Back in February 2017, Dying Scene got an exclusive scoop from Strung Out frontman Jason Cruz that the California punk legends were working on a new EP titled Black Out The Sky, to follow up their last full length, 2015’s stellar Transmission.Alpha.Delta. While that was noteworthy in and of itself, the noteworthiness was ratcheted up to stratospheric levels by the additional revelation that Black Out The Sky was also going to be the band’s first collection of acoustic songs. Initial word was that we might see the album sometime in summer 2017, but then, news kinda dried up for a while.
Tomorrow, however, the official release of Black Out The Sky is officially upon us. We caught up with the one-and-only Cruz earlier this week to talk about the new album, and what exactly took so long for it to see the light of day. Needless to say it’s been a bit of a tumultuous run for Strung Out; the band officially parted ways with drummer of more than twenty years, Jordan Burns, a couple months ago, and have since brought Runaway Kids’ drummer RJ Shankle in as his replacement. “We had a tough two years, man,” explains Cruz. “There’ve been a lot of moments in the course of our career where we thought we didn’t know how we were going to get through it, but the last couple years were pretty tough. I think that this record is a catharsis to that whole time in all our lives.“
Don’t let the “acoustic album” label fool you; Black Out The Sky is very much a Strung Out record, not just eight stripped down, straight-forward versions of Strung Out songs; the darkness and aggression that have become part of the band’s signature are still very much present. “Strung Out changed its guitar sound and it just happened to sound like this,” says Cruz. There’s also the fact that the band’s last album, Transmission.Alpha.Delta was so loud and intense that Cruz and the remaining band members felt it was time for a change of pace. “If your career’s a song, this is the breakdown before the big chorus (that comes next),” he reasons. “You can’t write another big, huge record right after that. To me, you had to do something like a buffer right in the middle of that to prepare for the next project.”
Strung Out’s guitar players, Rob Ramos and Jake Kiley, and bass player Chris Aiken have long been respected for the fast, aggressive, metal-influence that they bring to the punk rock table; it’s part of what has set Strung Out apart over the years. However, the switch to acoustic on Black Out The Sky puts the focus on the level of musicianship that exists within the band, an appreciation that only grows more intense with subsequent listens. “All three of them are the best guitar players in punk rock, to me,” states Cruz emphatically. “They’re phenomenal. I’m in awe of those guys. I shake when I have to show them an idea.” The added space gave Cruz the room to stretch his voice in some new ways, putting a real focus on the vocals and the lyrics. “What people don’t understand is that singing over loud, heavy metal guitars constrains you. When you take that out of the equation and you can actually hear the timbre of the voice, you have so much more wiggle room. A lot more is discovered in the singer’s voice when everything is a little naked, you know?”
You can check out our full chat down below; brace yourself for the Footloose and Alice In Chains portions of the conversation! Black Out The Sky is due out tomorrow on Fat Wreck Chords, and you can still order it here. Strung Out heads out on the road in support of Pennywise in a couple weeks; check out details here!