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Promise the Future: An Interview with Senses Fail

Senses Fail is a perfect example of just how bright this future is.

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Jersey. Its rich history permeates the independent music scene; it’s past filled with luminous alumni with reputation that exceeds all borders. Names like Vision, One King Down and Lifetime ring prominently, but it is the present and the future that has the eyes and ears of fans and suits alike firmly focused here. With the rise of Saves the Day and Thursday to not only independent success, but to a nationwide, mainstream appeal, it is within these state lines that some of the pillars of future music greatness rest. The future looks to be a bright one, sparkled with talent; imagination and passion that embody true love for music and expression. Senses Fail is a perfect example of just how bright this future is. Young, talented, full of drive and motivation, this quintet has infused today’s best sounds with their own unique qualities, some which lie in more than just their sound, but in their lyrics as well. Barely out of high school, their lyrical influences stay clear of the much abused and tacky tales of love and woe. Vocalist Buddy Nielsen explains, “I’ve just never been able to write lyrics like that. I wouldn’t be able to stand myself if I did, and personally the music wouldn’t mean as much to me if I wrote about breaking up with my girlfriend.” Most surprisingly, his lyrically inspirations come from a more highly regarded source,

“My biggest influence behind my writing would probably have to be poets like Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg.” Not your average teenage idols.

It is with these lyrics, this songwriting, that at such a young age they’ve shown incredible maturity and growth. Their maturity exemplified best in their song ‘Stephen’, which deals with the death of a close friend, “I wanted to write a song in his memory, so I had been trying to fit the lyrics I wrote into a song. Then our guitarist Garrett wrote this amazing song and the lyrics fit perfectly, it was pure magic.” Just one aspect of how important this outlet is for Nielsen,

“I must have some sort of creative outlet in my life or I will go crazy. The ability to write songs that mean something to me and to be able to perform them in a public arena is amazing to me.” 
A notion that is shared with his band mates, “We are all very attached to the music we play. When the song is being played it is like the story is coming alive.”

The passion is deeper; the reasons for writing and performing would normally be reserved for one who’s experienced all the highs and lows of the music industry. Reasons that would normally escape the breath of a veteran performer, who’s voice now rasped from years of singing, who’s hands and fingers bear the scars of all the late night guitar work and who’s lungs are as black as the smoke it inhaled. But no, these reasons come from youth, inexperienced and wide eyed, yet through their work can express words and emotions seen in the poets that influenced them.

“We strive to make our listeners really hear what we are saying. We talk about what it’s like to lose a friend; divorce, murder, hate and a lot of other human emotions that people tend to think are personal things. We really want to reach out to our audience and take them on a ride with our songs.”

It is easy to reap material rewards, cashing in on your ability to interest the lowest common denominator. Senses Fail are not one to do so, instead taking into high regard how their music and work have influenced individuals and the daily lives they lead, “A person wrote me an email about how our music was getting her through tough times and I believe that is the biggest accomplishment a band can have, ” states Nielsen, “to have their music impact someone’s life; that is what music is for.” It’s not often that youth has the interest of others in their eyes instead of dollar signs. Something that Nielsen would like to take to his community some day, “I wish people would realize there is a lot more to life than what they see. I’ve grown up in an affluent town where all the goals are material and where only money talks. I want people to understand that while money and what comes with it is a big factor in people’s lives. It is not the only thing.” He sums it up best,

“People who only experience the white suburban atmosphere are in for a big shock later on in life.”

It’s difficult to find such outlook in today’s next generation. Nielsen and Senses Fail are a fresh and welcome addition to an atmosphere that features kids hooked on MTV, degrading music who display an all too violent mindset. Nielsen and co is proof that all can have a bright future if we’re willing to make it happen. Their fusion of rock, hardcore, punk and pure emotion, topped with intelligent and thoughtful lyrics has gotten them this far already. If you’re lost or looking for motivation, take a trip to New Jersey’s music scene – a rich history for a promising future.

Interviews

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.

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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. 

“Seconds Before they Collided” by Jason Cruz

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.

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Interviews

All Work and All Play: An interview with The Drowns

The Drowns prove that having the right work ethic goes a long way

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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 Drowns

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.

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