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INTERVIEW

Strung Out

Veteran Punk Rockers Still Have the Magic

By Joseph Duncan

Ten-year veteran punk rock act Strung Out returned to Boston after a four year hiatus between records and blasted Lansdowne Street’s Karma Club with its unique blend of simultaneously melodic and aggressive punk rock last Saturday to promote its new album, An American Paradox. Bringing Poison the Well, Rise Against, and Rufio with them, they were welcomed by a packed and enthusiastic crowd.

Rufio opened this twentieth show of its first tour with a surprising set which showed all who were there at 6:00 pm that it wasn’t just another opening act who was going to play for twenty minutes while people filed in and then just walk off stage to be instantly forgotten. Although by no means a perfect performance, Rufio showed considerable talent and consistency for such a new and young band. Also hailing from Strung Out’s hometown of Los Angeles, the band play a light-hearted brand of emo/punk, stuffed with vocal harmonies and melodic guitar riffs.

Chicago’s Rise Against provided an astounding change of pace from Rufio, immediately hitting the crowd with an onslaught of hardcore punk rock. The melodic undercurrents in the band’s songs distinguish them somewhat from a lot of other hardcore, yet the connection was still there as the lead singer, Tim McIlrath, shouted to the crowd at one point, “Sing along.... If you don’t know the lyrics, just scream.”

Poison the Well went further down the hardcore track. They seemed to be the least coherent of all the bands, as their songs tended to blur into a mash of noise -- rather than music -- far too frequently. While their studio music shows promise, their live shows need a lot of work to prevent them becoming an offensive blur.

Playing songs from just about all their records, Strung Out closed the show with an energetic performance that would make anyone proud. Jason Cruz, the lead singer, brought back memories of Bad Religion with his incredible presence and sincerity on stage.

Although the majority of the songs performed were done with little or no modifications from the studio versions, the live performance communicated an irreproducible sense of emotion and weight that few bands can match. “Firecracker” from Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and “Cult of the Subterranean” from the new record, An American Paradox, highlighted just how much the band has evolved over the past eight years, while still retaining the magic that got it started in the first place. The members of Strung Out successfully showed that they still know how to put on one of the best punk shows around.

The five-piece band, comprising Jason Cruz (vocals), Rob Ramos (guitars), Jordan Burns (drums), Jake Kiley (guitars), and Chris Aiken (bass), took a step towards the darker side of life with An American Paradox and this tour.

The Tech spoke with Burns and Kiley before the show:

The Tech: What music did you listen to as kids that made you want to be a musician?

Jake Kiley: A lot of progressive metal and punk. I always liked the harder styles of metal, and then I heard The Descendants and The Misfits and that kind of got me into Punk Rock.

Jordan Burns: When I was a little kid I liked Kiss and a lot of other metal and rock bands. That evolved into all the punk bands -- Bad Religion and The Dead Kennedys, and I guess it just went from there.

TT: What made you want to be a drummer?

JB: I played guitar first when I was really little. After that, I didn’t really play anything for about three years, until I started playing drums. The first time I sat down on a drum set I could just naturally play. So I rented a drum set for three months. My parents made me rent one first, you know, just to make sure it was something I wanted to do -- and it was something I wanted to do so I just never stopped.

TT: How much of the new sound was influenced by [Chris, who joined the band in 1999] and how much was just the natural progression that the band was taking?

JK: I think it would’ve happened anyway. When Chris got here, it definitely improved that aspect of the band, but it just accelerated us in a direction we were already headed. But you know what? The band just couldn’t have existed the way it was anyway so it was something we had to do to make the band a productive thing again. Now there’s no limit on what we can do. I think the new record is taking the best from all the old stuff, but it’s also doing some things that we’ve never done before.

TT: What do you guys do to prepare for a show?

JK: We don’t really have a ritual or anything like that. I try to play guitar for about ten minutes before going on, but that’s about it.

JB: This tour we’ve actually taken to watching the Cradle of Filth video before going on. They’re pretty sick.

TT: What’s a classic story from one of your tours?

JB: On this tour we broke into Rufio’s room -- this is their first tour. We got into their room and we lit off a Piccolo Pete while they were asleep. It was like fve in the morning and they were dead asleep. It smoked out the whole room and they all had to come out for like an hour.

TT: What’s one of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a band?

JK: Well you have to deal with all the personalities, you know? It’s like a marriage -- almost like a family. You wouldn’t always hang out with these people if you were just friends, but when you’re involved with something like this you have to learn how to deal with them. We all get along, but when you’re together in a van or a bus for a six or seven week tour, every little thing about that person gets magnified. There are so many great things that inspire us on tour, though, so I look at that shit, I don’t really look at the stupid things.

TT: Do you write music on tour?

JK: Sometimes -- we write both at home and on tour. I need to get a new four-track. Our last one broke, so we need to get a new one and record a bunch of ideas, because we already have like five or six ideas.

TT: Some of your music seems to have a political message behind it. Is this just Jason’s perspective or is it a message from the whole band?

JK: Jason writes all the lyrics himself. I’ve never been much into the political side of things. What I get from our lyrics is that Jason just sings about the things that he’s been through. The music to us is just emotions. When I write my music I try to put together music that just sets a tone. The music comes first and then Jason writes all the lyrics afterwards. I think he does a great job of taking the feel of the music and giving it a voice.

TT: Where did you come up with the name Strung Out?

JB: We had the song “Strung Out” on the Skinny Years demo and someone said it looked good on a sticker. It just kind of stuck and it’s still here today.

TT: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the music industry now?

JK: You’ve just got to be willing to give up everything to do it. It’s one of the seediest industries in the world. We’re really lucky to work with the people we do.

JB: You need to be willing to work through a lot of headaches and problems along the way. I think it’s even harder today than we first started. If you’re in a small band, you just have to play because you love to play. You need to do it because you love to play and put the whole making money thing aside. Back in the beginning, we were sleeping on peoples’ floors, in church parking lots, at rest stops with sleeping bags. I think if we didn’t go through that it’d be lame, though. If we’d just signed a major record deal, jumped on a big tour bus and bypassed all the roots stuff, all the uphill battle, we wouldn’t have the perspective of what we’ve done. We had like six people in a van and we’d drive past a big tour bus and just dream about it, but here we are now.

JK: The independent scene is safer, but you have to be willing to work a lot harder. You have to go out there and spend a good five to ten years really. It doesn’t just happen overnight.