I sat down with Jason Cruz of Strung Out recently so he could tackle your tough, tricky questions and take on the third degree tactfully, void of strained alliteration for your reading pleasure.
Please state your name and what you do in the band.
My name's Jason Cruz and I'm the singer.
So on this tour you brought out Love Is Red, Last Of The Famous, and fellow Californians Saosin. What made you decide to bring them along? And I've noticed in the past you seem to bring out a lot of different-sounding bands…do you think you just want to add variety to tours by doing that?
Yeah, I think just because we've been around so long, you learn to - you just break away from the particular scene you started out in. I think that you realize that there's more to music than just a scene that they get stuck in . I think it's good to just bring out different bands that don't sound like you, you know? I wanna bring a fucking marachi band. I wanna mix it up, bring like a soul-funk band. I just think that it's too one-dimensional [otherwise].
How did you get these three bands on this tour?
Well, our booking agent and just word-of-mouth. Honestly, we just have a really good booking agent.
What would you attribute your long-standing relationship with Fat wreck Chords to? Has the thought of jumping to a major ever crossed your mind, especially after the courtship a few years back?
We just meet so many bands, and heard so many horror stories…that we're - we can make a living doing this and we have a career. And that's all anybody can ask for. And Mike - you can call Mike anytime you want and talk to the boss - he knows exactly what you're going through because he's doing it. So that alone is reason enough.
One person says quote "every Strung Out fan I meet is never just a fan. I dont think I've met a single person who just 'likes' Strung Out. It's like a cult. What would you attribute your very loyal fan base to?"
I don't know. I was just talking about that stuff that you don't consciously try and do…it's something that happens, and I agree with ya. I don't know what the fuck that we're doing. But they're fucking soldiers. Like, every show we go to, they're fucking soliders, you know what I mean? And I don't know. I think it's honesty. I think it's like - we're a bunch of guys, we have bad hairdos…we're not up there for a fashion show. We're not a hair band. We're honest, and real, I think. And I hope people can see that.
As much as I'm sure it's your music they love you for, it seems like a handful of your fans really seem to dig even the album titles. Do you come up with them through some really long thought-out process or just basically on a whim?
It's on a whim, like it'll be a cool lyric, or a feeling of a song or something. I like words. I have a love affair with words, and I like to put words together and [combine] - I don't know. You put two words together and they create an emotion almost. And that's fun to me.
What was everyone listening to during the writing for Exile?
I don't know. We've played with so many bands that we were totally influenced by what's going on now. You have to stay current, you have to stay modern, and at the same time, you have to do it for yourself. I think we were all going through a lot of personal shit, like hardcore stuff. I was listening to a lot of Dylan, and a lot of stuff that's just not metal or punk rock. Those guys probably the complete opposite - nothing but - you know, I can't speak for them, but I was listening to a lot more classic stuff, just lyrical stuff I guess.
Did you use the same instruments in recording Exile as the last album?
No. Matt Hyde has an arsenal - a vast arsenal of guitars and pedals - just whatever we could think of. That's what was so fun about this record. Whatever we could think of, whatever sound we wanted, he would bring it up for us and somehow find it.
What is it like living in the Valley and how, if at all, has the experience shaped your musical style?
In the valley?
I lived in downtown while I was writing the record, in a really bad part of town. That's where the title came from, and the whole album artwork concept, because just being engulfed for two years downtown kinda does that to you.
How do you feel about the newer class of Fat artists like None More Black, Against Me! and The Lawrence Arms as opposed to the ones that were (and for the most part, still are) on the label earlier back in the mid-90s like Lagwagon, Propagandhi, Wyzo even? Are there any newer bands you've particularly enjoyed?
I like something about every one of those bands. I don't pay too much attention to what's going on - to Fat Wreck Chords or bands or what…honestly I don't pay too much attention to a lot of the new bands that are coming out. I just haven't, I don't know why. I just don't, I guess.
One person wanted to know what type of warm-up exercises Rob and Jake use before playing.
Bong loads. [laughs] Lots of bong loads. I know Jake and Chris - just lots of bong loads. And Rob doesn't really do anything.
How do you think Jim's departure affected the band's sound as a whole? And was "Swan Dive" written about him?
Yeah, "Swan Dive" was written about him. [As far as] his departure - we relied a lot…well actually, he him and Rob used to all sit in a room together and write songs in his bedroom, and it was a really intimate and fun thing to do, and we haven't done that since. Now it's everybody kinda goes to their corner and goes home and takes their parts home and works on them. So I think that Jim…he was a sign of the band where we were all a little bit younger and a little more open about ourselves. And that's not around anymore. We're kinda more separate about things, and that's cool, 'cause that works. But that's the biggest difference I think. [Being used to] writing lyrics together, and now it's just like…you're on your own kinda.
With Exile, you seem to take a noticably harder turn in about the first half, and then do a lot of the maybe more traditional melodic songs in the second half? Was it consciously sequenced like that?
Yeah. Jake brought up this point that he wanted - I think we came into this record just not caring. We wrote the record we wanted to write, and so many bands around us were just doing their thing and we didn't give a fuck. We wanted to piss people off, hence why "Lucifermotorcade" got put on the website first. We didn't really expect it to do anything or take us anywhere - we just wanted to piss people off, just show that we're still a little pissed off [ourselves]. There's so much going on around us. I mean, it's obvious, I don't have to speak of the things that are going on all around us, and I think that we wanted that to be the first reflection.
…just like another catalyst…
Yeah, exactly. The energy's still there, and the rage is still there, and if you can sit through that, then you're gonna make it to the candy at the end of the record.
