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:: Spotlight :: Strung-Out - interview with guitarist Jake Kiley

By: Billy Stathopoulos

In some ways Strung Out is not your typical punk band. For one thing, they don’t define themselves as purely “punk”, and their own musical influences are not confined to any one genre of music. Originally forming in 1992, the band now has six album releases under their belt and can boast over a decade of success on the otherwise disposable Southern Californian music scene.

With an immense appetite for touring, they have developed into a dynamic live act with a solid world-wide fan base. On the eve of their latest Australian tour, I had a chat with the Strung Out guitarist Jake Kiley, surviving in the fickle world of music, setting their own rules, and just what exactly makes the Australian fans so special. Jake is at his producer’s house, working on some new songs, and getting some pre-production done for their next record.

The band has such a loyal fan base here in Australia, and you guys are actually heading to our shores again in June. You must love touring. You do it so much.

Oh yeah. I love it.

What keeps you going and coming back for more?

Well, we really do have to tour. I mean, for us, this band is our life, you know. We don’t work other jobs, day jobs and stuff. So for us to really keep it existing and keep doing it we’ve got to tour pretty much half the year. That brings in enough cash for us to be able to live the other half of the year and do what we want. So, it’s cool. For me, travelling, I love it to much. For me, to get away and play shows in front of people from other parts of the world and make new friends and you know, just get to see other places that I’ve only read about, for me, that’s like the coolest thing in life. Even if we had no fans, I’d still be touring. I would do this no matter what. I’ve learnt so much from it all. I’m constantly seeing new things from it. I would tour if I was a multi-millionaire. I would tour if no-one even liked my band, you know. I’m in this forever. It’s what I love.

Do the fans at your shows differ from country to country? Are some crazier than others? What are Aussie fans like?

Oh, you definitely see some differences. I mean, Australia is just amazing. It’s so good for us, our fans there are super loyal and go nuts, have a great time at the shows, they’re really cool and positive kids. We don’t have a lot of fights at the shows. We don’t have to deal with attitudes. You do see some of that, like the US is a lot more tough-guy oriented, there’s a lot more scenesters at the shows, and they’ll only come to see like one band and then they’ll leave. You get a lot of narrow-minded, close-minded people that think they know everything in America, and sometimes in other countries too. But it seems when you get out of here you find more open-minded people, somewhat.

Strung Out has toured so much on their own and as part of big tours, alongside other bands. What are the deciding factors when choosing cities to play and people to tour with? Do you just go where the love is, or is it a bit more calculated and thought-out?

Well, we get together with our booking agent and really figure out like the best thing for the tour. As far as where we go, we want to go anywhere that will have us. We don’t really ever exclude anywhere, and if it’s possible, and we can get there without spending so much money that it doesn’t make it worth it, then we’re going to do it. That’s really the only factor in that, just where can we get, and how soon can we get there. As far as touring with others, we meet cool bands on the road and you end up clicking with them, and then you’ll ask to play out with those guys. Sometimes, you just hear someone that’s really cool and sticks in your head, and you can try to get them on the show. A lot of times though, we make friends just from meeting bands that we’ve never even heard of, and then you watch them and you get to love them, and you make friends with the guys. Some of our best friends we’ve made on the road that way.

The band is practically doing back-to-back shows while here. You’ll be here for two weeks with a few days off in between. Apart from the shows themselves, what are you looking forward to doing most when you make it down here? Is there any time for relaxation?

Oh, anything I can. I mean, definitely eat some meat pies. I’m looking forward to getting some good pies. All kinds of stuff. Drinking some Coopers and going to the beach a bit. I mean, we have a lot of friends down there. We’ve made some amazing friends over the years. Hopefully we’ll be having some after-parties, have kids come back to our hotel after the show and just get wasted and have fun.

As far as partying goes, do you guys still do it much these days, or are you conscious that you may have a gig to play tomorrow?

