Photo: Rick Kosick
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Jason Cruz doesn’t care for nostalgia or dwelling on the past. The Strung Out frontman thinks about the present, the man he is at the moment, the last song he wrote. So when asked to rank Strung Out’s past seven albums spanning 15 years, the always-pensive Cruz found the task daunting, if not a bit trivial.
Goth, cyber punk, skate punk, whatever, Strung Out is a band that has constantly permeated the boundaries of punk and metal, continually refining their signature sound that many have come to love and recognize over the last two decades. That includes Transmission Alpha Delta, the soon-to-be-released, highly anticipated eighth album out on March 24 from Fat Wreck Chords.
Two weeks before the release of their new album, I spoke to Cruz, who called me from a Ventura dog park with his Brazilian Mastiff, Dozer, about how he feels about his life’s work and what he remembers about each of his band’s albums.
7. Another Day in Paradise (1994)
Noisey: So why is this your least favorite on the list?
Jason Cruz: Because I was still finding my voice and that was a prime example of why the next record was better. Sometimes, things you do are OK, but you analyze and try to make it better. It’s just a step. Everything’s a step. People bought it and if they get anything out of it, that’s great, but I would have just erased it if I could and just done the next thing. [Laughs]
Do you hear youth and inexperience on that album?
Yeah, I do. I was scared, honestly, making that record. I’d never been in a real studio before… not like that. It was rad though because I hear it now and I hear the next record and my range got a lot better. I started trying new things and you can see some evolution of me trying to be a better musician. But I don’t look back on those days with any nostalgia, in any way.
6. Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues (1996)
So the next album you have ranked, Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues, which is also the next one chronologically, you mention you were a lot happier with how this turned out than Paradise.
Yeah, I think that I stepped up a little bit. And it led to me coming into my own. I was the young in the band. Jim [Cherry, former bassist] and Rob [Ramos, guitarist] were older and those guys were way more experienced than me. At that time, I proved that they could have faith in me, that I had something to offer. It was a big evolution for me. I was still young but I was learning.
5. Blackhawks Over Los Angeles (2007)
Even though this is later album, a lot of people consider this a return to form to your old sound. What do you think?
I don’t know what to say about that. People listen and they hear their own thing or they want to hear their own thing. I really only know how to write one style–we’re a one-dimensional band. We can only write what Strung Out does. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s licky, sometimes it’s riffy. It’s just the same shit, different tempos. The music dictates what I do, I work within a certain framework and do what I can. We don’t really do anything new because it’s who we are, how we sound and it’s cool.
That record… there’s some gems on that record. I felt it was a little over-complicated, but there’s gems on it that I’m definitely proud of.
Like which ones?
Like, “All the Nations” and there are a bunch of others that are pretty badass. Sometimes you hear the songs in a bar or restaurant or something and are like, “That’s fucking cool. I can’t believe I did that.”
Sometimes you get into bad habits, into comfort zones–everybody does–and you just do what you know and you need somebody to talk you out of that zone to really grow. That record was us in our comfort zone, doing what we do best. But I think that record would have been better if we would have been taken out of our comfort zone, the producer would have drawn more out of us.
4. An American Paradox (2002)
Where did the title for this album come from?
I can’t really remember. It was right around 9/11 and that was a gnarly time. The cover was originally supposed to be a lot more fucking gnarly, but we had to change it because of 9/11. Crazy times.
So a lot of politics on that record…
No, not too many politics. It was just me trying to figure out who I was as an American kid–I was trying to define who I was as an American, being a kid. I looked at how I define my country and my place in it and what I have to say and what I have to offer. It was all a journey in the face of that war. I’m not political. I want to be open to be proven wrong and be shown something I don’t know.
That album was an exploration of that.
Yeah, that and we were doing a lot of drugs and it was fun time. [Laughs]
3. Agents of the Underground (2009)
What do you remember most about this record?
That it was the divorce record. I think it’s the most underrated Strung Out record. I wish the recording would have come out a bit more… brighter. There are some things about the mix I don’t like, but as far as songs go, it’s awesome. Cameron [Webb] was rad to work with and he brought me out of my comfort zone. So yeah, I think that record fucking kicks ass.
Sonically, it’s a pretty creative-sounding record.
Yeah, some of those bridges are really rad. I love the songs. Some people talk shit on it sometimes and I don’t understand how they can. I’m really proud of that record. I would buy that record. And it’s a cool title too. Agents of the Underground? Fucking rad.
2. Exile in Oblivion (2004)
Your next album on the list is one of my all-time favorites. Lyrically, to me, it’s your darkest, most morbid.
Yeah, I guess. Not really sure about that. But that’s what you get from it and that’s cool. I want to people to listen to our records and get their own ideas, feelings about it.
Would you say it’s the heaviest Strung Out album?
I don’t know. Really? “Angel Dust” is on there and it’s not really aggressive. I think that just through and through it’s a cool record. I remember it was a lot of fun writing and recording it and I think the songs have really stood up. I’m proud of that one too. I really don’t have too much to say about it, it’s just a really cool record and I’m still happy with it.
1. Twisted by Design (1998)
This is a pretty popular album…
Yeah, this one’s pretty badass.
What do you remember about recording this one?
That Rob and Jim and Jordan [Burns, drummer] were always gone, the old guys were always gone doing their thing in the middle of recording. They would just do their parts and take off. They were gone a lot so they left me and Jake [Kiley, guitarist] by ourselves, the young guys, and we would kind of have to step up and it was badass. It was kind of like where me and Jake grew up.
I love “Asking For the World,” that performance. That was when I discovered that I could do this and it was real and I’d be happy doing it.
Did you kind of have an epiphany as an artist?
Well, yeah, I just grew up. It wasn’t so much an epiphany. It was more that it was forced upon me and I had to step up–and I think I did on this record. It was back in the day when studios were big and expensive and that was kind of our last experience with that. There’s a lot of variety on that record too. The songs represent us well, I think.
Is there a lot of sentimentality there because it was the last one with Jim?
No, I don’t get that sentimental. I think things become a part of you and like, Jim’s a part of me. I don’t look back. I just look at where I am and who I am and everything that you experience is a part of you. I live with him every day and think about him every day.
Gen Handley is on Twitter - @Gen_and_Tonic