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Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music)

by Tim Rynders

Country Music Pride: How have the first few shows gone? Does it feel like you never stopped playing as HWM or does it feel like a distant dream?

Chuck Ragan: They’ve gone and felt absolutely incredible.  The friends, fans and general turnout has been overwhelming and it’s just been everything and more than we all hoped it would be.  As far as the feeling of it never stopping or not, it’s been a little of both, I’d say.  When I first flew to Florida to meet with the boys to play for the first time in 3 years, it felt as if it’d been a damn decade.  Then it took about the first 3 chords and it all fell back into place.

CMP: Over the course of 97 to 01, I saw you a few times in which the crowd reacted very differently. Was this just different venues…or would you say your crowd, or you, transformed over the years?

CR: I know that we transformed over the years as anyone should.  We became better at what we did and more efficient as we worked.  So yea.  We definitely changed over the course of the years as far as our work went.  The passion and drive stayed the same as it did with the majority of our fans and especially the core group of friends and fans who whether they were there from day 1 or not stuck with us through thick and thin.  The label changes, the tours, the break-ups and the reunions you know what I mean?  The venues always changed and we invited that entirely.  We loved playing hot crowded cramped and crazy knock your teeth out shows as much as we did playing massive festivals or huge venues.  We just needed the diversity.  Especially to keep our teeth!

CMP: Who started this whole thing back up? As in, who was the first person who just said “Screw it, today I am going to get this going again”? How did it happen? (cuz there’s another couple hundred bands that I’d like to get back together as well…)

CR: It’s been something that’s been on all of our minds.  It’s just been a matter of timing.  We found a time that worked for all of us between what we all have going on and we went for it.  Mainly because there wasn’t any reason not to which was quite a good feeling.  Especially since it was the same feeling that put the 4 of us in the same place to begin with in Oct. of 94.  As far as getting your other bands back together, talk to Black.  He’s the business man!

CMP: What is the current status of a new album and a national tour?

CR: As of now, your question is about as far as it’s gotten.

CMP: “Home” is an incredible song.  How did that not get released until now?

CR: Not sure.  It just didn’t make the cut for one reason or the other.  It’s one of my favorite songs for sure so I’m just thrilled that No Idea took it on to get it out there.

CMP: I just read that the Ramones sell way more t-shirts than albums…and thinking of how well done all of HWM’s artwork has always been, do you see this as a possible way things will evolve for making money as a band? Did HWM sell much more CD’s than other merch?

CR: It’s been that way for years as far as us and the majority of our friends who are out there plugging away trying to make a living on the road.  Merch is our bread and butter, not record sales.  At least most of the time.  The door seemed to go to the expenses, crew, agents, and management.  After everyone was paid out and it was split 4 ways, it could at times be rather discouraging.  Especially for the time, money, energy and sacrifices spent to get there.  As far as merch sales went, if you didn’t have to pay a venue for their absurd and ridiculous merch rate percentage of 15%-20% (since the venue isn’t taking enough as it is from the top and from bar sales) you could at times make out alright.  If you played it right and saved where you could on judging the amount of product to make for the run as well as watching your shipping costs, it would help the pocket book greatly.  We definitely would not have been able to survive and make our way and living if it wasn’t for sales.  As lame as it can be to somewhat sell yourself and your passion, it’s an absolute must to be able to continue doing what you love and to get to where you feel you need to be.  At least it was for us.

CMP: If HWM ever became a permanent thing again, would you want to relocate everyone out to LA?  How does living/breathing/working/pursuing your desires in LA compare to Florida? Is it ever like “why have so many people moved out here”…or is it pretty obvious?

CR: First off, HWM was never “not a permanent thing.” 
Secondly, I don’t live in LA anymore and think there are plenty of people there as it is.  Therefore, no one else should move there. Ever….Great place to work, rough place to live.  At least for me.  The weather and the business opportunities are something else which is why many people go there.  But the place can be a vacuum.  I followed my heart there for an amazing woman who I fell in love with who’s now my wife.  She was there for work as it was.  When we were married and became determined to get out of the city, we had a hard time.  I found incredible work there in my trade as well and found it extremely hard to turn it down.  As much as you want to hustle, in any market you care to be in…  Since we had no children and were living efficiently and cheaply, it made sense to keep on truckin and saving as much as possible.  The hard part for people is they become sucked into that frame of mind and not only that, but are pulled into extremely expensive housing and general living.  Which in turn can make it next to impossible to generate enough to live, sustain and save to get out.  It’s a tough way.  I never was a city boy at all but did find some wonderful things about that place.  My wife Jill introduced me to another side of the big city away from the false senses and plastic attitudes that it’s known for.  There’s damn fine people there just like anywhere else, great hiking and fresh air 20 miles away, and plenty of halibut and cabazon to catch along the rocks!  It’s all a matter of getting off your ass and opening your eyes to find it.  No matter where you live I’d say.

CMP: How much of your musical career do you feel you owe to No Idea in some way? (I don’t even live in Florida and don’t have any records on No Idea and can honestly say they have played a great part in my love for music)

CR: I can say that I’m surely thankful and blessed to everything they’ve done over the years for us.  They’ve always been top notch for HWM and there when we need them and vice versa.  That said I don’t think anyone owes anyone anything.  They’ve bent over backward for us and we’ve done the same for them as well.  So I see it as a strong mutual relationship rather than who owes who.  You should go buy some records from No Idea now.  You’re truly missing out.

CMP: What are some of the greatest memories of HWM? What is the best album?

