New York-based electro-rock act Year of the Tiger have been quietly making noise in a busy city. The duo have been crafting their brand with attitude-a-plenty, taking the best from influential figures like Karen O and infusing it with their own personality. They’re music savvy, industry intelligent and hungry to claw through the buzz-heavy capitol of the music world.
You can check out a stream of their brand new track, “Push”, at the end of the interview.
Year of the Tiger is a musical endeavor you do with…?
Sable: Henry is my BFF– we’ve been best friends since we happened to be neighbors our junior year at SUNY Purchase. I think for a while we were “married” on Facebook, which while endearingly cute probably just ended up cock-blocking each other. We always thought it’d be cool to do a musical project together and then we finally did (3 years later, natch) this past winter around the time we both lost our jobs and had the free time to do it.
The three bands that immediately come to mind for me are: Goldfrapp, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Peaches. Hot or cold with this assessment?
S: Hot, hot hot! We are so inspired by all three of those bands—I’m more so from the YYY camp than Goldfrapp and Peaches. Considering it’s just us—Henry on the computer/trigger board, and me with the microphone—it’s like front woman duty x10. And as far as stellar front women go, you really can’t top Karen O. She’s brilliant.
Henry: I really love elements from all three – the rock out, adrenaline fueling rawness of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the brilliant production and melodies from Goldfrapp, and the heavy, grinding, explicitness of Peaches. As well as the feeling throughout of total confidence – like they know exactly what they’re doing, and don’t give a fuck. And they all put on some badass shows. So yeah. That’s inspiration all right.
Is there an accurate term you’d want people to describe the music as? Electro-pop?
S: We’ve been called electro-clash, pop-rock, electro-rock, electro-grunge… I guess when I describe our genre I’d probably be most likely to say “electronic rock.” To me it doesn’t sound so pop, but to everyone else it seems to. It’s not as important to us that people can accurately label us so much as they enjoy what they’re listening to.
H: Christopher Weingarten (music blogger for the Village Voice) dubbed Rockit as “anthemic noise pop,” which I thought was interesting. I guess I don’t really know where we fit exactly; electro rock perhaps? Or rather, I don’t really care all that much.
How does the songwriting take place? Is there a natural process to it?
S: The backing tracks are all made using Ableton and Digital Performer and then come the lyrics. The words sometimes get changed or moved around when Henry shows the songs to me, but otherwise that’s as natural as it gets. So far I’ve only written lyrics for one song, “White Flag”, that Henry made the beats for afterwards.
H: Yup, that’s pretty much it. Though sometimes the lyrics or even just a generic idea comes first.
What are your instruments of choice?
H: A lot of guitar, a lot of chopped, gritty synths, and heavy drums.
S: Yelling. Mostly yelling. And wrath.
I’m really liking the up-tempo, harder hitting nature of “White Flag”- which artists would you say have been an indirect influence to your music outside of the electro realm?
S: Thanks! (That’s the ONE song I’ve written lyrics for so far) Well, I suppose this goes back to Karen O. She can pretty much do no wrong in my book. But otherwise we’re influenced by a lot of stuff when songwriting—David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Metric, The White Stripes, Quentin Tarantino, La Femme Nikita… pretty much anything badass that just doesn’t give a F**k.
H: For me, I find I get a lot of inspiration from anything that really captures a specific feeling or theme, regardless of media type. Not literally, but stylistically and emotionally. Whenever I write, I always try to do that. For example, rather than scream ‘I’m angry’ or something, I’d rather whisper fuck over the sound of a distorted siren or something.
This is an entirely DIY project thus far- how are you both approaching the idea of labels and the music industry? A positive or a negative?
