huge thanks to Brandon Geist and the entire Revolver Magazine staff!
WEB EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: THURSDAY’S GEOFF RICKLY QUESTIONS HOT WATER MUSIC’S CHUCK RAGAN
When we heard that Thursday were going to play with the reunited Hot Water Music on Saturday, July 12 (this fucking Saturday, people!), at Terminal 5 in NYC, we asked frontman Geoff Rickly to pow-wow beforehand with HWM vocalist Chuck Ragan, “Rebel Meets Rebel”-style, and he gladly compiled because, well, let him explain it himself...
“In the canon of modern-day punk-rock legends, few have been able to reemerge from the dead with anything more than a dim echo of their former glory. Often, the band comes back as an unintended parody of their younger selves. So how is it that Hot Water Music are back after two years and several other musical projects, stronger and more energized than they've ever been? From selling out shows all over the country at two or three times the size of anything they played pre-break-up to playing sets already heralded as harder, dirtier, and rawer than ever before, Hot Water Music have apparently done the impossible. In the week before playing with one of my all-time favorite bands, I called up the band’s rough-throated singer, Chuck Ragan, to find out what they have in store for us.”
GEOFF RICKLY So how has it been doing the reunion shows?
CHUCK RAGAN It’s been an absolute blast. We’ve all been having the time of our lives doing it. It’s so different with the way we’ve been doing it lately. So much less pressure than what we have ever dealt with before. Just feels like the beginning and when we’re onstage we all feel like we’re 18, 19 years old again. So to say the least, it’s just an absolute blast.
RICKLY That’s great man; I’m really psyched for you guys. I actually haven’t gotten to see any of them yet so I’m totally thrilled that we’re playing with you guys.
RAGAN It’s going to be something else.
RICKLY Yeah, I kept hearing when we played the Starland Ballroom [in New Jersey] just a week or so before you guys did, and everybody was just so excited for that show.
RAGAN That show was insane.
RICKLY I feel like you guys always had a real strong love up here. You know I used to live in New Brunswick and even just going back to The Melody or when you guys played my basement. I’ve never seen you guys in Gainesville but I feel like it’s almost like a hometown situation for you guys up here too.
RAGAN We have always had great friends in that area and have always felt at home up there. Inside and outside the big city, we love that area, always have. I mean, just playing that Jersey show and the way it was. Man, it was just insane. It was at the end of the night and we were all leaving and Chris and I were saying bye and we were all going to see each other the next weekend. Joe and I were out on tour with Ben Nichols in between all those shows and Chris and I were just looking at each other not saying anything but just totally communicating about the night and what was going on. We put a lot of time and energy, a lot of years into Hot Water Music. And you know, it wasn’t all good. It wasn’t all pleasant. You know, the life. It totally takes a toll on you. On anyone who devotes as much as people like us do to music and the road and traveling and recording. After that show, before we all went our separate ways, all we could talk about or say is, this is what all those years of struggling and eating peanut butter and living off a gallon of water and being out on the road for a long time, this is where it got us. Granted, you never think about that stuff in the early days. It’s just all for the love and the joy of it.
RICKLY Yeah, I mean the early days in some ways are so much easier than the later days. Regardless of where you’re at. It’s just that in the beginning there’s nothing but energy to burn off. You know what I mean? It’s like everything is new. Then when you’ve been doing it for 10 years, it’s not that you get tired of it or hate it but you definitely don’t have that endless supply of energy.
RAGAN I think just like anything else, I think it’s just crucial to have diversity in your life and in any career of any type or trade, if you spread yourself thin, you’re just bound to break down. You can only run a machine so long without maintenance before it breaks down.
We definitely hit those points through the years. Just like you said, it’s not that you lose passion for it. It’s just that anything can become stagnant and anything can become a job doing it day in and day out. That’s why these shows have been so special to us. We all went on that hiatus and it was exactly what we needed and now coming back together and playing together after that time apart it’s just made us only fall in love with the songs all over again and revitalize that energy.
RICKLY Do you guys know what you’re going to do in the future? Is it “a play it by ear” situation? Like, this was great, the reunion, but let’s just leave it where it was?
