Punk Grows Up

Punk rock is nothing if not fiercely loyal, but the Simi Valley, Calif., five-piece Strung Out takes devotion to a whole new level. The band, noted for its delicious blend of hardcore, pop-punk and technical metal, boasts two members — lead singer Jason Cruz and guitarist Rob Ramos — who’ve been onboard since Strung Out’s inception in 1989. Drummer Jordan Burns and second guitarist Jake Kiley joined in 1993, and bassist Chris Aiken has been around since 1999, when he replaced 10-year Strung Out alum Jim Cherry. The band has also released all of its material on Fat Wreck Chords. Cruz chatted about Strung Out’s upcoming tour, the entertainment value of punk rock and compromise as life lesson.

Folio Weekly: Strung Out has done full-album tours in the past. What’s the motivation to perform 1996’s “Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues” and 1998’s “Twisted By Design” in their entirety this fall?

Jason Cruz: We’re going to write a new record when we get home, so it’s fun to go through the old stuff, which kids love, before we move forward and start experimenting. Plus, it’s a way to celebrate a good career.

F.W.: How do you think those two records stack up against the rest of the band’s discography?

J.C.: “Twisted By Design” was when Jake and I started stepping up as songwriters. And sonically, that record is one of my favorites.

F.W.: When you started Strung Out 23 years ago, did you anticipate sticking around for this long?

J.C.: I was just a poor kid, and none of us really had anything, so we had no plans for the future. Kids ask me all the time for advice, and I say, “We had nothing to look forward to and nothing to lose.” We were honestly playing in the moment and seeing where the adventure took us. We’re very fortunate to still have a place in the hearts of a lot of people.

F.W.: Strung Out is highly regarded by younger bands for blending pop, punk, hardcore and metal. What were your influences when you started out?

J.C.: Rob, Jim and I were listening to Bad Religion, Social Distortion, D.I. — those old Orange County punk rock bands that brought melody to the scene. Jim, Rob and Jake were metal heads, too, so that influence entered. But musically, I started growing apart from those guys, which added an interesting conflict to our sound.

F.W.: So you guys thrived on dissent.

J.C.: That’s a serious life lesson right there, collaborating and finding common ground with people you don’t have much in common with. They can bring things out of you that you normally wouldn’t have thought of.

F.W.: In addition to your singing duties, you’ve been an artist for many years. How do you think painting and songwriting play off each other?

J.C.: I’m a pretty hyperactive personality, so I always have to be doing something or I feel pretty worthless. I spend my days thinking about painting and songwriting and my nights actually doing it. It’s my lifeblood; I paint songs and I write paintings, if that makes any sense.

F.W.: How much work do you put into maintaining your voice after 23 years of touring and recording?

J.C.: My voice is way scratchier and gruffer than it used to be. I tell kids now, “Learn how to sing, learn your instruments, and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain.” But the good thing about being a musician and artist is, the older you get, the more you have to say, and the better you get at saying it.

F.W.: Strung Out’s longevity must surely serve as an inspiration to younger punks out there.

J.C.: That’s why we do this — that’s the only good that can come of it. Punk rock can’t save the world. It can’t change the world. But it can inspire people to find beauty in the world. If we can do that in the smallest sense, then we’re doing OK.

F.W.: You’ve written some pointed political songs in the past. Do you think punk rock can at least raise people’s consciences?

J.C.: Honestly, no, I don’t. It’s entertainment. Anything can inspire somebody to wake up, look around them and try to make themselves better. A lot of people don’t give a shit, and a lot of people that you wouldn’t think give a shit do give a shit. You can be punk rock or metal, Christian or atheist, surfer or volleyball player — as long as you care about how you affect the rest of world, you’re going to make change for yourself.

Nick McG