Only a day before they began recording the new, very anticipated Strung Out record, Transmission Alpha Delta, the contemplative frontman spoke to Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about rediscovering passion with the new album, how revisiting the past has helped him move forward and why 2013 was a "motherfucker."
So why was 2013 such a motherfucker?
Well, it was just a year of writing, a year of taking some serious time to introspect and all that good stuff. I did my Howl record, that took a long time, and then I went right after that into this Strung Out record. We had a South America tour fall through and that wasn't very fun. When you have to explain to the kids about something that wasn't your fault, that's never fun. But everything's worked out…it's worked out good.
How's the new album sounding so far? I'm looking forward to hearing it…
I'm excited too man -- I'm really excited. We just finished about two months of pre-production and we start tracking tomorrow. For almost 24 years we've been doing this and it feels good. I think it's been close to five years since the last record came out and I'm really excited. I was telling this to my girl that I want to get in there again. Not to take anything from the last record, but there's something different about this one, something better. So many times I thought it was over… I thought that the scene was dead and that we were over. I had so many doubts during that time, with so much time off, and kind of started to drive myself crazy.
I think we're actually contributing something with this new record. It's something new and that makes me feel really good. Like, we're not just sucking off our reputation, or the scene or the '90s… I feel we're actually contributing something new and better to what we do and music.
Why did you feel the scene and maybe the band were dead for a little while?
I think it mostly came from myself, my own doubts, and not wanting to repeat myself. There was this whole '90s resurgence and people were like, "Oh you're a '90s band, you have the '90s sound -- the Fat Wreck Chords sound." Personally, I resent that and I want to demolish and destroy it. I'm always the guy who wants to move forward, but sometimes I get ahead of myself and need to be reminded of certain things. I like to defy expectations and that's my job in the band. I don't know… I want things to be fresh. Sometimes I see things around me and they're just stale. If I want to make a living doing this and sacrifice my time with my family and this life -- this fucking crazy life -- I better give it 110 percent and contribute, you know?
Do you hope this new album will inject some new life into the scene? Into punk rock?
I don't care about the scene… I care about my band, my four guys, and us as a whole. I don't care about punk rock, first of all. To me, punk rock is inside everybody, it's about how you approach your life and it's not about how you approach your instrument. I'm not gonna lie, kids ask me all the time about what advice I have and I say, "Man, I don't know what to tell you… We were lucky. So lucky we were part of the punk rock resurgence scene." And for that I'm grateful and appreciative every day of my fucking life, but you have to be able to satisfy yourself and satisfy the guys in the band. Like, Rob (Ramos, guitarist) and Jake (Kiley, guitarist) and Chris (Aiken, bassist) and Jordan (Burns, drummer), once I meet those guys' standards and we make each other happy, it kind of flows out.
So we're all stoked. When I look at Rob and he's stoked and I'm stoked and we're just vibing off each other, I think it's a good sign -- it makes me feel passionate again.
What's the new record going to sound like? Keeping it heavy?
Yeah, it's going to be heavy -- it's Strung Out. We've never been a top 40 radio band… We're not trying to be anything. But I think we've proven that we're not going anywhere and I think our fans have proven they're going to stick by us, allowing us keep doing what we do. I think people are going to be stoked because we're all feeling it again. We're all older now and I think it's important to show your age when you play music and not try to be young and be something you're not.
What are the influences on this album? Personal? Political?
You're just going to have to hear it, man. You can't deny what's going on around you and at the same time you can't change what's going on around you. We're all older, I've had a kid since the last record -- I'm a father now -- and everybody's gone through some life-changing things over the last five years. A lot of it is that I can't believe we're still here together, we're still making music. We're also tuning it up to an E flat, that's a big deal, and we're adjusting the sound a little bit. But overall, we're basically listening to each other more and taking some risks.
So is chemistry kind of at all-time high in the band?
Yeah, I think so. Me and Rob started a little side band and I think that had a lot to do with appreciating Strung Out more. When you're in a band for several decades, you need to step away a little bit to get some perspective. Speaking for myself, I did my own thing -- and I'm doing my own thing -- and it took a lot of pressure off of Strung Out, making me see the band in a different way. I appreciate it more and I've come into it a little more peaceful and I'm a little bit more accepting of my place and everybody else's influence. (Pauses) And that's beautiful, man -- we can finish each other's sentences and the sound we make is… It's amazing. That's why I always encourage kids to stick out, whether they're in a band or a relationship, just stay with it because it changes. There's nothing like knowing everything about that person and just being able to communicate with words and produce things without explaining. That's a beautiful fucking thing, man and I think you'll hear that on this record.
