Having spent more than a decade with Samiam, Sergie Loobkoff has seen and experienced it all. Whether it was sharing the stage with some of the most notable acts, headlining their own shows or dealing with the pressures and procedures of major labels, Loobkoff is perhaps one of the most intelligent and talented songwriters in the industry today. His new project, titled Solea, features Garrett Klahn (formerly of Texas is the Reason), Johnny Cruz from Samiam and Niko Georgeadis.
Although elements of both Samiam and Texas is the Reason can be heard in this new sound, they’ve collectively taken a new direction, one that is free from all the hype and pressures that surrounded their previous work. Their experience has given them one giant advantage over many of today’s newer acts – all those early mistakes from naiveté are done and gone.
With all the building blocks firmly secured, Solea can concentrate on writing, recording and touring, an aspect a new act has the juggle with getting their foot in the door. An advantage most welcomed by the band as they are currently in search of a reliable label to release their work. Having worked with labels both indie and major, they know that selecting the right label can mean the difference between a long lasting successful project and one that fizzles out.
Thanks for taking the time to share with us your work and music. Who else is involved with Solea and how did this project come into fruition?
I’ve been friends with Garrett (the singer, formerly of Texas is the Reason) since his old band toured Europe with my old band in 1995 or 96. After that, we would see each other on tours and vacations for years. He lives on the east coast and I’ve always lived on the west coast, so it was a couple times a year. Then last summer, I got an odd email from him saying, “I want to move to SF next year and play with you.” And, although I’ve always admired him I was a bit hesitant…because in the last couple of years, he played in some bands that had more in common with the Black Crowes, Verve and Flying Burrito Brothers than what I am into: which is generally like Jawbreaker, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Alkaline Trio, etc. While his recent bands sort of rejected punk and 90s indie rock, I’m interested in playing that and I feel that is the kind of music he excels at playing and writing. He insisted that he was cool with playing music more like what I was thinking … and lucky for me, that is what transpired. He even cut of his hippy, Britpop haircut!
How has everything been so far?
It has been great. We’ve had no problem coming up with songs and they come together quickly. We’ve recorded demos twice and they went smoothly, we’ve toured the east and west coasts and they went well. We were also totally happy that lots of people came out to check out what we were doing.
Solea may be a new project but all the members have been in bands before, most notably yourself and Johnny, how important has that experience been? Especially with everything Samiam has been through, dealing with labels, constant touring and releasing records on a regular basis?
I think that is the main thing that has developed our band so fast. I mean, we are a new band with new songs, but we have quickly turned into a group that works well together and is productive. Plus, there is already a lot of interest in our band because of our history, which is nice. Many new bands get together and have terrible times getting booking agents, shows, managers, lawyers and especially fans. We are very aware that we have a gigantic jump on all of those things. But it is a fine line between using band histories as a stepping-stone and being a sad band that relies on its members’ passed glory. I think we are confident of our new songs and are handling it as a new entity worthy of it’s own merit.
You’re currently in search of a reliable label, has your experience with previous labels been a strong factor in deciding which label is best? What advantages has working with all those previous labels given Solea?
Like I said, we have a big advantage. The people at labels that listen to demos get dozens to hundreds a week…they can’t listen to all of them. I think most of those people are bound to put ours on the top of the listening stack simply out of curiosity. But that isn’t going to get any band signed…only listened to. Hopefully we can figure something out. We’ve had a few meetings with labels but nothing concrete…now that we have our second demo, hopefully we can move on. The fact that Samiam went through the ringer with Atlantic and Garrett went through similar times with New Rising Sons on Virgin helps us see rationally at the major labels. If you see that we did sign to a major in 6 months, you can determine less that Solea garnered a major label contract and more specifically, that no larger, suitable indie label wanted us. So far, we have gotten a lot of attention from majors and lukewarm responses from the indies. It’s a bummer because we would definitely rather be on Vagrant, Jade Tree, Epitaph or whatever. On the other hand, we have done our time with tiny indie labels that have little to no resources, which are neat companies, but not for us at this stage of our lives.
Has the pressure been different, compared to Samiam? How different has it been emotionally and mentally when you go into the studio to write and record?
It’s nice; now, there is no pressure, no expectations. We are new and no one expects anything out of this. The best thing is that now, we can open up for any band and not feel lame. We’ve opened up for Thursday, Jealous Sound, Rival Schools and had great shows…but with Samiam, we would have felt lame to open up for newer bands…well, we wouldn’t have. It’s just like the new Green Day tour. Sure, they are big and rich, but it must be a bit of a bummer to open for Blink 182 (who are newer and shittier). Or Bad Religion opening for Blink last year. In the studio, it has felt fine. I don’t feel pressure in there…it is nerve racking because so much is out of your control (and in the hands of the engineer) but I am confident in our new songs and the members.
