In the music world there are leaders and there are followers – and for the past seventeen years Simi Valley, California’s Strung Out have continually proved themselves as one of the most groundbreaking and versatile melodic punk acts of all-time, collectively selling over 1,000,000 units (all sold independently) and selling out shows in countless countries all over the world. While musical trends and fashions may change, the secret to the success of Strung Out – vocalist Jason Cruz, drummer Jordan Burns, bassist Chris Aiken and guitarists Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos – has always been their innate ability to retain their signature sound without crafting the same record twice.
Although Strung Out are currently hard at work on the follow-up to 2007’s full-length Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, in order to tide over fans the band have decided to release the B-Side and rarities collection Prototypes And Painkillers. Like the band’s first such compilation The Skinny Years…Before We Got Fat, this album not only features some of the band’s standout songs but also illustrates how much the group has progressed over the past decade. “We had been talking about putting these songs all together on one CD for quite awhile, but it just took forever for us to finally do it and piece it together to make it what we wanted it to be,” Burns explains. “We all wanted to give something special to our fans who have supported us over all these years, you know?”
In true Strung Out fashion the band decided to go all-out on this release, which features 25 tracks-seven of which were previously unreleased and 11 that were out-of-print-to make Prototypes And Painkillers a must for casual fans and Strung Out completists alike. From covers (Descendents’ “I’m Not A Loser” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark At The Moon”) to alternate versions of fan favorites (“Novocain” and “Don’t Look Back”) and everything in between, Prototypes And Painkillers showcases how the band has managed to effortlessly combine the genres of punk, rock and metal into a unique amalgam of music that’s still impossible to replicate or imitate no matter how hard today’s punk acts may try.
“I just think its cool to have all these songs collectively as one CD that you can stick into your player and listen to instead of having to hunt around on the Internet for the songs individually,” Burns says when asked why the band felt it was important for these songs to co-exist in one comprehensive collection. In addition to containing over two dozen songs, the album also contains detailed liner notes about each track. “The liner notes were a real challenge to write because there are so many songs on here and you don’t want to be repetitive,” Burns explains with a laugh. “It took me a while to put them together, but I think fans will enjoy reading a short cool fact about each song included.”
Additionally, the band plans on incorporating some of these songs into their upcoming headlining dates. “We’re going to go out with the idea that we’re touring on this album, so hopefully we’ll incorporate a fair amount of these songs from this disc into the set and possibly get some new songs played live too” Burns explains. Ultimately when asked how Strung Out has managed to stay relevant for so long, his explanation is also fairly straightforward: “We’ve had a really long career so far and we attribute that to our dedicated fan base and also to the fact that we’re always trying to do something different musically,” he summarizes. “There are so many different influences within Strung Out because we all listen to so many different types of music – and I think that really shines through on this collection as it certainly will with our next full length too.”
Fat has been lucky enough to release all 6 previous albums by these masters of the So-Cal punk scene from their first release, Another Day in Paradise in May 1994, to their breakthrough sophomore full length, Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues (1996) and up through their third and biggest record, Twisted by Design (1998). The 21st century ushered in a new lineup as well as a more metallic era for the band as demonstrated on The Element Of Sonic Defiance EP released in 2000. The band further broke new ground with their next studio full length, An American Paradox (2002), by garnering loads of commercial airplay and charting on Billboard’s top 200. A live record followed in 2003, and 2004’s Exile in Oblivion has culminated into the band’s latest full-length, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles. Although Blackhawks Over Los Angeles is definitely a sonic progression―most obviously evident in Cruz’s increasingly melodic vocal styling and the band’s impressive technical abilities―at its core, the album is simply Strung Out continuing to do what they do best.
From the blazing opener “Calling” to catchy pop-based songs like “All The Nations” to the jaw-dropping proficiency and soloing on tracks like “Orchid,” Blackhawks Over Los Angeles seamlessly blends the band’s punk, metal and hardcore influences into a cohesive amalgam that’s more vital now than ever. “A lot of people don’t like to date their records, but I want people to know exactly what was going down when we made this album,” Cruz explains. This is obvious in songs like “Letter Home,” a dynamic track that personalizes the story of a young soldier writing to his family without relying on posturing or empty sloganeering. “I think a big thing that’s forgotten in this war is the people who are caught in the middle. I’m not an outwardly political person, but I think it’s impossible not to let what’s happening in the world affect you. Hopefully writing about it will make me understand how I feel about it a little more, too.”
However, despite the apocalyptic nature of Blackhawks Over Los Angeles and the state of the world right now, there’s an underlying feeling of hopefulness to the album as well. “I didn’t want every song to be an anti-war epic,” Cruz explains. “Each song is just about trying to learn about who I am and my struggle to find my place in the world,” the veteran punk rocker adds. ”I’m just trying to understand how to grow older while still trying to hold onto what I believed when I was younger.”
Strung Out were featured on the ‘96 and ‘98 Vans Warped Tours and have toured with bands such as Pennywise, the Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX and many others. They have built a solid worldwide fanbase through years of touring and constant progression as songwriters and performers. Strung Out goes to great lengths to repay their fanatical and frenzied fans. The appreciative band is always approachable at their shows and they feverishly utilize their website on a daily basis to communicate and interact with their fans.
Carrying on in the tradition of the band’s three previous releases, vocalist Jason Cruz created the artwork and layout for the new album. Armed with Grammy award-winning producer, Matt Hyde (Slayer, Hatebreed), Blackhawks Over Los Angeles will make it clear that their steadfast ascent will continue. The momentum has been building for some time now, and with each new record Strung Out has reached greater heights and new fans.