When you’re taking a drive out somewhere on some winding road, the sound you choose to accompany you becomes inspiration. Like the moon from a passing train, the sounds are your night light, your escape from the endless distance and dusty winds. When these distances cover the infinite backgrounds of Indiana, Montana and the plains of somewhere – very few provide true inspiration. Reserved for those who’ve mastered the methods of soulful heartland rock n’ roll, this musical form of art transcends boundaries of genres and musical styles.
Recognized by it’s emergence in 1996 (after being known as Split Lip for five years), Chamberlain was such a musical entity. Running through a range of beautiful compositions, styles and musical diversity, Chamberlain managed to capture the imagery of the lonely imagination. With the 1996 release of their much praised LP, “Fate’s Got a Driver”, they not only captured the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide, but provided incredible groundwork for a truly defining music career. What followed were two more incredible full length releases, a 7″ single and most recently – an incredible 28 track, double disc compilation of some of their finest work.
While they may have made their exit, “Five Year Diary” proves that their music will be remembered and cherished long after they took the stage for the last time. Chamberlain may no longer exist, but their work will forever evoke the passions of imagination – the sounds of America.
David Moore was the vocalist and primary lyricist of Chamberlain. He composed and wrote heartfelt and honest lyrics while lending his hand on some acoustic work for the band. He took some time and answered a few questions during the month of October, 2002.
First of all, let us know what this latest release “Five Year Diary / 1996-2000” holds and what listeners can expect from this double-disc set?
Five-Year Diary is a 28-track compilation of live performances, early studio demos, some of which have not been previously released, and a few songs from Big Brown, the little cabin in the woods of Southern Indiana where I wrote the lyrics of many of the Chamberlain songs and where the band practiced for years. This retrospective album covers the full range of the music created during the Chamberlain years.
Is this the final Chamberlain release or is there the chance for more new material in the future?
With the release of Five-Year Diary, I think all of our recorded material has now been published. We wrote a couple of songs that were never recorded – New Day and With You Always. A live performance of New Day was captured on the RIDE video, and there’s just a bit of With You Always in a sound check segment of the video.
For those who are unfamiliar, share with us a little Chamberlain history.
Chamberlain emerged in 1996 from its origin as a punk band called Split Lip. We released Fate’s Got a Driver under the Chamberlain name that year. And, although the five members of the band remained the same through 1998, new musical directions emerged with the name change as evidenced by our second and third albums, The Moon My Saddle and Exit 263. Counting the Split Lip era, the group was around for about 11 years. We were all kids when we started – only one of us was old enough to drive!
Your record, “Fate’s Got a Driver” is not only one of the most moving records to have been released in the past decade but to this day continues to amaze people. What do you think stands out the most, in your opinion, about this album?
Thank you so much for that kind comment. First and foremost, the compositions are the standout feature of this album. The songs are melodic and memorable. I think the lyrics touched people as well. And all the songs taken together have an impact that has continued to make its mark on listeners. Six years later, Fate’s is still attracting new fans to our music.
There is substantial growth and maturity between “Fate’s Got a Driver” and “The Moon My Saddle”. What do you feel is the biggest difference between the records? At the time, did you approach the song writing process for each record differently?
I’ve always believed that one of the things that drew people to Fate’s Got a Driver was its maturity – both in terms of the musical structure and arrangements, the prowess of the instrumental performances and the depth that the lyrics seemed to reach. The musical compositions on The Moon My Saddle are, perhaps, more mature in their lyrical content, but that just seems to be the natural consequence of growing up a bit and being exposed to different experiences. The writing process was similar for both albums…although several of the songs on Moon were written on a long-distance basis because I was in Montana and Adam was in Indiana at the time we were writing those songs. He’d send me tapes of the music that he was composing, and I’d write the lyrics. No doubt, being in Montana influenced the lyrical composition of some of the songs on Moon.
“The Moon My Saddle” was the last release on Doghouse Records – how did you first end up working together and what were some of the factors behind parting ways with them?
