Jason Cruz acknowledges that he felt like his band, Strung Out, had reached a bit of a crisis point before settling in to make its new album, Songs of Armor and Devotion.
Following the death of a close friend, the departure of drummer Jordan Burns and backlash from fans who didn’t like the acoustic nature of Strung Out’s 2018 EP, Black Out the Sky — “Enough shit to break up any band,” notes Cruz — the frontman and his bandmates indeed felt like “we were losing this, in a way … Not losing it, but it felt, like, threatened for the first time. We really had to prove ourselves.”
The good news is that Songs of Armor and Devotion, Strung Out’s ninth full-length, does just that, displaying a fiery renewal across its 13 tracks. “This record is just the band letting loose,” says Cruz, “just letting them go like a fucking wild animal to release the tension we felt. We just went at it like a fucking punching bag.”
Cruz credits replacement drummer RJ Shankle with bringing some welcome “new blood” to the highly adrenalized set, which blazes out of the gate with the double-time fury of “Rebels and Saints” and rarely lets its foot off the pedal, though the proggy intro to “Demons” is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.
“He’s hungry, and he’s got ideas,” says Cruz of Shankle. “He can take what we’re doing and add to it. We’re lucky to have someone who’s capable of what we’re doing and adding to it — that doesn’t come along very often. We all write, we’re all very creative; to have somebody who comes in and is young and hungry and hits like a fucking demon, who’s got a head and a heart and looks good on the drums, that’s a real blessing.”
Appropriately, Strung Out started working on Songs of Armor and Devotion during January for a fresh start in the new year, according to Cruz. Aided by producer Cameron Webb (Megadeth, Motörhead), the group came up with 18 songs during the first month, some inspired by the previously mentioned personal and band travails of the past couple of years and some, acknowledges Cruz, drawn from political and social issues.
“A lot of times you just write stuff, and you don’t know why you do it,” he says. “I think as you get older, maybe you get better at trusting what you do, what’s inside you. You don’t always know how you’re going to say things or why you say things. If you try to control too much, it becomes obvious and strained. So on this [album], there’s no control. I just let it flow and trusted it will reveal its meaning in time. If you know in your heart it’s good, then you just have to go with it.”
Strung Out hasn’t played much of Songs of Armor and Devotion live yet, but that will change when the group hits the road on Sept. 18 in Tampa, Fla., for multiple dates (many on the East and West Coast) that will be the harbinger of a larger-scale tour next year to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary. “There’s a bunch of ideas going around. It feels like it has been 300 years, but then I don’t remember half of everything, so it’s like 30 minutes,” says Cruz, laughing. “Every new record, every new cycle is a new life in some way, a new fling. I forget all the other stuff ’cause what’s happening is so fresh and new and exciting. To still be out there making new stuff and harnessing the kind of energy we are now feels really cool.”
See dates for Strung Out's upcoming North American tour here.