After I finished typing my interview with Louis Posen, the head of Hopeless/Sub City Records, and also, the creator of the Take Action Tour/compilation record, I sat for a while trying to figure out how I could possibly write a short introduction to this interview. I found it very difficult to try to put into words how I could set this interview up, so that a reader would be enticed to read the interview. I consider Louis to be one of the best people involved in the music business. Looking back at the interview [associate editor] David conducted with Louis in 2003, the metaphor of a superhero that David used to describe Louis is the only word that would do justice to what Louis has and continues to do.
What made you decide to start Take Action, both the tour and the compilation cd?
Posen: Well, Hopeless Records launched Sub City, our imprint label, in 1999, when we realized how many people we were reaching, we wanted to do something positive with that and give back to the community, who had given us so much. So we launched Sub Citywhich donates 5% of the retail price of each record to a non-profit organization. We put literature in the records and all the mail outs we send. In that same year, we decided it would be a cool idea to take that concept to the road and that was the birth of Take Action.
When you started [Take Action] did you have bands approaching you for the tour/CD, or did you have to contact bands to get the ball rolling, per say?
Posen: The first year was primarily Hopeless/Sub City artists on the comp and tour: Fifteen, The Weakerthans, Dillinger Four. And then some other bands we were friends with, like F.Y.P, were on the tour and compilation. Later years, it has slowly become more known to the punk and hardcore world and we have more bands coming to us now, than us going out and finding them. This year we had, I think, 400 submissions for the compilation and over 100 submissions for the tour. It’s been growing and it’s been great to see how many bands are interested in supporting Take Action, and supporting suicide prevention and what this tour’s all about.
You said you had over 100 submissions, what’s the selection process like when you have that many bands wanting to do the tour?
Posen: It’s very difficult. We bring out a booking agent who is, sort of, the point person who corresponds with all the bands agents. But we go through the list, we look at it here in the office, and we ask some people outside the office and the main criteria we’re looking for are: bands who are going to fill out the room, so we can raise the most awareness; and also who really supports Take Action, and supports the cause. They are spokespeople for the tour and for the hopeline. That ends up being as important as anything else.
You have worked with the National Hopeline Network for several years now, what made you decide to stay with them and would you ever consider working with another charity?
Posen: Well, the first year benefited several organizations, and the hopeline wasn’t one of them. The second year we did the tour, we realized that we needed to make the message more focused. So that people leave and know what the tour was about. And we went on a search for an organization that fit what the fans were telling us was important to them. And that’s when we found the Hopeline Network, which was the only 24-hour, confidential hotline in the United States. It was a great fit and ever since then they have been very supportive of the tour. It’s something they work hard on as well. It’s not like they are just raking in the benefits of the awareness and the funds that come in. They are active participants in making the tour great. They organized, what’s now, our second annual press conference on Capitol Hill, to kick off the tour. It’s been a great partnership. We’d love to support lots of different organizations, and luckily we are able to through our various SubCity releases we put out. We’re working with over 30 different organizations.
Will Take Action ever support another organization?
Posen: I don’t know. I believe that this issue of mental health and suicide prevention are at epidemic proportions amongst young people. It’s the 3rd leading cause of death amongst 12-24 year olds; approximately 13 12-24 year olds die from suicide everyday. You never hear about any of those deaths, unless it’s a celebrity’s kid, and we need to do something about that and we can. It’s something that we can treat. It’s something we can do something about. So it seems to me at this point, it’s the right connection for the tour.
When is the press conference for the Take Action Tour?
Posen: It’s on March 1st at 10:30 am, in the Cannon House Building on Capitol Hill. Speaking will be Representative Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island, who spoke at our press conference last year; he’s a very powerful speaker. Also speaking will be members of Silverstein and Matchbook Romance. Matchbook will also be doing an acoustic set at the end. It should be pretty cool; because, it’s going to be on the Hill and congress people are going to be there, [members of the] media are going to be there, fans can come as well. There’s a capacity of only about 100-150 people. So you gotta get there early.
