Chris Wollard and The Ship Thieves

When Hot Water Music disbanded a few years ago, many fans, including myself, were left wondering, "Will rock and roll ever be its honest, rebellious self again?" Well, not only has HWM started playing together again, but its individual members are spreading their sincere, Gainesville love under different monikers. Last winter, the good word was spread further with Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves - 10 smoky snapshots of Chris' optimistic, but unsettled world. With a bunch of dates being announced for the fall and winter, including some international shows and an appearance at Gainesville's Fest 8 in late October, Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves are ready to spread their nautical tales out to the rest of the world.

Chris sat down with Gen Handley for a frank conversation about tour withdrawal, the serious joys and perils of writing music and why he's just a ship thief at heart.

So what are you up to right now?

Right now, I am escaping a hangover somehow and I’m sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette and drinking as much water as I can.

(laughs) Nice day down there in Florida?

Oh yeah man - it actually pretty fucking awesome right now. Where are you? In Alberta?

Yeah, all the way up in Edmonton.

Edmonton! Awesome. Yeah, it’s very different here than up there man. It’s been crazy hot this summer, but today we have a full cloud covering and no rain so it’s pretty pleasant out.

Good hangover weather?

(laughs) Yeah, by the time the Buccaneers start pre-season football at eight o’clock, I should be feeling pretty normal.

So you recently just celebrated a birthday…

Yeah, about a week ago.

How old are you now?

I’m 34. I’m getting old. (laughs)

Are you feeling old?

Parts of me do, but no, I still live pretty young. I mean, I don’t party like I used to - I don’t think I could. I mean, I have a 13-year-old kid and that can make you feel old sometimes, but he plays football and most of the parents of the other kids are a lot older than me so that me makes me feel kind of young. (laughs)

So it’s been almost exactly six months since Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves came out. How has the first six months been so far?

Yeah I guess that’s true. Well the band has been pretty good. Right now, it’s pretty exciting…it’s pretty exciting, but we had a couple of obstacles here and there…

Like what?

Well, we put out a record before we had a band. (laughs) The record was done for four or five months before it came out so by the time it was out, I had a lot of new stuff I was already working on. I knew I was going to put a full band together at that point - I just didn’t know who it was going to be. (laughs) A lot of it was just getting the band together and practicing and practicing, and writing and writing, and trying to stay ahead of everyone else. We have a drummer and a bass player who aren’t on the record so we’re going back to the songs again. I want to do another record as soon as I can. (pauses) Because that’s what I do.


I’m just trying to get this album that I’m working on now together. I don’t know man, it’s just been strange, you know? I’ve spent forever on the road.

How long?

(pauses) God, I don’t even know. Since my 20s? And into my 30s? Last year, we didn’t do a lot of touring - like, full-out touring. But Hot Water was out last year and every month we were doing something. This year, I haven’t really done any traveling. I’ve been sitting around, getting the band together, figuring out how to live at home. (laughs) It’s weird.

It’s weird being off of the road?

Man, the road was my life and I know that it’s probably affecting me now in some weird way - I know that for sure. Like, you’re in a submarine, (laughs) you’re in a space shuttle in orbit with you and your friends in the band - and you’re driving each other nuts. I mean, it’s awesome and it’s fun, but you come home after 10 or 12 years and you’re like, "Woah." It fucks with you.

You had mentioned before that these are exciting times right now for the Ship Thieves. Can you elaborate?

Well, the main thing is that I know who is in the band…

Who’s that?

It’s me and Addison (Burns), who plays guitar, and then there’s (Ben) Lovett, who plays piano - actually he plays anything. (laughs) So it’s both of those guys and they’re the two I’ve been working with pretty much through all of this. There’s also Chad Darby who plays bass - he’s a local dude and plays in a super cool band called Averkiou. Jeffrey (Haineult) from Ninja Gun just joined on drums. Right now, me and Chad and Addison live in Gainesville and Jeffrey’s here all the time so we’re just doing a lot of work - we jam all the time and it’s awesome.

Were you jamming last night?

