For 29 years and eight albums, Simi Valley’s Strung Out have blended punk, prog and metal into their own take on melodic yet aggressive and certainly uncompromising punk rock. They’ve stuck with the same label, Fat Mike’s Fat Wreck Chords, for the entirety of their existence, and the lineup has remained impressively stable (there had been no changes since 1999, until O.G. drummer Jordan Burns was fired this year).
The most recent, and eighth, album, Transmission.Alpha.Delta, was released in 2015, so they’re about due. But the recent personnel shakeup led frontman Jason Cruz and the boys to have a rethink. So an acoustic EP, Black Out the Sky, dropped on Friday, and the “Requiem” single premiered with L.A. Weekly the previous week.
“I thought it was important after the last record to create some kind of tension or space,” Cruz says. “It was a little too soon to make a new full record. It could get lost. To create impact for the next record, it was a good idea to do something different for now.”
Drawing a line after the departure of Burns seems like a smart idea, although Cruz is keen to downplay the impact, saying, “It really wasn’t a big deal to us.” Reports of inter-member friction have been floating around for a while, so the implication is that there’s a feeling of relief in the Strung Out camp. While the new album is largely acoustic, though, it’s insanely dark.
“It started off with the title and the concept,” Cruz says. “Everything sprung from there. It just turned out that way. After the life that we’ve experienced over the past 30 years, it was important for it to be a little bit heavy — not just sound-wise but vibe-wise. We took a big risk — I didn’t want it to be jingly-jangly. I don’t think it’s an acoustic record, I just think it’s a more intimate record. Everything’s turned up. Everything’s on 11 in this fucking world, and this country. It’s important to bring it back down and draw people in, instead of always playing at them.”
It’s certainly a lyrically mature record, with songs like “Requiem” and single “Town of Corazon” illustrating just how much the band have grown in three decades.
“I think we’re a little bit more confident, and believing in each other,” Cruz says. “I think we’re getting better as songwriters. Honestly, we’re just now learning how to write good songs. I hope that translates. With the single 'Town of Corazon,' it’s important to have a sweet song in the middle of all that.”
Strung Out’s reluctance to play the punk game by anybody else’s rules is all the more impressive when looking at many of the by-the-numbers bands that have shaped the genre in recent years. That’s anathema to Cruz.
“The only time I ever think about it is when people make comments, and they’re really un-punk comments,” he says. “To me, punk is fIREHOSE and Minutemen. It’s about freedom. It doesn’t register with me when I hear narrow-minded comments. It trips me out. It’s not how I grew up to imagine it. Rock & roll in general, man. It’s about the heart you put into it, not the sound of the guitars.”
With new drummer RJ Shankle, formerly of the Runaway Kids, already settled in, the band can turn their attention to a new album, which Cruz tantalizingly says will be a continuation of the EP. Before that, there’s an EP release show at the Regent on Friday, May 18. Cruz enjoys playing L.A., though he’s a little nervous this time.
“If it sells out, I’ll enjoy it,” he says. “It’s kind of scary, I’m not going to lie. I took a big risk. The whole Jordan situation — I want people to see how much better we are and how much of a stronger family unit we are, because I think that will translate onstage. So yeah, I’m pensive. I want my family to be OK.”
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The singer is looking to put on more of a “show” this time, rather than the tried-and-tested route of a punk band getting up and blasting through the set.
“We’re actually going to spend some time, put the acoustic set in the middle,” he says. “We’ve been working really hard at it, and I think we’ve been doing it long enough that we know how to give people a show. There’s a serious lack of that going on in punk rock, I believe. At least on our end. So I think we’ve made a conscious effort to work on that.”
After that, Cruz says that Strung Out will be back into the “writing and touring” cycle. Or they’ll remain on it. That, he says, is what they do. It’s what makes life worth living. And L.A.’s punk scene is better off with them in it.
Strung Out play with Strife, La Armada and Twilight Creeps at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 18, at the Regent.