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Six years. It’s longer than the president sits in office or most people spend in college. In the music industry, it’s practically an eternity. Bands form, blow up and break up in that time period; new, disturbingly awful trends develop, old forms of media die out, social networks spread their insidious seed through shiny handheld devices no one actually needs but everybody wants.
Six years is also the amount of time that has passed since Strung Out’s last album. The Southern California tech-punk quintet had been so reliable for two decades—write, record, tour, repeat cycle roughly once every two years—that to go this long without new music felt like cause for alarm. Frontman Jason Cruz shared similar feelings.
“You get to a point where you decide if you’re going to go on or stop,” he admits. “Everyone kind of just lived life for a little bit. I think that’s pretty important if you consider yourself a songwriter or an artist of any kind. You have to live and experience other things in your life to have something to write about, to give value to what you’re singing about.”
Cruz & Co. were able to put their time off to good use, focusing their energy on the creation of Transmission.Alpha.Delta, out March 24 on their longtime label Fat Wreck Chords. The album didn’t come together easily, though; according to Cruz, writing was a yearlong process, as was recording. “We have an excess of ideas, and everyone in the band likes to put their elbows up and fight for their ideas,” he explains. I think that conflict is healthy. It’s all part of collaborating.” The process was further knotted by adding in another strong voice in producer Kyle Black, whose previous production credits ranged from Paramore to Comeback Kid. “There was butting heads in the beginning,” Cruz admits. “We’ve been doing something for 25 years and then some kid steps up and tells you to try it a little differently, all of us were like, ‘What? Who is this guy?’”
Early tensions were resolved, though, when the band realized they had an ally behind the boards. “Kyle was the first producer we’ve worked with that was a true fan of the band,” the vocalist says. “A lot of people said Transmission.Alpha.Delta is reminiscent of some of the earlier stuff we did, and I think Kyle had a lot to do with that, celebrating what this band is but at the same time hopefully elevating our artform.”
And elevate it he did; Transmission.Alpha.Delta is an album well worth its half-decade wait, with incredible songs like “Magnolia,” “Modern Drugs” and “Tesla” lyrically tackling difficult issues like drug addiction, faith and even the technological brainwashing of today’s youth while musically measuring up with the best moments of the band’s back catalog. “The biggest theme of this record was that we were all outside our comfort zone,” Cruz says. “Instead of just soloing, we’ve incorporated the solos into the actual structure of the songs. We mixed up the tempos, and we switched to E flat, which gives the guitars a better tone. I think we created a journey from where each song begins to where the song ends are two completely different places. I love that about Strung Out songs.”
Cruz is is own harshest critic, so when the singer says this might be his favorite Strung Out album, he really means it. “I judge the record by how accurately it describes my life,” he says. “As long as it’s a representation of who I am, and sincere and not pandering to any ’90s bullshit—I fuckin’ hated the ’90s. I don’t want Strung Out to be a nostalgia punk band at all. I wanna be right here, right now. I consider it an honor to be a musician and to contribute to everything that came before me.”
That urge to keep pushing to be modern and relevant and not rest on their laurels is what continually sets Strung Out apart from so many of their nostalgia-obsessed peers. “I’m not interested in looking back at all,” Cruz states. “I have no time or energy for that. There’s too much shit to be done. When I’m sitting in a diaper and on a morphine drip, maybe I’ll look back. Maybe I’ll actually listen to one of our old records.”
It’s clear Strung Out are rejuvenated and ready for more. And even though Cruz might not listen to Transmission.Alpha.Delta again until a few decades from now, odds are their fans will listen to it more than enough in the interim.
After the Fall is a nearly literal moniker for the Albany, New York, punk band. Vocalist/guitarist and leading man Mike Moak, along with fellow guitarist Tyler, had a band called Downfall in the late ’90s as fresh-faced teenagers. “We were super young and I didn’t even have a license yet,” Moak recalls. “But we opened a bunch of cool, really big shows in Albany: Hot Water Music, Rise Against, Thursday, typically shows like that. Being a freshman in high school it was an awesome experience.”