Well, yeah you’ve got to balance it. You have to use a little bit of restraint. That’s something that I kind of figured out how to do for myself a few years back. You can have a good time, you can let loose, but you’ve got to keep yourself in good condition to play the next night. In that case, I’ll usually have a few drinks after the show, and I smoke a lot of mal. Me and our bass-player Chris are pretty much always on that. But outside of that, I mean, we’re pretty mellow. The other dudes don’t really party very hard. I mean, we’ve had days when we did, but you know, you learn the hard way. There were shows where I didn’t even want to go onstage the next night because I got so wasted the night before. But that’s not fair to the people who are paying to see you, and it’s not why I’m out on the road. So, you know, those nights still creep up on you, you just never know what can happen. I like to keep my options open at all times, but I do try to really be a bit more responsible. If that’s all I have to do, play a show for a few hours every day, then I don’t think it’s too hard to accomplish.

Los Angeles has a reputation for being that clichéd, shallow and superficial place. Is that just a major generalisation, or is it pretty spot on?

Well, there’s definitely some of that here, but I think that exists anywhere, or to some degree, you know. Anywhere you go, you’re going to find people that are in love with themselves and think they’re the coolest thing in the world, and they’ve probably never left their town, and that’s just their distorted perception. I wouldn’t strictly limit it to the west coast of America, or America in general or anything. Those people exist just everywhere. I mean, you meet some really cool kids out here. Southern California is a great place. I’m so glad I grew up here. As far as the music scene, there are all kinds of clubs to play, there’s a whole lot. I don’t know how so many bands have come out of this area, but it seems to be one of the epicentres for punk rock and metal, and you know, it’s cool to be a part of that, to see new bands coming up, and taking what we’ve done and adding to it and doing things a bit differently. So yeah, you know, there’s good and band out here, for sure.

How do you personally release stress and kick back when you are back home in Southern California? What do you do when you’re not working?

I just chill at home, I watch a lot of movies. I give guitar lessons and stuff like that. I read about history a lot. I’m always online looking up World War II battles and s**t like that. I’ve got like so many other interests. I love guitars and the band, but outside of this, I have a whole bunch of other interests too. When you’re off the road, it’s kind of like clearing your head of all that, and I don’t go to a bunch of shows when I’m home because it’s just redundant to me. That’s like my working environment, so I don’t really want to go to, and it kind of sucks because that’s what I used to love to do, but now I don’t really have that same enjoyment. But it’s only because I’m on the road like half the year, and I get to go to so many shows, that I just get swamped. So, when I’m home it’s not really that fun. I’d rather just chill with some friends and like hang out and get some drinks and just kind of have fun.

Speaking of outside interests, you say in your online bio that your interests include, amongst other things, German cars and German war stuff. So tell me, where does this fascination with all things German come from?

Gosh, yeah, ever since I was little, I’ve had this huge fascination with World War II, and armour men, fighter planes, and things like that. My grandfathers were in the war and they’d always tell me stories. Things like that. So, that engrained it when I was really young, and to this day it’s the most amazing time of the last 100 years to me, and I’m just really intrigued by a lot of that. The decisions that were made in that era, and the results, and how close things were to not working out the way they did. I’m very fascinated by that. Not just strictly World War II, all kinds of different things in history. It’s a big interest of mine.

In terms of music, is there much planning that goes into a new ‘Strung Out’ album, or do you guys just get together, hang out, and see what flows?

Well, you kind of plan like, “Oh , let’s hope to be this far along in six months” and “let’s hope by this point we have this much together”. Usually we’ve worked it out where we’re pretty good at calling the shots these days. We can usually tell how far away we are from getting a release together and getting the songs all prepared. We don’t stress on it too much. We’re a band that’s been around long enough to where we know that we’re not putting out this huge top-ten album for our next record, you know. It’s going to do what it’s going to do, our fans are going to buy it. We’re not in a rush against the trends or anything like that, we don’t feel like we need to get our next record out in six months or else this type of music’s gone away or anything. So, I think we’re just going to take our time and make sure it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.

