Mustard Plug: Skankin’ Pickles
Rick Johnson and Jim Hofer of Mustard Plug sat down on plush couches a few hours before their set and gave me a damn good reason to proudly hail from the Midwestern Mitten.
Chubby mallrats returning too-tight sweaters, exhausted parents sleeping off holiday hangovers and bratty kids lamenting their lame presents- the day after Christmas is such an awfully dull day for common folk. However, here in Michigan, Mustard Plug delivered a lovely present by returning to their hometown and playing a festive show at Grand Rapids’ Intersection. Couldn’t have been nicer if they were wrapped in yellow paper, and the fans couldn’t have been more appreciative (see: kid in actual mustard bottle costume).
Eating Jimmy John’s subs in a room next to a room rumored to have hosted a few of Tommy Lee’s sexcapades, bassist Rick Johnson and trombonist Jim Hofer of Mustard Plug sat down on plush couches a few hours before their set and gave me a damn good reason to proudly hail from the Midwestern Mitten, and to teach me exactly where Mustard Plug stood on the following topics.
80’s HAIR METAL
Sound the Sirens: If you didn’t play in Mustard Plug and you were in an 80s metal band, what would your name be?
Rick: Like fictional band name or real band name?
Jim: Actually, I was in an 80s metal band in the eighties, and the name of the band was Bloodshed.
Sound the Sirens: You were! I did read that.
Rick: The Rakkoons. With a “k.”
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG
Sound the Sirens: A long time ago, Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day had an article in NY Rock, where he was talking a little shit on the ska scene. Any trash talk you’d like to spit back? I mean, there’s a lot of potential material.
Rick: (shrugs) Mascara? (everyone laughs)
Rick: I don’t really have a beef with him at all. We did steal his beer, right?
Jim: That’s true.
Sound the Sirens: What?
Rick: When Mustard Plug played with Green Day like, years ago, we stole their beer.
Jim: Didn’t Billie Joe used to go see OpIvy?
Sound the Sirens: Yeah, I think he said something about how he didn’t like any of the ska scene except OpIvy.
WEIRD AL YANKOVIC
Sound the Sirens: So how was playing with Weird Al?
Rick: We never played with him.
Sound the Sirens: Oh yeah. Well, I heard you met him years later.
Jim: Yeah, actually, I didn’t know it was him. He bumped into me after the show, shook my hand and is like, “Hey, good show.” And I said “Hey, thanks. Thanks for comin’ out.” And I kept walking.
Sound the Sirens: How did you not recognize Weird Al?
Rick: He was in that phase where, like in the eighties, Weird Al had that short curly hair and the mustache.
Jim: He wasn’t in character. He didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt on, he had shaved his mustache off and he had really long hair.
Rick: He looked like he looks now.
SEX AND KENNY G.
Sound the Sirens: I was talking to a kid a few months ago who was saying that Mustard Plug and bands like that were the only reason that band nerds like him got laid.
Rick: Got laid?
Sound the Sirens: Yeah, he said that. Seriously, I think without Mustard Plug, he would have had to wait a couple years…
Rick: More than a couple years.
Jim: How come it never worked for us?
Sound the Sirens: Well, how was it for you in high school, you know…?
Rick: Rick Johnson was not getting laid!
Jim: Neither was Jim Hofer! (everyone laughs)
Rick: Yeah. That was, that was not on the agenda whatsoever. I was a band kid.
Sound the Sirens: Well, now you made it cool for band nerds to be band nerds.
Rick: I don’t think that’s true though. I think he was the cool kid that was in band who was getting laid to begin with.
Sound the Sirens: I don’t think he was…
Rick: What did he play?
Sound the Sirens: Um, he played saxophone for a while and then switched over to the tuba.
Jim: Well, see, it’s the saxophone players. The saxophone players are always like the, uh, the-
Jim: Yeah, like Kenny G. Kenny G is suave.
Rick: I bet Kenny G’s getting laid more than me.
Jim: I bet he is. (everyone laughs)
Rick: And I bet he’s playing saxophone while doing it!
Sound the Sirens: See, I’d think Kenny G would make one lose an erection.
Rick: Nah. It’s a smooth groove. All laid back.
COREY FELDMAN (former Goonie, current douchebag)
Sound the Sirens: All right. You guys have ten seconds to come up with a consensus on what celebrity you’d like to punch in the face.
Jim: There’s so many.
Rick: Yeah. So many. Corey Feldman, Vanilla Ice, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, Nelly, Jimmy Buffett-
Jim: The dude from American Idol.
Rick: Taylor Hicks? Ruben Studdard?
Jim: Nah, dude, the judge guy.
Sound the Sirens: Simon Cowell.
Jim: And all the contestants. Actually, I work at Meijer Gardens, I do bartending over there, and they had the American Idol tryouts for Michigan there… and I had to work that night and I had to sit through all those acts. It was the most haunting thing I have ever seen in my life. Everyone’s got thirty seconds to go WHOO-woo-ooooooooo…
Sound the Sirens: You should have tried out.
