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      Strung Out in Baltimore

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      September 26, 2019

      Thursday   8:00 PM

      2549 North Howard Street
      Baltimore, Maryland 21218

      Strung Out

      with The Casualties, Over Our Eyes
      If you listened to Songs Of Armor And Devotion with no prior knowledge of Strung Out, you probably wouldnt guess that the California band has been together for almost 30 years such is the intensity and fresh energy of these 13 songs. Produced by Cameron Webb, who was behind the helm of 2009s Agents Of The Underground, its a record that brims with the same ferocious fire the band had at the very start of its career when front man Jason Cruz was still a teenager, but which also demonstrates how far the California five-piece have evolved as songwriters, musicians and people.I dont want to be 19 years old again, says Cruz, but the fact that we still have that energy, but were not 19 years old is a real feather in our cap. Were older, but Im so grateful that I still have a lot to do. I hope people hear this record, and they know that were not tired, that I still have ideas.Those ideas flow throughout this record both musically and thematically, the vulnerability and uncertainty of Cruzs lyrics lying in stark contrast to the fierce and ferocious pummeling nature of its songs. That juxtaposition has always been present in Strung Outs songs, but for this record, that push and pull has become the central basis and focus of this record, as his heart and thoughts struggle to make sense of the chaos of the world at large. Thats not to say this album has the answers, but in analyzing everything, it offers the listener and Cruz himself the various contradictory paths of life that, hopefully, can lead to some kind of truth or understanding. Some songs can be armor: they can repel and they can guard you, explains Cruz. And they can also bring you comfort and speak of love and belonging to something. To be a good and gentle person, you have to put up a little bit of armor, but that armor never works, because youre so caring and sensitive and vulnerable, that your heart is going to be displayed on that armor anyway. There are so many thoughts and feelings in my head I think that with this album I just opened up the pen and let it go to explore the duality of having to defend and protect whats inside, and at the same time make it available for the world.Much of Cruzs vulnerability stems from the death of someone he was incredibly close to. Thats something which has exaggerated and exacerbated Cruzs emotional fragility and continues the spiritual and philosophical journey he says hes found himself on in recent years. At the same time, though, these songs are also infused with a spirit of hope and defiance.I lost my best friend six or seven months ago, explains Cruz. It was right before we started writing this record, and that really put a shadow on things. Some of these songs especially Monuments and Bloody Knuckles reflect that loss. But thats whats always made our band work. The music is this metal machine and then you get these vocals that express this vulnerability in a melodic way and theres love and theres searching in all that machine. This record starts out hopeful and then it kind of degrades. It sobers and ends with loss. But there are so many things on this record that Im still figuring it out.All those thoughts and feelings swirl together on this record as Cruz who refers to himself and his vulnerability as the flesh in the machine tries to find some sort of resolution. The moody Daggers tells a story of personal turmoil within the backdrop of an increasingly dystopian America, while the grief and sadness contained with Monuments is offset by the pulsating, defiant frenzy of the songs tune. Disappearing City blends a raucous energy with a sense of resignation but importantly not defeat, Under The Western Sky brims with Strung Outs trademark sense of melody and coruscating aggression, and the insistent ebb and flow of album closer Bloody Knuckles is ravaged with both a despair and a kind of beauty at the same time. Yet while these songs are fuelled by a power and aggression, the band completed by guitarists Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos, bassist Chris Aiken and new drummer (since 2018) RJ Shankle infused them with plenty of nuance, too. Some of that is thanks to the lessons learned from last years acoustic yet expansive acoustic EP Black Out The Sky, something Cruz says was a necessary step the band had to take in order to then make this record. Underneath it all, however, is the same desperate need to write these songs and get them out of his system.This opportunity Ive been given, and everything Ive been doing, I dont have any say in it, Cruz says. I dont have a choice. I have to fucking do this. I have things inside of me that swell up when I go through this, but its what people put into what they hear and what they then take out of it thats the magic. I need to do this, but if its not making a connection, I have no right to be here. My favorite part about America is the pain of the poor people and what they create out of it the culture that the poorest people of this country have created. From that came blues, jazz, rock n roll, and, to me, coming from nothing and creating something is everything to me. You can hear how that is how true that still is from the beginning to the end of Songs Of Armor And Devotion. Its a punk record, but its also much more than that. Its a political record that addresses the state were in, but at its core is a heart and humanity and a belief in that humanity that overrides everything else. Its pain and sadness and hope and rebellion all wrapped into one powerful statement that also serves as a culmination of the bands three decades together. And while the record sees Strung Out still writing at the height of their abilities, at the same time, when Cruz reflects back on these songs, he thinks they represent something monumental for the band, even if hes not entirely sure what that actually is.I find that its time for a new adventure, he says. I feel like Ive given what I needed to give to Strung Out. I feel like we did what we needed to do and its time to move on. Ive grown. Im not angry like I used to be I feel like this was the end of something, and now its time for a new life. I look back on the record and I think Done. For me personally, its a new beginning. We still have a lot left and as long as we listen to each other and we care about what each other has to say, I dont see an end for Strung Out. I just dont want to repeat things that Ive done. I cant write like that anymore.

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