Sometimes the best way to understand music is to see it without all it’s hyped up, appealing packaging. To listen to it without thinking about the production costs, the producer or the label that proudly stamps their logo on the CD. Sometimes it’s just better to listen to music in its most basic form, to catch only the pure energy, emotion and fervor. Some bands may have their ticket punched to greatness on the most technologically advanced ride possible, but as Junction 18 has proved, sometimes all you need to get from A to B is a sense of humor and a small orange cycle. With the success of their debut full length release “This Vicious Cycle”, this Massachusetts band has not only crossed state lines, but oceans and borders to spread their infectious angst and melody across the globe.
1. First of all, thanks for taking the time to share with us your work and music. How did the band first get together to write and perform?
We actually all met in rehab a long time ago, most of us were addicted to muscle relaxers but Chris was mostly into huffing things, so one night at the weekly rehab dance on Saturday nights the band that was playing got in a fight and quit in mid-dance, when the band quit everyone was really upset, then all of us kind of just got up there and started playing, next thing we knew we were Junction 18.
2. How long had Junction 18 been together before signing to Fearless?
A long, long time, I think since 1996 maybe, I don’t know.
3. Certain members of New Found Glory assisted in your signing to Fearless, how has the relationship been with both NFG (since their meteoric rise to stardom) and Fearless (since your signing)?
We played with NFG last April and they were cool, but we don’t really see them or talk to them much anymore. Fearless is on the West Coast so we don’t really talk to them much either, at least I don’t.
4. When I first picked up ‘This Vicious Cycle’, the thing that struck me the most were the beautifully poetic lyrics. The words paint pictures in my mind, what would you say are the strongest influences behind the words and who does most of the songwriting?
I don’t write the words, Andy does, I don’t really know what he listens to anymore, but on the first album the writing was done equally by the four who were in the band then, Ryan McHugh, Chris Kelley, Andy Bristol, and me Ryan Spencer.
5. Listening to this record is definitely an audio experience of incredible levels, describe the feeling of being on stage sharing this experience and how it was writing and recording them?
We wrote the songs pretty fast, we just built ideas off of each other and it went really well. It was kind of weird playing the songs at first because we were playing them and no one knew the words or the songs at all, the album came out months after we had recorded but it was fun playing them, we were very proud I recall.
6. What would you like the listener to understand most about the music of Junction 18?
I think people should look past the fact that yes, we do make a shitload of money and we do have the most bitches and 20 inch rims on our SUV’s, but we’re still people and we’re still here to make music, just because we’re poppin’ krystal and flashin’ bling doesn’t mean we don’t care about what we do, we do it for the fans, and the bitches.
7. There has recently been a lot of exposure for certain labels, both Vagrant and Drive Thru has seen mainstream success, do you think that the levels of exposure will inevitably lead to burnout and overexposure seen most recently by the ska scene and how do you as a band approach mainstream exposure?
Yeah, definitely, you can only have so many bands that sound exactly the same before people catch on. I hope it burns out because it all sounds like garbage to me anyway, it’s not original, there’s nothing memorable about most of the music that’s being made by those bands anyway, I can’t even tell most of the bands apart, and I just can’t understand how they can sit there and be satisfied with writing a song that’s already been written a million times. It all sounds like shit to me but the most I can do is not pay attention to it, I understand that it’s the hip sound now and that’s why there’s so much of it and that’s why it’s not special, it’s just disposable and it doesn’t matter how long it goes on for because it will never make a difference on music, well at least to me.
8. Massachusetts is very different from California, what differences (speaking in terms of the music and social scene) stand out the most in your mind and has the fact that your label been on the opposite coast effected the band in anyway, whether it be touring, writing or recording?
It definitely affects it, California is a different world than MA, we think different because we’re from here. MA is very different than any other state in the country. I’m more in touch with living day-to-day here but I think out there it’s more of a glamorous life, there’s way more to do out there and there’s a lot more going on. If we need something from them or need to get in touch it can be tough, because we’re 3 hours apart in time and 3000 miles apart. I think it has worked well most of the time but distance can definitely affect things.
9. What are the immediate and future plans for Junction 18?
Keep writing songs and avoid the FBI at all costs.
10. What would you say is the biggest accomplishment for Junction 18 and yourself are so far?
We’re from a really small town, so the fact that our music is available around the world is quite mind-blowing at times, I think we’re realistic and we know that we’re lucky. We never expected anyone to care about our music or even know about us outside of MA, so all of this together is quite an accomplishment for us.
11. What recent CDs have you purchased that really stand out as great work?
‘Amnesiac’ and ‘Kid A’ by Radiohead have been 2 of the only good pieces of music that have been put out in the last few years to me, obviously there are others but not any that speak to me as far as originality and progression go. I think music has lost a lot of creativity and ambition in the last few years and it will be a long time for it to get better, if it indeed does.
12. Spencer’s Pizza in Abington, the best pizza place in Abington?
You better believe it you silly bastard, we’ll fuck up any other pizza shop that comes around, and we’re the shit.
13. Aside from the obvious differences, what aspects of being in a band have changed since Fearless added you to their roster? It was obviously more difficult in terms of recording, promoting and spreading the word, but do you miss some of those ‘more innocent’ days before Fearless?
Well, before it was a hobby for us and now it’s a job, there are demands now, there are deadlines and responsibilities, and if you want to do it for a job than you have to have those things. I must say I don’t enjoy all the rashes though.
14. You’ve toured with some great bands and played some notable venues, what would say are your fondest tour memories to date?
My fondest memories were the shows out in California last summer with Dynamite Boy and the Stryder, it was an incredible atmosphere with people that we knew and enjoyed being around, and the shows were all great. After the shows Sean from Dynamite Boy would always treat us to the filthiest hookers, his treat of course. I remember waking up in a pile of puke next to Danny from Dynamite Boy and we both got up and couldn’t remember whose puke it was! Craziness!
15. It’s safe to say that Junction 18 is one of my favorite bands; it’s difficult to find good music in Asia, how important is it to you and the band knowing that people from the opposite end of the globe listen to your work and admire what you do so much?
I think it’s really fucked up, I never figured anyone across the world would even hear us so it’s a great feeling. Kind of tickles a bit, oh god, now it’s a burning feeling! Help!!
16. How important has the music been to the band personally, to record and release your hard work and then being able to share it with your fans?
It’s the most important thing to us, that’s the thing that brought us together and keeps us together. We all care about nothing else besides music. Music is one of the only things that’s real to me.
17. Would you personally prefer commercial success (large amounts of units sold, airplay etc) or is it more satisfying to have a fan see you after a show and tell you how much your music has effected their life and how important you are to them? How has the fan reaction been?
I could care less if we sell 100 or a million records, if you start thinking of things like that than you’ve lost sight of what music is about. If I’m not successful at music it doesn’t matter, because I can still have it in my life whether I’m listening to it or playing it, and that’s all that matters to me.
18. Finally, your favorite and worst moment since the release of ‘This Vicious Cycle’?
Best moment was rocking out with Mick Jagger on the last Rolling Stones tour, worst moment was the hit-and-run incident out in LA last summer, I’ve said too much.
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.