We met Dirk Hemsath, the owner of Doghouse, shortly after we formed Split Lip. Dirk was in a band at the time. When he decided to start his own label, he approached us about recording an EP, which turned out to be the Soulkill record. That record really “put us on the map” locally and regionally and started what became to be an 8-year association with Doghouse. Our contract with Doghouse was completed with the recording of The Moon My Saddle, and at that time, we were pushing hard to find a home with a larger independent or major label. When our management decided to release the band’s final recordings on Exit 263, they negotiated with Doghouse, but a couple of obstacles surfaced that couldn’t be resolved and the record was self-released. I’ll always be grateful to Dirk for believing in a group of untested and untried teenagers from the suburbs of Indianapolis.
Personally speaking, what were some of the most important things you learned from dealing with a label at a relatively young age?
Working with a label requires a certain willingness to bend – to listen to the opinions of others – to learn that sometimes you don’t know everything you think you know. We were young and headstrong, but Doghouse always gave us the space we needed to follow our own vision.
The music and lyrics are incredible honest and heartfelt, who inspires you to write, whether they are artists of music/literature or those outside that field?
I am inspired most by ordinary people and ordinary experiences – mine and those of the people around me or the people I’ve read about. I read a lot – fiction, non-fiction, essays, and poetry. I’ve also traveled a good bit and that adds some color to the themes I choose to write about. With respect to music, I was influenced from a very young age by the poetic genius of Bob Dylan.
What do you feel has been the biggest motivation and inspiration for Chamberlain over the course of your albums, from “Fate’s Got a Driver” to “Exit 263” to the release of the double disc set? And how has it affected you outside the realm of being musicians?
Defining a vision and pursuing it. That’s as important in music as it is in life.
Are there those out there who you’d like to collaborate with musically? And what are the members of Chamberlain currently listening to?
I’m drawn to the music of Greg Brown, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Cat Stevens, James Taylor. I can’t really say what the other members of the band might be listening to now. I haven’t spent much time with them recently. I’ve been completing my undergraduate degree at Indiana University. Adam has moved to New York and the other guys are spread out across the country.
There are two (if I’m correct) versions of the song “Good Enough”, one on the LP “The Moon My Saddle” and one on the single/7″. Are there other songs you’d like to do again to perhaps do different versions of?
It’s hard to get to the place where you’re completely satisfied with a recording. Many of the songs on Exit 263 were songs in development, and I think we would have polished them a bit more if time and circumstances had permitted. However, lots of people have told us that they love the raw sound of those songs. I’m generally very happy with the music we created and grateful to know that it has touched people in a meaningful way.
Is there a record that stands out as your favorite? The one where you enjoyed the process of writing, recording and performing the most?
I like Strange Days and Hope You Show Up Soon; both are very personal songs about family relationships. I like Until the Day Burns Down, Santa Fe, Last to Know, Five-Year Diary, Sleep, Street Singer. I truly enjoyed the process of writing every song, and I’ve written a few others that I might decide to record some day.
What are the best things about touring and what are some of the less than enjoyable aspects? Can we expect Chamberlain to hit the stage anytime soon?
The thing I liked best about touring was meeting people and spending time with our fans. The thing I liked least was sleeping on bare floors in strange apartments and flats where, in the early days, fans were willing to put us up for a night. So many people were amazingly generous, but when you’re on the road for weeks, that kind of existence wears you down. Looking ahead, I’d say it’s unlikely that Chamberlain will regroup and tour again.
Do you have some tour memories that stand out in particular as the best or the least enjoyable?
I remember a place where we bunked one night in Germany during our 1996 European tour. It was a large building of some kind – not someone’s home – more like a community center or school, perhaps. There were all kinds of strange costumes and wigs piled up in a corner. Chuck, our drummer, kept us laughing all night modeling those costumes and putting on quite a show. We got some great photos of him in those outfits, which I know he’d like to burn.
Looking back, what would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of being Chamberlain – writing, recording and performing? How would you all like to be looked upon most, whether it is by your fans, family or friends?
Being a part of a group for such a long time during the formative years of one’s life is an experience that’s never forgotten. It touches you in so many ways – some of which are not always fathomable. I learned everything I know about music in association with those guys. And, I learned a lot about life’s drama, too. Looking back on the experience, I realize how truly momentous it was. We created a body of work that survives us. I think we all feel a great sense of accomplishment in simply having done it. And, our loyal fans around the world have brought so much meaning to our efforts. So many people still write to share their thoughts and sentiments about the music…to tell us how one song or another has touched their lives. Recently, we received a letter from a couple who were planning their wedding and wrote to tell us that they had decided to use Chivalry as their wedding song. I was touched by that. It made me realize that the music has a life of its own. Hopefully, it will continue to touch people in some meaningful way – even though those who created it are now pursuing other interests. I like to think it will.
