Earlier this year, Hot Water Music released their first full-length since 2004, entitled Exister. It’s the band’s first album for Rise Records and also their first time recording at The Blasting Room with producer Bill Stevenson. We spoke with singer/guitarist Chris Wollard after Hot Water Music’s recent performance at Riot Fest in Chicago and talked in detail about the new record. We also discussed touring, the band’s upcoming live album and more.
Bill – What was it like recording with Bill Stevenson?
Chris – Well, I guess I can answer that in a couple different ways. Originally it was a little intimidating. I mean, I’ve been listening to him play drums my whole life. He’s done some of our favorite records as a producer too, and as a songwriter, man, on so many levels. We talked about recording with a lot of different people, but as soon as we brought that name up, Bill Stevenson and The Blasting Room, Jason Livermore; they’re an awesome team. As soon as that kind of came up, I don’t know if I really took anything else that seriously. I felt like Bill was going to understand where we come from as far as a kind of hardcore/punk rock band. I felt like he was going to understand that musically and also with how we are and how we work. We’re also a rock ‘n roll band, so I thought it was going to be awesome because he has a great ear for melody. Just listen to his records, you know? He’s going to get us. Through the years we’ve played shows with ALL and Descendents, but the last few years we started doing more festivals and stuff with them. We started talking to him about it and he just seemed super-pumped and just so positive. We all stopped thinking about anybody else, we honed in on that and during that time we were getting more serious about writing. It stopped being something off in the distance. We decided that sometime in the winter we were going to record, so you have some idea of when you’re going to be doing this and it gets more serious as you’re spending more and more time working on it. So, we ended up with all these songs, like 22 songs, just way more than we knew we could record. We walked in the door and we just started doing demos with Bill and Jason in the room. We found the songs that we were really connecting on and it seemed like the vision was there. Everybody was kind of feeling the same thing and it was kind of perfect. They don’t try and change anything about what you’re doing. It’s more like they’re just kind of helping you discover it. It’s such a positive environment in there. It was absolutely perfect for us. It’s the only album we’ve ever done where we didn’t have a single argument about anything. We were getting to the end of it before we even realized it. All the writing was done, we’re just finishing up harmonies and percussion, it’s all there and we’re all still smiling, (laughs). I don’t know if we’ve ever felt like that at the end of a record. You’re tired because you’ve been working so hard, but we weren’t burnt out or anything. We didn’t have tours before and after like we used to do, it wasn’t a grind. We were ready to make a record and we were really stoked. We just went into the room and the way those guys work, it just really clicked. I can’t say enough good things about those guys, just incredible.
Bill – What do you like best about working with Rise Records?
Chris – Here’s the first thing that I like about it. The first time we ever played Portland, years and years ago, and that’s where Rise Records is from. We played this show and I don’t even know what year this was, but it was one of our first trips out west. We played this show and I’ll never remember the name of this place, but it was kind of like rehearsal studios for bands and it also had a show room. My cousin, who’s like my sister, she lived out there and we played in this big, big show room. The only people in the room, and this was a huge room and not even all the people that were supposed to be working that night showed up. So, it was my cousin and her husband, this dude Mike Frey who I later got to know and he became our stage manager for years and years. He’s still on this tour right now with us, but he works with Rise Against. The only other guy that was there was Craig from Rise, the owner of Rise Records. There were only two people that paid. It was those two guys and the other two were my family. When I think of Rise, that’s what I think of. When I first started knowing that it was a label, they were putting out EPs of small punk bands up in that area. It was just a cool, local label doing the records that they wanted to do. I don’t know, but obviously they’ve done really, really well for themselves with just everything from the last few years. Not all of it is my scene, but that’s probably true for most labels. Craig’s just an awesome guy and he’s been following us since we started. He’s had our back and I was talking to Var from No Idea Records about it before we signed with him. I was like, “You run a label, I’m sure you’ve had to work with him on some level here and there.” Var was like, “Man, I’ve been trading records with him for 15 years.” I was like “Oh, okay. Cool.” That’s kind of how we work. We ask around. Obviously you’re curious about how people run their business and stuff, but I also want to know who the people are, you know? If I call the office now I know it’s going to be one of three guys that answers the phone, and Craig’s one of them. It’s just super-friendly. It is a bigger label as far as like what they’re able to do, but it’s just a small group of guys and I love it. Really cool guys and they come out to shows on the road. I’ve seen them over in Europe, East Coast, West Coast, they’re just killer guys.
Bill – After initially reuniting in 2008, was releasing new music always a part of the plan? If not, how exactly did this full-length come together?
