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Hot Water Music: Chuck Ragan ramps up intensity with reunited punk band

Written by Scott Mervis on .

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Chuck Ragan (second from right) came to town and blew people away as the opener for Dropkick Murphys and Social Distortion.

Now, the growling singer-songwriter-guitarist returns for a show at Altar Bar on Wednesday, this time back with his former band, Hot Water Music, which split in late 2005, after 12 years.

The Gainesville, Fla., punk band regrouped for a mini reunion in 2008, and then in 2012 assembled to record "Exister," its first album in eight years.

What brought Hot Water Music back together?

Chuck Ragan: It was something that we all had wanted to do for quite a whle. When we were on hiatus, I think a lot of people took the ball and ran with a different idea than what we had.
Everybody took it as we were no more, we were completely broken up and never to play again, and that really wasn't what we were trying to get across to people when I was asked to make a public statement. It was bascially that Hot Water Music wasn't going to be the band that everyone had known us to be, which is just constantly on the road, constantly grinding it out. It was a time where, personally, I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my life and why I was playing music, what I enjoyed about it, and just find that fire again.

In the course of all that, we all wanted to play together again, we all wanted to write, and we knew we would, we just didn't know when that was going to be. We just needed a break and through that time, the boys continued with doing the Draft, and it was just me so just I started doing my solo stuff. I'd moved to California and I went back to my trade, and I was writing on my own and recording on my own, and then it became just a timing thing.

We wanted to record together but it would just never work out. Finally we started talking about it a few years later, and it was Jason [Black] and I who were like, 'Look, if we're going to do anything, we need to just do it, we need to put it on the calendar and stick to it.' It started with our friend Ryan saying, 'Hey, I want to book one show.' He booked the House of Blues in Orlando and we had a whole reunion there, and that ended up turning into the mini tour.

Even at that point, we talked about 'One of these days, we'll do another record,' but the timing still ... I've been completely saturated in my own work and the Revival tour and the guys were busy as well. George [Rebelo] was playing drums in Against Me!, Jason was plaing bass in Senses Fail, Chris was doing [solo stuff]. So it was just trying to coordinate between four crazy schedules. We finally just put our finger on the calendar and said let's make this happen.

It gave you a chance to dig more into your rootsier style.

I was doing my own music all through the years of Hot Water. and even before Hot Water. I just never put as much focus on it, because Hot Water was the driving force and what we put our energy into, and when we took a hiatus, those two worlds flipped, and my work went on the forefront and Hot Water became secondary. To me it's not doing anything different than I had done for years.


What is it like getting on stage with Hot Water Music as compared to your solo gigs, in terms of the energy you put out and the mindset you get into?
It's two completely different animals. I do put out a lot of energy in both ventures, in both ways. Hot Water, there's something about playing their songs where I just feel the need to just destroy myself. I don't understand why. Even though I'm getting older and my knees and my voice and my back and everything is just kind of suffering from years and years of abuse, for some reason, I get up there and I can't help it. I can't just stand there. It doesn't feel right unless I break myself into a sweat and just cut loose. It's kind of a blessing and a curse, really.

My own stuff, it's just definitely a lot more relaxed and a lot more intimate. Hot Water feels — with the guys and the whole fanbase, those songs — more like being part of a big machine in a sense, while with my own stuff I'm able to dig a little deeper personally into the music.

'Exister' is a really passionate album, and I read the Spin interview where you and Chris break it down song by song. It sounds like there was a theme running through here of a lot of discontent with the modern world and an effort to express that people are struggling.
Sure, that's been an ongoing theme in a lot of songs, not just Hot Water but in our own music — Chris' songs and my own songs. We both grew up in a way that we were blessed to be around people who showed us at a young age that playing music didn't have to be about seeing your name in lights or making money or getting notice, or whatever, but it can be used more or less as a tool to overcome obstacles, and more or less be used as a form of therapy when we need it most. We also learned along the way that we could use it to express and tell stories and do it in a creative artistic way that not only helped us connect with that story or help ourselves in overcoming obstacles, but looking at life in another perspective, and sharing it in that way.

Between these two things, you must be on the road a lot more now — how is that for you?
Yeah, man. In all honesty that's kind of been the downfall. We always called it the blessing and the curse, because you gotta be careful what you wish for. When we started out, I never in a million years dreamed that I would see as much of the world that I would see, and have been invited into so many amazing communities and meet beautiful people that would change my life. You don't think about that, and you don't think about the sacrifices that are made to live this way. A lot of loved ones, a lot of family, they become neglected in a lot of ways, even if you do your best to stay in touch and call home or write. If you live this way, you're giving yourself to everyone, you're just cutting yourself open and spreading yourself thin in a lot of ways, and it's your loved ones and your family, the people at home, that become neglected, because you're simply absent.

That's honestly the hardest part about this life and it's what I despise about this business. But it's the nature of the beast — we chose the path at a young age not ever knowing where it was going to lead.

Nowadays, it's become where it's getting harder and harder to make a living playing in a band, even if the band is doing well. People have to continue on the road and the older you get the more responsibilities come into your life that it just makes it tougher.

On the other side of that, I can't complain. I feel really blessed. It could be the other way around. The phone couldn't be ringing. I feel lucky to be in the position that I'm in and I don't take it for granted and really love the fans more than I could ever express. These are the people who have given me a career, a life in music, and I'll be forever grateful, but it does take a toll quite often, and for me doing my own work, the Revival Tour and Hot Water, it's tripled my work load and time away from home.

You mentioned the Revival Tour (which comes to Altar Bar April 3). What excites you about it?
The most exciting thing about that tour it's always breathing, it's always evolving and there are never two shows alike. It's a lot different than touring in a group, where every night you have that same set, it may vary a little bit, but for the most part, you're just kind of in motion and playing the same set-up. With the Revival Tour, you never know what's going to happen, or who's going to show up, or pop in as a special guest. It's ways exciting.

A lot of people on the tour have never met each other before. This is our sixth year doing the tour and one of the most special things is seeing these strangers come on the bus and right away people understand that the tour is about collaborating and playing and singing on each others' songs. And just to watch people go from complete strangers to dear friends, to see that take place, is just a wonderful experience in itself. That's definitely a great joy to me about having a part in this tour and coordinating it, and watching it come together. There's no telling what's going to take place. One thing that stays consistent is that camaraderie and sense of community and togetherness, and it radiates. I notice that it not only keeps up more interested and exhilarated, but the crowd as well. The showgoers that come, it's just infectious. It's a show I would really to go see.

Is there more music in the future for Hot Water?
Absolutely. We're constantly writing and the way we write, all four of us write and we pool our ideas and resources and just rip them to shreds and put them back together. We're writing now, so we'll see what happens.

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