CR: Personally, one of my fondest memories is when we broke up in 1997 or 98. Also, the 1st time we went to Europe.  I think that was the most crucial day in all of the years in HWM as well as my life.  It confirmed my faith in truth and my friends and is just simply something I’ll never forget.  As far as a favorite record goes, that’s a tough one man.  I love em all for a lot of different reasons.  I think Caution is one of my favorites for sure if I had to pick one.

CMP: Which is your favorite Boss album? Seems like Bruce is finally getting some punk rock cred these days.

CR: Mine personally is Nebraska.  I’ve never really known him not to get “cred” except from people who unfortunately just plain didn’t know.  He is tearing it up right now though as he should.  They don’t call him the Boss for nothing.

CMP: Would you be able to say that HWM has been your greatest accomplishment in your life, or does it feel more like an expression of the rest of your life that comes easily?

CR: No I wouldn’t.  I don’t really look at in that way.  It’s definitely up there with achievements but there are so many other things in my life besides music that it’s futile to pick one certain thing to be the greatest over all others.  I’m grateful for everything that came with HWM but I didn’t bring it myself.  In other words I was far from alone.  I grew up with those guys and in that band.  That accomplishment and survival came from the collaboration of my 3 friends, all the people who’ve worked for us, and the thousands of people who’ve spent their time and money in helping us keep our chin up and stay afloat.  It was team work.  It feels more like another page in the book that’s ever turning and ever changing to the next chapter.  It’s far from over as I see it and hope.  For all of us it has been an expression for the rest of our life and main outlet to help deal with the day to day.

CMP: Who is playing rock and roll as you think it is intended these days?

CR: Chris Wollard

CMP: Does serious rock stardom need to be an accidental occurrence for punks, or can one actually strive for fame and maintain the DIY credibility and morality? In a band myself, we constantly struggle with how much marketing effort to put into it. Any thoughts about this?

CR: I think it all depends on your true innermost intentions.  It’s entirely up to you on what you see is important to hold onto with your passion and what to let go of to make a living.  Every once in a great while, some squeeze through the cracks and find an alternate route where they can have one in the same- as in passion and serious rock stardom as you put it…  But from those that I’ve seen to climb that ladder, it’s more of a give and take lifestyle than anything else.  I’ve been amazed at how many sacrifices we had to make through our life and career in music.  We’ve had incredible success in our eyes but in the eyes of the world in general, we’re on a small scale figuratively speaking.  I can’t imagine what some folks must give away, give up, or give in to climb to those next levels.  Granted, the income and standard of living changes dramatically anytime one goes to any level above the one they’re on.  But there definitely seems like there’s always a toll and price to pay in getting there.  Once there though, it’s up to the individual on whether to stay connected or not.  I must say though that I’ve known a few people who have “made it” to the top and are about as right on and down to earth as any fella that I would swing a hammer next to.  So it is possible.

CMP: What are the key ingredients to developing a good musical scene? Is there a certain ability for a scene to tolerate bands’ attitudes or can a few ruin the whole thing? Where has the best scene you have seen been? Us west coast punk kids always assumed Florida has been a mecca of sorts through the late 90’s…

CR: I’d say communication and an open mind.  I think one of the biggest problems in any community or “scene” is cliques.  People who have an idea of the scene that they want but are not doing the necessary things to make it happen.  Folks like that fall into circles with like minded people because it’s safe and comfortable.  That seems to eat away at the communication fabric of a community and in turns creates something false and simply bullshit.  That’s everywhere, but at the same time so is the opposite.  One place that I’ve learned of recently that was very inviting and impressive was Steyr, Austria.  Go there.

CMP: Has pursuing each of your own solo projects helped you appreciate HWM more? How have your solo projects affected the way you perceive the HWM days?

CR: Sure.  It was crucial for me to step out of the box and do something completely different. I felt extremely stagnant in HWM towards the tail end before the hiatus so stepping out and stripping it all down to the basics definitely helped me re-evaluate why I was playing to begin with, as well as re-evaluate my life and my goals.  That alone helped me appreciate HWM that much more.  In the end there, it was the same thing that I felt when we started the band that made me decide to step away.  My heart and head was telling me to go in a different direction and all of our lyrics started to ring truer than they had ever rung before.  At that point it was no question.  I’m grateful that we were a band who started the way we did and kept it that way through and through.

CMP: Hot Water Music, for me, has always combined the essentials of punk, rock and hardcore, but at the same time has tasty guitar solos and trick bass lines that only seem to fit perfectly with HWM.  How did that develop?  Did you ever wonder if it was going to sound strange? Did any of you have much formal musical training?

CR: Black and Rebelo were trained quite a bit at a young age.  After that, they went their own way.  Wollard and I were self taught for the most part.  Took a few lessons but learned mainly on our own from ourselves and friends.  We never really thought much about the sound.  We just all did what we did as individuals and tried our best to piece the puzzle together as a collective.

CMP: If you guys could do anything different from 1993 to now, what would it be? (i.e. greatest regrets…)  And on the other side of the coin, what were some of the best decisions you guys made?

CR: If I could do anything different it would be to take a trade course in mechanics before the summer of 95. As far as the best decision we ever made, it would be breaking up. Cheers.

Chuck Ragan – Do You Pray

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0 Responses to Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music)

  1. Terje October 22, 2008 at 5:14 am #

    Great interview!
    Hope HWM will continue playing and come over to Europe soon. Never seen them live, but have all the CD’s incl. all the side projects. Would love to hear something from Rumbleseat again.

  2. Chunkahash November 4, 2008 at 4:05 am #

    some of the hardest working motherfuckers in music. Revival Tour was sweet. Hope for another some day.

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