STRUNG OUT Back to the wasteland

Punk legends Strung Out are ready to land in WA to play their sophomore album, Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues in full. The California band will play three shows in WA including Bunbury at the Prince Of Wales on Thursday, July 5, Northshore Tavern on Friday, July 6 and Hell Hole on Saturday, July 7. Strung Out exploded onto the Southern California punk scene in the early 90s, being one of the first bands signed to NOFX leader Fat Mike’s Fat Wreck Chords and their second album has remained a fan favourite ever since. What sets Strung Out apart from many of their peers has been their ability to maintain the rage (and the pace) of their early years, delivering eight studio albums to date with no signs of slowing anytime soon. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with guitarist Jake Kiley to talk about revisiting their seminal 1996 classic, what fans can expect from the shows and why the world still needs punk rock now as much as ever.

How has it been touring this album and how has your time in Australia been so far?

It’s been great. We’re in Newcastle now and are just about to head to the venue and get ready for the show tonight. We’ve been to Australia 13 times now and every time we come there’s always great people and it’s a beautiful country so it’s one of the high points of our touring for sure.

On this occasion you’re playing your 1996 album Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues in full. How has it been revisiting the album and playing those songs again?

It’s a lot of fun. We do a lot of those songs in our sets anyway but we’ve had to brush up on some of the more obscure ones. They’re fairly simplistic songs but they are very fast so we’ve got to keep our stamina up throughout the whole show. We also have a new drummer now and it was his first time learning the songs so that was a lot of fun. We were able to improve a lot of the melodic arrangements and add some finishing touches to the songs and make them even more exciting for us than they were at first.

Given you were quite a bit younger and less experienced at the time you recorded this album, do you look back at it now and think of ways you might have done it differently with some of the new tricks and ideas that you have developed over time?

There are little things, but ultimately we were really happy with the record when it came out and it was a lot of fun for us writing it at the time. It was certainly a step up from our first record and was a really exciting and creative time. We’ve always stayed pretty close to our roots anyway which is why we still have a lot of these songs in our sets as it is.

And what was it like for you at that time? In particular what kind of music were you listening to that inspired or motivated the record?

We were listening to all kinds of punk rock and hard core. There was music coming out from NOFX and Pennywise but then we were also listening to Iron Maiden, Slayer, old Metallica and those kinds of bands that we grew up on. We really liked to combine all these influences into our own mix. We’re still listening to a lot of the bands that came out around then too, like Lagwagon had just put out their Trashed record and we were really into that. Propagandhi were also one of the most incredible bands out there, plus I was listening to a lot of Pantera at the time. We’ve always been a hybrid of punk and we preferred that to just having the one sound and instead combining a bunch of different elements.

And how about the sentiment and feeling of the album in a lyrical sense? Was there a particular message or something you wanted to express on the album and if so how has that changed over time?

It wasn’t really that there was anything manifest we were trying to get across but we always write about the things going on around us and going on in our lives at the time. As a punk rock band we were pretty politically minded so songs like Firecracker drew on that. But then there are also songs that are really just about day to day life like Wrong Side of the Tracks, Gear Box and Better Days. The song Monster was about a book we were reading at the time about a gang member, so sometimes it’s also about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It was kind of what we were about as a band and I think that’s still true today. But it’s not like we were ever saying people should feel or think one way or another. People are always going to take their own interpretation out of art and that’s fine as well.

A lot of music really is a response to the social and political climate of the times and maybe it’s not surprising but I’ve noticed in the last year or two there’s been a bit of a re-emergence of politically charged punk rock music. Do you think the political situation in America in particular can be a good motivating or galvanising factor to put a bit of that rage back in punk rock?

Well I think punk rock has always been very politically framed. And rock and roll in general is about protesting; bringing things to light and as a musician, it’s sort of your duty to use your voice and share your views. When you travel a lot and see the world and experience a lot of different cultures outside the United States I feel like we have a bit of a better comprehension of what life is like in the rest of the world. Political times really are hairy right now so there is a lot more ammunition to use and be motivated by.

That’s not to say our next record will have a particular political tinge to it but there’s certainly enough to deal with if we wanted to. History will judge this time and this era. It’s not about being on the right side of history, but it is time to stand up and be counted for what you believe in. We’re very much at a crossroads with two different ideologies, as in “do we want a democracy or do we want a dictatorship?” It’s what’s going on in America and going on in a lot of the world right now.

In America it’s never been this bad and you find a lot of people are very small minded and fearful of the outside world. They respond positively to the dictatorship situation and they want this hard core, military kind of leader because they are responding to fear and Donald Trump is feeding that fear. But for other people who have been out of America and seen other things don’t live in fear. Like me, I don’t live in fear because I don’t think it’s productive to do that and I’d rather have a positive more multicultural society that takes care of people and is a more stable environment for everybody.

It’s a very interesting time these days that despite all the modern technology and everything we’ve been through that we’ve reverted to a very backwards way of thinking in America. But it’s not shocking either. There’s a lot of very primitive thinking racist people in America. They are very isolated and very fearful and because of that they’re attracted to the idea of something like building a wall. I feel bad for those people because they’re pretty pathetic and it’s sad they want to infringe on other people’s freedom just because they’re afraid.

You touched on it a little before but what about new music from Strung Out? Is there anything in the pipeline?

Yeah we’re writing a whole lot of new music all the time. We’re looking to have these new songs recorded by the end of the year or early next year and have a new record out by this time next year. That’s our goal anyway, to have something out by next summer, or your winter!

Just listening to some of your music this week and the sheer pace of it I have to say it’s impressive you’ve kept it up this long and are still going strong. Do you feel like you’ve still got a lot left in the tank?

There’s nothing in my life I want to do more than write music so it’s never going to end for me until I’m dead. We’ve got a new drummer now who has completely inspired us and we’re writing new material that’s going to be pretty fucking intense, and probably the most intense music we’ve ever put out. It’s therapy for us. I can’t go very long without wanting to return to writing. After this tour we’ll go home for about three weeks and then we’ll be right back into rehearsals. It’s what we do, we really want to create new music and get it out there especially when it means a lot of other people get something out of it as well.