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 Iâm 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, itâs very different here than up there man. Itâs been crazy hot this summer, but today we have a full cloud covering and no rain so itâs pretty pleasant out.
Good hangover weather?
(laughs) Yeah, by the time the Buccaneers start pre-season football at eight oâclock, I should be feeling pretty normal.
So you recently just celebrated a birthdayâ¦
Yeah, about a week ago.
How old are you now?
Iâm 34. Iâm getting old. (laughs)
Are you feeling old?
Parts of me do, but no, I still live pretty young. I mean, I donât party like I used to - I donât 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 itâs 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 thatâs true. Well the band has been pretty good. Right now, itâs pretty excitingâ¦itâs pretty exciting, but we had a couple of obstacles here and thereâ¦
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 didnât 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 arenât on the record so weâre going back to the songs again. I want to do another record as soon as I can. (pauses) Because thatâs what I do.
Iâm just trying to get this album that Iâm working on now together. I donât know man, itâs just been strange, you know? Iâve spent forever on the road.
(pauses) God, I donât even know. Since my 20s? And into my 30s? Last year, we didnât 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 havenât really done any traveling. Iâve been sitting around, getting the band together, figuring out how to live at home. (laughs) Itâs weird.
Itâs weird being off of the road?
Man, the road was my life and I know that itâs probably affecting me now in some weird way - I know that for sure. Like, youâre in a submarine, (laughs) youâre in a space shuttle in orbit with you and your friends in the band - and youâre driving each other nuts. I mean, itâs awesome and itâs fun, but you come home after 10 or 12 years and youâre 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 bandâ¦
Itâs me and Addison (Burns), who plays guitar, and then thereâs (Ben) Lovett, who plays piano - actually he plays anything. (laughs) So itâs both of those guys and theyâre the two Iâve been working with pretty much through all of this. Thereâs also Chad Darby who plays bass - heâs 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 Jeffreyâs here all the time so weâre just doing a lot of work - we jam all the time and itâs awesome.
Were you jamming last night?
Noâ¦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 youâre like, "Oh my god, is it really 3:40 in the morning? What the fuck?" (laughs) Iâm really seeing the band come together - itâs so exciting for me because Iâve been doing this for so long and I havenât had the luxury of having full band practice, you know? Most of the time, we had a bunch of ideas, weâd 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. Thatâs exciting.
So is this experience feeling a lot more natural?
Yeah man. Itâs been a mega-pain in the ass trying to be patient. But, we didnât force anything and with everyone in the band, it all kind of just worked out. We didnât rush to find anybody - we wanted to find the right people. Itâs so important to know that you have a group of people with the same goals. Youâre all doing the same thing and you donât have to think twice about somebodyâs 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. Itâs an awesome book and I canât remember the name of the lady who wrote it. (pauses) No, I canât remember, but the bookâs about prison colonies in Australia and how they were shipping people from England down there - just brutal crazy stuff. These people hadnât 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 theyâd catch him and put him in chains or leg irons and heâd 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 itâs kind of like us and thatâs kind of like what weâre doing. I mean, if those guys in the book heard me say that, theyâd 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 whatâs the status of Hot Water Music and The Draft (all three of The Draft members are in Hot Water Music)?
Well, The Draft doesnât 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, everyoneâs got a lot of stuff going on." You know, Jasonâs (bass player) touring with Senses Fail right now and Chuckâs (lead singer) obviously super busy with his solo stuff and George just joined Against Me! and Iâm doing this. So we didnât make a decision about taking a break from Hot Water - weâre just all really busy. Weâre taking about doing more gigs - thatâs for sure - but that will all be in the new year. Weâre all friends, we still play music and weâve talked about writing new music, but thatâs hard when everybodyâs doing other stuff. Hot Waterâs not the kind of band where you show up and you have an album written and youâre 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. Weâre 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 donât want to get to that point again. We all want to play shows together and of course, weâll all do some writing at some point again, but it wonât be forced and we donât want to put a whole lot of pressure on ourselves.
So do things naturally - like what youâre doing with the Ship Thieves?
Well, they are different because Hot Water is 15 years old. (laughs)
Yeahâ¦yeah thatâs really crazy dude. Thatâs 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 weâre all trying to be smarter about the way weâre working in general. Itâs all music and itâs all writing with your friends.
Speaking of writing, have you found that your writing has become more mellow with age?
Iâd say of course because throughout the years, you learn a lot about yourself and you learn little things along the way and of course itâs going to translate into your writing, your art or whatever youâre doing. In another way, Iâm not going to write angry music right now so I guess it might be mellower. (pauses) I donât know. I still feel as intense as I ever had when Iâm writing a song - regardless of what the songâs about. Itâs just an intense thing youâre doing. Youâre opening the book up and letting people read it - youâre very naked once you do that. Writing, for me, has been the way that I sort through my thoughts. Itâs the way I make sense of things and itâs the way I organize my thoughts.
Itâs therapeutic thenâ¦
Oh, for sure dude - for sure. Like, with everybody, you have a moment when youâre 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. Itâs definitely therapy, but itâs also grueling. At a certain point, itâs like torture when you canât make sense of a feeling and youâve 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, itâs like therapy and at worst, itâs like torture. (laughs)
What gets the writing juices flowing? Is it family? Politics? Booze?
Umm, yeah - it can be all of that. I donât know. Sometimes itâs a quiet moment and thereâs 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 - itâs just a picture. For politics, they just sneak their way in there. I donât 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 donât somebody telling me what to believe.
Yeah, nothing preachyâ¦
I just write about life and hopefully from the first song to the last song, things will start to make sense. I mean, youâre always talking to your girlfriend or your partner and even if that person isnât in the song, youâre 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 canât fucking remember who it was - but it was something like, "Put a little bit of yourself in a lot of songs." Like, donât shove everything youâve got into any one song - donât 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 thatâs a fight.
So is the Ship Thieves album a pretty solid glimpse into the life of Chris Wollard?
Yeah, itâs a glimpse, but a glimpse of my life at that time. Itâs a lot of little pictures from that time. My lifeâs changed a lot since then.
Well, Iâm a different person. A lot of those songs were written when I was travelling around a lot. Right now, Iâm kind of doing a little bit more living. So those songs are just shots of those moments. Right now, Iâm writing about whatâs been going on in my mind lately, which is a lot shit - Iâve got a lot on my mind.
Man, I donât 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, Iâm 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 canât 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 Iâll still be working on this stuff. Hopefully the band will keep building and will pick up momentum, But yeah, I like what Iâm 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 itâs awesome. I can go out, play loud and go nuts. At the same time, it doesnât have to be super serious and we donât have to play full time and drive ourselves crazy. Now, I have another outlet and Iâm 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.
Youâre around some really good peopleâ¦
Yeah, Iâm really lucky. Itâs hard to find people you connect with - musically and with writing. Iâm just really lucky and Iâm hoping it keeps on going. I really, really like what weâre 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 lifeâs good then?
Well, itâs turning around brother. Iâve got a lot of good things to look forward to - thatâs for sure.