Chris – Oh yeah. That’s just what we do. I will say this though; when we started playing shows again it was kind of inevitable. We knew that it was going to happen at some point, but we were all so busy and we still are with the different things that we’re doing. Everybody is still in other bands. Scheduling isn’t the easiest thing to do, even if everybody wants to do it, sometimes things are a pain in the ass. We’ve had the same booking agent for years and years, and we were all still talking. We were all hanging out and we were all still friends and stuff. We kept having ideas of going out and doing another tour, but every idea just seemed to fall apart. It was just super-hard to get it together and finally our booking agent was like, “Hey, I’m just going to book a show. How hard is this? You guys are all friends, how about I just book a show in Florida and after that I’ll book another one?” We were like, “Yeah. Of course, that’s easy.” We just picked a weekend and went from there. We did that show and just had a fuckin’ blast. The next time we did two shows in another state and then we did another weekend somewhere. That turned into going out on tour for a week. Then we decided to go to Europe. We kept getting busier and our schedules started opening up more and more. We wanted to write, but it was the same kind of thing. Sitting down and writing an album usually takes a lot of time. That’s months and months of work. So a couple years ago we did a seven-inch and started our own record label. We weren’t really quite ready to think about an album yet, we were too busy, so we just did a couple songs. We put it out and just had fun with it, and didn’t make it some mountain to climb. That’s the way it’s been. We don’t want to get back to that level we were at years ago where there’s just no end to the road. You don’t know when you’re going to stop, you don’t know when you’re going to get back home and you just end up burning out. Now we just make sure that we’re all on the same page and that when we show up it’s because we want to, not because we have to. It’s been the best thing about this band. We’ve broken up twice and it’s been the same reason both times. Both times it felt like it wasn’t forever, since we’re all still great friends, it’s just sometimes things get overwhelming. You want to go home and hang out with your family. Now we’re all a little older, so you learn how to pace yourself a little bit better and learn what your limits are.
Bill – Given that it’s been about eight years since the release of your last album, it’s understandable that Exister differs from your previous work. How would you describe its sound?
Chris – I guess the songwriting is maybe a little different, but then also sonically it’s different too. Songwriting-wise, we’re trying to take all these things that we’ve learned in the last few years and kind of keep evolving on them. On this one, me and George, (drummer George Rebelo) we live in Gainesville still. Jason, (bassist Jason Black) lives in Seattle and Chuck, (singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan) lives in northern California. Just from the initial approach, it’s obvious it’s not going to get written the way we did the last one or the previous one. Traditionally it’s always been that we go out to the warehouse five days a week, we work for four or five hours a day and you just beat your head against the wall for six months. It was kind of obvious that wasn’t going to happen this time. There was still lots of jamming and everybody working together, but just because of logistics you’re coming in with a little bit more finished songs. We’ve always had lots of songs that just evolved from jamming together in the warehouse, but this was a lot more of me and Chuck just showing each other ideas for songs. We had tons of stuff so it was pretty easy. It wasn’t like “Here’s the record,” it was like “Here’s a shit-ton of ideas. What does everybody like?” We just kind of found what we liked and found what we were really connecting on. That was a little different and I think you can hear that in the record. It’s definitely not singer/songwriter, but you can kind of tell, I can tell how they were written. Then also in the studio, sonically, we’re recording with new people that have new ideas about how to record. It sounds a little different too. Going into The Blasting Room, like what we were talking about earlier, it’s easy to get intimidated. You’re sitting there and you’ve got all of your songs and you’re like, “I believe in everything we’re doing and we’ve got a cool album here, everybody’s excited.” I go and I sit down with Jason Livermore, who’s the other half of The Blasting Room. He records the drums, guitars and he does the mixing. Bill usually does the vocals, bass and the demos. We recorded it in three weeks, so this was just boom, boom, boom. We’re going on like mad in that place. So I said to Jason Livermore, I was like “How do you want to do this, buddy? The demos are done and we know what songs we’re going to do. Are we going to do overdubs of leads?” Everybody’s got a different style. So, he goes “Well, you play on stage left, right?” I was like, “Yeah.” And he goes, “So I’m thinking that I’ll put you on the left.” He was just so fuckin’ funny. And he’s like, “And Chuck plays on the right, so we’ll put him there.” To me, when I listen to the album it sounds super-clean and rock and just awesome. But also when I listen to it, it’s so cool that it’s just my part over there on the left. There are not a lot of overdubs all over the place. It’s a pretty stripped-down, rock ‘n roll record. I didn’t sit there and do take after take. I went in and played my part the best I could and that was it. I recorded with four amps at once, so did Chuck, just with screaming amps out in that live room. I don’t know, it was a pretty stripped-down, rock ‘n roll way to record a record. Just awesome, it was awesome.
