Strung Out – ‘You are just the hand guiding the pen’

Words: Miljan Milekić

Is it really necessary to introduce a band like Strung Out? During the last three decades, they became a household name of the Californian punk rock scene, and one of the most prominent bands of their generation. A couple of days ago, Strung Out released their brand new album ‘Songs of Armor and Devotion,’ and we had the privilege to discuss it with the frontman Jason Cruz. Check it below.

Strung Out / Photo: Josh Coffman

‘Songs of Armor and Devotion’ is finally out, and, although it’s still so far, it seems like people are loving it. Did you have the chance to hear any feedback so far?
Jason: So far, the feedback I have received has been totally positive. That’s a huge relief. We all try and say we don’t care much what people think, but as an artist, you need to know that what you are doing is making a connection. To me, that’s the whole point of art and music.

‘Transmission.Alpha.Delta’ was one of the most talked-about albums in the punk rock world in recent years, and surely set the bar really high, as well as the rest of your discography. Did you feel any additional pressure because of it?
Jason: No, not particularly. You really cannot control how something will be received. Things, creations, all have a way of manifesting themselves. All you can do is be honest and do what you feel. You are just the hand guiding the pen, so to speak. Whatever is guiding you should represent something bigger than expectation and praise. I will say that not repeating yourself over and over again is definitely a motivating force.

This is your first album with RJ Shankle on drums. What’s his biggest influence on the band so far? Was the writing process any different with him on board?
Jason: Before, there were four creative minds pushing these ideas and songs into the world, now there are five. Strung Out is operating on all cylinders with RJ. It’s a great feeling to look back and see your favorite drummer destroying heaven and hell behind you.

This is the second Strung Out release in a little over a year, and it’s not something we are used to seeing from you guys. Do you feel like you caught a special momentum musically and creatively? Can we expect it to continue?
Jason: I cannot say. You really have no control over these things. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by four really talented shredders. Art should be a collaborative process, otherwise, it can get too self-indulgent. With Strung Out, the self dissolves. I think that’s our strength. As long as we can keep communicating, and working on that level, we should be OK.

On the contrary to last year’s EP ‘Black Out the Sky,’ the new album offers a bit more familiar Strung Out, leaning more towards your classic sound. Was it something you did on purpose, or something that came in naturally during the writing process?
Jason: Unlike any other previous release, these last two records were a conscious decision to, A – do something totally different from ‘Transmission.Alpha.Delta.’ and create a kind of tension with ‘Black Out the Sky,’ then B – to release that tension with something familiar and progressive at the same time. As much as I believe you cannot control certain aspects of art and life, you can steer the ship in a general direction and hope your knowledge of the ocean gets you close to your mark.

‘Songs of Armor and Devotion’ sounds like it’s meant to be played live. Is there any other song you can’t wait to play on stage?
Jason: I cannot wait to play these songs live. There are definitely parts that were written to create a crowd response. It’s fun bringing these creatures to life.

I would go back to ‘Black Out the Sky,’ as to me, it was one of the most interesting releases last year. How did you end up doing it? As I understand, it was meant to be an acoustic EP, but it turned out to be much more than it…
Jason: ‘Black Out the Sky’ was a religious experience for me. Kind of throwing your body to the wind and sky. There was so much turmoil going on around that time, and that record had a very healing nature about it. To me, the guitar work on that record is some of the best on any Strung Out album, hands down. Working with another drummer on that was also refreshing. It really showed us how limited we were before and ultimately set us free.

The EP was also another proof of your willingness to experiment and get out of your comfort zone. Especially on songs like ‘Requiem,’ one of my favorite songs last year. How did your fans accept the release?
Jason: I still feel that so much attention was stolen by our “drummer situation” at the time, that the record didn’t get the attention it deserved. To me, that particular release will reveal itself over time.

There is one weird thing I noticed about Strung Out fans – it’s almost like you don’t have any casual fans, but rather a cult following. And that goes for everyone I know who likes your band. Would you agree with this view, and does having a dedicated fanbase adds to the challenge of writing the best music you can?
Jason: Yea, it’s strange when people dissect your work so feverishly, I don’t know how to feel about it sometimes. On the one hand, I am grateful that people even show up, and listen, and care. It’s incredible. On the other, I feel we are held over the flames at times. At the end of the day, I still believe in the power of songs. They give my life meaning and purpose. They are not my songs or the band’s songs, they are your songs. A lot of pain, time, and sacrifice goes into their creation. You can just listen, and know each part to each song is toiled over. Do what you will with them, they are friends, armor, devotion, freedom. Thank you, friends.

In your career, you had a chance to play many amazing events, but there is the one I’m especially interested in – Travis Barker’s Musink. How different is it in comparison to other festivals, and how fun was it having him on stage with you?
Jason: Just the fact that Travis learned the song on his own and got up and killed it is a lifelong honor for me. Travis Barker has inspired so many kids in this life to drop what they were getting into and play music. So stoked!!! That’s what this is all about.

When can we expect you to bring ‘Songs of Armor and Devotion’ to Europe?
Jason: Next year we will be back in Europe. It’s been a while, and I hope our European fans have not forgotten about us.

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