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When asked for his thoughts on Strung Out's heyday in the 1990s, the first word Jason Cruz uses to describe the decade is "weird." Fundamentally, there wasn't anything especially bizarre about the decade of Simpson, Lewinsky, Jordan and Titanic, but when you consider the vocalist's unusual life experiences, yeah, that time must have been pretty strange. "It was definitely a lot of traveling for me and a very crazy time in my life," he says, before offering this observation: "One key thing I can say is when I first started going to Europe in '94, people liked Americans still."
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Cruz owes his experience touching so much soil across America to his once-fledgling, Simi Valley-based skate-punk band who emerged at the perfect moment. While pop-punk superstars Green Day, Blink-182 and the Offspring ran up the charts, and as third-wave ska enjoyed a spell in the sunshine, Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph Records boasted rosters stacked with skate-punk luminaries such as NOFX, Rancid, Lagwagon, Pulley, Pennywise and, of course, Strung Out. The genre found its niche by latching onto an enviable middle point: The skate-punk sound was melodic enough and cleanly produced, attracting fans straying over from Dookie, with flourishes of gritty, '80s hardcore that injected the sound with extra credibility and coolness. "People were doing something new with [punk]. They were taking what Bad Religion invented, in a way—the Southern California sound—and running with it. Kids all over the world went crazy for it," Cruz says. "People liked that melody. I like to think of it as a jumping-off point for Strung Out—taking that and doing something different with it."
In his band's case, the X factor was a tint of hybrid metal borrowing from Iron Maiden, Anthrax and Suicidal Tendencies. Cruz sees the outfit's aesthetic coming from the tradition of D.I., Bad Religion and Social Distortion—"good, melodic, tough music" that was "nothing really too weeny." Overall, Strung Out haven't been bold or distinctive enough to rise above their peers, but in the '90s, they were on fire, hitting zeitgeist-y milestones on Fat Wreck Chords with their second and third albums, 1996's Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and 1998's Twisted By Design. As of late, the five-piece have dedicated tours (including this one) to playing from only those two records. For aging, backwards-ball-cap-and-cargo-shorts-wearing dudes who get wistful remembering the Give 'Em the Boot and Punk-O-Rama glory days, this was alt-punk of the highest order. "After 21-plus years, you have to give the people who have dedicated their interest and years to you something good," Cruz says. "These are the two records that got our foot in the door as a band. It seems like a healthy thing to do before we write a new record." In a recent interview, drummer Justin Burns claimed the band would be releasing new material by 2013.
Amusingly, Cruz told Skratch Magazine in 2007 that he would be surprised if Strung Out were around in five years, but here they are, a group who've given no indication of ending. Cruz gives little reaction when the quote is brought up, saying he doesn't take the band for granted and can't believe they're still going. That being said, the stability of Strung Out's existence has given him great perspective. "You do this for a while, and you see trends come and go. You see bands blow up, and then a year later, they're never to be heard from again," he says. "It's so funny sometimes just to see things come and go, and here I am, still doing what I'm doing."
This article appeared in print as "Still Twisted By Design: Strung Out hold their niche in the skate-punk world by staying weird."
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