DS Interview: Jon Cauztik of Stray Bullets talks origins, new album, and more

Stray Bullets are the kind of band that you see on a bill and just know that they’re going to bring their A-game and put on a sick show every time.  Lead singer and guitarist Jon Cauztik also happens to be funny as hell.  If you’ve wondered what a “streetpunk reggae” band might sound like, read on to get Jon’s take on the band’s sound, their soon-to-be-released second album, and their ideas for how to save the world.

Check out the whole interview below.

Dying Scene (GinaVenz): Let’s start with the basics, who’s in Stray Bullets?
Jon Cauztik: Geoff O’Connor (aka Power Geoff aka PG) plays guitar and sings; Nick Scotti (aka Nicky Pickles) plays bass and sings; Scott “The Eclipse” Cappellini plays drums; and I “sing” and “play guitar”, haha.

How did Stray Bullets get started?
Geoff and I met in the late 90s through the dudes in Jaya The Cat, who my old band used to play with a bunch, and we realized that we liked the same stuff. We got together and started writing. We recruited Dave from Jaya to play bass and got our buddy Drew on drums, and made a record.

A lot of our readers haven’t heard you before, so how would you describe your sound?
That’s tough, we’ve been called “ska punk”, but we don’t have horns or try to play blitzkrieg fast skanks, which is what that label conjures up for me…we’re pretty much just a punk rock band that lets our Clash and Op Ivy influences shine through…I like to call it ” streetpunk reggae.”

You’ve played with everyone from the Offspring to Mephiskapheles. Do you play for the crowd you’ve got, or do you keep your sound pretty consistent?
Well, for the most part we just do what we do; we’ll throw the songs that we’re having the most fun playing at the time into the set and usually leave it at that…but since we kinda bridge the gap between ska and punk, we get put on a lot of different kinds of bills, and sometimes we’ll try to tailor the set to fit the bill. If it’s us and like four tough guy HC bands, we’ll probably leave the ten minute reggae jam off that set, haha.

So far, you guys have released 1 full-length album, The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune [2003]. Would you say that the album had an overall theme or statement?
I don’t know if it has a particular theme about it. I tend to be somewhat political lyrically, but I try to personalize broader-spectrum stuff, to try to keep it honest and make it more accessible, in a way. Like, am I a starving kid in a third world country living under a dictatorship who might sell me into slavery at any second? No, but I find that the fact that there are people forced to live in these conditions fucked up, so that’s where I would write the song from, if that makes sense. I don’t really call myself a musician per se, because one of my main motivations for playing in a band is to bring stuff that I see as wrong or unjust to light…like, if you were to stand on a corner yelling about this kinda shit, most people would write you off as some leftist conspiracy wingnut, but if you can make it rhyme and put a hook behind it, people are more likely to pay attention and absorb some of it.

You don’t shy away from talking about politics in your songs. Why is that important to you? Ever had any backlash?
Well, like I was saying earlier, for me this is mainly a platform to try to point out things that are fucked up in the world, whether that be things that are fucked up on a global scale or things that are fucked up about me personally, and to maybe suggest some things that we or I could do to try to remedy these things. Every major news source in the world is owned by like six people or something, so you’re really only getting a tiny fraction of opinions by relying on these sources for information, and I’m just trying to present an alternative source…like, a lot of my personal politics stemmed from things that I initially heard about through punk rock and then researched and learned more about so I could form my own opinions and ideas, so I’m just trying to pass that along. We haven’t really had any backlash per se, which you can take to mean either the ideals we espouse are somewhat reflective of the current cosmic consciousness, or that nobody’s listening, haha.

What can you tell us about the new album?
The new album will have I think 12 or 13 tracks, the working title right now is Ghost Town Rockers, which is the name of one of the songs as well, but there’s a couple that we’re still debating…I wanted to call it Strife, Misery, and Polluted Happiness, but the other dudes thought it sounded too crust punk or something, so, yeah, we’re still hashing that out.

How long did it take to write?
Hard to say, we don’t really sit down and say “ok, let’s write an album”, we kinda just write the songs as they come, and then record them…we recorded the first batch in January 2013, then went back in late last year and did the next batch.

Do you all team up to write songs? Does everyone get input into lyrics?
Mostly I do all the lyric stuff. Like I’ll come in with chords for a verse and chorus and then Geoff will take it home and come back with some bitching guitar line the next week and be all “this rules but it sounds a lot cooler if we make that A minor a C sharp” or whatever, and then I get all diva on him like “but then I’ll have to change the meter and inflection of the vocals”, but he’s usually right and his lines are usually worth having me change my shit around a little bit to make them work.

How is the new stuff different from what we’ve heard?
I don’t really know, I guess we’ve grown as people or musicians or whatever so the new stuff may reflect that, but to me it feels like we’re just doing what we’ve always done. I guess it’s up to the listener to decide…like when you’re a kid and you see your Grandma at Christmas and she’s all “I haven’t seen you in so long! You’re so tall!”, and you’re like, whatever, I’m the same height I always am.

Are you doing anything cool for album art?
My friend Jen who has helped me out with most of my bands’ artwork over the years is dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I have a hard time communicating creatively with visual artists, like I know what I want but don’t speak the language, and she’s the only person I’ve found that can translate my gibberish…so long story short is I’m trying to teach myself Photoshop and cursing at my laptop a lot…this might end up being the Stray Bullets White Album, haha.

 I know you have another band, The Have Nots. Do a lot of you have side projects? Or is Stray Bullets the side project?
Stray Bullets is my main focus for the time being.  Have Nots is on an indefinite hiatus; we never broke up but we all decided we wanted to pursue other musical projects…Matt is playing with Street Dogs, Jameson is in The Pomps, and Steve moved to Nashville and is touring with a couple of different country bands. I tend to try to invest all of my creativity into one thing at a time, so the side project thing isn’t really my bag, but the other Bullets are all involved with other bands: Scott plays in an awesome band called The Black Cheers, and Nick is playing bass for the newly re-formed Blood Stained Brindle, who I’m excited about seeing again one of these days. Geoff also plays with Ragged Old Flag with our old bassist Dave every once in a while.

You’ve played a lot of charity shows (fundraiser for Boston firefighters, Beth Israel fund, and you donated a song to a comp to raise money for the Boston Marathon bombing victims). How important is giving back? Why?
JC: Well, I don’t know if I’d be dead without punk rock, I’m a pretty resourceful guy, haha, but it definitely has helped me get through some trying times. I feel like anytime you can give back by doing something that you love, its win/win…there’s just so much that needs fixing that I feel we would be remiss as a “punk” band to not at least try to help out where we can. I had this idea a while back, and unfortunately were not gonna be able to do it with this release due to a serious lack of band funds, but after we get this record out, we’re gonna try to give it another go: basically, the idea is to release the next batch of songs as singles, and the money made from the sale of each one would go directly to an organization that is working to help fix whatever particular ill that the subject matter of that song addresses. For example, money made from the sales of a song about youth violence could go to the Hyde Square Task Force, which is a youth empowerment organization in my neighborhood, and money made from the sale of a song about world hunger could go to the Greater Boston Food Bank, etc. This way, these songs could not only bring certain issues that are often ignored to light, but they could also directly affect them in a positive, concrete way.

Anything else you want readers to know about Stray Bullets?
Nah, that’s pretty much it…go check out our Bandcamp page, like our Facebook page, etc…big thanks to Dying Scene for this interview and for streaming our new songs.


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