Florida based rock outfit Hot Water Music return to the UK this month for a handful of dates. Ahead of a hotly anticipated show at Leeds Irish Centre, Ciaran Gilligan talked to singer and guitarist Chuck Ragan about the band, reuniting, their new material and their hopes for the future.
The latest post on HotWaterMusic.com speaks of the promise of new tunes 'one day soon'. That was back in March. How is the new stuff coming along, and do you guys plan on road testing any new material during the upcoming tour?
We're fired up. We've all been writing quite a bit. We'll possibly get into some new songs and see what we can work out. No telling right now. The writing so far has just been us writing individually and sending material back and forth since we plan on digging deeper into it on this tour and coming all together in July to really hammer stuff down.
In terms of starting up again after The New What Next, how easy was it to come together once more as HWM? Did somebody have to make the first move, or was it a much more organic process?
It was a completely organic process. It was all just a matter of time and something that we had all wanted to do and anticipated throughout the hiatus. Coming together for the first was just right and about as simple as it could be. I'd say that if you do anything you love for a long enough span, taking a break and coming back to it makes it all that much more clear and exciting. It simply fell into place right away.
Do you think the band would still be together now if it hadn't already disbanded twice? Is there any regret over those decisions or are they now seen as necessary forks in the road?
There's a solid chance that we wouldn't still be together, so yes I see those times as very necessary and crucially positive forks in our career. It seems that the times that we have taken a step back to re-evaluate our position, what we were doing and why we were doing it has done nothing but keep HWM as real as it could be. It basically solidified and re- confirmed our relationship with each other as well as our fans and friends who have supported us along the way. We have always been a band who wears their heart on their sleeve which makes it hard to be anything but real and exposed and I honestly believe that even if we did continue through times where we didn't want to, we would have seriously drove ourselves into the dirt, lost all passion for it or would've just become another shallow and contrived “act” on stage. That's never been for us or our supporters and as far as we see it, should never be.
How important are bands like The Draft, The Ship Theives and Rumbleseat Is Dead in the history of HWM? Have these other projects informed the sound and dynamic of the band at all over the years, or do you see HWM and outside musical interests as mutually exclusive?
We are musicians. We are songwriters and we take in absolutely everything around us as inspiration and influence. Every song or record that any of us have done outside of HWM has always been a growing point for us either musically, lyrically or mentally. It's all just another chapter of the story and none of us would be where we are today if we hadn't followed our hearts and instincts to do exactly what each of us had wanted to do.
What is each band members favourite HWM album, and why?
That's always been a tough question since each one means quite a bit in their own way or time. Our records are almost like diary entries or sections from a timeline of our life. The best sounding work could easily be some of the worst memories and vice versa. I would lean towards “Caution” if I had to choose but they all mean so much to me that it's hard to determine any favourites. I feel I speak for all of us on some levels of that but you'd have to ask the other gents for their full opinion.
How should a newcomer to the world of HWM approach the bands back catalogue? Is it best to start at the beginning, or are there certain records that typify the essence of the band?
That's a tough one as well. I would say start at the beginning to understand the full natural progression. To us it makes complete sense because we've seen our music, our writing and the styles that we love to play come full circle time and again. There's always been detours here and there but we always seem to find our way back to the road where we feel confident and comfortable. In more ways than one I'd say!
Til The Wheels Fall Off features covers of The Clash, Turbonegro, Alkaline Trio and Bruce Springsteen. Is that a typical cross section of your influences as band? Who else do you look up to musically?
In all honesty, it's an endless catalog my friend. We all came from very different backgrounds with a lot of common ground in between. So once again the influence and inspiration comes from all over. Midnight Oil, The Police, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Samiam, Jawbreaker, Sex Pistols, “old” Metallica, The Misfits, Lungfish, Leatherface, Naked Raygun, GBH, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Avail, Alison Krauss…I could go on and on.
The success of HWM has built up around a hardcore and dedicated audience at your gigs, such as the one that went crazy for you guys when you played Josephs Well here in Leeds in 2004 . Do you notice any difference in the UK audiences compared to when you play Europe or The States?
There's always the common and apparent differences travelling abroad that everyone finds whether in a band or not. As for our shows, one thing that we've always truly felt blessed with is the unity, compassion and understanding that our fans all over this world bring to the shows. It seems to be a common bond and we feel we are playing shows more for kindred spirits rather than “a head count in a room.” Of course there's always bad shows, good shows, great shows and life changing shows and those cities or countries change for that from time to time. But all in all, being apart of a cycle of energy like this is something we could never take for granted. No matter what country we're in.
When you guys started out 17 years ago, there was no Myspace or Facebook and the internet was barely out of short trousers. Now, it has the music industry as we know it dying a slow death and it's easier to steal music than it is to buy it. How are labels like No Idea and Doghouse surviving in the current climate, and is technology killing or encouraging the scene that once made it possible for bands like HWM to emerge?
Digital sales for one. T-Shirt or soft good sales for another. There's a few ways out there. It's become quite a bit tougher to keep things afloat for everyone in the industry. But mainly tougher for the larger businesses. The market has changed and is now changing faster and more sporadically than ever. At least from where I sit. The smaller labels without as much overhead seem to be doing better of course. Just as any other business would in a tighter economy or drastic income shift. I'd say though that many of us on the “lower levels” of the musical ladder will rarely notice a massive change at all. Many of us have never hardly made any money playing music or selling records anyway. So the biggest change we see or will see is that it's simply easier and faster to get our music out there. We never stopped selling vinyl. We never sold much of it compared to larger labels or bands but we never stopped selling it. The beautiful thing about underground music is that there always will be underground music. How it survives, where it survives and in what form it thrives will be ever changing. So if anything, technology isn't killing the “scene” for smaller bands to emerge in any way in my opinion. It's just making us all evolve which we are wired to handle. It's only made it more convenient to get music out there, get fed faster or find a place to sleep on the road a bit easier. We're all still going to press our music into wax as long as the presses keep running and knowing the gang down at Pirates Press, that could be a very long time.
Has being HWM again been more enjoyable for each of you than it was before the break up, and is the future and longevity of the band now secure? What’s next for the band?
Yes. Other than the reoccurring injuries from old ways and burning the candle at both ends, we feel 18 again! As for the longevity of the band, we always wanted this band to last for the long haul and we plan to do everything in our power to make that happen. Even if it means taking a hiatus here and there. What's next right now is focusing on short term goals. We're writing a new record! I'm looking forward to these shows and this tour but as far as HWM goes, that's all I'm focusing on and the most important thing that we could be doing. We've all found new chapters in our lives and just as we've always done, we document that. It's time for the next chapter. Thanks for the support. Thanks for caring.