Transmission. Alpha. Delta.

Punkers Strung Out in Newport

By Alan Sculley

Photo: Strung Out will perform on April 25 at Thompson House in Newport, Kentucky

Jason Cruz of the punk band Strung Out is nothing if not driven.

When he formed the original lineup of Strung Out with guitarist Rob Ramos in 1989 in Simi Valley, California, Cruz was all in. This wasn’t going to be some casual hobby.

“I made a decision I’m either going to get a straight job or I’m going to give this everything I’ve got and I’m going to expect that from everybody around me,” Cruz says.

That’s the way Cruz, Ramos and the other members of Strung Out have operated ever since, as the band has navigated its way through early lineup changes, releasing eight studio albums (beginning with 1994’s Another Day in Paradise) and becoming one of the more respected – if commercially underappreciated punk bands of the era.

“We’ve just been trudging away working,” Cruz says. “We never stop.”

So even if Cruz and his current bandmates – Ramos, guitarist Jake Kiley, bassist Chris Aiken and drummer Jordan Burns – may not seem to have been overly prolific (the band’s new album, Transmission.Alpha.Delta arrives six years after its previous release), don’t think Cruz has been taking it easy.

After touring behind the 2009 Strung Out album, Agents of the Underground, Cruz stepped outside of the group to do two albums with his side band, Jason Cruz and Howl (2012’s Loungecore and 2014’s Good Man’s Ruin).

Ramos, meanwhile, started a side band called the Implants, which released its debut album in 2013.

“I needed to do it to appreciate what Strung Out was and to accept what Strung Out was, to accept what I was capable of,” Cruz says of starting another band. “Sometimes you need the perspective. You need to step away from something to understand how you feel about it. In that sense, the time off was important to re-evaluate if I had anything to say.”

If Transmission.Alpha.Delta is any indication, Cruz and his bandmates had plenty to say. Cruz, the group’s primary lyricist, found himself drawn to the overall theme of people in today’s wired world being inundated with information and the implications of this data overload.

“Like how are you going to digest all the stimuli that you get?” Cruz asks, posing the central question of the album. “Transmission.Alpha.Delta is just a play on words of a fake signal, like in a sea of white noise. Every one of us is a tiny voice, and it’s our duty, what are you going to do with that voice? How are you going to digest all this information that you’re getting?”

The music on Transmission.Alpha.Delta is as compelling as the lyrics. Songs like “Modern Drugs,” “Black Maps” and “The Animal and the Machine,” to name just a few, hit hard with bracing guitar riffs and adrenalized tempos sweetened by stirring vocal melodies. Many of the songs also come with considerable musical detail and depth, as the band finds room for brief, fleet-fingered solos and fills, and ways to layer individual licks and lines around the riffs, adding extra melodic dimensions to songs like “Rebellion of the Snakes” and “Tesla.”

If Cruz and Ramos remain central figures in Strung Out, Transmission.Alpha.Delta was a true band effort.

That’s a main reason why the album did not come together quickly or easily. In fact, Cruz said a year of writing and a year of recording went into the project.

“There are four writers in the band, and all four writers were operating on all eight cylinders at all times,” Cruz says. “So it wasn’t a matter of ideas not working. It was too many ideas.

“Sometimes having multiple, too many options is not a good thing,” he continues. “So it’s about honing in on what’s strongest and weeding out the weak parts and fighting for your parts. It’s just, there’s never a lack of ideas. Like I said, that’s why I’m so proud to be working with people that bring something out of me that I never would have thought of. And Kyle Black, the guy that produced the record, stepped up and dealt with five crazy people and reined us in. Like I said, that’s just what took so long, just wanting this to be perfect.”

Ironically, for all the time that went into making Transmission.Alpha.Delta, the band, in a sense, is only now getting to know its new songs as it starts touring behind the album this spring. That’s because the songs aren’t recorded in complete takes. They’re recorded part by part and then assembled into finished recordings.

“We’re just learning all of the new songs right now,” Cruz says. “That’s usually how we write. We write different fragments, go record (the fragments), and then go back and learn how to actually play everything and make it conducive to a live environment.”

Strung Out will play Saturday, April 25 at the Thompson House, 24 E. Third St. in Newport, Kentucky. Red City Radio and La Armada are also on the bill. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets cost $18. For more information, please visit strungout.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Alan Sculley
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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