By Destin Piagentini
Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jason and Jordan from the pop-punk band Strung Short. In September, I sat down with Jordan to talk about his solo career (still writing the article on that one!). He offered me the chance to talk to the band about their upcoming self-titled debut album Strung Short, which will be released everywhere on November 20th. In researching for the interview with Jordan, I had heard some of the singles Strung Short had put out, and I was an instant fan. To me, the band reminded me of classic Blink-182 – a sound highly sought after but rarely replicated, as well as Strung Short had managed to do. That isn’t to say that the band doesn’t bring their talents to their music, but their influences were hard not to notice. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to talk about the album (which the band so graciously provided me a review copy for) and the band itself.
While Jordan and Jason trade-off on vocals for the Colorado Springs band, Jason plays the bass while Jordan plays one of the band’s guitars. The other half of the guitar personnel is completed by Devlon, who also lends his vocals in certain areas on the record. Finally, no band is complete without a drummer, and that is where the fourth and final member of Strung Short, Brooks, comes in.
The interview itself lasted about two and a half hours. Realistically, the interview should have been a lot shorter, but the three of us were insistent on using every possible opportunity to derail the conversation off the tracks (literally off of discussing the album’s tracks) and into the river. Nevertheless, it was a fun time all around, and speaking to the two bandmates was an honest-to-God pleasure. The camaraderie of the two musicians shone through really well in my time with them. Overall, the casual nature of it all made the experience a lot more enjoyable than any interview has any right to be. The band’s overall personality has a lot of charm, too. If you ever go to a Strung Short show, you’ll notice a green inflatable (drunk?) alien named “Frank” protecting the amplifiers as a cardboard Danny DeVito stares down the audience from the other side of the stage. It’s hard to spend any amount of time with the band and not be infected with that quirkiness.
But it’s a long road from where the band is today and where it was when it started. According to Jordan, Strung Short (the band) had existed as far back as February 2018, but the band’s core pillars didn’t come together until January 2019. When Jason was brought on that January, the band had already been throwing around a few ideas (the band’s first single “Better Off” existed as an instrumental during this time). Still, it was sorely in need of a drummer. Jason found the band through his guitar teacher, who mentioned that auditions were being held for a few student bands. “I practiced a good month and a half to get ready for auditions, and the guy who was doing the auditions ended up saying I would fit in pretty well with this group of people and told me that the drummer and I would probably get along because our music tastes are pretty similar.”
While Jason was trained in a lot of different music genres, his main loves came from metal. Slipknot, Metallica, and Avenged Sevenfold – to name a few (Jason thinks it’s corny he discovered Avenged Sevenfold through the Call of Duty: Black Ops games, I think it’s only natural). In fact, Jason first learned to play the guitar to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” a process both grueling and frustrating. Jason says he owes his mastery of rhythm to metal and the perfectionism such a difficult genre cultivates. Because of his love of metal, though, Jason wasn’t sure if he was prepared to cross into the pop-punk world. As the band was auditioning him, he was very much auditioning the band. But, once the audition started, Jason knew Strung Short was a new home: “From the second I got in there I ended up enjoying the song that we first played, and I thought ‘Yea, this is the group for me.’” At the time, though, the band had a third guitarist and vocalist. For Jason, he was almost sure that the lineup left little space for him. “In the end, I feel like that made me play better, though. I think that made me pick up the songs faster and practice harder.” Looking back, Jason’s hard work paid off, and he would cement himself as a permanent member of the band.
When Jason finally came on as a permanent member, he wrote the song “A Way Out,” the eighth track album. And that’s a little bit how the band operated during 2019, writing songs here or there and eventually walking into 2020 with everything written and ready to record. That isn’t to say the band didn’t release music in 2019, though. There were quite a few singles released periodically over the year, including “Better Off” in March 2019. They worked with producer Schylar Wescott in his studio for their first single, a great experience, they said. The band has a lot of respect for Wescott, who was the first to suggest Jason add his vocals to the band. While they were certainly proud of the work they put out during that year, though, the band viewed their debut album as an opportunity to revise their work and add a fine coat of paint over the songs they’d put out thus far as well as adding to their library with some new additions. There was a lot of excitement going into the recording of the album early this year.
