‘THIS EARTH CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH. IT’S ALREADY BREAKING DOWN IN SO MANY PIECES, LIKE A MACHINE. IF YOU PUT BAD FUEL IN IT AND YOU DO NOT TAKE GOOD CARE OF IT, IT’S GOING TO FALL APART AND THERE’S GOING TO BE A POINT IN TIME THAT IT DOESN’T WORK ANYMORE.’ CHUCK RAGAN
An interview with Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music
Sanderz: Hot Water Music has been on a long hiatus (8 Years). How difficult or easy was it for the new EP ‘The Fire , The Steel, The Tread’ to find the core of the band, after you’ve all been working in different directions for some time?
Chuck: For this one it came fairly easy, even though we took a very different approach to writing and recording. It was the first time that we had some time to spare. Chris and I had written some songs which we sent to each other from opposite sides of the country, because I live in California and the other guys live on the east coast in Florida and Georgia. We wanted to put something new out for this tour, so after talking about what we were going to do and how we were going to record it, we decided to put out a 7”.
Our time was very constricted. I was busy doing solo work and travelling, and the other guys were doing their own things. So we decided to try this new school approach, or at least a very different approach from what we’re used to. We recorded some tracks, which we sent to each other, and from there we kept recording and sending tracks back and forth until we had a finished product. It was kind of interesting and a little bit exciting to see it all come together. But it wouldn’t be our first choice how to go about recording an album.
Right now, on this tour, we’re actually writing quite a bit and recording in the back of the bus. Just new ideas. We’re stacking up a ton of new material.
Sanderz: Did the experiences of different projects add to the sound of the new EP or was it a necessity to distance yourselves and focus purely on HWM?
Chuck: I think it’s something that stands on its own. The new material that we have, feels already so far beyond this EP and we haven’t even hit the studio with it yet. HWM went on a hiatus and we all started doing so many different projects. Over the course of those years we learned a lot and became better musicians. So now we’re reviving the band, reviving eachother and learning how to play together again. All of that is going to make up this new HWM record and we’re all really excited about it.
Sanderz: Is it going to be a full length album?
Chuck: Oh, absolutely!
Sanderz: How did eight years of political, cultural and social change influence HWM? Or hasn’t it?
Chuck: Absolutely, although I have to say that it only has influenced part of our music.
Years ago I met some people who taught me how to look at music in a certain way. They taught me one of the most special things about music: to write, play and use music as a tool for therapy, to overcome obstacles or a way to express ourselves. I feel very blessed and lucky to have met these people that were more concerned about a view and a stance on music, rather than having music as an image. It had everything to do with music as a tool to become better human beings, better friends and family members, to help us overcome these day-to-day obstacles that all of us, face one way or the other. I feel really lucky.
But to answer your original question: in the course of that mind frame music became a therapeutic outlet for me. I write songs, first and foremost, about whatever affects me in a positive or negative way to get it off my chest or out of my head. It is something I learned to do at a young age. This way of expressing myself can be compared to someone else keeping a journal, taking photographs or painting. Something you feel drawn to do, you almost feel you have to do, more than you want to do it. I’m sorry, I’m rambling….
(Sanderz: That’s ok. I like rambling….)
Chuck: I write music about everything that affects me: it could be about love or about a person I met on the street doing something horrible, or it could be political or environmentally charged. I think about everything that affects me from the moment I wake up till the moment I lay down, about things that pass in front of my eyes, some of them extremely hateful or awful and some of them extremely beautiful. To me, if something like that touches your senses, stirs some kind of emotion, it’s most likely worth telling a story about; it becomes a song.
Sanderz: What in your opinion is the contribution of music to activism?
Chuck: I never was one to call myself an extreme political musician. I have a lot of friends and I know a lot of bands who use music as a platform for, or a pedestal to speak their politics and to demonstrate their activism. I think that’s wonderful and beautiful. I definitely believe in it and sympathize with it, but I am in conflict with pushing my views on anybody. There’s a fine line, because in the grand scheme we’re all different, and even a lot of people who consider themselves likeminded, one way or the other, are different. I learned that it’s almost impossible to change one or anything with brute force, direct action, preaching or pointing a finger.
It seems that people, myself included, are more apt to change in reaction to other people. If I see you living a life that is extremely positive and you’re doing it for the good and making changes, I’m likely to be more drawn to you than to this person sitting in the dirt burying his head in the sand complaining about everything.
In a vague kind of way politics and activism always made it into my songs, but more in a way how I perceive it. I express my thoughts and experiences through storytelling, but it’s hard to say that I consider myself an activist. I believe in and support many causes . Maybe I could be an activist in a different sense than what my friends are. I believe in a lot of causes that they support and I back them up all the way, but I’m a touring musician.
