“Stratejacket, the nimble, punky alt-rock trio from California’s Bay Area, have had to learn the hard way that good things come to those who wait.
The band’s singer-guitarist, Jackson Roemers, and bassist, Fabian Angel, went to the same school but didn’t form a band until after graduation. The band, which formed in Sunnyvale, California in mid-2019, managed to play one gig before Covid-19 swept the planet, effectively putting a straitjacket on their moment. But at that gig, they spotted a drumming dynamo in another band, Nate Mangold, and decided to ask him to replace the one they’d been playing with. Since the three guys, all in their early twenties, had nothing to do while Covid lockdowns dragged on, they decided to gather in a warehouse and use the Great Pause to hone their skills. They just wish they could be playing gigs.
Instead of getting mad about it though, they spent the next year and a half writing songs, practicing, and gelling as bandmates. Occasionally, passersby would stop in the street to listen to what the trio was doing and some would even dance. Stratejacket decided to keep going. “A lot of the other bands we knew were breaking up because they couldn’t see each other,” Roemers says. “It was like, ‘Let’s just make it through the storm.'” Now Stratejacket are ready to make up for lost time on their debut album, which they gave a humorously self-deprecating title. “We call it Bad Start because we had such a bad start,” Roemers says. But listening to the record, you can tell they made the best of their bad start since they’re having so much fun.
Songs like the shout-at-the-heavens anthem “Bad Start,” the ultra-melodic “Be My Drug,” and chant-ready fight song “End of Time” contain skyscraper-high hooks, overflow with dark humor, and contain the sort of electric energy that has hyper-charged the Bay Area’s punk and alternative scenes for decades. “I hope we’re seen as a response to the overproduced music that’s coming out lately,” Roemers says. “We want to sound raw and stripped-down.” But even with sparse arrangements, the group finds catchy new textures within pop punk.
Part of the band’s secret is their diverse influences. Each of Stratejacket’s musicians has unique tastes that he’s sharing been with the others. Roemers is a Beatles obsessive, hence the big vocal hooks, and he also loves Led Zeppelin, the Fratellis, and, he says, “obviously” Green Day. Angel loves Elton John and alternative rock — especially Arctic Monkeys and the Black Keys — but he has also started banging his head since Mangold, whose tastes span folk to dubstep, has been playing him metal songs.
Roemers and Angel agree that Mangold, who came up with the Stratejacket name has open up the trio’s sound. He’s like, ‘Let’s do this feel for this song’ or ‘Let’s try this,'” Angel says. “And then we’ll hear the songs differently later on.”
One of the earliest songs they wrote was “Bad Start,” which they penned in 2020 when it really felt like they’d gotten a raw deal compared to their friends’ bands, who had been gigging for months and years before them. “I wonder if I’ll be OK,” Roemers sings, “Will I ever escape this place?” before segueing into a pile-driving chorus listing all the things he hopes to overcome: A small brain, a big heart, a shut mouth, a bad start. You’d almost feel sorry for him if the song weren’t so catchy.
“It’s kind of an homage to the Bay Area, snotty, kind of angry song,” he says, referring to bands like Green Day, Rancid, and AFI who were writing punk songs with big choruses around Stratejacket’s hometown years before they formed. “It was mostly just about a really bad day.” The track almost didn’t make the cut until they saw the reaction it got when they finally were able to play it for audiences. Now they’re naming the record after it.
“Be My Drug,” a coming-of-age song about trusting the girl who’s into you, contains even stronger melodies, as Roemers sings, “She said, ‘Be my drug tonight,'” letting his voice climb as high as the feeling he gets with the song’s protagonist, Angie. “Everyone has those moments where you’re like, ‘I don’t really want to do this thing but I’m kind of pressured to do it,'” Roemers says, “and then you do it and it’s really fun.” By the end, as Angel is singing along with Roemers, they sound like they’re all having fun.
They continued to explore the possibilities of melody on “Torch Up,” a more laidback song they wrote before the pandemic, which Roemers calls “the black sheep of the record,” since it’s the most straightforward rock song, complete with backup vocal harmonies underneath his voice as he sings, “Sometimes you gotta leave to come back home.” “It comes from my love for the Beatles,” he says.
“It doesn’t always have to be 1,000-mile-per-hour songs,” Angel adds.
Mangold also wrote some personal lyrics for the album on the slashing “Cut the Cord,” which he jokingly calls “a high school heartbroken love story” but admits it’s based on true experiences, and the tumultuous “Living a Lie.” “Sometimes I don’t see myself being fully myself sometimes around people, and I put on a façade,” he says. “So it’s about letting that go and just saying, ‘Fuck it, just be yourself.'”
That attitude also helped Stratejacket play some of their first shows since they had almost a guerilla approach to gigging. They’d drive all over San Francisco and play under bridges, on beaches, and in warehouses so they could hone their craft and get a handle on what works and what doesn’t in their songs. Playing in front of audiences prompted the musicians to take their own solos, like The Who did on “My Generation,” on “End of Time” and add “Hey! Hey! Hey” refrains to the song. “We wanted to have our own little Freddie Mercury ‘Hey-oh’ moment, and make it as fun as we can,” Angel says.
As they played more, they made friends in other bands, networked, and eventually met the folks who run Edgeout Records, which signed them in 2021. When they got to record with Howes at Vancouver’s Armoury Studios, it finally clicked with them how far they’d come.
“When we got in the studio, I remember Nate saying, ‘Yo, dude, this could be the best time of our lives ever,'” Angel says. “It’s just so sick to be with your two best friends, and you’re making fucking music together, and you’re in a different place. I never take it for granted.”
“The thing about Brian is he never made it feel like work,” Roemers says. “He was always just one of us. We looked up to him. He knows that we’re a punk and alternative rock band, and we’re making this fast, energetic album.”
As Bad Start shows, Stratejacket are proud to be a rock band. “When people hear the album, I hope they feel a little nostalgic,” Angel says. “Even though the music scene right now is dominated by pop, rock & roll is still alive. I want our listeners to feel like kids with guitars and basses in their bedrooms and that they’re not alone. I want them to know that there are still little bands that want to be big bands.”
That drive to succeed has propelled them even in their darkest days when they didn’t know when they’d be able to play another gig, let alone get a record deal or make an album. Through it all, they’ve maintained optimism and hopewhich has carried them over all the speed bumps along the way. “We were like, ‘We can come out of this pandemic and do whatever we want,'” Roemers says. “We have that time to really figure out what we want to be and figure out our sound. So when we started playing gigs, we were ready.”
Looking back at Stratejacket’s origins, they didn’t get such a bad start after all.”