S: When we first put our stuff out there this past February and emailed a handful of music bloggers for press, we actually had a really great reception, much to our surprise (and delight). We believed that our material was worth listening to so it was really encouraging that the internet was into Year of the Tiger as well. A label isn’t all that necessary for us as far as production is concerned. We piqued the interest of a major label very early on based off that initial press, but I think we’re much too new for them. I’m pretty sure majors want an up-and-coming buzz band with an established fan base that they can sort of “take it from there.” We’d actually prefer a booker or booking agent first rather than a label since they can get you on good bills to build said fan base. So we’d be more interested in courting those types at this point. We just want to play awesome shows! Labels will come when they’re ready for us and hopefully we’ll be ready for them when they do. So… positive until it’s negative?
H: Make awesome music. Get people who like it. Get big enough for label attention, license your music to them, give them a cut and let them do what they do best. Basically, I think labels are good for the business and technical end of things like tour management, publicity and promo, but as far as giving away rights, I think not. I’m not sold on the idea that the goal is to get ‘signed’ – that doesn’t hold much water for me. It’s what helps us get our music out, and makes it easier for people who like our stuff to get it.
What are your likely tour goals?
S: We’ve been toying with the idea of doing one-off weekend tours to neighboring cities like Philly or Boston to play shows. Only problem is we don’t know anyone or have any connections in pretty much any city outside NY. Bummer, right? I figure that’s the way to DIY, but we definitely wouldn’t be opposed to touring with a bigger band as a supporting act.
S: We’re always writing new material and recording (we do all the recording and mixing in Henry’s apartment in Brooklyn) and it’s coming along pretty well so far—we’re a pretty minimal operation thankfully making the whole process pretty efficient. We have our demo but we want to have enough songs so that we can sort of curate an album rather than just put the first dozen songs we recorded on a CD. So far I don’t think we’re even at one dozen yet!
H: We record all the time, and test our new stuff live. We like to make rough tracks, see if people are dancing at the show and how it’s received, and then decide if it’s worth keeping.
How friendly is the New York scene- do you see it as a great place to start music in 2010 and beyond?
S: As much I’m in love with this city (more of a love-hate maybe) and it’s been my home my whole life, it’s really not the most fertile environment for new bands starting out. The NYC scene is pretty full of itself and you have to work extra hard for the attention. And then once you get it you’ve still got to prove that you’re worth your weight. It’s a pressure cooker for anyone with grandiose dreams, which definitely weeds out the dilettantes and talentless hacks but at the same time, can be unduly discouraging. There’s a lot of attitude and bullshit you’ve got to push through to get your foot in but once you do, you learn pretty quickly whether or not you’ve got a good thing going, or else you just get chewed up and spit out. NYC has a pretty discerning eye for posers and generally does not take kindly.
The show-going culture in NYC is definitely much more apathetic than elsewhere and for the most part is pretty passive. I tend to chalk it up to the fact that there’s just so much going on every single night that every event’s got competition. Also, everyone’s either got their heads up their own ass or else is working their asses off in this city and probably too tired, stressed out and broke to go out. So on a weeknight at some dive venue, if you can get a crowd on their feet and rock their worlds, it’s doubly gratifying! New York presents a unique challenge in whatever you do just because of its insular nature, but it’s not without rewards. It gives back as much as you put in and it will work for you if you work for it. Which to me is just a thrilling and terrifying concept. It’s kind of like going to see The Wizard (of Oz, I mean).
H: I think it’s a challenge – we’ve been received great online, but it’s another thing to transfer that elsewhere. I love the atmosphere of NYC for music. I just find the scene a bit claustrophobic. We’re not big networkers, and we don’t schmooze, unfortunately… so it’s tricky as we don’t necessarily do that. You really have to party with/know the right people. It adds some extra steps and cold calling, but we’re doing ok so far. We’ve been finding some awesome people along the way who are really into what we do – not just waiting to see what happens. We figure it’s far better to be surrounded by a few genuine people who are great than a lot of people who are marginally interested. The whole point of our project was just to get people to dance, not give a fuck and feel something. Anything. It was never about networking or business! If it’s not fun, what’s the point? We just say fuck it – it’s true that if we can do it here, then we can do it anywhere, and that’s definitely motivating.
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.