Would you ever consider doing a Take Action Tour twice per year?
Posen: We’ve though about it. We’re open to it, it just takes up so much of our time and we don’t make any revenue from it, because we put everything back into the hopeline. So I don’t know if we could financially be able to do it. But we do the Take Action area at the Warped Tour. At every Warped Tour stop there’s a Take Action tent. And we’ve also thought about doing Take Action internationally. We’ve talked to people in Canada and the UK, and Japan. If we find the right partners, we’d love to do it. It’s just a major time and financial decision.
Does it disappoint you that, for some people, it’s just a tour of a lot of bands they like rather than a tour that’s benefiting suicide prevention?
Posen: Not really. I believe that everyone’s and individual and has right to enjoy the show the way the want to enjoy it. Some are just there for entertainment and the music. But it’s great when the fans also embrace the cause and want to get behind it, and want to volunteer or donate money or give their support. Really, Take Action is a little more indirect about not just suicide prevention. For us, it’s about empowering young people to realize they can make a difference. Sometimes it doesn’t hit them when they’re at the show. But later they realize, “Wow. I could be doing something to help out something I’m passionate about.” I don’t know if that makes sense or not.
Oh no, I think it makes perfect sense. You touched on earlier that Sub City is an imprint of Hopeless. How do you select which bands release records on Sub City and which on Hopeless; or is that completely up to the bands?
Posen: Its up to the bands. When a band signs to Hopeless, they are signing to both labels. During the course of being on the label, they can decide “I want this album to come out on Hopeless. I want this album to come out on Sub City.” Some have done all on Hopeless and some have done all on Sub City. Some have done both. The difference being if they decide to put it our on Sub City, that royalty (5%) half is coming from the artist’s royalties, it’s a really big commitment from the bands. And its not always financially possible for them.
Is it the bands who decide what charities get benefited or is it up to the label?
Posen: It depends on the band. Certain bands have very specific organizations they want to give to, and others have said they want to benefit certain causes, but they don’t know organizations that work in that area, and we’ll go out and help them do the research and find an organization that fits those needs. On compilations the label picks. That’s our opportunity as a company to give our input.
What can we expect from Hopeless/Sub City and the Take Action Tour for the rest of the year?
Posen: We’ve got a big schedule this year: February 21st, Ever We Fall’s debut record starts it off. That same day, Take Action Vol. 5 comes out. It’s a 2-disc set that’s just $5.99. Then we’ve got a new band we just signed, Royden, their debut EP comes out in April. The full-length comes out in June. Against All Authority’s long anticipated full-length comes out May 9th. It actually hasn’t been publicized yet, but its definitely coming out May 9th. And Hopelessly Devoted, our label sampler, will be coming out in June. And we signed a progressive-metal band from LA called The Human Abstract, that’s coming out in July. Take Action, the tour, kicks off March 1st. We expect it to be raising more money and awareness than any previous Take Action tour. And we’ve got, though it’s not set yet, but it looks like we’ll have a Take Action Party at South by Southwest. We also own and operate, DownloadPunk.com, and that takes up a lot of our time too. We have over 400 labels on there now, so we’re going spend some time and money to make sure everyone knows they can get all their punk and hardcore and emo that they want digitally at DownloadPunk.com.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Posen: I actually didn’t mention the Youth American Hotline, which I probably should. Its number is 877-YOUTHLINE. It’s the only national peer-to-peer hotline. For someone who wants to talk to someone their own age. It was actually started by the Hopeline because of the Take Action tour. After doing the tour for 2 years, together we realized a lot of fans would feel more comfortable calling a peer-to-peer line. For more information on the Take Action Tour, please visit www.takeactiontour.com. And for more information about the National Hopeline Network, please visit www.hopeline.com.
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.