by Jeff Niesel
A veteran punk act whose history dates back to the early ’90s, Strung Out emerged at a time when punk still had a purpose. Some 20 years later, the band is going strong and for its current tour, which includes a stop at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Grog Shop, it’s playing 1996’s Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and 1998’s Twisted by Design in their entireties. Singer Jason Cruz recently spoke about the band’s history and the current tour. Tickets are $18.
You were one-of-if-not-the first band to sign to Fat Wreck Chords. That proved to be a smart move. Did you know at the time that it was the right decision?
I think we were the fourth band to sign and I remember BYO wanted to sign us. We were really familiar with the Youth Brigade and the Stern Brothers, who were on BYO. They had a reputation. And we were like, “Who the fuck is [Fat Wreck Chords head] Fat Mike and what the fuck is Fat Wreck Chords?” BYO turned us down because we were too metal, and Fat Wreck Chords wanted to do a 7-inch. Me and [original bassist] Jim Cherry carpeted Fat Mike’s house and convinced him to do a full-length. Jim owned a carpet company and I worked with him on weekends. People always ask, “How did you get a record deal.” I always say, “I don’t know. I carpeted some dude’s house.”
Simi Valley doesn’t seem like it’d be a hotbed for punk rock bands. Was there a punk scene there?
There were a lot of bands coming from there — a lot of hippie bands. Punk rock wasn’t cool in 1990. We’ve always been the black sheep of everything we’ve ever been a part of. No one ever expected anything from us. We were just a bunch of ratty skate kids. It’s ironic how everything flip-flopped after Nirvana. It’s all timing. I feel so bad for bands today that are ten times the band we are and are having a hard time getting started. We just got our foot in the door at the right time. I don’t think we’re any better than any other band out there. We just got lucky.
You pioneered and perfected the sound of blending melodic punk/hardcore/metal. How did you end up combining so many different styles?
You know what, NOFX touched upon it before we did. My band members are way into were into Bad Relgion and Social Distortioni and they love Iron Maiden. I can’t stand Iron Maiden but they love them and they’re all metal heads. A bit part of our sound is the conflict between me and them. It was never a conscious thing; it’s just dudes struggling against each other.
Did you all have different taste in music?
Jim was an artist. He had an artistic sensibiitly and me and [guitarist] Rob [Ramos] sing really well today. It’s all about compatibility. That’s all you can hope for. It’s like any relationship in life.
What made you think of the title for Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues? Are you fans of Dylan and the Who?
I didn’t know anything about the Who. It just sounded cool and I made it all one word.
What’s it been like playing the album again?
The kids seem to really dig it. It’s making kids stoked and the shows have been really great. I am lucky to be in this position 20 years down the line. I don’t get it, but I’m glad I can make a living and take care of my family.
Twisted by Design was remarkably melodic. Do you see that album as some kind of turning point for the band?
Yeah. I think everyone got more confidence. I was the young guy in the band and I know I got more confident. That’s when Jim and [drummer] Jordan [Burns] joined Pulley. Me and [guitarist] Jake [Kiley] were left alone in the studio. We really grew up on that record. We were forced to step up and grow up. I know I did. I grew as a musician.
Do you notice big differences between the two?
Oh yeah, all the songs are fast and sharp on Suburban. There’s more variety on Twisted. I’m really proud of those records. It made me realize the variety of our music. We play with bands that sound like they’re playing. We’re not just playing the same song 13 times. That cannot be said about these records.
What do you think of punk rock today? Do you have a favorite band?
I don’t listen to much punk rock today. I don’t listen to anything past 1989 basically. I listen to mellow stuff — old country music. I’m old so I don’t listen to hardcore punk rock anymore.
You were on one of the first Warped Tours. What was that like?
Back in the day, it was a good experience. I can’t speak for now. I can’t relate to any of the bands that are on it. I’ll never do it again. Music should be in dark clubs at night. Waking up at noon and having to lug your equipment down to some stage in the sun isn’t my idea of fun.