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Interview: Strung Out

Underground News Thursday, 03 November 2016 16:09
Interview: Strung Out

Formed in 1991, Strung Out was one of the first bands signed to seminal California record label Fat Wreck Chords, becoming part of a new wave of melodic punk rock that would form the sound of a generation.

Since then, the band has released eight full length albums, two EPs, three compilation albums and a live album, all the while touring non-stop, everywhere from Japan to Australia to tiny mountain towns in the BC interior. The band has survived the 90s crest of Fat Wreck popularity, the 2000s screamo meltdown, member changes, deaths, addiction, divorces and more, only to release one of their most impressive albums to date last year – 2015’s Transmission.Alpha.Delta. I called drummer Jordan Burns at his home in California to discuss the album, the band’s legacy, and what keeps them fired up after 25+ years of crafting some of the most intricate punk rock ever written.

Absolute Underground: You're about to head out on a five week tour with Pennywise. Do you still get as excited about going on the road as you did in the early years of the band?

Jordan Burns: No [laughs]. It's kind of like asking someone who's been at the same job for 20 years, “Are you excited to wake up to go to work in the morning?” The difference is, we're obviously fortunate to do what we do. So you also think about the flipside. I don't have to wake up and go to this boring job and drive the 405 freeway in hell traffic every single day. There are so many pluses, of course, to what we are fortunate enough to do with music and our lives. So, there could be a “yes” answer to this question, too.

AU: Your newest album, Transmission.Alpha.Delta., was very well received, and it was a standout to me personally. How did you guys pull of putting out such an outstanding record 25 years into the band's career?

JB: Well, first of all, thank you, because it took a lot of hard work. Blood, sweat and tears and whatever. We're consistently trying to make our best material. As a band, you put out every record thinking, “this is our best material.” I don't think any band releases an album and goes “well, this one's pretty good, but our last one is way better.” But it's the fans and the public that get to make that decision, and we're stoked that people were really pumped on this new album. We worked really hard on it and, man, it was... so gnarly being in the studio. There were a lot of really trying times, especially for me. I know the other guys went through it, but maybe not as tough as I did. You get frustrated, you've got the bell for the click track clicking in your ear for ten hours a day... there were times that I just fuckin' snapped. It's not like some easy task, but in the end I just went with the theory, “no pain, no gain.” You need to go through all those struggles and the fights and the arguments and the ups and downs of putting everything together, and that's part of the art. Art isn't easy. So, we were really pumped, we worked with Kyle Black on this album, and he was a long-time fan of our band and was passionate about making sure that we had a great album. At the same time, he was fuckin' insane. So it's all those kind of elements that get put into the mixing bowl and that's what helps create the product. So I strongly feel that it is absolutely our best production that we have ever done. Considering the span of our career, its pretty awesome to achieve that so late in the game. It kind of makes you question some of the past albums that we did, like, why the hell were we never able to get this type of mix and awesome sound. I'm really proud of it and I'm really happy that it was received so well. It's lucky that we can pull that off this late in the game.

AU: Is there anything in particular that you can attribute the band's longevity to?

JB: I guess it would go right back to making the music. We keep on making what I like to think is creative music. That has to be one factor of it, of course. I guess the other factor is that we've never really stopped. There are so many fans with tattoos... no matter where we play, at least somebody's coming out. I don't think we'll ever lose all those people. The times change and everyone gets older... one these last tours, you have people saying “oh, I haven't seen you in eight years,” and well, why the hell not? We came through. It's awesome to get them back out there.

AU: You drummed in the first incarnation of Ten Foot Pole, as well as trying out for some other bands including Failure before joining Strung Out. Do you ever imagine what your life would be like if you hadn't joined Strung Out?

JB: Coincidentally, I was just having a long conversation with someone about that, just yesterday. Very interesting to pull that question on me, because I was talking about Failure and how I got kicked out of Ten Foot Pole... my friend Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine, we grew up in the Valley together and he hooked me up with the try-out for Failure. I thought, “Holy shit, this is one of my first official, real-deal try-outs, and this band is going on tour with Tool. If I get in this band, it's gonna be the shit.” And now all I can think to myself is that I'm so fucking glad I did not get in that band. They didn't go on to have any sort of long career. I actually went to see them play at The Whiskey once and it was really boring to me, so I'm quite thankful that I didn't get in that band. They've recently had this resurgence, and our bass player Chris is fully into that band and always kind of trips out that I tried out for them. Somewhere, because I hold on to things, I have the four song cassette tape that they gave to me to learn. They're a cool band but not really my cup of tea and I'm glad that I did not get in. Am I glad that I got kicked out of Ten Foot Pole? At the time I was crushed. They weren't called Ten Foot Pole then, they were Scared Straight. They had this whole little thought process or whatever that, “We can't be called Scared Straight anymore because everyone thinks we're a straight edge band.” That's what lead them to the name change which, at the time, I was really against. But I guess it didn't matter 'cause they gave me the boot anyways. But I went on to this band and Strung Out has had a lot more success than Ten Foot Pole. So, it all kind of panned out, more or less. It's not like we're some kind of gigantic band that just fuckin' kills it everywhere, but I think we've done really well for a small, independent punk band.