Sanderz: A lot of touring artists, often supported by a specialized organization, curb their CO2 emissions by taking several measurements like recycling backstage, using re-usable water-bottles, carbon off setting, using biodiesel. Are there any of such measurements HWM is taking into consideration?
Chuck: Not enough. But I’ve recently become friends with a company in the States called Zero Hero(www.zeroheroevents.com), which I’m really excited about. They sponsor a lot of festivals. I’m trying to get them to start sponsoring tours, especially the Revival Tour (www.therevivaltour.com) to help us offset our entire carbon footprint. The absolute worst part of all these bands being at this festival is the amount of fuel that is burned. I don’t think that anybody even realizes the amount of fuel that is burned, the amount of trash that accumulates, and granted that even though people make efforts to recycle, there’s a massive amount of trash, which is disgusting. It’s horrible.
The touring world is responsible for a lot that is happening to our environment. Even if we’re believing in a cause or trying to fight the good fight, we have to be a lot more responsible for the way we tour, because this earth can take only so much. It’s already breaking down in so many pieces, like a machine. If you put bad fuel in it and you do not take good care of it, it’s going to fall apart and there’s going to be a point in time that it doesn’t work anymore.
We’re trying to get involved with Zero Hero, who can basically regulate and figure out our carbon footprint. We want to start to run tour- buses on biodiesel. In the States there’s a site called biotrucker.com ( www.biotrucker.com). You’re able find all the stops that have biodiesel. So hopefully that starts spreading and a lot more bands starts using it.
Sanderz: Is it locally produced biodiesel or…..
Chuck: You see, that’s it. The question about the whole rainforest issue can make a person crazy.
Sanderz: What are your thoughts on the current state of the planet and humankind’s response to the circumstances?
Chuck: I feel like I’m somewhat responsible, but I honestly think that none of us is truly aware of what is going on. It seems like everything would change if we were really aware. There’s something about a society feeling comfortable when it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’. If they don’t ‘know’ how much wrong they’re doing, they don’t have to worry about it. It’s a sad thing. I want to know more, but at the same time I feel that sometimes, it’s just too much.
Sanderz: How does folk rock compare to hardcore punk?
Chuck: I found a ton of parallels between the two. I grew up with a lot of acoustic music like bluegrass and gospel music, even before I got into punkrock, rock’n roll or anything like that. Skateboarding and riding bicycles got me into punkrock. This was an evolution of teenage rebellion. I found this music that was really aggressive, that scared me at a young age of which I thought: ‘Oh this is crazy. They’re yelling! Are they mad???’ It was something that hit me. I realized it enabled me to let everything out in a very positive way. It may have seemed angry. It may have seemed brutal or hateful, but I found it to be positive meaning that punkrock is very forthright, very intentional. You can’t hide behind anything. It is ‘say what you mean’ and ‘mean what you say’ in these songs.
As I grew older, I went back to a lot of my roots in music, like folk music, bluegrass, I noticed that a lot of the folk music I listened to -some of it old some of it new-is ethically based on the same things as the punkrock that I grew up with. When I’m writing lyrics most of the time, whether for Hot Water Music lyrics or a movie or anything else, the way I’m writing is very similar. I see a lot of parallels in the expression and the ethics, in the intention of the two. The the major difference is: one is plugged in and one is played on a box of wood with steel strings.
Sanderz:The question we ask all participants; What do you do in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint?
Chuck: My wife and I, as of lately, eat a lot of raw food, more than anything nowadays (laughs). We try to stay out of ‘the vehicle’ as much as possible, because I’m enough in vehicles as it is: planes, trains and automobiles… (laughs) We have a chocolate Labrador who keeps us very busy on foot. She needs to walked and takes a lot of energy.
Granted we both love to change the world like anybody else, but realistically we know that to do any good- to change for the better- we have to start small and we have to start at home. I’ll be honest with you: I’m guilty of getting lazy and jumpin’ in the car to drive to the grocery store instead of riding my bike, when it’s raining, too hot or whatever. I admit it, I’m guilty of that. I can always do more. I think we all can do more. It’s the little steps that are important, like cleaning up after oneself and trying to make more of an effort. But it always will be a challenge.
Sanderz: Thanks so much!
Chuck: I really enjoyed talking to you.
Hot Water Music is a hardcore/ punkrock band from Florida formed in 1993. Band-members are: Jason Black, Chris Wollard, George Rebelo and Chuck Ragan. For further information check out their website @ www.hotwatermusicdotcom.wordpress.com/ www.chuckraganmusic.com
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