From Simi Valley punks to career musicians, rock band Strung Out has been blowing out speakers for 30 years. Three decades in any relationship requires passion and dedication — especially when that bond is built on the do-or-die rebellious ideals of the fringe music scene. After 16 albums, EPs, and compilations, this favorite of the ’90s SoCal skater-punks continues to bring an edgy energy, shameless intelligence, and devil-may-care panache to the stage, making even the most aggressive of anthems seem sultry.
“I was one of those kids who was always looking for something,” said lead singer Jason Cruz in a recent phone interview with the Independent. “I honestly thought that music and punk rock was a way of saving the world. When I was young, I wanted to join some great battle … I wanted there to be some kind of meaning in my existence. That’s where music came in.”
Throughout the band’s journey, the music has explored motifs of humanity that give voice to a haunting vision of American culture and its dark foibles. “Every record has a theme to it. A kind of searching,” said Cruz, before offering the gruff vulnerability evident throughout Stung Out’s anthology of music: “I lost my best friend to cancer a month before the new record [Songs of Armor and Devotion] was recorded. So this record is about loss and love, and about songs being there as shields and armor.”
Strung Out’s more intricate take on the punk sound has elevated the SoCal hard rock scene, but Cruz rejects any labels or comparisons. “Punk rock, whatever,” he said. “None of those terms mean anything to me. Especially after the acoustic album we did.” Cruz credits the skill and creativity of the band members, two of whom, Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos, have been there since 1989, for Strung Out’s unique presence. “My favorite thing about being around these guys is you’re with a group of people who’ve grown together. … You leave a lot of people behind in your life because they don’t grow. It’s an important thing as an adult to be around people who show signs of growth.”
The fans have also aged, providing a completely different crowd atmosphere with each passing year. The punk kids of late Gen X and the early millennia are now parents and professionals and people with work in the morning. They’re at the show to hear their favorite band, not to release angsty energy by guzzling beer and shoving each other around. “Our crowd is a lot older now,” said Cruz. “More watching. Less pit. … It’s a mind-fu*k up there, wondering what people are thinking. We just watch each other.”
While the scene may have changed, some things are always the same: “We’re better with strong drink,” Cruz joked. And though touring is exhausting, Cruz continues to bring 100 percent passion to the stage. “I don’t relax,” he said. “Not until you’re dead?” I ask, and he pauses. “I guess,” he responds with a verbal shrug. “Hopefully not even then.”
4•1•1| Catch Strung Out Friday, November 15, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). Call 962-7776 or see sohosb.com.