We’ve all heard Jane and Alexander boast nostalgic spills of last cigarettes and broken asses. When you think of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros what comes to mind? Transcendent dreamy desert scenes, billowing peasant skirts and beards so majestic you could just cry at their beauty? Check, check and check (#igetweirdforthebeard).
After years on the road, rife with adventures and cooked breakfasts’, the (upwards of) 10 piece have garnered a reputation as a must-see live act, regarded for their unpredictability, compassionate connection with crowds and lilting musical mayhem.
Their self-titled record is melodically outstanding, continuing on a progressive path of deliciously spacious arrangements and all consuming choruses. Though the deeply entrenched message of their lyrical content rings true to the old, their growth and direction has come a long way. I had a chat to Crash (just Crash) about Bowie, kitchen metaphors and helping people embody courage.
Hi Crash, how you going?
Ahh, so good (laughs). I was just running some errands and I just got back in time.
That’s cool, what are you up to?
Nothing, just trying to get used to being home (laughs). I can tell I’ve outgrown the domesticated life. I’m leaving the house without my wallet; I’m making all sorts of mistakes. I went and bought embroidered towels for our state manager and drum tech.
Oh, that’s super nice of you.
They’re like these hand embroidered towels with Biggie Smalls on them.
I got them in a series of Rastafarian colours (laughs). He’s gonna love it!
Where did you find those?
Ah, my friends Etsy page. She was doing a hip-hop series. She sold out of the Biggie Smalls pretty quick, but I put in a special order. So I feel like a pretty lucky dude.
Very lucky! What time is it over in LA?
That’s a good question (laughs). I’ts six o’clock.
We’re on opposite ends of the world right now.
It’s true! It’s true! (laughs)
Are you with the rest of the band? Do you guys all live together when you go home?
Ahhhh, (laughs). Like in a shoe? All together in a shoe? Ummm, no, no most of us are here in LA, if not, on the West Coast. We got a couple folk in New York and then Alex is in New Orleans, but relatively close I’d say.
Ten people is a lot of people. How did you get together in the beginning?
It was kind of like a big kitchen. It was like a huge kitchen and Alex sort of being the chef, he (laughs), he would leave and grab some ingredients and return to the counter, to the stove. And then he would leave and grab some more ingredients and bring it back to the kitchen and the stove. That’s how I remember the process in meeting everyone. My band The Deadly Syndrome, we had just recorded our record there in the studio and immediately after Alex came in and started forming Edward Sharpe. So Mark Noseworthy who now plays guitar (3.29) he’s been in the band since then. I kind of met Alex through him. And Aaron who was playing bass at that time for Edward Sharpe was producing that record. So maybe through them and through that studio and geez, many other musical networks in the city.
That’s pretty incredible.
Yeah, I mean, it was quite a lot of people to bring together. I know now there’s 12 of us on stage, but I’m pretty sure on that first record there’s more than 12 people. There’s gotta be maybe upwards of 20.
Wow, does it get pretty crazy when you guys are touring around? Just with so many people?
Ahhhhh crazy? It gets crowded, crazy. It’s like running a children’s nursery for the tour managers if you would ask them to break it down. Everybody’s got their different priorities on the road and in between gigs. I just like to laugh so uhh (laughs), pretty easy for me. But sure, it’s cool. I mean, gosh, I could go on and on about the things we do and how we spend our time and how crazy it gets.
You’re just like one big family on the road, I guess.
Sure, sometimes we’ll get to cooking breakfast outside the bus first thing in the morning. We’ll bring like these camping ovens and stoves and do like a non stick pan (laughs), throw some butter in there. People driving by thinking, who the hell is in that bus!?
Your self-titled album really shows an evolution of your sound. How would you describe the new LP compared to previous sounds/albums?
It’s certainly a breath of new life into this record compared to the previous two. The word would be rambunctious. That’s just kind of like the go to word for the difference in sound. There’s definitely that great energy. It’s pretty obvious at even the first listen. It’s cool. I think it really raises the whole reason and goal of celebrating the live shows. You know when you play the songs and the audience is looking more and more familiar. If we could just sing them all together and celebrate them and have a really good time, you know?
Tell me about the artwork for the album, what was the creative process behind that?
(Laughs) uhh, there was a lot of back and forth over which art concept would actually make the record. We went from one idea, which was a candid photo, not every one of us was even in the photo. But it was a candid photo nonetheless where we all were dancing. It was black and white. Something about it spoke to a lot of us and we were gonna maybe use that photo, but then that turned into something else. This wild confetti glittered stuff with a big peace sign. You know, two fingers for the cover, but then that went away. Then this cover came across our inboxes and it seemed like a pretty unanimous yes. It spoke to us a bit more than the other work. They were cool ideas however; they just didn’t last in our mind. This idea however, resonated a bit more with us. So yeah, once again we just went back and forth and talked about it for a while. We finally pulled the trigger on it probably well after the due date (laughs).
