Sure, birthdays are usually a chance to celebrate getting older. But for any band, the goal is to celebrate getting better. That’s one of the things that Strung Out singer Jason Cruz is perpetually striving for with each passing year, helming one of the most enduring bands in the Fat Wreck Chords family for 23 years. Aside from just celebrating his own birthday this month, the 42 year-old front man is never very concerned about pining for the good old days. In the context of his band’s ferocious hybrid of melodic skate punk and metal, there’s always a will to get better on every album, including last year’s Transmission Alpha Delta, which marks yet another spike in their evolution both in their recording style and song structures. With the news of their set at Punk Rock Bowling on the horizon next month (in which they actually will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the classic album Suburban Teenage Wasteland), this Friday’s show at the Glass House is a welcome warm up. We spoke to Cruz about the band’s upcoming PRB performance, his passions outside of music and the challenge to avoid becoming a shitty, old adult.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): Since you normally don’t get sentimental about your past albums, what made the band decide to do Suburban Teenage Wasteland in it’s entirety at Punk Rock Bowling this year?
Jason Cruz: Yeah, they asked us to do that. If people wanna hear that then it’s my job, I gotta do it. I appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to do this for 23 years. There’s a reason for that, just the relationship you have with people who come to shows and I don’t take that for granted for a second. So I do what I gotta do to make the people happy.
What do you find most appealing about Punk Rock Bowling?
It’s part of a community. The reason why we’re still here is because we’re part of a community. And that’s different than any other scene in the history of rock-n-roll. It chooses you. There are a million bands out there who are 10 times more talented than we or I could ever be and for some reason something sticks and you don’t know why. And we were able to get our foot in the door, and I know there’s people out there working really hard spinning their wheels and nothing is happening. I spend my days trying to help other people who are starting out or who are very talented and you try to do whatever you can in terms of advice or shows, that’s all you can do. But going back to Punk Bowling, it’s nice to be a member of the Fat Wreck Chords family and the punk rock community for so long.
Transmission Alpha Delta is almost a year old now, have those songs really started to mesh well with the rest of your live set?
It usually takes about a year to really play a batch of new songs and have it settle in with people. And when it comes to punk rock, a lot of people like nostalgia. Punk has two sides of the coin, there’s the ability to abandon expectation and break all the rules and try something completely boundless and then there’s the sound that people want to hear that’s like good comfort food. It takes a while for the new stuff to sink in because people like to hear the old stuff so you need to find a balance.
Is there a new song that you really enjoy playing on stage at this point?
We still have to learn a bunch of new songs. There’s songs that we haven’t even played yet so that will be challenging. There’s stuff off on old records that we’ve never played on stage before so this year we’re making a conscious effort to hit some of those songs that never really got the justice they deserved because we either never performed them or never performed them well. So we want to bring to light some of the material we’ve never played.
How do you see yourself developing personally as an artist or as a band this year?
All you can do is just be honest about your growth and where you are and who you are. I guess that shines through in your actions and your work. If I can think of one thing that’s enduring about Strung Out, it’s the honesty. We don’t look very cool, we don’t act cool, we’re not trying to portray anything just getting up there and doing it. That translates into our music and what we do. As far as growth, I’m all about growth, I’m all about shedding what I am today tomorrow and hopefully that’ll come out and people relate to that.
What’s it like balancing your band Howl with Strung Out? Are you constantly writing for your side project as well?
When I have time I do. I also do a lot of painting and I’m a father. I’m a soldier for music, I’m an artist and it’s not always about the actual thing in front of you that you’re creating, it’s how you live your life. I just live my life as an artist and everything I do represents that well. You gotta make time and balance everything it’s hard sometimes.
So you paint? What kind of medium do you use the most?
I like oil painting. I figure when my voice goes out and I can’t stand anymore my goal is to be a great painter one day so I spend my nights working towards that. I love oil painting. I like to do multiple paintings at one time and let one sit for a while and come back to it. It’s fun, you really have to dedicate yourself to it and I like that.
Do you have any other interests outside of art or music?
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Art and fatherhood are my main focuses and just being a better person and not getting bitter and shitty just like every other adult around me seems to be getting. And I want to get to a point where I have something to offer people who are younger than me, not just be shitty and old. I don’t wanna be like that. It’s important to develop as a person so that by the time I’m ready to check out of this place that I’ve had something good to offer the world and that’s my main goal actually.
What do you find unique about the crowd or the atmosphere of the Glass House when you play there?
The Glass House is one of my favorite sounding venues, it’s a little gem in the middle of Pomona, and I’ve played all over the world. As a musician you get on the stage and check out the way the stage feels, whether it’s concrete, wood, carpet, whatever, the way it projects. You start to develop your favorites and Glass House is definitely one of mine and we haven’t played there in a while so I’m looking forward to this show on Friday.
Strung Out performs tomorrow (Feb. 26) at the Glass House with Common War, Implants and Pour Habit. 8 p.m. $16-$18. All ages. For full info click here. For info on their set at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas on March 30, click here.