No…last night was just shenanigans. (laughs) We have had like, six-hour and eight-hour practices where you get in the van to go home and you’re like, "Oh my god, is it really 3:40 in the morning? What the fuck?" (laughs) I’m really seeing the band come together - it’s so exciting for me because I’ve been doing this for so long and I haven’t had the luxury of having full band practice, you know? Most of the time, we had a bunch of ideas, we’d met in the studio to record and hang out and hopefully it will sound good. Now, we actually get to work on ideas, work on the rhythm section and work on arrangements more. That’s exciting.

So is this experience feeling a lot more natural?

Yeah man. It’s been a mega-pain in the ass trying to be patient. But, we didn’t force anything and with everyone in the band, it all kind of just worked out. We didn’t rush to find anybody - we wanted to find the right people. It’s so important to know that you have a group of people with the same goals. You’re all doing the same thing and you don’t have to think twice about somebody’s commitment. It came about all on its own and it took a long time - like years. (laughs)

Where did the Ship Thieves name originate from?

From the book of the same name. It’s an awesome book and I can’t remember the name of the lady who wrote it. (pauses) No, I can’t remember, but the book’s about prison colonies in Australia and how they were shipping people from England down there - just brutal crazy stuff. These people hadn’t done much wrong, they were just poor or whatever and were shipped to these prisons and living in the worst conditions imaginable. So the story is about a guy who keeps breaking out of prison but they’d catch him and put him in chains or leg irons and he’d break out again. (laughs) So, I guess they were building boats while they were locked up and this guy, with some other dudes, stole a boat they built and escaped and they sailed from Tasmania to South America with very little. So they lived there for a few years and then got caught again and sent back to prison. (laughs) They just kept on escaping and breaking out and going for it - I thought it was an awesome story.

Do you feel a connection with those guys who kept breaking out?

Yeah man, it really spoke to me. My like is nothing like that, but the ideas of fighting for your freedom and refusing to accept what the world has done to you and your scene is what you make it - I really related to that. It spoke to me because it’s kind of like us and that’s kind of like what we’re doing. I mean, if those guys in the book heard me say that, they’d probably kick my ass and be like, "Your band has nothing in common with us spending our lives breaking out of prison." (laughs)

(laughs) So obviously the focus is on the Ship Thieves at the moment, but what’s the status of Hot Water Music and The Draft (all three of The Draft members are in Hot Water Music)?

Well, The Draft doesn’t really have a status. (laughs) Last year we spent most of it with Hot Water and at the end of the year, it was like, "Ok, everyone’s got a lot of stuff going on." You know, Jason’s (bass player) touring with Senses Fail right now and Chuck’s (lead singer) obviously super busy with his solo stuff and George just joined Against Me! and I’m doing this. So we didn’t make a decision about taking a break from Hot Water - we’re just all really busy. We’re taking about doing more gigs - that’s for sure - but that will all be in the new year. We’re all friends, we still play music and we’ve talked about writing new music, but that’s hard when everybody’s doing other stuff. Hot Water’s not the kind of band where you show up and you have an album written and you’re like, "Ok guys, learn this." You might bring full songs to the table, but everyone writes together so we need to be there in the same room. We’re just taking it as it comes because we really got to that burnt-out level before. We were just working too-fucking hard and we were gone too much. You totally lose touch with reality so we don’t want to get to that point again. We all want to play shows together and of course, we’ll all do some writing at some point again, but it won’t be forced and we don’t want to put a whole lot of pressure on ourselves.

So do things naturally - like what you’re doing with the Ship Thieves?

Well, they are different because Hot Water is 15 years old. (laughs)


Yeah…yeah that’s really crazy dude. That’s a long time. When you spend that much time with people, it kind of takes on a life of its own, you know? I mean, I guess they are similar because I think we’re all trying to be smarter about the way we’re working in general. It’s all music and it’s all writing with your friends.

Speaking of writing, have you found that your writing has become more mellow with age?

