Strung Out's Jason Cruz: Twisted in a Suburban Teenage Wasteland

Strung Out
Strung Out

See also: Strung Out at Clubhouse Music Venue, 1/28/12 (VIDEO) See also: Top Five Must-See Shows This Week

Strung Out has been generous about performing in Phoenix over the course of its two decade career. The band tends to perform old songs (link to Face to Face/Strung Out review) while sprinkling in some new material. Fans will be delighted to learn that for the group's Wednesday, September 5, date at Nile Theater, they will be performing Twisted by Design and Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues in full.

We recently caught up with frontman Jason Cruz to discuss the impact of those two albums, the challenges of keeping a band going for 20 years, and how conflict of music tastes formed Strung Out's sound.

Up on the Sun: You guys have played in Phoenix a lot over the years. You're even coming back in a few months. What do you like about playing here?

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Jason Cruz: We always have good shows there. We have our route there, so if people show up, we'll go there. We'll travel anywhere where we think there will be a good show. Phoenix is just a good city and there are a lot of kids there. Everybody has a good show in Phoenix. I wish it was something more romantic, but you know. It's a good spot to play shows. I love Arizona, Arizona's beautiful.

Of all the albums you could have picked for this tour, why Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted by Design?

We thought it would be a good, big, fun tour. We're going to go home and write a record after this tour and leave all this old stuff behind, I hope, for awhile. We just wanted to do something fun and get reacquainted with these records and just have a good time before we get into the drudgery of writing a new record.

Are you going to play any songs in addition to those two albums? That's a lot of music already.

After two hours of Strung Out, they're not going to want to hear anything else. The set's pretty long and I don't really think playing anything else after this would be beneficial in any way.

It's always nice to hear you guys finish with "Matchbook."

Yeah, hopefully we can bury that pretty soon, too.

Are you burnt out on it?

I'm not burnt out on it, but I'm moving forward. The last leg of tour was incredibly fun, the shows have just been off the handle. A lot of guys in the band just like to do new stuff. I don't like resting on our laurels in any way, so hopefully we can...we want to do some better stuff.

Can you tell me about the recording process of each of those albums?

There was a lot of growing and learning. We were young, I don't think a lot of us knew what we were doing. It was when it was the birth of ProTools, so that was kind of a new...the first time any of us used a tape machine. Twisted was a good record, that was only because me and Jake learned a lot in the studio. The other guys took off and had their adventures, so me and Jake wrote a lot and contributed a lot more on that record as far as writing and then everything after that...I think Twisted was the record we all really came into our own, I guess.

Exile in Oblivion had some heavier tones and more political songs. What inspired that?

Exile, that was a shady time. I remember living in downtown in some crazy loft working on that record and there was a lot of drugs going on during the making of that record, honestly. I don't really remember too much about it. It was a really interesting, weird time and I think that is reflected in the artwork and a lot of tones in the songs.

Considering it was a dark time, how do you feel about playing those songs now?

I love that record. I wish we could play more of it, actually. We don't play enough songs off that record. I love that record very dearly and I wish we could play all of those songs, I hope we can go back and stop focusing on this older stuff. There's a huge resurgence right now of the '90s punk thing, so doing these records fits right in. but to tell you the truth, we'll be glad to just leave it behind and move on.

What can we expect from your new album? Are you going to experiment with any new sounds?

I can tell you that if we start repeating ourselves, I'm not going to do this anymore. We're going to push really hard to do something different. It's a battle sometimes. I don't want to go backwards, I don't want to just be a novelty band, and if we're not doing anything relevant, then I'm going to quit. This next record, I think, is just going to be the crossroads to determine that. People will know right away if we stepped up and actually proved that we have something to offer or if we're just a fuck off band. I do not want to be a fuck off band, so we'll see what happens.   When you were talking about Exile in Oblivion, you were talking about Los Angeles, correct?

Yeah, yeah, I was in the downtown area.

You've written a lot of songs about the city, and some songs, like "Cemetery" paint a negative picture of it. What has kept you living there?

I don't live in L.A. because I have a family, but I've lived there. I was born there and I spent a lot of time in my teenage years there. I moved there and it's just such a powerful force that you're surrounded by. Being the kind of person that I am, being a pretty observant person, I like to watch things and watch people, I like...I'm very affected by my surroundings, so...I was a little skater kid growing up, so that had a big effect on me and...I loved L.A., I loved the madness. It was my muse, I guess.

Did your skateboarding background help get you involved in the punk scene?

I never knew any kids that listened to that kind of music that skated. All the kids I hung out with listened to hip-hop. I was kind of a black sheep growing up. I never knew any kids that skated and listened to this kind of music. When I got into skateboarding, the best thing about skateboarding was the culture that came with it and all the different kinds of music that came along with it and a lot of different kinds of kids, I guess that shaped me in a way.

Strung Out has been a band for along time. You've had members come and go and one pass away, yet you've had the same line up for quite awhile. What keeps you guys going?

I think we're just making a living off of it, honestly. When things are successful, and you're constantly being rewarded for something, then you kind of work out your bullshit and keep it going along. We write a lot of music, and I'll tell you what, if we weren't able to survive off this, or if we didn't get any kind of support from our fans, we would have broke up a long time ago. It's hard on young bands. It's really hard to keep a band together, it's the hardest thing in the world.

It's easy to write good songs, but to keep it together and survive...nobody has health insurance, nobody has a 401k plan, nobody has that security, so you've got to basically sacrifice everything and leave your family behind and go after the world and hustle for some money. If there's no payback on that, you're not going to last very long. This ridiculous game that you have to do, it kind of wears on you sometimes. We're very fortunate to have the support of our fans and our music means so much to people that it keeps us going.

Is touring harder now that you have a family?

I'm the only guy with a family, so that's kind of hard sometimes because I'm the only one who's got perspective. It's harder the older my daughter gets, but at the same time, I feel proud that I can do it with music and something that I believe in and I'm not working at fucking Trader Joe's or something [or] working for somebody else's project. If I think of something and then it comes into fruition, then that makes me feel very proud. I'm glad that I can instill these things into my daughter one day- to go out into the world and think of something and just fucking do it, figure out a way to do it and get it done and do the best you can, and you know...I'm very proud of that.

Are you still doing your art? Yeah, I paint every night.

What inspired you to start your side project?

After 20 years of being in the same metal band, I think I needed to do it, or else I was going to quit Strung Out, honestly. I'm so different than those guys. I needed to do my own thing in order to appreciate Strung Out again. It's not anything near what Strung Out is. It makes me feel complete freedom and I don't have to worry about making it, or anything. It's just playing music for the love of playing music again. It works out because it makes me appreciate everything else.

I read in other interviews that your music taste is different than everyone else in the band. Would you say that has caused some conflict, or helps you create an original sound?

It definitely helped create a more original sound. I think the conflict is what makes our sound. I think that's true of a lot of bands because the taste of something you're not familiar with or what you necessarily don't like, so you work together to accommodate and that creates interesting things sometimes. Collaboration isn't always perfect.

Do you have an ETA for the next Strung Out album?

I think by next summer it should be done. I think if we get along and we hit it pretty hard, hopefully by next summer or next fall at the latest, we should have a new record.

Strung Out is scheduled to perform Wednesday, September 5, at Nile Theater in Mesa.

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