For the past 20 years, Simi Valley, California's Strung Out has been combining the blistering tempos of punk rock with the precision musicianship of metal for a hybrid sound all their own. As a treat for their diehard fans, the band's current tour, which lands at El Corazon on July 18th, finds the band playing two of their early, and most beloved records, in their entirety, 1996's Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and 1998's Twisted by Design. We caught up with Strung Out's singer Jason Cruz to talk about the tour, the lasting impact of the Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues record and the tour hijinks that landed a pair of members in jail a few years ago.
Are there songs from Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues you guys have never played live? No, but there's stuff off of other records that we've never played live and I'd like to start concentrating on that. There's a lot of B-side stuff too. After 20 years of doing this, there's so much stuff.
So you've played every song off of both of those records at some point in your live set? Yeah. That's why this tour will be so fun because everybody is so familiar with all these songs. People will be stoked.
Are you just playing those two records? Yeah, back to back, in order.
Is Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues your best-selling album? Yes, it is the best-selling record but it's hard to measure that these days because nobody sells records anymore. Plus, when a record's been out for so long, people re-buy it because they lose it or whatever.
Do you remember the writing and recording of the record? I remember we went to Razor's Edge Studio in San Francisco, which was Anne Rice's old house -- and I started doing vocals. [Fat] Mike just goes, "OK, I don't know what you've got, but I'm just going to press play and you can sing and show me what you've got for every song." And I didn't have everything figured out at that time. I was just making shit up as I went along. I had words but no melodies. I was just going up to the microphone and making something up.
Is that how you had done your first album too? That's how I did the first three records.
Was that from inexperience or was it just your process? It was fun that way. To me, when you do demos, you can put in a good performance, and then when you go back to do the record sometimes you can't get that same performance. The spontaneity of the idea is often the best one. And sometimes I still like doing that.
Does playing these songs now bring up whatever you were feeling when you wrote them? It's like hanging out with an old girlfriend. She's not as good looking as she used to be but you've got to out on this date. And you know you felt something at one time but it's not there anymore.
Can you tell me about the cover? You designed it, right? Yeah, that was in the cut and paste days when you found a cool picture and then pasted things on it with a glue stick and made a color copy of it. I cut and pasted that stupid thing together and then when the record came out six months later, we almost got sued because I stole it from a magazine.
Where did the title come from? I don't know, it just sounded cool. I was always good at that stuff.
It's been 10 years since your bassist Jim Cherry passed away. Does his ghost hang over the record for you? More Twisted by Design. During Suburban, me and him did "Bring Out Your Dead" and a lot of cool songs together. And then on Twisted, he wanted to do songs on his own and didn't want anybody's input. There's songs like "Ultimate Devotion" that are all Jim. When I sing it I'm like, "This is Jim's song. I'm thinking about Jim right now, that kinky motherfucker."
When you're out on the road, are these the songs your fans always say they want to hear the most? I think people always want to talk about the things that I'm not very crazy about. The things that are very dear to me and that I'm very proud of, not very many people like. A lot of times I don't have a lot in common with people who like my music because what they get out of it is different from what I get out of it and put into it. People make up their own stories and feelings and it's not yours anymore. It's different. I try and be open and appreciate any moment that somebody lets me do this and appreciates what I do.
Are you guys pranksters when you're on the road? We used to do fireworks at each other and other bands. We'd roll up to a band we were traveling with on the highway all casually and be like, "Hey, roll down your window." And then just release! We did that to Pour Habit. We did it to Death by Stereo. We did it to Larry and His Flask and there was an undercover highway patrolman behind us and we unloaded on them into their cab with roman candles and bottle rockets and just annihilated them. And then sure enough, we got pulled over and two of our guys got arrested and two of their guys got arrested. It was a nightmare. It was a serious offense. It was pretty stupid on our part, rolling up to someone on the highway and shooting explosives out of our window into theirs. So we don't do shit like that anymore.