Hot Water Music

Earlier this month, Hot Water Music released their eighth full-length and second for Rise Records, entitled Light It Up. We spoke with singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan after the band’s recent set at Riot Fest and talked about the album in detail. We discussed its writing process, the band’s decision to produce the record themselves and its overall theme. We also conversed about the album’s lyrics, some of which are extremely personal to Ragan and address rather difficult times. Additionally, we touched on the band’s experience at Riot Fest, their plans for the remainder of the year and their outlook on the future. Light It Up finds Hot Water Music evoking some of their long-established traits, while concurrently welcoming new ideas, resulting in one of their most cohesive albums to date.

Bill – You guys produced your new record yourselves, which is something you haven’t done since your first album in 1997. What made you want to embrace this kind of approach?

Chuck – We have all felt comfortable playing together for years. As we’ve gotten older, obviously we’ve become more and more comfortable. We were at a point where for the longest time we were having trouble just figuring out a timeframe to do a record. All of us wanted to do a record, but in terms of scheduling it was just brutal. So at some point we just had to stick a knife in the calendar and say, “This is the day that we need to have it done, which means we’ll work backwards from there. If we need to have it done here, we need to have all the recordings done by here, we need to start writing here and kind of work backwards that way.” For us, we’re surrounded by a ton of people who do amazing work. One of them is our buddy Ryan Williams, who’s here with us today and working sound for us. He runs Black Bear Studios, which is a beautiful studio in Gainesville, Florida. He’s tight with Chris, (singer/guitarist Chris Wollard) and George, (drummer George Rebelo). He’s recorded them a ton. We’ve never done Hot Water stuff there, but we all respect his work so much that to us it made total sense. Why wouldn’t we do that? We kept it close to where those guys live. It seemed efficient and wonderful. Ryan does a hell of job, so it was kind of a no-brainer.

Bill – In terms of the writing process, were these songs that you had worked on for a while or did they somewhat come together quickly just before your time in the studio?

Chuck – Good question. Yes and no. We had a couple that had been around, not even been around but had actually been recorded, just never released. Some of them have music that we had written years ago, but only a couple of them. The majority of them were pretty new. Some of them came really, really quickly. I would either fly to Florida or Chris came out and visited me at one point. We literally went out on the water, I took him out on the boat and we wrote songs out on the boat. It was pretty cool to let it unfold naturally. The majority of them are newly written songs, but we had a couple that were kind of just songs that never…and it wasn’t even that they stayed the way that we did them way back then. It would be like a part that we reworked and then the song just totally went somewhere else.

Bill – The album’s first single, “Never Going Back,” has a very positive message of not allowing the past to influence the present, and there’s also sense of forgiveness and moving forward. What does this song mean to you?

Chuck – That’s a pretty heavy song to me. For me, growing up I wasn’t always the most positive. There were definitely some dark times in my life and times where I came very close to clocking out, ending my life. I mean, I kind of look at a lot of memories as a teenage kid and it wasn’t so great. I never had the high school memories that a lot of people had who I’ve talked to. It was horrible. That song in particular is just kind of about waking up in a pretty raw, rotten place and contemplating whether or not to clock out, to be honest. And I’m so thankful that I didn’t. I love where I am. I love my family and I love my friends. I love everything that has happened by choosing to live. In a lot of ways music was such a huge part of carrying on for me. It’s kind of funny that you’re asking me that question here in Chicago. In a way, that song is kind of a hat tip to the band Pegboy. Real Pegboy fans will kind of get that. Their music was always inspiring to me. In a lot of ways it kept me alive and was just always an inspiration. But yeah, that first lyric of the song is a bit of a hat tip to them.

Bill – Wow. Thanks so much. That’s a phenomenal answer. In terms of the album’s second single, tell me about the video that you guys made for the song “Vultures.”

Chuck – Yeah, that was something that we’ve actually always wanted to do. Our buddy Andrew Seward was kind enough to put that together. He worked really hard on that and helped us out to gather footage from a lot of fans. We had talked about doing a video and then people were talking about treatments and this and that. We knew there was footage out there that nobody has ever seen. We’ve got friends and fans all over the world that are sitting on all this stuff that to us is gold. We look back at that and it’s almost like looking at your elementary school yearbook. It was really special to see all that come together. The first time I saw it I think I sat and watched it probably 15 to 20 times in a row. There were all these videos where I was seeing friends in the crowd. These people were popping up just for a moment, just like a little instance and it would pass by and bring back a memory. So I kept watching and I got super nostalgic and kind of choked up. It was pretty special to me that we put something together like that.

