Punk Rock & Moto with Strung Out's Jordan Burns
Words by Vince Eager | Photos by Denise Borders & Louis Ramos
How could the most unlikely person help to shape modern motocross? It’s doubtful that Jordan Burns will ever land a spot in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. There’s no national championship to his credit, no manufacturing firm bearing his name. But there’s simply no denying what he–the drummer from the independent band, Strung Out, which happened to be a fan of the sport–managed to do by combining two outliers of Southern California culture: punk-rock and moto.
Tell me a little about how you got involved in the moto industry, Jordan.
That would go back to being a little kid. I was always into BMX bikes and dirtbikes, but my parents wouldn’t let me have a motorcycle. I was fully deprived and was not allowed to have a motorcycle. [Laughs.] I would always see kids riding in the hills and would be the pesky kid asking, “Can I try your motorcycle?” I was always into it, but didn’t get my first motorcycle until I was older and able to buy it by myself. It wasn’t actually a dirtbike, but was a Honda XL350 that I still have today. That’s pretty much the roots of me getting into it.
You obviously have an acclaimed background in the music industry with your band, Strung Out. Where did your punk-rock roots stem from?
My parents threw a choice at me. I don’t think a motorcycle was ever in the mix, but they asked, “Would you like a drum set or [to] save some money for school or a car?” And I was like, “I want a drum set.” We didn’t have a whole lot of money or anything, but that was where the money went. I wanted a brand-new drum set, and they made me rent a drum set for three months before I ever got to buy mine. They wanted to make sure that drumming was something I would continue to do, not something I would start and then be over, like kids can be.
So you have been playing music your whole life?
I have been playing music, and started playing punk rock when I was 15. I got my first kit after renting one and took lessons for a while. And bam, here I am.
Tell me a little bit about your view on how your music has influenced the motocross industry, particularly with the Moto XXX movies.
I was in my band, Strung Out, which I had joined in 1993, and we got signed to Fat Wreck Chords. About that same time, Kenny Watson was my roommate, and Erik Sandin [the drummer for NOFX] and I had this idea of making a movie. Through Kenny, I met all of the riders and built some great relationships and friendships. That was my goal: to familiarize our music with all of these different riders. Back in the early ’90s, a lot of the motocross riders were still in the mullet stage and wearing Wranglers. No one was really familiar with punk rock in those early days. You had some old-schoolers that did know about us, but I don’t think the general motocross rider knew.
Erik and I came from the punk-rock scene and had seen all of the snowboard, surf, and skate videos that were all really cool and edgy, with snowboard videos like Whiskey. We’d watch some of the motocross videos that were out and they were so embarrassing. Those were the kinds of videos that made me think we had to make one, but we’d make it more along the lines of the surf, skate, and snow scene. We were friends with all of these bands, but I don’t think we directly thought, “We’re going to introduce punk rock to motocross!” It wasn’t a specific or direct thought at the time, but when I look back on it, and without patting ourselves on the back, I do believe that with Strung Out, Erik, Kenny, and myself had a first hand in it with the Moto XXX video. I really do believe that. It was something brand new back then and people started to latch onto that type of music. Now you look where things went and it really blew up for a long time until everyone kooked out with dubstep and all the other crap.
What is the perception of moto amongst some of the other punk bands out there?
I never really picked up on it, or if they were into it; I don’t necessarily remember. It seemed like Byron [McMackin, the drummer] from Pennywise was into it, and Rory [Koff, the drummer] from No Use for a Name seemed to be into riding and snowboarding. But once again, and I don’t mean to pat ourselves on the back, but I really believe that with Strung Out and the Moto XXX video we opened up a lot of different bands to this scene. We were just connected with so many bands and back then were just handing out our VHS tapes to everyone to blow it up with all of the different band members that we knew. It was fresh and brand new and exciting. And of course you had the Crusty Demons, which came out and jumped on using a little bit of punk-rock music, and Strung Out had a song on there.
I just think that all that type of stuff gave everything new exposure, and I think it worked in a vice-versa manner. The whole punk-rock attitude and the music that was involved was exposing motocross to the music scene, and the motocross was exposing all of the punk rockers and the music. It was collectively generating momentum for this whole scene that was pretty much untouched at the time. That’s why it was wide open back then, and there was a lot of energy and edge. A lot of people weren’t sure what to make of it, but there was an underground scene and that shit exploded.
Strung Out has been making music for more than 20 years now. What’s it like to be a musician now compared to back in the ’90s?
The thing for me is that I see a band blow up, like Rise Against. We took them on their first two tours, and the next [thing] you know they are among the biggest bands in the world. You struggle in your head to think, “What was it about them?” I’m jealous, but it’s a proud envious to see everything they have accomplished. Like, back in the day, Blink 182 was just called Blink and we saw them open a bunch of shows for other bands. I would have never guessed in a million years they would go on to be one of the biggest bands there is and sell however many copies. You just never know. These scenarios have the same chances as winning the lottery. The chances of blowing up to that level are less than one percent. They hit that timing right and created something. They had all of the formula, with all of the right people behind them, and it turned into a phenomenon.
Do I think that our band could be the next NOFX? It would be difficult to achieve those levels. We are fortunate that people still care about our music and we are able to make a small living at it. We are fortunate at that, because for a band to make a living at what they like to do is a difficult task. In this day and age, if you are a young band, I feel bad for you. It is so hard, and the chance for a smaller band to blow up is so small. Radio doesn’t blow a band up. It is an interesting time, that’s for sure.
Story Featured in Volume 002
The Wild Ones
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
My first love affair came to fruition when I encountered live music at a young age. Some astute individuals sang, “When you fall in love, you know you are done.”