The 1990s US punk resurgence maintains beloved significance for a lot of people. Playing a unique brand of high-speed punk, laced with pop melodies and aggressive tendencies, Southern Californian five-piece Strung Out signed with the iconic Fat Wreck Chords label in 1994 and quickly became key figures in the movement. The band has consistently released music ever since, but its early material still has a major presence in the setlist. However, lead vocalist Jason Cruz doesn’t exactly spend his time onstage reliving the glory days.
“Sometimes I don’t remember anything about the headspace I was in or who we were when we wrote it,” he says. “There’s songs that I haven’t listened to in ten years. I hear them and I don’t remember writing it, I don’t even remember being there. It’s almost like somebody else wrote it.”
The unfamiliarity doesn’t leave Cruz feeling indifferent towards the older songs, though. He uses it to his advantage.
“When you’re writing something you’re so swept up in whatever you’re writing about, and all the drama going on surrounding the recording of it, that you don’t get to enjoy it. It’s only when you revisit something and forget about all that bullshit [that] happened or all the stuff it took to write that song [that] you can actually really appreciate the song from a fan’s viewpoint.”
In late 2013, details surfaced online regarding Strung Out’s long-awaited eighth album, Transmission Alpha Delta. Cruz confirms the record is due to be released this September, almost exactly five years after their last LP, Agents Of The Underground. The extended interval gave the band a much-needed chance to take stock.
“Everything’s been so regimented for the past 20 years,” Cruz says. “I think it was important to step away from it for a while to figure out where we were at in life and figure out how people felt about us and [if] our impact was known. I think that’s the most important thing that happened. We were made to feel that we still have a place in people’s hearts and people care. It’s awesome to feel that way.”
In the interim Cruz kept busy, writing and releasing music with his Jason Cruz and Howl side project. The outfit’s country-tinged tunes prove he’s comfortable exploring alternate stylistic territory, but that doesn’t mean his enthusiasm for Strung Out’s distinctive style has waned.
“I’ve always been satisfied with every single thing [Strung Out’s] created. It doesn’t leave our hands unless we’re satisfied with it. I just needed to do other things. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and I think it’s important to show growth as an artist. It’s your obligation or your duty to explore other avenues. You need to do other things and you need go get lost and find yourself again.
“First and foremost, you need to live a life and you need to experience relationships and do things that people do. If you’re on tour all the time and you’re just making records [after] being on tour all the time, what do you have to say? What it’s like to spend your time in a backstage room and be around five dudes?”
Indeed, four of Strung Out’s five members have been sharing backstage areas, tour buses and recording studios ever since the group’s 1994 seminal debut Another Day In Paradise. After more than two decades of making music together it’s inevitably become difficult for the group to continue surprising and challenging one another.
“We can almost finish each other’s sentences or know what note one of us is going to hit before you even hit it,” says Cruz. “It’s awesome when we surprise each other. I think that’s been a big thing on this [new] record – surprising each other.”
Another crucial factor in Strung Out’s creative process is never fearing they’re going to step on each other’s toes.
“A friend – who’s much wiser than me – told me, ‘The song is the boss, you don’t mean anything.’ We’re all just vessels,” Cruz says. “The theme of this whole record is that you have to let your ego go and be a conduit to a message. Things that you see and feel every day will float through you and they’ll come out of your mouth or they’ll come out of your fingers or the way you dress. We just transmit these things that we see and feel. You owe it to the song to tell somebody, ‘That’s not working, that doesn’t sound good.’ The whole point of being in a band is to abandon your ego and your expectations and do what’s best for the song.”
After all, Strung Out aren’t in it for the plaudits, even if fame has descended on them along the way. “The whole act of making [music] is where the thrill is. Not the reward or whatever you think comes along with it. It’s the act of doing it with your friends and the communication involved and the camaraderie and the intimacy.”