Nomad By Fate: An Interview With Chuck Ragan Of Hot Water Music

July 27, 2012 by Chris Grosso

With his emotional and gravel-coated bellow, vocalist/guitarist Chuck Ragan made a name for himself as one-fourth of the much loved Gainesville post-hardcore outfit Hot Water Music before releasing his first solo album in 2007. Alongside friends Chris Wollard, Jason Black, and George Rebelo, Ragan formed Hot Water Music in the early ’90s. Through a slew of well-received albums for labels like No Idea, Doghouse, and Epitaph — and an incessant grassroots touring regime — the passionate crew turned itself into a highly respected and influential act on the underground scene. Outside of his main gig, Ragan also recorded two side albums with some friends, including the stripped-down rock of Rumbleseat and the punk-oriented Cro(w)s. Ragan’s third solo album Covering Ground is as much of a love letter to his transient lifestyle as it as a concession to the loved ones he often has to leave behind and is also undeniably his most honest and accomplished album to date.  Musically Covering Ground sees Ragan peeling back the layers of his songwriting style and allowing the talented cast of musicians to fill out the arrangements with their own voices. Despite the fact that Ragan is working with instrumentation that has existed for hundreds of years, Covering Ground is also a remarkably diverse-sounding album and showcases the range Ragan is now able to attain with his whiskey-soaked pipes.

*The following interview was conducted after Chuck’s set at The Acoustic Basement Stage of the 2012 Warped Tour stop in Hartford, CT on 7/22/12.

The Chuck Ragan Interview

TIS: So the first time I say you perform was with Hot Water Music on a tour you guys did with Assuck back in like ’95ish. Times have obviously changed and it’s rare, if at all, tours like that happen anymore so I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about how your own personal experience has changed and evolved throughout the years on the road?

CR: (Laughing) Oh man, that was a great tour with Assuck but anyways, a lot of us have toured since then, and a lot of us were touring even before then. Man, you learn so much just like with anything else. If you do something long enough, you learn. You make mistakes. You run into roadblocks and barriers. You overcome obstacles. You fall down. I mean you have to fall down to learn to stand up. Over the years since then though, I couldn’t even begin to try and count all the mistakes I’ve made but also, all the joys I’ve found while traveling on the road. So in living this kind of lifestyle day in and day out for that many years you learn. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about how people should be treated and how they should treat each other. For the most part, I’ve really learned patience, temperament and fairness all around.

TIS: Awesome. So you’ve talked about how most of the songs from Covering Ground were written on the road and I was wondering if you could go a little bit into that actual process and the evolution of the album?

CR: Well we never set out to write a concept album. I’ve always used song writing as a therapeutic release so in that process, I just do my best to be honest with myself and look inside myself and whatever comes out usually just reflects or depicts what I’m going through in my life at that time. So I wasn’t necessarily shooting to write a road record or a record about traveling or touring, but I’ve been on the road non-stop. It wasn’t until I actually laid all the songs out to choose which ones I was going to record that I realized man, all these songs are road songs. So that’s when I kind of realized I should just look at it very plainly and call it what it is, simply a record about covering ground.

TIS: Sure and so being the incessant touring musician that you are, how does that impact your life outside of music?

CR: It’s extremely hard man. It’s a whole nother aspect of this life that most people have no idea about. There’s the loved ones, the wives, the girlfriends, the children. Some of the people out here are fathers and mothers. Whether you mean to or not, you end up neglecting your family in a lot of ways. Even if you do your best to keep in touch, the fact of the matter is that you’re physically absent. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what kind of relationship you have, this takes a toll on everybody and most of the time, it takes more of a toll on our loved ones at home. So it’s a constant struggle, it’s a constant balance, it’s a constant search to find the balance between being responsible, carrying on with this as a livelihood and making ends meet, but at the same time, respecting your loved ones and being able to stay in touch and be there for them, at least emotionally since you’re not there physically. Man, I mean we’re all guilty of getting sidetracked or getting taken away from our loved ones. Whether we believe it or not, or care to admit it or not, it’s just a product of this lifestyle. That’s a big reason why I’ve always called this the blessing and the curse. I love what I’m doing here but I hate being away from home. I hate it. I look forward to one day raising a family myself, and I really look forward to children but when that day comes, I don’t want to be an absent dad. I’m already an absent husband.

TIS: I can only imagine how trying that must be on you. So you mentioned music as being therapeutic for you. After listening to just how much the road life takes away from you in regards to your loved ones, can you elaborate a bit more on your own experience with the release writing music provides.

CR: Years ago I came in contact with a group of people, when I was like 12, 13, 14, 15. I met some people who showed me a path in music where they were like hey, look, while yes, it can have to do with being popular and making money, it DOESN’T have to be. We can use music as a tool to overcome things. It was a beautiful age and realization for me, an awakening. I felt like my eyes were opened. It was like, you mean to tell me that I have the opportunity when I’m bottling stuff up, wanting to smash windows and breaking down walls, I can put that energy into a song and wake up the next day with that weight lifted? So they showed me this way of dealing with music, writing songs, thinking about music and shows and our community and the fact that it doesn’t have to be about being popular or fashion or making money. It’s an opportunity that’s there for all of us, like a life raft or preserver to hang onto when there’s nothing else or no one else around because man, we’re human and no matter what, one way or another, everyone of us in our lives, at some point in time, are going to feel alone. That’s just a fact of life. So I’ve taken music into my life and it’s gotten into my blood to the point where even when I am alone, I’ve got something to hang onto.

TIS: Nice, I can definitely relate too much of that sentiment from my own experience as well. So while this is probably a cliche question, I’m truly curious how the experience of doing your solo music differs from when you’re writing and performing with Hot Water Music?

CR: For me, I love both worlds. I love my brothers in Hot Water Music. I love my brothers that I play with here doing the solo stuff. So a lot of the time they are kind of one in the same in a lot of ways. The song writing is different because with this stuff, I write it on my own and with Hot Water, we’re more of a collective and I love both sides of that. Honestly, it’s two different animals but I love and respect them both and feel really honored to be blessed with people who care about it and come out and support both sides of it. It almost feels like I have the best of both worlds in a sense. I also respect the fact that all of this could be over tomorrow so I do everything I can just to cherish the moments and days and these opportunities I have to share music that I believe in with these people who care about it.

TIS: Awesome. So I know “Rumbleseat is dead” but I have to ask if there is any chance some new stuff may ever get recorded/released down the road?

CR: Most likely not. Rumbleseat is dead (laughing.) I mean Chris and some of us may play together at some point  so you never know, but yeah, most likely not.

TIS: Right on, I had to ask. It was an amazing album.

CR: Well thank you very much.

TIS: Of course. Well thanks for taking the time to do this. I know things are hectic on this tour for you but I greatly appreciate it.

CR: Oh no problem man. Thanks for the questions.

TIS: Definitely. Enjoy the rest of the tour.

CR: Thanks man. Take care.

TIS: You too.

Visit Chuck Ragan Online Here!

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Chris Grosso is a writer, public speaker, mental health youth group facilitator, and author with Simon & Schuster. He also writes for Revolver Magazine, Fangoria, and has spoken at a bunch of fancy-schmancy festivals and conferences (as well as even more events that were significantly less than fancy-schmancy). Chris's podcast, The Indie Spiritualist, is hosted on Ram Dass's Be Here Now Network.
  1. Love HWM! Great interview! I will need to pay more attention to his solo stuff.