The Politics of Punk: Strung Out Become a Badass McLaughlin Group On Their Latest
If the title of Strung Out’s latest opus, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, strikes you as ominous, that’s the whole point.
“Even before we had the record all together, we had the title,” says guitarist Jake Kiley. “It’s about the fact that war can definitely come home to you. It’s just an idea that you’ve gotta be careful with the things your government acts on and the way you support it.”
The veteran LA band display a renewed interest in politics on their seventh album—culminating in the back-to-back-to-back trio “All the Nations,” “A War Called Home” and “Letter Home”—while maintaining the same catchy pop-core and edgy punk-metal roots that have sustained them since they formed in 1992.
These guys have never shied from thorny topics—one of their earliest songs, “Support Your Troops,” called out the first President George Bush—but Blackhawks feels altogether bleaker. The album opens with the telltale sound of choppers overhead; “A War Called Home” revisits the deep disillusionment surrounding the Vietnam War and JFK’s assasination, and, most notably, the title track transposes the everyday chaos of Iraq to posh icons of California living. Cruz imagines an enforced curfew in Hollywood, a mob of the homeless occupying Beverly Hills, and “insurgents drawing near.”
“We never really wanted to be like a political band [or] beat people over the head with our message,” Kiley says assuringly. “We [always] had a few songs that touched on political and social issues, but we also had songs about getting stoned and weird shit. But lately, politics have infiltrated our lives, and everyone’s feeling it a lot more.”
Strung Out have had only one lineup change since their first album was released. In 1999, Chris Aiken took over bass duties for Jim Cherry, who died of heart failure a few years later. Today, it’s still Aiken, Kiley, guitarist Rob Ramos and drummer Jordan Burns kicking up a tight, driving collection of tunes every few years, led by singer/lyricist Jason Cruz’s anthemic delivery. All the while, they’ve stayed with iconic punk label Fat Wreck Chords.
“It’s been really comfortable working with them throughout our whole career,” says Kiley. “More often that not, I see bands leave a good thing to try some big label. Often, the band either return to [their original] label, or they just break up because they’re so disillusioned by the whole process. We’ve been really lucky. We’ve been sheltered from the whole music industry because we work with a label that’s basically our friend. It’s the only way we really know how to do it.”
Kiley acknowledges that Fat Wreck has always been a stamp of quality for punk fans, even as the label has diversified its roster over the years and punk itself has grown to include countless mini-genres. Whether playing with the Supersuckers in late December at the West Hollywood House of Blues or catering to an all-ages crowd at local beacon Chain Reaction, Strung Out have seen new generations of fans come aboard over the course of their lifespan.
“It’s pretty cool to always have younger kids coming to the shows and finding out about something that’s been going on for a long time now,” Kiley says. “I like to hope that kids these days get turned on to the more mainstream stuff, but then maybe look into the scene a little more and find out about the bands who have been shaping [it].”
While the band have cleaned up their sound and further embraced metal in recent years, Strung Out still have a strong whiff of teenage basement punk. Kiley sees it as a logical progression, and he’s excited to be in a band that’s not just cranking out another version of the same record over and over.
“We just write songs to make ourselves stoked,” he says. “I think we probably piss off a lot of our older fans by not catering strictly to what we’ve written [in the past]. If they want to hold that against us, go ahead. But we’ve always written what we were into at the time and what our feelings were about shit at that time.”
As for whether our change-minded new president-elect will make for a more optimistic follow-up to Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, Kiley’s not sure.
“God, man, I really can’t say,” he says. “All [we] can do is get together and write the stuff that means the world to us. And if anyone else likes it, that’s always amazing to me.”
Strung Out perform with Black President, GG Elvis and Pour Habit at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $16-$18. All Ages.
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