RAGAN The best part about it, honestly, is that we have no agenda. It’s about the coolest place we can be in for us. We want to play shows and we will continue playing shows. We’ve all talked about writing again. We haven’t done any at all. I could definitely see it down the road. We’d all love to do it. I think the most important thing to do is just continue having fun and loving it for what it is and what we’ve done and enjoy it. And whatever comes to us in the future with it and wherever we find some time to sit down together and knock some new stuff out, we’ll do it. It’s just a matter of time and it’s a matter of timing. Everybody doing all kinds of stuff. I’ve been super busy with the solo stuff. And the other guys are constantly saturated in music as well. Chris just finished a solo record. Jason is playing with Senses Fail right now, he just moved to Atlanta. Chris and George still live in Gainesville and I live out in California. So if time permits and it all rolls how these shows have rolled then yeah I mean it’s just a matter of time. If it makes sense and we feel its worthy putting out we’re going to go for it.
RICKLY I wanted to talk to you about the history of the band because I feel like these shows are in some ways this great celebration of this long history you guys have had that has been so up and down and all over the place. Can you remember what it was like to join Hot Water Music?
RAGAN I want to say we first sat down, the four of us together, and wrote our first song was October of 1994. We were all living down in Sarasota-Bradenton. We were all just super young, just felt really stagnant. Our whole plan was let’s get out of here. Jason was already up in Gainesville in school, and we kept hearing all these stories of Gainesville and all these shows and this big music scene, and George and I decided to move up and Chris decided to move up as well. At the time we were actually two separate bands. Chris and Jason had a band called Thread and George was filling in on drums. George and I had a band called Fossil and Jason was filling in on bass. Both bands had singers and we had planned to move up to Gainesville all together and the plan was they were going to find a new drummer and we were going to find a new bass player. And when we actually all moved, both the singers in the band had their own things going on and it just didn’t pan out and the last four people standing were us. We all lived in the same apartment complex and just terrorized this poor place and all these poor people playing our music at all hours of the night. In those days, living in an apartment complex, we didn’t plug in ever. We wrote the majority of the early Hot Water Music stuff on the acoustic guitars just sitting on the porch. That’s kinda how it all started. From there we just looked at each other and were like, well, I guess we could start a band. We just got on it and it’s never changed since. Even in the early days we kinda made this pact that if any one person were ever to leave or needed to leave or was just gone, that it was just over; that Hot Water Music was the four of us, it is the four of us, and will always be. And we just kept it.
RICKLY When was the point at which you personally felt like, Wow, this isn’t just cool and it’s my friends; this is really me. You know, when you just felt this really strong connection you get when you really find the music you wanted to make?
RAGAN I would say by the end of the first song we wrote. It was no question. There was no question at all. Still isn’t. Looking at it kind of reflecting now, we were all young and just super hungry and just ready to grow. All we wanted to do was play and just devote our lives and time and energy entirely to the music. Our main goal was, We have four songs, let’s do a demo. That was the mindset back then. The last thing on our mind was a tour or signing to a label or any of that. We were just fully living in the moment and things just kind of came in baby steps. Like I said, “Yeah, we got a song! Let’s write another one!” Then we got four songs. We should do a demo and so we put out a demo tape.
RICKLY That’s what we did, too.
RAGAN Then the biggest step was putting out our first 7-inch. That was huge. That was just monumental for us. It’s cool to look back on it. We never started the band with any intention of “Let’s blow this thing up.” Or “Let’s do this for 10 years straight.” We were there and we were living it and loving it and just learning music and growing up. That was the biggest part I think. We were just growing up.
RICKLY I remember very specifically when we were recording a record of ours called Full Collapse in 2001. I remember telling the guy who owned the studio, “Well, you know, I’m not that talented; I’m not trying to do this for a living or anything but I want to do this now and someday I’ll probably end up being a schoolteacher like I’ve been studying for.” And he was like, “I don’t know, man, I’ve been listening to that record. I kinda feel like you’re going to be in music longer than you think. Not because you’re good but because I can tell it’s all you really care about.” I remember just being like, All right, old man, whatever. Now when I see him, we both laugh about it. There is a certain sense among younger bands now, this kinda ambition, like, I want to be in one of those bigger bands. I don’t think it was totally absent when you guys were starting out but that just wasn’t even a world you thought about really. I felt like it was more one of those things that you would see some bands on TV and be like, I’m not even into that. I just want to do my thing. I want to be with people I like. I want to be with some friends. It was sort of like a little culture you would start around yourself.
RAGAN Yeah totally. I think a lot of that is that this type of genre—even though it’s a pretty vague statement—is a lot more accepted than it was 15 years ago.