It's been twelve years since your first release on Fat. Did you ever think you would still have so much to offer after so many years? Do you still pinch yourself that you've reach the level of success that you have?

Oh yeah man, it blows me away. Every time we go out, and every day I wake up and I realise that this is what we get to do. Every time we play a show and the kids are there and they show up, it blows me away. I forget about it sometimes, because when I’m not on the road I don’t live my life to be in the public eye, so I just kind of do my thing. Then it’s like, “Oh my God, I forgot! My band is like crazy, people love it!” So, sometimes it slips your mind that how much this means to other people. It just blows me away, because we just wanted to write music for ourselves that we liked, and to have other people like it just as much is awesome.

You got a taste of pop chart success when ‘An American Paradox’ entered the Billboard Top 200. Is that kind of success something you strive for, or is it just cool when it happens?

Yeah, I mean, if it comes along, cool, but that’s the least of our concerns. If all our fans are happy and they’re still into us, and they’re not scrubbing their tattoos off their arms – that’s what’s important to me. The pop-charts and listings and whatever-the-hell is going on with press and magazines, I don’t know. I really don’t get involved with that because that’s just here today, gone tomorrow and if you start paying attention to it, it kind of screws with your head. For me, I know we’re on the right track, I know we’re doing the right thing. So, I’m just believing the same things I’ve always felt.

The word success, it’s not just about sales and numbers, like you said. What does success mean to you?

To me, success is creating something that you can live with, that you’re proud of. It’s built upon what you’ve done and true to it. If we put out a record and it sold a million copies, but it didn’t represent anything Strung Out has ever done, and it wasn’t the music I felt in my heart, I don’t know. That’s not even success to me. That’s terrible. You have to live with that, you know? I’d have to live with being popular because of something I don’t even believe in. To me, that would be the worst-case scenario. I don’t care if our next record sells ten copies. It would probably be the last record we’d get to make, but it would be something I know I could still live with. If I’m happy with it, then that’s the only important thing. I can’t write for even our fans, because if we read like our message boards, half our fans say they like these songs, and they don’t like these, the other half are saying the opposite, they like those songs and they hate these! It’s cool, I’ll listen to it, I’ll take it all in, I’ll appreciate it, but at the end of the day, it all has to fall on our shoulders. We are the ones in charge of this, and we have to deal with the results.

Absolutely. You have to like the material you’re playing out on the road. You have to live with that because you’ll be playing that material for the next year or so.

Exactly. If you put out something you don’t like, if it fails, then you’re like, “Well, s**t, I didn’t even believe in it in the first place, so maybe I could have made it better”. If it succeeds, then you have to live with that success, and you have to play songs you don’t even like every night. I don’t know which is worse dude, but I don’ want any piece of either of that.

There’s going to be someone reading this interview that wants to form a band, play guitar professionally, and get a record deal. What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give to that person? How did you get started?

I would say, buy a time-machine and go back to about 1975, because the days of doing it like that have pretty much gone, as far as I can say (Laughs). I’m sorry and I hate to ever sound negative. I don’t want to ever discourage someone for going with their heart, but the music industry thing, it’s a pile of crap, man. The industry sucks. The people in charge of who’s getting what promotions and who is getting played, they suck. They don’t know a thing about it. I mean, talented people just get chewed up in this grinder every day and it just breaks hearts and crushes dreams. So, we’ve been so lucky man, I don’t know how we got this lucky. We’ve been so fortunate to have had a solid career now for twelve years. We’ve never been a part of MTV or nothing, but the important things have been there for us. Even today, it’s just a different scene from when we started. I would say just write stuff for yourself, write music that is getting something off your chest, that’s therapy for you, that’s doing you some good that you can really believe in and feel better after you play. And do it for fun, do it with your buddies for the right reasons. If you get huge off it man, then, fucking awesome. If you make albums off of it, then great. But dude, it’s almost unrealistic. I don’t know how to give advice, because the best bands that I’ve seen have just been destroyed, and the biggest piece of fakes I’ve seen have just gone huge. So I don’t know dude, buy a time-machine if you can (Laughs).