Jim: I should have. I’m too old.
Sound the Sirens: That one guy has gray hair.
Sound the Sirens: Wait, so why Corey Feldman?
Rick: He’s a douchebag!
Sound the Sirens: He was cute in the Goonies.
Rick: All right. Here’s my beef with Corey Feldman. Motherfucker is a millionaire by the time he’s fourteen, and he doesn’t blame himself for losing his fame and losing his money. He blames everybody else for not telling him that if he spends his money, he won’t get it back. End quote. If you watch E! True Hollywood Story, there’s a scene where he’s like, “It’s not my fault I crashed, I was a drug addict by the time I was fifteen, that I had four or five million dollars. It’s not my fault ‘cause nobody ever told me that if I spend that money I won’t get it back.”
Sound the Sirens: Wow. Thank you for screwing up the Goonies for me.
Rick: Yeah, I’m sorry.
Sound the Sirens: I heard something happened at the Detroit Warped Tour, in 2002. What exactly went down?
Jim: Uh, basically, they kept having us play these little tents that, like, thirty people can fit under and watch us. So, we’re playing the last day of the tour, and we told them that they really should get a bigger stage, ‘cause it’s not going to be good with all these kids coming out. And they didn’t listen, they kept putting us under the tent. There were hundreds of people there to see us, and the sound guys freaked out. The sound guys were kind of assholes, but they freaked out and kept turning the sound off on us. And the kids were fine; they weren’t going onstage, they weren’t touching the equipment. They were totally fine. But the sound guys kept freaking out and finally, they called out these bouncers, these like, football player guys, and started throwing around all the fourteen-year-old girls up front. Finally, Kevin Lyman, the guy who runs Warped Tour, cut us off. So apparently we’re never going to play Warped Tour again.
THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES
Sound the Sirens: Mighty Mighty Bosstones… can you talk to them and convince them to reunite and tour with you?
Rick: It’s not gonna happen. (laughs) We’re pretty good friends with one of the guys, and the thing is, when anybody asks him when the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are going to get back together, he just laughs. He’s like, “Yeah, man… sorry.”
Sound the Sirens: I’m sure that if you guys did tour again together, you could take over the world.
Rick: 1998 all over again.
Jim: I did an interview with Dicky [Betts] once, and he said something about- this is, you know, seven years ago- and I asked him what he’d be doing in another fifteen years, and he goes, “We’ll be singing songs, along with Mustard Plug and No Doubt!”
Sound the Sirens: Speaking of, how do you guys feel about No Doubt, or really just Gwen Stefani?
Rick: She’s probably doing what she wants to do. I mean, it’s so completely far away from anything that we’re doing. It doesn’t really matter. It’s like Hollywood pop.
CLICHE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Sound the Sirens: I hate to do this, but you guys have been around for fifteen years. Please say you’re going to do it for another fifteen.
Rick and Jim: (laughs)
Sound the Sirens: Just please don’t pull a Bosstones on us!
Rick: If Dave and Colin were here, their answer to this question would be that they never thought they’d be playing this long. You can’t really answer that question honestly. I thought we were going to break up like seven years ago.
DAY JOBS, WAL-MARTS, NARCOLEPTIC BOSSES
Sound the Sirens: You mentioned earlier that you were a bartender. Why is it that so many musicians are bartenders?
Jim: Well, they let me go on tour. And as a musician you’re also qualified to be a bartender without any experience.
Sound the Sirens: Really?
Jim: For being an alcoholic. (everyone laughs)
Sound the Sirens: Suckiest day jobs. Ever.
Rick: I used to mow lawns. That was the worst.
Jim: I worked at Meijer.
Sound the Sirens: I heard they were worse than Wal-Mart.
Rick: They’re not worse than Wal-Mart. They’re almost on the same level, but you gotta support them because they’re a regionally based local company. They’re in direct competition with Wal-Mart, and who would you rather see; the conglomerate that’s ruining everybody’s life-
Jim: Well, if Meijer could, they would, though.
Jim: I used to have this job, I was an assistant to this guy who owned a company and part of my job was to drive him around. But he was a narcoleptic, so he’s in the middle of giving me directions and he’d fall asleep. So I’d have to just drive around until he woke up.
(The rest of the interview was interrupted by drummer Nate Cohn, who at this point, walks in with a videocamera, getting footage for the Mustard Plug DVD and explaining how he got to dress up as a panda bear and wish kids a happy birthday at a roller rink he used to work at. Want to know more? Guess you’ll have to wait for the DVD to come out and hope the footage doesn’t get cut!)
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.
The Sound 7″
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.
The Drowns’ new 7″ record The Sound is out now via Pirates Press Records. For tour dates and more information, hit up The Drowns on Facebook.