AU: I've read that you take care of a lot of Strung Out's managerial duties. What role does the DIY ethic play in the band?

JB: Oh, boy. I mean, it’s kind of hard for me to discuss this. I don't know if I even want to discuss this in public, because it’s such a touchy subject and I almost just want to answer “yes.” Otherwise I'll just get into complaining and bitterness because it's a thankless job. It's kind of frustrating at times and it can put me through the ringer. I just booked all of our flights, I just booked our bus... dealing with all of our merchandise. Everyone thinks they put their fair share in with the music, but the bottom line is that doing the music and doing the day-to-day managerial things, they're two different things.

AU: I grew up in Grand Forks, BC (pop. 4,500) where you have an abnormally large following. How do you explain your cult status in small, isolated communities like that?

JB: I guess part of the explanation would be that we've touring Canada since, like, '94. I always wanted to make it a point to get to the smaller cities. Once we're up there and have dealt with the hassles and headaches of crossing the Canadian border, which is like the worst in the world, we should play everywhere we can. I think back in the day we always made it a point to try and get to some of the smaller places. The last place we played in that area was Christina Lake and, god, that was such a great show. I know it was many years ago, but I definitely remember it. It was an awesome location and a lot of young fans. I'm not sure if they all knew of our band but they sure seemed to. It sure was sold out. We had a great time up there. We haven't been back since. If you ask me why, I wouldn't really have the answer. And I know that's the area around Grand Forks. We've been getting fan mail from people in Grand Forks for a long time, before e-mail and the social media craze. We'd love to come back there at some point.

AU: You're obviously quite involved with the motocross scene, as well.

JB: I always had the theory that motocross was never exposed to the punk rock scene, and that's what me and Erik [Sandin of NOFX] did when we started MotoXXX back in the day. That was a big goal of mine, and that was pretty much right when I got into Strung Out, too. The motocross scene was still full of mullets and no one knew the punk rock bands. We put out our first movie and definitely got a lot of exposure for all of these bands within the motocross scene. We definitely feel like we had a first hand in tying that together. Everyone started listening to it. You'd show up to the motocross track and people are dying their hair and getting piercings, next thing you know everyone is all tattooed out. “Yeah, alright. Everyone's on the bandwagon.”

AU: Your Twisted in a Suburban Wasteland tour a few years back was very well received. Can we expect something similar for the newer generations of fans with Element of Sonic Defiance and An American Paradox?

JB: I would like to think so. It seems like it's kind of a way of things now. Pennywise is doing it on this tour with About Time. It gets people excited, they seem to like to click back and remember a time in their life when that was their album. We're gonna hear it on this tour, “Shit, I've been listening to you guys since I was 14.” You hear it all the time. We did that tour with the two albums together and it was brutal. It's a lot of work to put both of those albums together. I don't know if we would do it again. It would make more sense to do one album and then maybe Element. But, you know, Element is not that short either. It's funny, 'cause it’s an EP, but it’s like 30 minutes. It's as long as a Propagandhi full length. It sucks, because back in the day when that EP came out, it never got the proper attention that it would have had as a full length. If we had just added one more song to that and called it a full length, who knows?

AU: What can we expect from the band in the future, outside of this upcoming tour?

JB: I don't know. Everyone's talking about writing more music and making another album at some point. I don't think its gonna be another six year stint. No one's talking about not doing it. There are still place that we want to travel to. We made it to Russia for our first time a few weeks ago, and we got to go to Romania as well. I'd still love to get over to South Africa. I'd like to get over to the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore. There are places on the East Coast of Canada that we haven't played... although I think to myself sometimes that we've seen more of Canada than the average Canadian. But, we don't have a crystal ball. We're gonna keep on doing what we're doing while everyone is still into doing it and while everyone can still stand being around each other.

www.strungout.com/

PHOTO CREDIT: Rick Kosick

 

Last modified on Thursday, 03 November 2016 16:38
Written by  Stepan Soroka

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