What came from that excitement was, as I mentioned, something very pop-punk and something that’ll evoke fond memories for old-school Blink-182 fans. While there are experimentations into other genres (no doubt), the bulk of the album shows love for a kind of pop-punk that’s been sidelined by the top contemporary bands in the genre. Its fun rests in its simplicity – in its catchy riffs and heart-on-sleeve lyrics. The band keeps each song tight and doesn’t rely on distractions to carry a song to its finish. Heavy metal guitar solos, music production trickery, and show-off vocals aren’t needed when you’re confident in the content of your instrumentals, lyrics, and voice.
The first three tracks off the album (“Tonight,” “Parking Lots,” and “Lost Angeles”) are my favorites off the album, and each spotlight a different member of the band (Jordan, Jason, and Devlon, respectively), an intentional introduction to the album according to Jordan: “Our whole thing with the first three songs was because we have three vocalists. We wanted to have one song that was kind’ve heavy on each band member. Our drummer Brooks doesn’t sing, but there’s a lot of cool drumming parts in ‘Parking Lots’ that he was doing.” Jason adds, “I really love the intro he did with ‘Tonight’ as well.”
“Tonight,” being the first song on the album, holds the weight of being an introduction to not only the album but the band itself. You’ll hear Brooks’ drums before the punchy guitars kick in. Jordan’s verses are short, as a nice push-and-pull between the lyrics and instrumental carry the song along. The lyrics evoke the same feeling of catching up with an old friend and uses a sense of time well in doing so: “I’ve been riding on this high for four days / I can’t believe it’s turned out this way / Thing’s are going better than I planned / But I can wait for one more day.” Jordan credits Devlon for the riff to the song but says his girlfriend inspired the lyrics. It’s a happy song, and, on its own, it’ll put anyone in a good mood. It’s a good initial representation of the band, showing each member working at their absolute best (Jason prides himself on the harmonies) – which is probably why the band is pushing it as their “big single of the album.” Jason, comparing it to Blink-182’s 2003 hit “Feeling This” (the big promotional single of their 2003 self-titled album), shows just how much Strong Short is following in those footsteps.
The next song, “Parking Lots,” is more influenced by Jason. “It’s a breakup song I wrote about a girl who I was sick of being with because she would do nothing but fucking bring me down.” The song came out of an “EP in a day” challenge Jordan and Jason wanted to do in which they’d create an entire EP within just one day. “I just sat down, wrote it on my phone, and was like ‘Fuck it, this sounds cool.’ It’s more like a typical punk type of deal.” While there was only one verse at that point, Jason revisited the song for the album and developed it into what it is today. As Jason said, it’s a bit more punk than pop, but it manages to find a nice enough balance between the two styles to make it feel right at home on the record. Though the guitars sound a bit heavier than the song’s predecessor, Jason’s voice takes the lead here so much so that there aren’t even any vocal harmonies aside for the last word of the song. It’s a worthy introduction to Jason.
If Jordan passes the baton to Jason in “Parking Lots,” “Lost Angeles” is Jason passing it to Devlon. This song and “Parking Lots” were the only two songs to be written this year – the rest of the album took shape across 2019. Despite Devlon taking the main vocals here, Jordan wrote the lyrics for this one. Devlon has a great performance here (and I think his voice mixes well with the other aspects of the song). Still, Jason told me that the band made a conscious effort to give him the confidence to take the song on: “He for sure needed to be hyped up because he has a great voice, and he’s a great guitar player, and he just needs to, like, get himself more out there.” It paid off. This song is probably my favorite on the album and has just a great flow to it all around. I told Jordan and Jason not to take offense that I was picking this as my favorite. “I don’t take offense, I’m the one who wrote it!”
The albums’ fourth song, “Don’t Let Me Go,” was a little bit of a struggle on all fronts. The song is fast, and the opening riff was hard to record cleanly. The lyrics were also hard to nail down, and the band even basically accidentally recreated an Alkaline Trio song (“Donner Party” if anyone’s curious) writing the song’s instrumentals. Interestingly, the lyrics predate the band itself and are carried over from one of Jordan’s old projects. “It’s a fun song, like the mood and everything, it was just a pain in the ass to write lyrics for. It’s not like I have bad memories associated with it or anything, it’s just one of the one’s I’m very tired of hearing [from playing it over and over again trying to perfect it].”
