects.

In fact, while rumor has it the band name was inspired by comedian Steve Martin's unwritten but scatalogically titled book, "Bowling For Shit," the BFS name actually has its genesis in the writings of Harvard International Affairs professor Robert D. Putnam, whose 1995 essay, "Bowling Alone," struck a chord (a C, it's said) in the singer/songwriter.

As Von Erich explains: "the community surrounding a band–fans, record industry folk and its own members–is a microcosm of society as a whole, and such civic engagement has been proven beneficial to the members of that aggregate as well as crucial to the greater good." (Subliminal message: buy their record; you'll be part of a cool clique.) Von Erich's philosophy parallels the ideas elucidated in Professor Putnam's essay. "Putnam observes that 'more Americans are bowling today than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted,' "explains Von Erich. Thus, concludes the BFS frontman, coming to a BOWLING FOR SOUP show puts you in the shrinking but crucial population of those involved with social intercourse.

To summarize: Bowling Alone is bad for children and other living things. Going to a BOWLING FOR SOUP show and feeling the love is good for the individual and integral to the greater good of contemporary society and community. Thus spake Von Erich.

But radio could care less about the band name. They care about BOWLING FOR SOUP's songs. And they've already played quite a few of them, too. In fact, "Sandwich," off BFS' self-titled debut, earned airplay, as did a single release, "Cody." Yet it was 1997 when it truly sunk in for the bandmembers that BOWLING FOR SOUP was more than fun. "We played with The Hunger in front of about 4,000 people in Abilene, Texas. We walked off the stage and I knew that our lives had changed forever," recalls Von Erich. The next couple years were a blur of activity that included more radio play (an early incarnation of "The Bitch Song" from "Tell Me When To Whoa!" beat out tunes from Marilyn Manson and Sugar Ray on Dallas station KDGE), up to 28 shows per month, and massive label interest, of which Jive/SIlvertone emerged the happy victors.

With so much history under their shorts, it's difficult to imagine a future more fruitful than the past. But the happy campers who comprise BOWLING FOR SOUP are only too happy to imagine it. "I can hardly wait for the world tour," begins Van Malmsteen. "Our music crosses a lot of boundaries. We could sound like Cheap Trick or something from the ‘70s. Or we can walk into a country bar and have them loving us in five minutes. I swear, we could play a nursing home. You name the crowd, we’ve played for them," he concludes. "We’ll heckle the audience just as much as they’ll heckle us. But by the end of our show, they’re always on our side. "