I’d say of course because throughout the years, you learn a lot about yourself and you learn little things along the way and of course it’s going to translate into your writing, your art or whatever you’re doing. In another way, I’m not going to write angry music right now so I guess it might be mellower. (pauses) I don’t know. I still feel as intense as I ever had when I’m writing a song - regardless of what the song’s about. It’s just an intense thing you’re doing. You’re opening the book up and letting people read it - you’re very naked once you do that. Writing, for me, has been the way that I sort through my thoughts. It’s the way I make sense of things and it’s the way I organize my thoughts.

It’s therapeutic then…

Oh, for sure dude - for sure. Like, with everybody, you have a moment when you’re not quite sure of what to say or how to say it or who to say it to. You just have something you need to get off your chest so you pick up your guitar and you sing to your guitar. It’s definitely therapy, but it’s also grueling. At a certain point, it’s like torture when you can’t make sense of a feeling and you’ve been sitting on a song for four or five months - that makes you feel pretty stupid and you can really get down on yourself. So at best, it’s like therapy and at worst, it’s like torture. (laughs)

What gets the writing juices flowing? Is it family? Politics? Booze?

Umm, yeah - it can be all of that. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s a quiet moment and there’s just a feeling you need to convey and it might not be about anything in particular. I mean, you might write a song where nothing happens - it’s just a picture. For politics, they just sneak their way in there. I don’t like it when songs are really heavy-handed. Like, I want to hear what somebody believes and I want to hear what somebody has to say, but I don’t somebody telling me what to believe.

Yeah, nothing preachy…

I just write about life and hopefully from the first song to the last song, things will start to make sense. I mean, you’re always talking to your girlfriend or your partner and even if that person isn’t in the song, you’re probably still talking to them and reaching out to them in that song. I like telling little stories. Me and a friend of mine were sitting around about a month ago and talking about writing songs. He heard a line - I can’t fucking remember who it was - but it was something like, "Put a little bit of yourself in a lot of songs." Like, don’t shove everything you’ve got into any one song - don’t make your lines that heavy. Allow yourself to tell the story and allow yourself to let it go. That can be hard because you only have a set-amount of space so you feel like you need to make every line count and that’s a fight.

So is the Ship Thieves album a pretty solid glimpse into the life of Chris Wollard?

Yeah, it’s a glimpse, but a glimpse of my life at that time. It’s a lot of little pictures from that time. My life’s changed a lot since then.

How so?

Well, I’m a different person. A lot of those songs were written when I was travelling around a lot. Right now, I’m kind of doing a little bit more living. So those songs are just shots of those moments. Right now, I’m writing about what’s been going on in my mind lately, which is a lot shit - I’ve got a lot on my mind.

Like what?

Man, I don’t know. It was a pretty brutal time last year for me - a pretty brutal year.

Why was that?

Well, my dad got pretty sick - he got cancer. It looks like he beat it, but it was really tough. I also lost somebody was really close to me. There was just a lot in my personal life and I was really happy to be home to tend to things. So after this last birthday, I’m like, "Alright, lets get things going into a new year." I want to get the band going and get it out there because I just can’t sit on these songs any long - I need to get this out of me!

In five years from now, what do you see yourself doing?

Well, I imagine I’ll still be working on this stuff. Hopefully the band will keep building and will pick up momentum, But yeah, I like what I’m doing musically right now and I feel beyond lucky. Like Hot Water is so solid and we know each other so well and those guys are like brothers and it’s awesome. I can go out, play loud and go nuts. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be super serious and we don’t have to play full time and drive ourselves crazy. Now, I have another outlet and I’m able to write about whatever I want and however me and my friends want to do it. We record by ourselves, make all of the decisions on our own and I love that.

You’re around some really good people…

Yeah, I’m really lucky. It’s hard to find people you connect with - musically and with writing. I’m just really lucky and I’m hoping it keeps on going. I really, really like what we’re doing and we will do another album. You were asking about five years from now? I hope the Ship Thieves will have five more albums out from now. (laughs)

So life’s good then?

Well, it’s turning around brother. I’ve got a lot of good things to look forward to - that’s for sure.