When thinking of punk rock/metal bands and the music industry in general, terms such as “sincere” and “genuine talent” and “honestly ambitious” do not often come to mind. But then, the California punk band Strung Out is not your typical…well, anything, really. One of the most prolific groups around, they have released numerous albums, compilations and even a couple EPs in the 15 years that they have been together. Fast-paced rhythms, inspired lyrics and ever-changing styles characterize the band’s unique sound and keep them atop their pedestal as one of the industry’s best kept secrets – but given their talent and rapidly growing fan base, they may not be a secret for long. After playing two sold-out shows at Santa Barbara’s own Velvet Jones, guitarist Jake Kiley sat down to talk about the upcoming album, the band and the world of the music business.
Artsweek: When is the new album, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles coming out?
Jake Kiley: June 12 is the date that we’ve been hearing, we were hesitant to say just in case something comes up, but I think that’s it.
Artsweek: How would you characterize the sound of your upcoming album?
Kiley: It’s similar to our last album, Exile in Oblivion. There are a lot of the same general ideas, but we’ve improved a bit. We’ve definitely pushed ourselves a bit more. I guess with every album you don’t know how people will respond, but we like it a lot and we’re all really happy with it.
Artsweek: What was the inspiration for the musical style of the new album?
Kiley: I think overall we try to stay away from sounding like anyone else, especially the new stuff that’s out there. Older influences, maybe; Ozzy [Osbourne] and Iron Maiden has been very influential for me.
Artsweek: How many tracks will be on it?
Kiley: Twelve songs officially and then there will be a couple bonus songs floating around on different versions of the album. If you get it on iTunes there will be a bonus track there, and I think on one version of the album there will be a different bonus song.
Artsweek: You’ve released one song from the upcoming album, “Downtown.” Are there plans to release any more singles?
Kiley: That wasn’t really a single; it was more of a preview – a demo that we posted on our Myspace.com page. We just wanted fans to see what we were working on, but we took it down before people could get sick of it. (Laughs.)
Artsweek: In the past, Strung Out has had a lot of political songs. Will there be many on this new album?
Kiley: We’re not really outwardly political; it’s just with stuff that affects us. Though the new album does have a political theme, it’s because everything is such a mess right now. It’s the worst right now; that I’ve ever known, anyway, so of course there will definitely be some political tones, because we’re expressing what we’re seeing. We write about our experiences.
Artsweek: What made you decide to come back to Santa Barbara for these upcoming shows?
Kiley: These are sort of warm-up shows that we’re doing because it has been a few months since we’ve played live. We’re going to play at this huge festival in Belgium next week, something like 20,000 people, so we had the idea of doing some warm-up shows first. We were really lucky that it worked out, Velvet Jones is awesome, and everyone has been really nice.
Artsweek: What questions are you sick of, or hate being asked?
Kiley: (Laughs). Just stuff that’s impossible to answer. People ask about the best city that you’ve been to, or the best show that you’ve played. I can’t answer those questions; there are great moments with every city and every show!
Artsweek: What kind of a role did music play in your life growing up?
Kiley: Music was always a really big part of my life, even when I was young and was buying Michael Jackson’s Thriller. (Laughs.) It was the ’80s! Then when I was a little older I bought a lot of rock – it was always just really important to me. I always knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Artsweek: If you weren’t a guitar player for Strung Out, what do you think you would be doing right now?
Kiley: Well, I picked up the guitar at 12, so it was always something that I just knew. I don’t really know, probably something artistic, because I’m not good at math or engineering. Honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else, this is what I’m doing, this is what makes me feel that I’m worth something and that I’m not just throwing my life away.
Artsweek: How would you describe your relationship with your record label, Fat Wreck Chords?
Kiley: Things have always been real cool and casual because Fat Mike is a good friend. He’s been super cool, so it’s been really easy. We have complete control over our albums, so we’ve been really lucky, whereas other bands on bigger labels don’t have that kind of control because the companies just want them to sell records. We’re not trying to sell millions of records; it’s about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing. This is absolutely my life; I don’t want to just be in it for money.
Artsweek: How do you feel your band has grown since you first formed in 1992?
Kiley: The whole scene has changed. When we started everything and everyone was new and exciting. You had to look for it and it meant so much more. These days it’s just shoved down your face when you walk into Wal-Mart or some place and there are 15 new bands that all sound the same; everything’s just cheap. There’s not much quality coming out right now. I guess that’s the death throe of a genre, the overexposure of everything. Everyone is a caricature of themselves. Really, I’m just so thankful to our true fans who’ve stuck with us and continue to come to our shows.
Artsweek: What’s the best thing about being a musician today?
Kiley: I guess just being able to create something that has a positive effect on other people, and to be your own boss while doing it. It’s hard to imagine anything else since we’ve been doing this for so long. We manage ourselves so it can be stressful and difficult, but at the same time it’s fun. Just like with anything, you have to take the good with the bad. I think a lot of people get into the business and they don’t understand what they’re getting themselves into. We’ve always known what we’re getting into and I’ve committed myself to it. You have to give up a lot, but you get a lot in return, too.
Artsweek: What do you think is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the music business?
Kiley: Just to be able to do it on your own terms. With labels, you’ll lose sight of your own identity. I don’t ever want our music to be known as some mass product that I don’t even like. Just to do it to make yourself happy and then hopefully your fans will follow!
Artsweek: Do you think being labeled as a punk rock band has limited your ability to express yourself musically?
Kiley: Sure, if we had signed with another record company we would’ve been dropped, I’m sure. (Laughs.) It’s hard because we’re in it for longevity, so we’re more of a secret and have kept a low profile. With a lot of the punk bands that are out there right now, they’re just being mass marketed. I’m sure we could’ve had more commercial success, but that’s not what we want. We’ve been given so much that it’s awesome to give back. I don’t understand these bands that get so full of themselves, when you’re lucky enough to play music for a living you should be the happiest person in the world.
More information about Strung Out can be found on their official website, www.strungout.com, or at www.myspace.com/strungout. Keep your eyes open for their new album, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, which is set to be released on June 12.