JamisonParker may boast the least creative band name in music today, but this could all be on the account of the creative juices flowing through their music rather than their band name. In July, Jamison Covington and Parker Case released their much anticipated full-length album titled Sleepwalker, and have been touring to promote it ever since.
In person Jamison Covington comes off as an introverted young man who almost seems uncomfortable with the undivided attention thrown his way. Once he starts to talk about music that unease melts away, and it becomes easy to discern that this timid frontman is one of those musicians whose passion for music exudes into everything. So many musicians come off as arrogant or cynical, leaving music listeners with the feeling they are merely getting a half effort. One conversation with Covington has me convinced that he is not and probably will never be one of those people who put music into the world that he isn’t satisfied with. Talking to him is a breath of fresh air for all the people who are jaded by the quality of music today.
How did you first get involved in music?
Covington: My dad was a drummer growing up. He played in a band, and for the fun of it, I wanted to learn to play drums so we got a drum set. From there I got into just other instruments. I started playing guitar and that was kind of more my thing. I was in random bands, and didn’t really like the music that we had made or didn’t necessarily get along with the people in the bands. I started writing music myself and then moved to California to start a band, and was introduced to Parker who was actually playing drums at that point. If nothing else I needed to find a drummer to work with, because I am not a very good drummer at all. He was actually introduced to me as a drummer first, and then he and I just kind of started working together after that.
How did Parker go from being the drummer to playing guitar?
Jamison: He had been playing guitar for a while too. When we started I had a handful of songs that ended up being the majority of the songs on our first EP, that I had written a year or two before Parker and I had met. We got demos together and decided to revamp those songs and start demoing those. He started to play guitar with me on the demos and stuff. We kind of almost got put in the position where we didn’t have another guitarist, and then he and I started playing things together. For one reason or another we just kind of mutated into the two of us playing guitar.
When you were recording Sleepwalker, what kind of artists or musicians were influencing you?
Covington: Pretty much the same bands as always; Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure and I guess a more recent band like Jimmy Eat World are a big influence. There are a lot of things that when we listen to that you may not hear anything that is an exact pull from one of those bands. Then if you listen to those bands and then you listen to our album again, you can more or less cite influences. I’m not really a fan of saying I love this band so let’s use this exact guitar chords, and just rewrite a couple of their songs with lyrics changed.
[On your biography] You talk about a notebook with pages filled with tuning, and just generally how much effort you put into making music, what drives you to push your music to the level it’s at?
Covington: I don’t know, I guess I get really frustrated when I hear a lot of stuff being played now. It’s not even to say that anything that I’m writing is any better than anyone else’s stuff. It’s not an attack on anyone; it’s just my personal taste in music. Seeing the way things are unfolding with bands and with this whole scene that’s developed in general. It just kind of frustrates me. I’m not really that familiar with many of the [new] bands. I don’t hear a lot of the bands until we tour with them, because I’m kind of out of the loop with all that stuff. But it kind of starts off with me hearing some type of modern music and I’m just like I don’t like that, so it always pushes me back toward listening to all the old bands I really love. And then those bands are bands that if you read anything about them, that’s just kind of the work ethic. It’s always trying to push boundaries, and make some new type of music. This album that we have now was done; we finished that mixing it all that was a completed process last October.
The stuff that I just actually recorded some more last night, I’ve been demoing and the stuff is just so far past all that now. The next album is going to be in a whole different direction. I can’t see sitting down and just writing a song, there has to be more to it than that. You have to put everything that you can into it. I guess when I put everything I can into it, I can’t just write something that is just going to fit into what everyone else has, I know that the music fits in but at the same time its got its own personality. It’s just one of those things to me, where I listened to an album and it sounds like they set up a drum kit, used the same drum kit the whole recording, used the same guitar, and then finished all the music up and then recorded the vocals and that was it. I can’t handle all the songs having the same sound and none of them having their own personality. I kind of think about all the things that I really wish I could hear in music again that’s not being done, and so that I can one of these days be considered a part of the whole genre that pushing things forward.
I agree- music today is frustrating; you can’t listen to radio because everything’s exactly the same as what’s played before it.
Covington: I’m always curious as to whether people love what they love because they don’t know anything else and that’s just what’s given to them or that’s just because that’s easy and accessible or that just happens to be what the majority of people’s taste is. I’m confused on that. It tends to always be called indie music, but there’s not really anything independent about any of this. It’s weird; I always try to stay away from that when people ask what kind of music we play. You’ll never hear “indie rock” come out of my mouth. There’s nothing really independent about any of this anymore. Even the labels that people think are indie labels are all funded by somebody with money, some corporation is behind everything. The most you can hope to do is just make the music you love to make, and hope people enjoy it, and maybe you’ll change something in the process.
A lot of the lyrics on Sleepwalker have a romantic kind of tone, but instead of coming off cliché or sappy, they sound sincere. Is this something you are really aware of when you are writing songs?
Covington: I write about whatever is happening to me at the moment. And that’s just kind of the spot I’m in when I write that song, I don’t really think it out too much. It took so long for us to finish this album, but the songwriting is actually always the quick part. It is more of like the things like the tones, and the actual tracking, and setting up, because we try so many things, we like to expand it with a lot of different sounds. But the songwriting, the songs usually come out really quickly. A lot of the stuff is an hour or so tops for writing a song. Just grab my acoustic guitar, and write down what’s going on in my head and then it’s done. When it comes to the actual recording of it that’s when we spend a year working on things. As far as thinking out how I want a song to feel I don’t know, I mean just grab a guitar and start strumming chords and singing along with it until something clicks. When it clicks I just go with it.