Dreams and Devotion: An interview with Strung Out’s Jason Cruz
For Strung Out’s Jason Cruz, art is more than just the music he’s known for. It’s the dreams and emotions he writes and paints as well.
For almost 30 years, Jason Cruz has been synonymous with the art he’s been crafting. That art of course, is his work as songwriter and vocalist for Simi Valley melodic punk rock outfit Strung Out, who since 1990, have been writing hard-hitting, emotionally-charged music that became part of the wave that brought punk’s into the mainstream consciousness in the mid-1990s. Strung Out’s three albums of that decade, 1994’s Another Day in Paradise, 1996’s Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues, and 1998’s Twisted By Design, proved to be the perfect answer to those who sought out the deeper underground of punk that bellowed below the surface of Green Day’s Dookie and Offspring’s Smash.
For many listeners like myself, Strung Out and many of their Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph brethren meant a world of new music wrapped in the subcultures of skateboarding, surfing, punk attitudes, and a vibrant urgency that echoed sounds of rebellion and independence. While pop culture acceptance for just about any form of art and music seems fleeting, Strung Out have never wavered from what they do; now three decades into their history and nine albums deep into an ever-impressive catalog. Songs of Armor and Devotion is perhaps the band’s finest work since they first burst onto the scene. Composed, yet still breathing fire, its tracks still exhibits that “debut album energy” but comes with the benefit of the wisdom of touring, writing, and experiencing the world three decades over.
However, for Jason Cruz, art is more than just Strung Out. He has quietly and not so quietly been honing his craft as an artist and a painter, coming to light on a musical front by painting the cover art to his band’s 2011 “Best Of” album Top Contenders: The Best of Strung Out, and NOFX’s 2013 EP Stoke Extinguisher. But one look at the wide spectrum of art he’s painted and you can see that it’s more than just album covers. His painted work, like his music, seems to come from the same passion and emotion that drives his lyrics and songwriting. Now he embarks on a new chapter as a children’s book writer, taking inspiration from his daughter to write There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams, a bedtime story born in dreams.
We spoke to Cruz not long after the release of the band’s new album to talk about the long-lasting influence of Strung Out and to discuss his art and how they share the same creative head space. We also spoke about his upcoming art exhibit and his new book and the toll and triumphs of the tour cycle.
Congrats on Songs of Armor and Devotion. It’s stellar work; how do you all feel about the release and response to the record?
Cruz: I’m glad people are digging the tunes. I’m anxious to get em out on the road and see what they turn into. See if I can keep up with RJ. It feels like another new level to explore.
But you’ve been busy with a lot of projects- tell us a little bit about the children’s book you have written? It was inspired by your daughter?
Cruz: The book is called There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams and it’s basically a bedtime story. My daughter just spoke the title one day as we hangin’ out having one of our talks and it stuck. I thought it was the most beautiful thing she ever said.
What’s the story of the book?
Cruz: It is basically a bedtime story trying to explain to a kid what the hell dreams are and how cool they can be. How the adventures you dream at night can only pale to the ones that await you when you wake kinda thing.
How long did it take to write and create the book?
Cruz: I worked on the story, which is more like a poem, and all the illustrations for just over two years. Anywhere I could set up and draw. In between shows, on planes, at the desk at home, wherever. Once I told the kid I was gonna do this book she made sure to ride me pretty hard about getting it done so she could take it to school and read it to the class.
What’s the approach like writing the book in comparison to writing songs for a new Strung Out record?
Cruz: Pretty similar process I guess since they both involve rhythm, flow and the use of imagery and imagination. With a song, it’s a collaborative process. Each member adds an element to construct this thing. With the book, it was all me. Inventing as I went along until I had enough elements to unify the idea as a whole. It’s a lot harder flying blind like that. I guess I kept this first attempt as simple as possible for that reason.
Where can we buy the new book?
Cruz: All the usual modern day outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Baby. It will also be available on my site as well.