Strung Out was one of the first bands to really combine punk and metal into one sound, into something pretty good. Was that conscious decision or did it happen naturally?
Everybody was doing it before so it's not like we invented it -- Poison Idea was doing it, Lagwagon was doing it, the whole crossover scene in the late '80s. I think the thing that makes our sound now is that I wasn't a metal guy and those guys were into metal -- and Jim (Cherry, former bassist) was an artist too and he was kind of in between. So I think that conflict of different styles created our sound, different influences colliding that are so strong that they're not going to cancel each other and instead create something unique. I think that's been the key.
What other projects are you working on right now?
Well, I have a new Howl record coming out and we're going to announce something concerning the release of the Strung Out record involving my art, my paintings that's going to be really cool and something for the fans -- but I can't really tell you right now. And yeah, we start tracking the new Strung Out album tomorrow and I think it'll be out in June. Right now I have the title, I have the artwork done and we're going to try to do something special and different.
What's new album going to be called?
It'll be called Transmission Alpha Delta.
Where did the idea for that come from?
I found a piece of artwork, an image, from a really great artist and it just really described our music to me. So I hunted down the artist and got the permission to use it. It kind of inspired the whole sound of new record -- it has an Orwellian, kind of geometric vibe to it. It's very… I kind of believe that ideas aren't yours and come from somewhere else. If you're a creative person and you relax your mind and you let ideas come to you, you can't really take credit because they come from somewhere else. Have you ever had an idea and thought, "Where the fuck did that come from?"
Yeah, random ideas definitely just pop into my head sometimes…
Right? Like, when you dream of something that you've never seen or thought of before and you're like, "What the fuck?" That's where Transmission Alpha Delta came from -- our heads are like satellites and we receive these transmissions all the time and it's our job to decipher them and regurgitate them. That's what this album is about -- receiving all of this stimulation, all of this input and your emotions and mind get a hold of it and spit it back out. It's your job to make sure that what you spit out is something beautiful and positive and propels your life and people around you forward.
That creative relay you mention, acting like a transmitter, is that how you write a lot of your songs?
Yeah, Jimmy used to like freak out -- he was one of the most creative people I knew in my life -- and when he would write he would go get therapy and hypnotherapy and he would be a fucking mess. That taught me that I can't be like that, that I have to relax and I have to realize that you're not in control and the more tense you get, the more you'll freak yourself out. The ideas aren't yours -- you're just a walking bag of shit.
Musicians and artists, I think, kind of put themselves up on a pedestal because they're creative. I tend to do the opposite. I think that I'm basically a walking antenna and sometimes I just need to leave myself open to the things that are out there.
Over the years you've played a lot of your albums in their entirety -- recently you did a few shows playing An American Paradox. Is that fun for you as a band going back or is it more for the fans?
I think it's important because it celebrates the record again… I hadn't listened to American Paradox in over six years. When we went back and re-learned some of the songs, it made me realize how fucking cool some of those songs are -- and the kids really fucking dig it. When we played American Paradox from beginning to end… man.
You can get stuck in a rut playing the same songs all the time so it's good to revisit that old stuff and re-learn it, feeling passionate about it again. And it makes for a good show, man.
Does revisiting the past help you move forward in a weird way?
Yeah, it does… It does. It makes me feel love for what I did. Before, I always told myself I wouldn't listen to a record a month after it's done, I wouldn't listen to it anymore. I'd just stop, I'd get tired of it. If I paint something, I try to get rid of it as soon as I can because I just get sick of looking at it. But that's just me and I think it's my strength and it's my fault, and sometimes I need to slow down and look back. Like, we did "Alien Amplifier" and I forgot the words, but I thought, "God, that's a cool song." It definitely made me perform it better and I think kids saw that.
By the way "Alien Amplifier" is one of my favorite songs for running. When it turns up on shuffle, it's like octane for me…
(Laughs) Really? But yeah, if you don't learn about history, you're just going to repeat it and I want to make sure I don't do the same thing I did on those records. Sometime you use the same words, or use the same phrasing, or the same chords, or the same progressions so it's good to go back and make sure you don't keep doing that.
