by Stepan Soroka
By the time Chris Aiken joined Strung Out in 1999, the band had already put out three full length albums and cemented themselves as the leaders of a global wave of fast, technical, and melodic punk rock. Through “the power of the universe,” as he describes it, the California-based musician went from listening to Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues alone in his room to touring the world and recording multiple albums for seminal San Francisco record label Fat Wreck. It happened in a “divine order,” and filling the shoes of ousted bass player, songwriter, and lyricist Jim Cherry was only the natural thing for the guitarist to do.
“I was tripping out that I got to be on stage with Strung Out. It was crazy!” Aiken says. And when the band dropped their Element of Sonic Defiance EP in June 2000, the rest of the world got to trip out on Strung Out’s progressive and aggressive reimagining of the California punk rock sound. Following in their own footsteps of unconventionality, Strung Out’s most recent offering is an acoustic EP titled Black Out the Sky, a bold statement for a band whose appeal is often attributed to the heavy metal tinge they colour their punk songs with. Equal parts stripped down and intricately layered, Black Out the Sky is the kind of dark meditation on the failing heart of the American dream that only Strung Out can articulate.
“We always like to grow, and push, and be fearless,” Aiken says of the band, emphasizing that risk is an integral part of what makes Strung Out who they are. “If we kept putting out Twisted by Design for 20 years we’d be fucking shooting ourselves in the head. We’d be so bored.”
When pressed for a favourite album from the band’s illustrious catalogue, Aiken explains that it is yet to be written.
“My favourite record is in the future. I’m chasing it right now. I’m trying to grab it but it’s always ahead of me.” Listening to Strung Out’s break-neck, tumultuous compositions, this sense of urgency becomes palpable.
As with any great art, the evolution of the product coincides with personal growth. While Strung Out is a band that is associated with fast times, for his part Aiken is approaching six years of being drug- and alcohol-free.
“I’m super grateful for where I’m at right now. I wouldn’t change the bad and I wouldn’t change the good,” he says about his choices. “I do approach the music with a different level of tenderness.” Nonetheless, listening to Strung Out’s newer material still feels like a rush of amphetamine racing up your spine.
And though Black Out the Sky was a slight departure from their sound, Strung Out makes it clear that it is only a taste of heavier things to come.
“We’re working on the next record already. Our goal is to get in around January and start recording,” Aiken says. “We’re taking the next step forward. We’re not pulling over to the side of the road. We’re not breaking down. We’re going to keep moving forward no matter what.” And it’s up to us if we want to come along for the ride. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be a fast one.
Strung Out plays the Rickshaw Theatre (Vancouver) on October 12, the Starlite Ballroom (Edmonton) on October 15, and Dickens Pub (Calgary) on October 16