Bill – Very cool. Would you say that Light It Up has a general premise or message?

Chuck – Yeah, sure. The thing about Hot Water Music, I’m not gonna say we’ve always written positive songs at all. Music has always been about therapy more than anything else. It’s a release. It’s very therapeutic to kind of cut yourself open and bleed it out. Or write stuff down on a piece of paper and then light it on fire. Literally burn it up. That used to be a pretty common thing for me to do that I learned years and years ago. That was something when my wife and I would talk about writing, she writes herself, we would talk about writing something that was bothering us or affecting us, writing it down and literally setting it on fire. And it was very healing in a lot of ways. For years, that’s what Hot Water Music was for me. We would do a song and once we’d record it there was almost a sense of closure, like getting it out and moving on. To me, I feel that if Hot Water ever had any theme whatsoever, it would just be noticing and finding and striving for a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s basically it. So pretty much every song we’ve ever written, even if it would get really dark, in more ways than one there was always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Bill – That’s awesome. What were some of the highlights from your set at Riot Fest today?

Chuck – Man, I have to say having my son here today. My boy, Grady Joseph, he’s two years and a few months old now and he loves Hot Water, (laughs). My wife has wanted to bring him out to a show and I’ve wanted to bring him out too, but over the past few months she’s been playing him a lot of Hot Water Music and he just goes ballistic. He goes nuts. He’ll run into a room and go, “Papa, papa, papa! Music, music, music!” And I’ll go, “Alright. What do you want to listen to?” And he goes, “Papa! Papa rock ‘n’ roll! Papa rock ‘n’ roll!” And that’s good for me because we don’t play a lot. I play the music and I’m remembering the songs, (laughs). He just gets super fired up. So for him to be here today, it’s huge. And not only that, but I feel so lucky to be a part of such a positive community that is the music that we love. I’ve got friends here that I’ve known for over two decades. To me, kind of walking around and crossing paths with people, the Bosstones are up there killing it right now. I love those guys and I’ve known them for years. I crossed paths with some of those guys today and introduced them to my son. It was just such a revelation to reflect on all the years that we’ve been doing this and all the times that all of us came close to jumping off the edge of a cliff or getting pushed off the edge of cliff. Somehow we survived it. I think about the moment I saw that boy and everything just made sense. I can’t believe in any regret. I don’t have one regret, I can’t, because I look at him and I look at where we are and I’m just so thankful to have been in this position. And have this opportunity to have this kid in my life with my wife that I’m in love with. And if I would’ve made any other decision or taken a different path or route, even if it was super dark and messed up and something that was far from positive, I may not have been standing right here, most likely wouldn’t be. So for that reason, to me I don’t believe in regrets. I can’t do it.

Bill – Looking out at the rest of the year, you guys are playing the Fest and you’re also doing some shows in California and on the East Coast, as well as one in Brazil. What are you looking forward to most about these shows?

Chuck – Just playing with my friends. I’m really excited to go to Brazil. I’ve never been to Brazil and Brazilian fans are just unbelievable. They’re people that I see in Chicago, I see them in London, I see them in Florida – I see them all over the world. People just show up and are like, “Hey! We came from Brazil!” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” They’re like, “Well, you don’t come to see us, so we’re coming to see you.” It’s unbelievable. So to me, I feel like we’re fulfilling a longtime duty by going down there. Those fans have always come to meet us, so it’s about time for us to pay them back. It’s a huge honor for us. But for the most part I’m just stoked and thankful that we’re playing. We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, we’ve been around for over two decades, we love each other like brothers and we love our fans just as much. We feel like our fans and the people that are a part of the Hot Water Music community have just as much to do with the band as we do, and just as much importance as we have in the band. No joke. It’s all one in the same and I’m just thankful to be a part of it.

Bill – Has the band made any plans for 2018 and beyond?

Chuck – Yeah, we’ve got some shows lined up. We’ve got some plans to just keep doing what we’re doing. Again, we all came to terms with this a while ago, that we don’t necessarily need or ever want to be a band that has to breakup. We’re going to keep playing till one of us, and that day may come, who knows when, is either not on this planet or physically or mentally incapable of playing anymore. We don’t have any reason to breakup. I don’t know how often we’ll get together and do it, but to us, we’ll always do it as long as we can. We’re just taking it day by day and counting our blessings along the way.