Bill – Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Chris – I don’t know, man. That’s like picking your favorite kid. There’s moments where you’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe we pulled that off.” It becomes a big body of work and the songs, I don’t know, they’re all on there for a reason.
Bill – How was this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago?
Chris – Man, that was a hell of a show, kicked my ass, (laughs). I had a great day. It was really busy, just so many friends there. As soon as you wake up and you step out of the bus, within ten steps you’re seeing friends you haven’t seen in a while. That’s what it was to me. I got to see some great music. Watching The Descendents is always awesome. That was kind of the highlight of my night, was standing out in front and watching The Descendents with Jeff Pezzati, (Naked Raygun singer). Singing along and being just like, “Fuck yeah, this is great. This is an excellent way to spend the night.” It was super-fun. You saw the lineup, the Alkaline Trio guys too; we just had so many friends there. All of the road crews of all the bands too, these are people I’ve spent months and months of my life with. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to wake up in the middle of a tour and things are wild. And you wake up and it’s a sunny day in Chicago, imagine that, and you’ve got 100 friends there. It was just a great day.
Bill – You guys recorded a live album at the Metro in Chicago that’s scheduled to be released this fall on No Idea. What details can you share regarding that record?
Chris – That place is just so awesome and so is that whole neighborhood. It’s just kind of a special place. We’ve been going up in that neighborhood since our very first tours. When we decided to do it we knew that it would be a special thing, but we weren’t sure how the hell we were going to record it. It doesn’t always work. There have been other shows here and there that we wanted to record and just weren’t able to. Having so many friends up there in Chicago that have the resources to pull this off, we got lucky and were able to record it. Those shows just kicked ass. Still, you never know how it’s going to sound when you listen back. Sometimes it’s awesome because it’s chaotic and sometimes it’s awesome because you play really well. Those are two different things, (laughs). We listened back to it and it’s raw, but there’s just a good vibe to it. I believe it’s going to be a triple LP. The triple LP is going to have tons of stuff that we haven’t released yet. I think it’s all of the shows and even maybe some bonus stuff, but we already did a box set of seven-inches for it. I think that was six different seven-inches, so we already released a bunch of them. It was really cool to do that, but to me it’s a little fragmented. You’ve got to keep flipping over the records and it kind of takes away from the vibe of this all being the same show or the same two shows. It seems like a random collection of live recordings when you have to flip it over every couple minutes, to me. So, we decided to put it out in a more cohesive way. There were all these songs that didn’t make the seven-inches, so we wanted to put this whole big thing together, with all the mistakes, and this is what it was. We just wanted to make a cohesive package where it was maybe a little easier to get the real vibe out of the shows. Those were chaotic nights, man. It turned out cool. I like live records. They’re totally different than studio records and I like that. Listening to Thin Lizzy live is a totally different experience, you know what I mean?
Bill – What have been some of the highlights from your recent tour with Rise Against and Gaslight Anthem?
Chris – Well, my lady came out for the first few days and that was a highlight. She doesn’t get to do that very often. I picked up a guitar at the beginning of the tour that I’ve been designing with a buddy of mine, Pete Hilton. We’ve been designing this damn thing for like six months and he’s just a master builder. Being able to pick that up and actually take our ideas and put them into practice and really experiment and have fun with weird, nerdy tech ideas like that; that’s been a real highlight. It’s something I’ve never been able to do before, really design a guitar with somebody. As far as shows, we went back to Michigan for two shows and I’m from Flint, so that’s always nice, getting to see old friends and stuff. Chicago Riot Fest, we’ve done three Riot Fests so far, but the Chicago one was gnarly. That was definitely a highlight. We did a lot of Canada. In Montreal we played where the Canadiens play hockey. I spent all day riding my skateboard around the floor where they play, all of us were. I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but that was pretty cool. That’s not something I get to do every day. Tonight we’re in St. Louis and we’re playing a show at the Fubar, and one of the owners here, we’ve been playing shows at his bars for 15 years. Every little dive bar in town. Tonight we’re just going to have an old school blowout with Off With Their Heads. I’m sure that this is going to be one of the highlights because it’s more of just an old school kind of show.
Bill – What should fans expect from Hot Water Music for the rest of 2012 and beyond?
Chris – We’ve still got three weeks to go on this tour, so we’ve got some rock ‘n roll shows left to play. That’s going to be it for our touring this year, but we’ve got another U.S. tour coming up in January. We’re hoping to put out another EP or something. Putting out that last seven-inch was so fun, we’re trying to figure out how to get another one done before the next tour. We got a little bit of writing to do. We’re gearing up for this next tour and then I don’t know. We still want to go back down to Australia and back over to Europe. There are a lot of places to go and we got a lot of plans.