“Don’t devalue someone’s real problem with a publicity stunt. It’s just kind of like we all know that certain bands write songs about being depressed or being dark or whatever, we don’t have to play the roles too. If you’re like that, just be yourself and it’s going to come out. If not then don’t fool everyone into thinking you have issues. Issues aren’t fun, and it’s not fun to deal with…”– Jamison Covington
You write very personal songs, are you extra sensitive or aware to people’s reactions to your music?
Covington: It’s funny because I definitely write personal, and everyone always wants to hear more details. I’m constantly telling people that I don’t talk about what my lyrics are about that’s left up to interpretation. It’s weird, I have split personalities about things like that, there’s one side of me that I definitely acknowledges how sensitive a situation is where if someone comes up to me and tells me the song I wrote is dog shit, then I will be “this is how I feel” and “this meant a lot to me,” so this person is telling me my train of thought, my thought process, is dog shit. But then a few seconds later it clicks in my head that if they don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to it. First and foremost, you have to write songs for yourself or you’re not going to write anything honest. It’s kind of like the whole if you can’t be happy with yourself than you can’t make other people happy. I try to focus on what I want to do first and then afterwards I hope that other people enjoy it and they find something important within that.
You’re a more subdued, timid type person- what do you find is most difficult about having such an attention focused career?
Covington: I don’t know … everything? It’s pretty strange because I’ve always been the kind of person that likes my privacy, I prefer to sit at home or sit away from the crowd. It’s kind of how I’ve always been, I enjoy being by myself, but at the same time it’s a wonderful thing to be able to meet new people and to go all these different places. I don’t know- it’s just one of those things you have to figure out for yourself. I think the fact that I’m not terribly open about a lot of my personal life helps the situation.
I’m not trying to name any names or anything but I read this article and this guy was just spilling his guts about how he’s on tons of medication and wanted to kill himself. I’ve read a few articles from different bands like that and I’m just kind of like you’re giving all these people who have real problems that have something to focus on and work out. It’s almost like you’re mocking them. Everyone has their things that they need help for or whatever the case may be. Don’t devalue someone’s real problem with a publicity stunt. It’s just kind of like we all know that certain bands write songs about being depressed or being dark or whatever, we don’t have to play the roles too. If you’re like that, just be yourself and it’s going to come out. If not then don’t fool everyone into thinking you have issues. Issues aren’t fun, and it’s not fun to deal with- I don’t understand why you’d want to let everyone know all those things. It’s not something to be proud of it’s something to work on. It’s not something to be ashamed of either. Maybe these people do have real problems and they’re just really open. It kind of becomes like the cool thing to be weird and crazy. When did it become cool to have some type of psychological issue? That’s not cool, it’s sad.
In some ways it’s almost become a trend to do things like self-mutilate or things such as that.
Covington: Honestly, I’m a culprit myself- I have lyrics about that kind of stuff, and honestly if I knew then what I know now, I would have never written those songs. I feel like me airing out my personal business in that way almost puts me in that same category with the people that frustrate me for saying those things. I wish I could take it back in a way, because I don’t want to be one of those guys. I’d rather get away from feeling that way; I don’t want to dwell in it. Anyone who deals with those problems on a daily basis aren’t the ones wearing it on their sleeves.
What defining factor do you think has made Parker and you such a strong musical team?
Covington: Probably because we’re complete opposites. We are so completely different; we have absolutely nothing in common except the fact that we like to make music. That probably has something to do with it because Parker tends to be the logical guy, and kind of keeps everything grounded and he tends to be the more down-to-earth guy. Things just happen to balance each other out because of our different personalities, and just the dynamic of our relationship.
Was there a period of time where you and Parker first started working together where it was more difficult for you to write songs with him? When did the comfort level increase?
Covington: It’s kind of been the same since we started. We are a little bit more open to argue about things now, whereas before we would kind of tiptoe around things with each other because it was so new. We’re not as afraid to just say things. We’re both critical of our own work and critical of each other’s. It’s definitely an upside I believe. As far as the writing dynamic goes it’s kind of been the same since the beginning I usually bring the songs to him with just the guitar, and we from there go into production mode and turn it into a full band song. The structure possibly can change going from acoustic to full band, that’s where both of us come into play. The initial song I end up bringing to the table and we work from there.
Where do you think your music is going to evolve from Sleepwalker?
Covington: I don’t know, I just keep writing period whether it’s ever going to be used for this band or one of these days for something totally different. I can’t ever really say. A lot of the stuff as far as lyrically is a little bit more toward the poetic side instead of just saying it straightforward. Anything new that’s been written tends to be on the poetic side. Music wise I don’t know, all the stuff I’ve done thus far has been just demos. Especially this tour we’ve been out with Waking Ashland for like a month and everything written in the last month is all acoustic. It’s hard to tell musically what direction it’s going. A lot of this stuff is getting more towards the sound of the last song on our album or track number four which is “Tearing Through Me.” Getting a little more dreamy and spacey sounding. You never know where it’s going.
What have you been listening to lately, and what book have you been reading?
Covington: I was actually just listening to the Tremolo EP by My Bloody Valentine. Do comic books count? I just got the whole series of the Walking Dead comics from Image. I haven’t read a book yet on this tour. I usually read, but this tour has been so insane with the schedule, we’ve had 32 dates and we did 16 in-stores, so half the tour we were doing two shows a day. There’s really been no time to do anything but play and sleep.
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.