Is there an album you wouldn't want to play in its entirety?
Probably Blackhawks (Over Los Angeles) -- it's a pretty damn hard record, man. There are some hard, really complex songs on Blackhawks that we should learn that I don't think we've ever played live.
You mentioned a new Howl album. When's that coming out?
That'll be out in April. As soon as I'm done with Strung Out, I'm going to start working on that. I'm really proud of that and I think people will really trip on how different it is from the new Strung Out. As an artist, I'm glad that, if anybody's interested, I can throw something at you that's really different and then the next thing I pick up that I throw at you is going to be even more different. If you don't like it, that's up to you, it's your prerogative, but I'm a hardworking person and I'm proud I can throw some curveballs at you once in a while.
You're pretty busy these days, eh? The next few months are pretty packed…
I told you man, this last year has been a hard year for introspection and creativity. I have to say that I work with and know some of the most amazing musicians who make me better -- that is worth more than anything. I'm talking about everyone in Strung Out -- we have the two greatest guitar players and Chris Aiken is one of the most insane songwriters. In Howl, I have Buddy Darling, I got Chris Stein, I got Nick Dibiasi the drummer. These guys believe in me and they back me and when we work together, it's quite a feeling.
It sounds like you surround yourself with a pretty inspiring group of people…
Are you in a band? Do you play music?
No, I'm just a writer who loves music. I do sing karaoke…
(Laughs) But do you collaborate with people? Like, have an idea, give to somebody and they build on it? It's a great feeling, right?
Yeah, totally. With certain people and chemistry the idea can take on a life of its own…
When you have an idea and you leave yourself open to let that idea grow with somebody else's contribution, it blossoms into something you never would have imagined. That's a great feeling.
You recently contributed a song to one of my favorite albums last year -- the tribute to Tony Sly. Why did you choose to do the song "Soulmate?"
Because we were already playing it live, we were playing it before. For some reason we had learned it and Rob was singing it and we were playing it during sound check a lot. When Tony passed, we thought it was perfect, you know? So we sat down and tried to break it down and do something different to it. (Pauses) I think that whole album is just beautiful… That Mad Caddies song ("AM"), the Snuff song ("On the Outside"), everybody did an amazing fucking job on that record -- it's really beautiful.
Yeah, it's a really great album and I love the different takes and interpretations. I liked what you guys did with "Soulmate" because the song is still really similar, but you gave it a new energy with a Strung Out vibe.
Yeah, it's a great song man. The day he died, we were on tour in Canada -- London, Ontario -- and I walked in the bus… I heard, over the phone, from somebody on the bus that Tony died. I was pretty sad, a bit devastated over it. After we had parked, I walked into a record store near the club and they were playing this album, over the PA, that was really good and I asked the guy, "What is this?" and the guy was like, "It's Tony's new record, his last solo album," and I was just like, "Wow." I didn't know what it was at the time. It was the most beautiful song about his little girl and he was always writing about his family and being away from them. Driving back and forth to the studio, all I thought about was his girls because I remembered how much he loved his little girls. I remembered how much he wrote about them and how sad he was when he was on tour when he wasn't around them. That really fucking inspired me because I have a little girl now and I know what it's like.
So do you write about your daughter now because of it?
No, it's hard. It's hard because I'm writing with her every day, all day long and it's just hard to write about her right now. It's just a private thing to me and I don't want to share that with the world right now.
A lot of top ten album lists for 2013 have come out lately. Do you have any favorite albums from last year?
I listen to old records, dude -- I haven't listened to a new band in I-don't-know-how-long. I listen to The Faces, the Rolling Stones and Roy Orbison and shit like that… Miles Davis.
So were any old artists you started listening to last year?
Yeah, The Faces, Rod Stewart's old band with Ron Wood -- I love that shit.
Any Faces influences on the next Strung Out record?
Probably the next Howl record, but not the next Strung Out record.
Does it matter to you if the new Strung Out album will be on any top ten lists at the end of 2014?
I think you already know the answer to that, man -- I don't give a fuck. I really don't care. I care about what my four guys think about what I do in Strung Out and I care about what my other four guys (in the Howl) think. If they're happy, then I know I've done a good job and it'll trickle down. You can't make everybody happy and I really don't try to (Laughs).