What makes a good guitarist? Discipline must be a big part of it?

Discipline and an open mind. Creativity. I mean, it’s all important. You want to have some discipline to create your skills and get some playing together. But I don’t like guys who are overly analysing theory, and who get way caught up in like the theory-end of stuff. Not being able to play certain things and put rules on their music. To me, that’s what kind of turns me off to things. Like, right now, I’m working with our producer who knows everything about theory that I don’t know. So, it’s so awesome to be able to work with him and have him take my ideas and make them work better, smooth them out and stuff and show me things that I’ve never learnt. It’s good to know some theory, it’s good to practice, but I think it’s most important to have an open mind about music and write what you hear in your head. Don’t put rules on yourself. I don’t think music should be like that. It’s emotions. It’s feelings. It’s a visual sometimes. You can create visuals with music. Sometimes, that’s what inspires me. I get a picture in my head and I try to capture that feeling of that picture. So, you want be equal parts. A player and an artist.

With all the, quote-unquote, punk boy bands out there, do you think ‘punk’ has kind of become a dirty word, or would you say the two have nothing to do with each other?

Yeah, it has nothing to do with like the origins of punk. What punk used to be was an attitude. It was an anti-establishment, individuals, just a piss-in-the-face-of-society attitude. That doesn’t exist anymore, here in America at least. Punk rock here is just a fashion term. It’s just a marketing gimmick. It’s lost any soul. I don’t like to even refer to ourselves as punk. It’s just weird. Hardcore, punk rock and that used to be what you could turn to, to escape the maintstream, and now that it is the mainstream, it has this really weird and eerie feeling. I see like $150 girls’ nice dresses with big Metallica shit cut out and put on it. Like, oh my God. If I was fifteen and someone told me this is how the mainstream was going to be, I might have even thought it was cool at the time, like “oh my God, metal’s going to be everywhere, it’s going to be like New Kids On The Block”, but dude, what it’s really done has made it so lame, that I’m embarrassed to wear the s**t that I used to be so proud of. Everybody else has just taken it and destroyed it and they’ve just made it that it’s not what I grew up loving.

You‘ve been described as a 'melodic punk’ band. How would you define your sound? Or is it best left undefined?

I don’t know. The attitude of it has kept it punk-rock, because we never gave a f**k about whatever. We just wrote the songs we liked and did them on our own terms. When people said we can’t mix metal with punk”, we did. When people told us you can’t do this, we’ve always gone against that. I think maybe that has put us in the punk-band label. For me, it’s about trying to make music that we love. It’s rock and roll. That’s the only way I can summarise it, because I don’t like to compare it to other things and classify it. It’s got elements of so much to it. It’s equal parts Sting, as it is, like, Bad Religion, as it is Slayer, so, I don’t know.

Strung Out Australia/New Zealand dates (presented by Blue Murder Touring)

June 10 - Come Together Festival in Sydney, NSW
June 11 - Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
June 12 - Yallah Roadhouse, Wollongong, NSW
June 14 - The Arena, Brisbane, QLD
June 15 - Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast, QLD
June 16 - Sands Tavern, Maroochydore
June 17 - Huon Quays, Hobart, TAS
June 18 - Hi Fi Bar, Melbourne, VIC
June 20 - Unibar, Adelaide, SA
June 21 - The Foundry, Cannington, WA
June 22 - Prince of Wales, Bunbury, WA
June 23 - The Capital, Perth, WA
June 25 - University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT
June 27 - Dux de Lux, Queenstown, New Zealand
June 28 - Refuel, Dunedin, NZ
June 29 - The Shed and Jetset Lounge, Christchurch, NZ (two shows)
June 30 - Kings Arms, Auckland, NZ
July 1 - Indigo, Wellington, NZ

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