This likely instilled some early confidence in Moak and his high school punk friends, even as Downfall began to splinter and half the band moved onto other projects. Moak and Tyler recruited friends made while playing in Downfall, and After the Fall thus emerged in 2000. 15 years later, their musical style may have changed some, but their mission statement is the same as it was back then: “just to have fun with your friends and make music,” Moak says simply. Musically, “at first we were really into more technical guitars and metalcore-ish riffs. We focused a little bit more on that and would scream over that stuff. But we grew up on pop-punk and punk, so we slowly stopped doing as much metal and hardcore-influenced stuff and became more fast-paced and melodic.”
That developed style was just about in place by the time the band saved enough money in 2005 to make their first full-length, Everything, littered with cheeky Descendents song title references and recorded at the illustrious Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, Colorado. Everything was the beginning of a long journey that found a quartet (sometimes trio) of people juggling real-life responsibilities with a band who were getting offers from increasingly bigger record labels and, especially, often afforded cool, international touring opportunities. “We would just do four-to-six-day runs with our friends’ bands and then go abroad as much as we could because it was more lucrative and fun for us to plan trips to Australia or Europe or Costa Rica,” Moak says. “We would never have that opportunity without the band, and we had to kind of jump on it while the offers were there.”
As the band took the advantage of seeing the world and putting out albums on European labels and noted American indies like Animal Style, Mightier Than Sword, and Paper + Plastick, they also carried a lyrical perspective that changed from one album to the next that began with a bed of profound inspirations. “When we did start, [founding bassist] Brian [J. Peters] was a huge Propagandhi/Bad Religion fan,” Moak remembers. “Me and him went to see Howard Zinn speak in Albany. All our original songs were all political and we never wanted to have any other songs about girls or anything else,” he says, laughing. “But the older we got, the harder it was to relate to everything the same.”
Thus, the band’s full-lengths all seem to carry their own interesting lyrical identity. 2010’s Eradication had that sociopolitical bent, addressing plenty of varied but largely twisted parts of modern society and culture; 2013’s Unkind offered a bitter “fuck you” to a number of different parties in Moak’s life at the time; and their far more reflective Dedication, their newest album and Bridge Nine debut, is entirely an ode to Peters, who sadly passed away in 2013 after a battle with cancer. “Without him our band would not exist,” Moak said at the time. “He truly was an amazing person and friend, and an inspiration to us all.”
Dedication found the band back at the Blasting Room for the first time since Everything, but this time as a hyper-focused, tightly rehearsed band writing and playing their most melodic and concise yet compelling and memorable material to date. “That’s what was the best thing about this record: We didn’t rush, we were so well-prepared and practiced it front-to-back for months,” Moak says about Dedication, beaming.
Now with Bridge Nine behind them and the band intent on getting out on longer and bigger U.S. tours than they’ve ever been on, Moak agrees that he feels there’s a second wind carrying After the Fall–or maybe even a third or fourth one, given their growing and storied history. “Dedication and its recording, it brought us back to life,” he says. “Our drummer was going through a divorce and had to move. I had to move to a new place as well, and a bunch of stuff in our personal lives was going on, and the band started to feel a little stale until we were in Colorado and the vibe completely changed as soon as we were there. And it’s stayed really positive and awesome ever since.”
MakeWar is about a fight.
A fight against ignorance. And laziness.
A fight against your inner demons.
A fight to stay conscious. So you can have one more drink with your friends.
A fight to do what you want instead of what you’re suppose to.
A fight that isn’t violent. Or full of hate.
This fight is about knocking down what’s holding you back.
That’s why MakeWar sounds like letting go.
It’s fighting depression by embracing aggression.
And embracing everyone around you who does the same.
MakeWar is Jose, Greg and Edwin.
Welcome to our fight.