What is each person in the band's most influential album, if you can speak for them?
Jake and Rob would probably be like…Slayer, probably a Slayer record. Chris probably King's X, Jordan maybe Rush. Me, anything by Bad Religion.
Do you still run your tattoo parlor?
It wasn't mine, I was apprenticing at it for a year. I got burned out on tattooing, honestly. I started painting, and that's way more my style. I tried tattooing for a while and I just wasn't into it anymore. I do it on friends and stuff, but as a business and making a living out of it, I didn't want to do that.
Have you been doing a lot of the paintings lately?
Yeah, I've been doing a lot of paintings lately. Because this band takes up all my life, ask my girlfriend - she fucking hates me for it.
So there's nothing I can do on my own [except this]. As a band, it's like art-by-committee. You're in a band with four other guys, you gotta compromise everything you do, so it's good to have something where you're in control.
One person wants to know if you've ever opened with "Open Mic?"
No, we never have. We rarely even play that song.
What made you go with Matt Hyde to record Exile with you? Are you happy with how the production on it came out?
We were all ecstatic the way it came out. Matt's a musical genius. We heard about Slayer/him doing the last Slayer record, he did No Doubt…he's worked with, God, a myriad of people that I can't think of right now. And he did the last Pulley record, and that's how we got in contact with him, through Pulley.
How much of "Annabel Lee" did he write?
He helped with the bridge. I had the verse and the chorus, and he wrote the bridge to it.
I know before you were saying there wasn't a bunch of new music you were really paying attention to at all…is there anything you're looking to in the coming months?
I'm into - I like The Bronx a lot. They're fucking - I saw them live and they blew me away. I like Interpol a lot. I like shit that doesn't sound like us. I don't - I don't know, I'm waiting to be surprised. I love Mars Volta, fucking love Mars Volta.
Yeah, they should have a new album in February…
Yeah, they're what I'm talking about as far as bringing a little bit of diversity into the scene, where it's not a bunch of…white kids singing about their fucking girlfriends. I want to see a broader perspective.
How many people have told you about the typo on the back of Twisted By Design?
Everybody. There's a typo on every record.
Is it getting fixed any time soon?
No, probably never…that would cost a lot of money [laughs].
Will "Pleather" ever be released onto an album?
I'd like to do it, yeah. I like the lyrics a lot, and we did it - and it didn't come out very good, it was too fast. So I'd love to do like an acoustic version of it or - 'cause I think the lyrics for that song are really cool and the riff is cool so I'd love to redo that again. And everybody asks about it, so I think we will.
Where do you pull your inspiration for lyrics from - personal experience or elsewhere?
From where else, personal experience, you know? That's all - write about what you know. I told you I like words, you know…when you put things together they create a cool emotion…I like writing about the in-between spaces in life that you can't really describe when you're talking to somebody.
Would you ever consider running for office or going into politics since your state seems to make it pretty easy…?
No, I don't think I could ever do it. I don't understand what compels a person to want to hold that much power. I think that everybody has the ability to influence, or to ease the blow of life, 'cause everyone gets to a point in life when they realize that you're not gonna change anything. Things are just gonna go, so you kinda like make things around you better. And I think that's all I can do.
A bunch of people are asking when and if you'll be coming to the following locations: Ontario, Brazil, Mexico, and Denmark.
Fuck, I can't wait to go back to Denmark, Christiania…I can't wait to go to Brazil. It's in the works. We've always had sketchy promoters to deal with when it came to Mexico and Brazil and usually they don't work out, so I hope it does work out. I know it'd go off…
Although "Matchbook" is basically the perfect song for you to end your set with, do you ever get the urge to play something else?
No…nobody will let us. [laughs] We - everytime we end with something else [laughs] they make us - we gotta come out and play "Matchbook." It's a given, it's like "Bro Hymn." [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah. One person wanted to know if the drugs have any if at all influence in the songwriting?
Umm…yeah. Yeah…well, drugs…yeah, yeah.
What percentage would you say?
Um, I don't know. You can't - you're full of sh- I believe that anybody that is always on drugs is full of shit. You can't be - you can't mean what you say and you can't get anything done if you're always high on whatever drug. But I believe that any means to an end…you have to use it in moderation and balance. And I don't want to get too in-depth about that because of everyone's own personal beliefs and situation, but I'm not gonna lie.
After doing the contribution for the Punk Goes Acoustic compilation, have you ever considered coming out with an acoustic release?
I don't know…I don't know. [repeats twice] Maybe. It would be cool I guess…I never really thought about it. I think a couple songs - I think "Velvet Alley" sounded amazing acoustic because it was such a not-an-acoustic song. And the riff…so it can be translated, you know…and if it brings something else, and you're not just exploiting the song, I think it'd be cool. It's something to think about.
What do you see in the band's future?
A lot of touring, a lot of touring. I have no idea what's coming up next. We gave everything for this record, and I don't know…I don't know. But depends how long my voice can hold out and how long we get along, and who knows, you know?
One last question - if someone killed one of your members, would you seek the death penalty or life imprisonment?
Ohh…damn, that's a good question. You know what - I'm gonna piss a lot of people off right now - I believe that if you take someone's life, I'm - I think you should die. That's the way I think, you know? And that's probably the total like Republican way of thinking, you know, but I just don't agree with putting a man behind bars for the rest of his life. He might as well be dead. He might as well fuckin' be dead, because to me that's soul-death…and if you're gonna kill a person's soul, you might as well kill the body. And that's what I believe.
That's it. Photo credits: Strung Out Photo Gallery