“Interlude” marks the album’s midpoint. It’s a song without lyrics, but with an instrumental, that builds as the song goes on. I was always curious by an artist’s decision to include these interlude type of songs in the middle of albums (again, Blink-182’s 2003 album did it too), so Jordan explained their decision: “We wrote this song, and ended up being really short, and there was no room for us to put vocals or anything. So it would be a cool little segue.” Jason adds that a lot of the bass work in the song was influenced by listening to Iron Maiden that morning. The two also note that it’s the fastest song on the album in terms of tempo. While Jordan says “Interlude” is basically an excuse for him and Devlon to do “cool guitar shit,” the song’s placement at the midpoint was also intentional. The decision to end the song on a D minor chord (instead of a D major) was intended to signal the arrival of the album’s darker half. So, while the song seems like just a cool instrumental, it has some planned intention.
If the chord change at the end of “Instrumental” wasn’t a clue that the album was headed into darker territory, the name of the next song – “Voodoo Doll” – might be. Jordan told me privately that this song was one of the ones the band was most proud of, and it’s definitely a standout on the record for me. “It was written lyrically really quickly – the last song we wrote on the album – and it’s funny because it was one of our oldest songs, the second song instrumentally we ever wrote.” Jason particularly gushes about Devlon’s guitar solo: “Oh my God, it adds so much to the song. I feel like it wouldn’t be as punchy as it is without that solo.” The song, lyrically, draws a lot from Chicago-based punk band Alkaline Trio, with a few other influences. While Jason credits himself for a lot of the creativity on this song and the next, Jordan adds to the mix in his own way. Specifically – and this is something you won’t be able to hear very clearly on the album – Jordan closes the song with “666 within my eyes / Cross my heart, hope I fucking die.” A little edgy, but not “metal fucked up,” according to Jason. As someone who doesn’t listen to metal, I’ll take his word for it. Though, that backing vocal caps off the song with excitement that, despite all three vocalists contributing a verse, never gets too messy to appreciate.
The album’s seventh song, “Oblivion,” is Jason leaning fully into his metal background. The result is an experimental mixture of pop-punk and metal – one that works better than it has any right to. A lot of that success is thanks to Jason, who brings his vocal A-game on the track, screaming loudly in the classic metal fashion to offset Jordan’s pop-punk lyrics and melody. But this performance didn’t come easy for Jason. “’ Oblivion’ was the last song we finished on the album. I got all my vocals done on the day we recorded the instrumental, and it took Jason, if I’m not mistaken, four sessions [over the course of a month] to record his vocals for this song.” But, looking past the bad memories of recording it, there’s a lot to be proud of here. Jordan claims it is his favorite chorus that he ever wrote and gloats about adding some piano five minutes before finishing the album’s mix. In the end, we’re left with a song that uses its volume wisely, being loud when it needs to and offsetting it with quieter pop-punk melodies. These peaks give the song a type of movement different from the rest of the album, accentuating the band’s darker tendencies. It’s a great song. Just don’t expect them to play it live very often.
The eighth song, “A Way Out,” is another Jason-heavy song, pioneering the vocals on this one. In general, though, this song was still a team effort with everybody contributing – you can credit Devlon for the guitar riff. The song’s about one of Jason’s past relationships that went sour. “The vocals were literally just a mix of stress and anger I was feeling at the time. It was around the time of the SATs, I wasn’t sleeping, I was with somebody who was a fucking nightmare, who was just making everything difficult for me. She made me feel like shit about myself, she made me feel all bad, and took away that perfect image I had of her.” The title is a suicide reference, although Jason said it never actually got to that point. Jason also told me that the song got a rewrite just before the band’s first concert. While they may not have good memories of that first show, they’re happy with the surviving incarnation of the song. “It slaps,” says Jordan. “It do,” adds Jason.