You’ve given us a small sample of the Solea sound on mp3.com, how would you best describe this sound?
I think it is very much a progression of later Samiam with Texas is the Reason style vocals. I have written a majority of the music, so it’s really the songs that would have been on the next Samiam record. Obviously, the voice is the most important aspect of a band and Garrett’s is very recognizable. I think TITR was a very ‘e-m-o’ band, and this (like Samiam) is conscious not to pander to the current tastes of people. We are avoiding the clichés of emo and just trying to write songs that will still be good when emo is dead and gone.
What are the immediate and future plans for Solea?
In a perfect world, we will soon find a label and will record our record in June after our 2-week German tour. But things always have a way of fucking up. But the plan is to do that, then tour Brazil for a week and then release the record in September and do full us and European tours. We’ll just have to see.
With the growth of online media, how important has the Internet, mp3 and the resources available online been to yourself as a musician and to Solea?
I think it is great. I mean, we have had these songs up on mp3.com and you can track how many people have checked it out. How else could we have gotten 14,000 people to listen to our band when we are label-less? I think it is really, really neat.
What do you do differently in terms of spreading the word and getting news out compared to say 1991? Has this growth in media and availability been kind to musicians who did all this before the commercial use of the Internet?
In 1991 you spent a lot more time and effort with the mail…and money. Now you have the internet and even better CD burners and laser printers. Making a CD now is simple and sounds great…back then you had cassettes that sounded terrible. It is great. Plus we have saved so much time writing songs and sending them to each other via the internet (Garrett and Niko live in buffalo, NY, Johnny lives in Oakland and I live in Los Angeles). Then also, you could sell cassette demos, but that was pretty much a rip off. We’ve sold 200 demos at shows and that product isn’t really inferior to what real CDs are.
You’ve been able to tour around the world and play in front of people everywhere, are there places where you haven’t been and would like to go someday? Or are the plans of Solea different from say touring the world?
Our major goal is to tour Europe, where Samiam and Texas is the Reason were by far the most popular. I think we will do extremely well there. After that, we want to go to Japan like Samiam did several times but also new places like Brazil and Australia, which I expect will happen very soon.
Has your song writing influences changed since the start of Solea? Or do you still write songs for the same reasons you did back in 1989?
I have always just done my thing. For better or worse. I hope that I’ve gotten better at it, but that is a subjective thing…. some people like disjointed, fucked up song writing (like I was doing in the early 90’s) and others like concise, poppier things like I go for now. I would say that I like later Samiam and Solea music much more than the early stuff of Samiam. If I like it, I’m happy and if others agree all the better.
What do you look forward to the most when you perform, write songs and record with Solea?
Meeting people and having fun. There is never going to be a lot of money or glory…but I can always have things to look forward to in music. It’s a great feeling when you know that next month you are going to Japan or something. I’m not going to argue the philosophical question, “what is better doing something or to anticipate doing something?” But living life with an intriguing future is better than wondering if the next days are going to be boring.
What takes up most of your time outside of Solea and when you all have free time, does the band spend time together?
We all live very, very far apart, so we spend no time together outside of the band. It’s pretty strange. But maybe that will be good in the long run. I mean, living in the same house with a band would stink. When you get home from a long tour, you want nothing to do with your band mates that you were cramped up with in a van or bus for months on end. Garrett is planning to move to California in the end of summer, so maybe that will change. As for me, I do graphic design and skateboard outside of the band. Not so much skateboarding since I left the bay area 5 months ago…because I left my old man skater crew behind but a little.
You’ve worked with many great producers and artists over the years, are there plans for future collaborations on a Solea record?
We’ll see. I’d love to have Tim O’Heir, who produced the last Samiam record again, but we’ll see…Definitely, we want to play with some the great bands out there, Jealous Sound, Alkaline Trio, Jets To Brazil, Cutlass Supreme, Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, Rival Schools, etc…
In the future, how would you like to be looked upon most, whether it is by your fans, family or friends?
My friends are important, but I don’t care if they like my band. I’ve never gone out with a girl that even liked Samiam, so why should it be any different with Solea. Fans are great, but they aren’t necessarily real…they like you one year and the next they think they are for your little brother or something because they’ve moved on. Which is fine, but disheartening sometimes. I always get a little embarrassed when I hear a band like AFI or something rave about their fans like they are family. It’s great that they have such devoted fans (and AFI for example have insane devotion) but they aren’t family or friends…they are strangers who like what they do. I’m kinda uncomfortable with the concept to be honest…. although I understand that I am supposed to kiss their ass, it’s hard for me to do.
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.