I noticed when I was listening to it last night that there are a lot of great ambient sounds that creep in, little bits of laughter and such. What sort of vibe were you trying to capture?
The atmosphere was a live atmosphere. The record needed to sound as if you were in the room. Even in the recording process, the more tracks you throw on top of one another, the more noise and sounds in the room that build up. A lot of times you’re busy cutting those out, but this was an effort to leave the character and the charm in the recording. So there is that feeling and that vibe. Alex and us would love to do the next record completely live. I mean us going into a room with you know, pots and pans and chains and just really strip down and bimp and bomp and bap and scream and just really go from there. There’s something really cool about that sort of primal approach.
Tell me about the music making process for Edward Sharpe. Is it mostly collaborative, do you all have your input? Or is it more one person steering the ship?
Well, with so many people it’s very easy to do the collaborative thing. There’s always ideas’ coming through and down the pipeline. I think sometimes the songs you will find maybe need a more focused attention. Then in that case, the original author of an idea or maybe just Alex himself, will just carry it down the way and then bring it back. In that case on this record, Alex did a lot of carrying, if you will, because there was this vision that he gained of the album and just wanted to see it through, for which we’re all really, really pleased and super excited about it.
If you had to use three words to describe your music, what would they be?
Three? Just three. Three is so many. Three is so few. Well, I’d say joyous, I’d say colorful and I hope I would say uplifting.
I like those. I like those a lot.
Alex I think would say, courageous. He’s really been gunning for writing songs that really help people embody courage and take on courage. Different answers of course, but I think courageous too.
I think that works. Your songs have a lot of positivity and that gives people courage.
Sure, and even me, as a songwriter myself, I do a lot of reading back on the lyrics that Alex will put down. If I were free just to question assumptions, you know, are you not free? And why would you say so? You live in America. And what do you think is compromising that freedom? It’s interesting to read those lines and see that deeper message there and the way he is challenging some status quos and some ways that we’ve just sat back complacently accepted. Its really cool and I really love it.
Yeah, definitely. Do you guys have any pre-show rituals or on stage traditions?
The pre-show ritual would be a huddle. We huddle before every show. Those can get pretty funny (laughs). It can also be really cool for just reconnecting us and reconnecting everyone and just getting us on the same page before we step out there for all the eyes and ears to see and hear. It’s a really special moment, I think for each and every show. Even when it’s hard to do, it’s really been a great element to have. And then on stage I’d say (laughs), the tradition is asking the audience which songs they want to hear (laughs), and also, just sort of passing the hat and allowing more and more of the song writers amongst us to pull out some material. Jade has been doing her songs on the records and also some other songs that shes’s written. Christian, the same for him. Songs that he has on the Edward Sharpe records as well as some others he’s done. We’ve been doing a song called “Motion Animal”. The whole passing of the hat has been really cool and that’s becoming a pretty fun way to approach things, a good routine if you will.
What songs do you find people call out when you ask them what they want to hear?
Ohhh, well “Home” is a given, right? So there’s always that one (laughs). People call it out as if we won’t play it (laughs). There was maybe a show, no more than a handful where we have not played home and it’s strange every time that happens, we sort of feel so deeply satisfied (laughs). But, there’s a lot of great songs that are requested when we just give the audience the opportunity to shout em out. You get “Dear Believers” or um “Fire Water”, people will request some of the Alexander material so like “A Million Years”. All sorts of stuff really, “Child” gets requested a lot. It’s a real interesting thing to see what people are gonna shout out from city to city.
What is the most pleasing thing about what you do?
I think just constantly being humbled in a really breaking way by how special this opportunity is. I think we’d be lying if we didn’t say, we feel like we’ve hit the lottery and it’s just been a ton of fun. We’ve had the opportunity to meet many great and amazing people and see a lot of the world. To do that carrying a message such as this and a vibe about ourselves such as this I think is pretty fulfilling. So I guess I’d be a fool not to say that.
That’s a really lovely sentiment. I must ask aswell, what’s the story behind the name, Crash?
Well, it came up on a job. My performance wasn’t so good. So I think the kind young lady who sparked the nickname was just trying to make sure it was fitting for me. I wasn’t showing up on time in the mornings and I wasn’t in the best condition or shape to work when I would show up. So I think she got me with a dagger and it kind of stuck. But yeah, it worked out. It’s been a silly ride with that nickname as well.
If you could pick one person, dead or alive, to play a show with, who would it be?
Oh man, dead or alive. I mean there is so much material and people out there. You know what’s cool, an icon of ours that is still rocking today and I believe just released some new material. Bowie would be pretty exceptional would it not? David Bowie, that’d be really neat. If I could just aim high, I would say Bowie.
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.