RICKLY I remember it was one of those things when I would go looking for [Hot Water Music’s 1997 album] Forever and Counting, which was even sort of later. I knew which store would have it. It would be Curmudgeon in New Brunswick. And I knew everybody that worked there. It was one of those things where you had your spot that had underground music. That’s it. The underground was kinda hard to find. You had to pick up the zines at the local show so you would actually know what was going on because that was the only way to figure it out.
RICKLY I remember reading about you guys before I saw you play in New Brunswick. They sort of built up to this point where no band could possibly live up to you. You guys were one of the most exciting bands in the scene at the time. I remember going to see you guys then and it still being better than what I was expecting. The reason why is I just felt like it was like a fire burning itself really intensely. Was there ever a time you just thought while you were playing, I can’t play another song I’m so exhausted. I’m so spent. I’ve given everything in the last 20 minutes and now I don’t even know where to go from here.
RAGAN Yeah, are you kidding? For us that was always part of it. We play the music for ourselves, and the energy we would exude was definitely just a very intense, strong form of life therapy for us. We love the sound. We love everything about it, especially the crowds, more than anything. First and foremost, it was just kind of what we did to heal and deal with whatever was going on. Just looking back through the records, and just all the lyrics, it’s our diary. It’s our journal, the way we were able to kind of hack life. To us, there was never any other way than to give every ounce of sweat and blood you had. The only thing that made us able to make it through some of the shows like that was the people and each other. We always believed and still believe in this cycle of energy. It’s a simple idea: You always get back energy that you put out. What you exude can radiate and, in turn, people will attach onto that and give it back to you. It ends up being something where you play and you’re running on fumes and you burn out, but you look down and see one kid standing right in front of you that is giving it up as hard as you are and he empties himself or herself out and, in turn, fills you up and you just keep that cycle going. That’s always the way we looked at it, and it just made us who we are as a band, as individuals and as friends.
RICKLY I always saw that with you guys. Is there a Hot Water record that is especially close to your heart in any way more than others or is that too hard to say?
RAGAN Honestly, it’s too hard to say. It’s always ever changing. Caution was definitely one of my favorites and a lot of it had to do with the recording experience that we had.
RICKLY Caution was one of my favorite records ever made. My parents love that album. When I go home, it’s in their CD player, too. We all love that record.
RAGAN That’s wild. I think a lot of it had to do with where we all were at that point in our lives and something really clicked in the studio, and it was a really wonderful recording experience with [producer] Brian McTernan and that was just a really nice time in the life of the band. It is really hard to say. Every song that we’ve ever had has a story behind it and those stories have hundreds of stories behind them. Looking back on the songs on their own is extremely intense and just special to look back on them.
RICKLY It’s like, how can you judge an album when each album has so many songs that have so many personal connections to you.
RAGAN Yeah, for sure. Like I said before, with the way the band dealt, looking back on everything it’s hard to look back at anything lesser than another. It was all ways of healing and getting by and expressive what we believe and what we trust. It’s hard to pick and choose.
RICKLY What was it like for you watching the band going without you? Was that strange?
RAGAN I mean, watching The Draft, I was nothing but proud. I loved them. The songs are incredible. The energy was great. And it was just plain cool to be on the other side looking up at Chris and George and Jason and Todd just tearing it up. They’re amazing. I loved it. My wife and I had a chance to see them a few times when they had come through California and it was just brilliant. I felt pride and was just stoked.
RICKLY Did it make you want to jump up there and play because it was your boys up there?
RAGAN Actually, not at all. I was just in a totally different frame of mind and especially seeing them get in the van taking off down the road onto the next gig. I was more like, Right on, you go, guys, but I was more excited to just go home.
RICKLY That’s interesting. It’s funny to watch. Every release we’ve been doing one instrumental track, and it’s weird because it’s always my favorite because I get to step back and listen to how rad my band is. And not judge myself. Sometimes when I listen to songs and I hear myself on it and it’s not exactly the same as listening to a song you’re not on. You can’t get that distance. When I get to step back and hear this band that are my boys just being awesome and have nothing to do with how great it is, it can be a great thrill so I can imagine The Draft would be a lot of fun.
RAGAN It was a thrill.
RICKLY Thanks, Chuck. I’m really looking forward to playing the show with you.
RAGAN It’s going to be a great weekend. I’m fired up.
Thursday, Hot Water Music, and Paint it Black perform this Saturday, July 12, at Terminal 5, 610 West 56th Street, New York City.