I’m looking at some of your art and I like how different the pieces are. For instance, the difference in emotion, style with pieces like “Choke”, “Rise & Fall”, and “Church Fix”. What are some of the things that inspire your art and what were some of the inspirations behind these pieces?
Cruz: Oh I guess just the love of doing is what really inspires me. To be an artist. To challenge myself. To learn my craft and grow. I could never stick to a certain style or look very long because I’m just too moody I guess. I need the freedom to move around and explore. Always trying ‘get it right’ whatever that means.
Is creating art a completely private and solo process for you?
Cruz: Completely. I guess that’s why it can be so maddening at times and so fulfilling at the same time. Like what nerve do I have to even attempt this?!?! What is this whole art thing?!?! Is this good?!?! And somewhere in between all that doubt, there is joy and fun. Problem solving and improvisation.
What are some of the things when looking back at this 20+ year career with Strung Out do you hold as the most important to you? Is it the records? The consistency with the work or the influence you’ve had for listeners around the globe?
Cruz: To be able to keep living my life in a such a way is all I can ever hope for. Making true connections. As long as I am a good person, as long as I am good to my muse and never take anything for granted and always be awake and alive I am grateful.
Is there one album you look back as particularly important to the band and yourself? Say one that you felt like thing were heading in the right direction?
Cruz: For me, I’d have to say it was the pseudo acoustic record we did called Black Out the Sky. That record was super important in our development as a band and as human beings. It kinda loosened any restraints we thought we had and really showed our fans and ourselves the possibilities of our union as a whole.
I’ve always loved Suburban Teenage and Twisted By Design because I think both records hit at the right time for me (I grew up in Indonesia and discovering your music was a big part in who I was and am); plus I learned that bands could hit hard just as much as they sang with emotion- but I think Songs of Armor and Devotion is very much in the same vein. What was the songwriting process like for Songs of Armor… and when did you guys start writing the record?
Cruz: It all happened really quick. Once we set aside the time to write and record we wasted no time and the ideas all came very fast and effortlessly – for the most part. We had a lot of ‘pent up‘ energy and angst I guess you say.
I love the song “Crows”- did you feel like it was a great stand-alone song- were there reasons why you didn’t want to put it on a record?
Cruz: Who knows? Looking back I don’t even remember. It seemed like it didn’t really fit anywhere but it was too good to just let go, so yeah, that song is kinda like a sad pretty little island.
You’ve got an exhibit coming up in October that will showcase your art and your new children’s book. Is the process of creating a new exhibit the same for you as say, planning an upcoming tour? What can we look forward to at the exhibit?
Cruz: Luckily I have help from some really great people. I’ll be painting up until the last minute so any and all help is greatly needed and appreciated. Along with the illustrations from the book I will also have on display a series of new oil paintings.
Steve Caballero is also part of the exhibit, was it a natural process working together with Steve on this? How did this come together?
Cruz: Steve is a blossoming artist and a great human being. I guess I just got extremely lucky on this one.
Strung Out have a North American tour coming up with The Casualties. How’s life on the road these days, are you guys all still enjoying being on the road?
Cruz: Ask me that on the last week of the tour and you’ll get a different answer than now.
I got to see you guys twice the last couple of times you were down in Australia; will we see you here sometime next year?
Cruz: Yes, I believe something big is in the works for Spring.
Do you have a road map for the next few years or are you happy with playing things as they come?
Cruz: It’s more a map of the ocean and I am chained to the wheel.
Jason Cruz’s Fine Art Exhibition and children’s book launch takes place Friday, October 25th, 2019 at the Copro Nason Gallery in Los Angeles. Tickets can be booked here. More information can be found on Jason Cruz’s official website. Strung Out’s new album, Songs of Armor and Devotion, is out now on Fat Wreck Chords.
All Work and All Play: An interview with The Drowns
The Drowns prove that having the right work ethic goes a long way
It’s been a busy year for Seattle punks The Drowns. The band, whose individual histories stretch back some 20 years, are a rough and tumble blend of street punk bravado and positive attitude that found its footing with their 2018 debut album View From the Bottom. With tours, festivals, and new music already checked off in 2019, The Drowns put the “work” in working class rock n’ roll with no rest in sight. Fresh off the release of a new 7″ titled The Sound, the band are prepping for their first ever Japanese tour in October and are working on their new full-length album due in the near future.