The album’s penultimate song, “Forgotten,” is, according to Jason, heavily inspired by the band Angels & Airwaves (a band formed from former Blink-182 guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge). “I wanted to add a little bit more effects to [the guitar at the time of writing], but I’m glad I didn’t. I wanted to add delay and reverb to it, because at the time I was listening to a lot of Angels & Airwaves – like I just found out about Angels & Airwaves and I was getting really fucking into them. So that’s why this song also has a little bit more metaphors, because it’s very Angels & Airwaves inspired.” The song, like many Angels & Airwaves songs, is on the sentimental side. In true pop-punk fashion, it’s about an emotional breakup and coming through on the other end of that. “It’s kind of about moving on and realize that you’re sad, but you’re just gonna be forgotten by this person. . . For a lot of people, I feel like if you’re going through a rough time, this might be your support song. That’s what I like to feel it as.”
But, as great as “Forgotten” is, if there’s one song the band’s synonymous with, it’s the album’s closing track “Better Off.” As I’ve mentioned, this song was the first single the band had ever put out and the first song that came together with all the band members. When Jason first joined the band, this is the song they would test him with. Although it’s gone through evolutions since then, as Jordan explains: “It’s funny, I remember this song had completely different lyrics and a completely different melody when our original vocalist was in the band. But this song now is probably one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written. It has a lot of meaning to me. It’s the definitive song about my ex-girlfriend. I wrote a whole album about her, and this is still the definitive song.” Though it was a first for the band, they always play it at the end of their shows, making sense why it would close out an album they wanted to model after those setlists. Through the changes over the past few years, the band is happy having this song be the final word – the lasting memory if you will – of the band for now. Jason says, particularly about the song’s (and album’s) ending audio feedback, “It feels like we’re all just walking off, we threw our shit on the ground, and we’re done. We’re accepting it.”
Besides having an all-around good flow in its tracklisting, the band says the album tells a story in its own way, as Jordan begins to say: “This album feels like-” Jason interrupts, “The start and fall of a relationship.” “-it’s sort of like you hit ‘Interlude,’ and it’s the stages of grief, almost. Once you’re past ‘Interlude’ – ‘Interlude’ is really fast and really happy, and then you get into ‘Voodoo Doll’ and ‘Oblivion’ and ‘A Way Out’ and all those songs are really angry. And then ‘Forgotten’ is really sad and depressing. And then ‘Better off’ is… yea.” Jason finishes the discussion: “It could easily be a concept album if somebody somewhere was listening to it and decided to write a story to it. You can very much get that from this fucking album.”
Now that the album’s done, Jason says he’s excited to work with Jordan on his solo album. “[It’ll] be a mix of anarcho-punk, a bit of stuff about aliens, stuff about general things going on the world.” Jordan butts in: “It’s like if the Misfits and Dead Kennedys had sex.” “I’d say more Anti-Flag than Dead Kennedys, ‘cuz I fucking hate Dead Kennedys.” Dangerous words for a punk rocker. As for the album itself, as noted before, it’ll be out everywhere on November 20th. I asked why the band decided to name the album after their band. Jordan said, “We felt like this is us as a band. These 10 songs are just who we are.” Jason added to that, “It’s just like a lot of bands who just want to get their name out and put it on the album. It’s just like putting your name on something. You’re proud of it, you want people to know that this is you.”
The album is so Do-It-Yourself (DIY) that it’s difficult to say the album isn’t the embodiment of them both individually and as a group. This is their baby, and they worked extremely hard on it from every aspect. The band’s putting it out through a company Jordan founded and partly owned, Jordan and Jason produced it themselves, and Jordan even drew the album art. For now, the band wants to stick to its DIY roots, rejecting the idea of “selling out” to a label (“I’m not a fucking conformist!” they jokingly say) who would influence their creativity. They’re happy to keep doing this as long as people will listen, and any suggestion that they’re motivated by money has no basis in reality.
The band hopes to eventually add another record to the Strung Short collection down the line, and they’re excited at the thought (they want to knock down another in under a year, barring any new global pandemics, of course). But, for now, you can hear the band’s debut album – titled simply Strung Short – on November 20th everywhere you listen to music. A huge thanks to the band for sitting down with me and for being such good sports. I’m excited for them.