On top of the globe trotting, the band will take part in this year’s Rock The Ship Festival, their label’s annual punk rock escapade on the high seas, anchoring a lineup that includes noted bands like Cock Sparrer, CJ Ramone, and Subhumans. We spoke to vocalist Aaron Rev about the new 7″, the terrific street punk anthem “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier”, and what they’re looking forward to next to cap off an already packed 2019.
I really enjoyed the new 7”- how has the reception been, and how are you guys feeling about these new songs?
Rev: Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. So far, so good. The reception has been incredible. And we love the new songs. We just got back from a month and a half tour, and the new jams went over great.
It sounds like the band is very in tune right now and that things have continued to go strong since the debut album?
Rev: Totally. We also have a pretty intense work ethic, so right when we are finished with something we are already working on what’s next. Just keeping the ball rolling.
The songs on the new 7” SOUND amazing- where did you guys record and produce the record?
Rev: We working with our brother Jesse O’Donnell from the band Noi!se at his studio the Autopsy Room in beautiful Tacoma WA. Working with Jesse was great. He’s a great guy, and a great engineer. He’s really got an ear for this type of music, and he pours his heart in to it.
What’s the story behind “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier”?
Rev: I live in the south end of Seattle. Years ago I moved to a neighborhood called Georgetown. It was incredible. Tons of artists living in a kind of shitty area, just for cheap rent so they could keep creating. When I’d first moved there, it really was one of the greatest points in my life. I was surrounded by incredible people who inspired me to create. But, we all started to see the gentrification coming, because nothing that great could last forever. The Georgetown neighborhood has a huge building in the middle of it called Rainier Cold Storage, where they used to make and store Rainier Beer. They ended up tearing part of the building down, and for me that symbolized the beginning of the end of what we had. When they were tearing it down, I broke in at night and stole some bricks for the old building, and when I have them around, they serve as reminders to carry the spirit of what we once had along with me wherever I go.
You’ve been playing a bunch of shows over the last few months- how have they been? How are these new songs translating to the live setting?
Rev: The shows have been CRAZY! We’ve gotten tons of support and a great reception to all of the new material. It was a killer tour.
For those who may not be familiar yet, share with us a little history of the Drowns.
Rev: We were all friends in different bands, and we’ve all been in the game for 15-20 years a piece. Our respective bands started to slow down, so we all decided to start a project together. Also, not many bands we knew of were playing the style we wanted to play. So we got together, started writing, and just haven’t stopped.
Are you guys splitting time between Seattle and LA?
Rev: Our drummer Jake lives in LA so we just fly him back and fourth to accommodate, and we head down there. With the internet, it’s surprisingly easy to keep a long distance band going these days.
Speaking of Seattle, I saw on your Twitter that some of you were at a Sounders game- is soccer the sport of choice for The Drowns?
Rev: Totally. Huge soccer fans. MLS and Premier League. Some of us are big hockey fans too.
It’s funny because I felt that “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier” has that stadium anthem feel to it (at least in my head), that its a great song for thousands of people to sing together.
Rev: Hell ya. I’ve worked with the Sounders in the past with my old band. I’d live to have The Downs work with them. It’d be a perfect fit.
Pirates Press has been releasing some great music this year; you guys are in great company. What were some of the reasons for choosing Pirates Press as the new home for your music?
Rev: First and foremost, they are incredible people over there. You be hard pressed to find any other label active right now that gives a shit as much as they do. They are hands on, they are passionate, and they care about the bands, and the music, and the fans. They are truly a great example of how a label should be run.
You were at Punk Rock Bowling this year- how was it? It’s such a massive looking festival from the outside- Did you guys have fun?
Rev: It was KILLER! The lineup this year was insane. The setup of the festival this year was perfect. And, we were crazy surprised when we started playing at 3:30pm and right after we hit that opening chord and turned around, there was a sea of people! We felt so humbled by how many people cane to see us. It was insane.
Are there already plans for a new full-length to follow View From the Bottom? What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Rev: We are definitely always working. So you can bet that you’ll hear about new material soon. But for now, we are going to hit Europe and Japan later this year. And keep on moving.