After more than 20 years of brotherly love, disagreement and songs, Hot Water Music seems to be more unshakable than ever with its individual members going off on their separate ways only to return home with new tales to share at the family table.
Chuck Ragan went off in several different directions after the band's break and has since returned a little older, revived and a shade more haggard. Whether it's toe-tapping folk songs or customized window frames, the jack of all trades has a big passion for life that's only matched by his gigantic, contagious laugh.
Briefly leaving a tour with Social Distortion, Chuck brought his solo show north of the border to Vancouver, BC where he played the passionate, unbridled show that people come to see him for. Literally minutes before he stepped onto the tiny Media Club stage, he sat down with Punknews interviewer Gen Handley to talk about the music, the band and the bright future.
Can you please state your full name?
My full official name is Charles Allan Ragan.
And for the one or two people at Punknews who donât know, can you please describe what you do?
Iâm a musician. Iâm a songwriter. Iâve done it well over half of my life and itâs just what I do - itâs what I live and breathe. For me, songwriting and playing music is more of a therapy than anything else. Through my Hot Water days, my solo stuff and any other projects Iâve ever done, Iâve never thought about or cared about fitting into any genres. I never thought about Hot Water as a punk band - it just comes out and it feels right. If it feels good, Iâm moving in the right direction.
First and foremost, Iâm just doing my damndest to be honest with myself. I feel like writing songs is moreso something I need to do rather than something I want to do. I mean, I want to do it and I love it and totally enjoy it, but if I feel thereâs something boiling and something happening, Iâve got to get it out. After I get it out, put it on paper and turn it into chords and all that, Iâve got to record it. Once I do that, put it on wax or stick it on a CD or whatever, then I feel like I can take the next step forward and move on - itâs the same thing as keeping a journal.
So youâre currently on tour with Social D Howâs that going?
Oh man, itâs insane, absolutely insane. Itâs going great.
Whatâs your earliest memory of Social Distortion?
Well Iâve been listening to that band for about 25 years. I had a good buddy, Jeremiah Grover, he was my skateboarding buddy and we watched all of their old videos together and started listening to Mommyâs Little Monster - I had that on a cassette tape. We used to pull out the launch ramps and blast that music and tear up our knees and backs (laughs). So yeah, those are some of the first memories. Out of all of the bands Iâve listened to, itâs them, Bad Religion, All and Creedence Clearwater Revival - Iâve listened to those bands more than anything Iâve ever listened to in my whole life.
So is this a little surreal then?
Every day man, every day. The crazy thing is that the whole Social D crew has been amazing . I mean, the band, everybody, the energy - everybodyâs been super hospitable and super kind and welcoming. Theyâve taken us in with open arms.
But yeah, every once in a while I sit back and look around and Iâm talking to Jonny "Two Bags" and Mike Ness and itâs just like, "Wow, this is happening right now." It is surreal man - itâs really something.
I understand that youâre working on the follow up to Gold Country, which was a great, great album…
Thank you. Yeah, right now weâve got a couple-dozen songs and just got to get them down - itâs time and weâve got songs to put out. Next month, weâll be recording the record with Christopher Thorn, from Blind Melon, and heâs a fantastic producer and engineer.
Weâre just going to hammer it out and have a great time doing it. Itâll be the three of us - Jon Gaunt (violin player) and Joe Ginsberg (bass player) - and also a couple of our buddies from Lucero. Weâre doing it in Silver Lake (Los Angeles) so who knows whoâll be in town and whoâs going to pop in and join in on the record - Audra Mae will be there for sure.
How is this record going to be different from the last one?
For the next one we want to do it in a much more old school, old fashioned way and strip it down - really strip it down. Basically, itâs going to happen like what youâre going to see tonight. I mean, weâve been playing as a three-piece - just a guitar, bass and fiddle - for a while now and every once in a while the Lucero guys will join in with a pedal steel and an accordion. We just want to make a very stripped down, grassroots record where the songs can just stand for themselves.
I had a great time recording Feast [or Famine] and I had a great time recording Gold Country - I loved it. But it was more of piling stuff in there and seeing what happened and I loved doing it that way. With the songs we have now, we just want to do it in a very straightforward, very simple fashion.
Any guest appearances on the new album that you can tell us about?
(smiles) Youâre just going to have to wait and see.
Come on Chuck…
Youâre just going to have to wait and see man (laughs).
Ok, fair enough, fair enough…
Like I said, being where weâre doing it (L.A.), thereâs no telling. Iâve got a few friends who may be in town who would be pretty awesome…
So who have you been hanging out with these days?
That guy. (Laughs and points at Jon Gaunt whoâs sitting across from us quietly. Jon gives a salute with his pint of Guinness)
. I hear youâre working on something with Brian Fallon. Is that true?
Yeah, Jon and I just did a massive tour with Gaslight Anthem across Europe. It was a huge honour and it was amazing. It was lots of big shows and the whole Gaslight camp was amazing - we love them to death and theyâre family to us. So Brian and I had done a split seven inch together (Gospel Songs) and we started talking about writing some songs together. It was kind of the plan to write a record on that tour, but all of us were so busy in our own way that we decided that we need to make time for it - sit down and really dig into it. So something will happen, but right now, thereâs nothing in the scope.
Heâs on the Revival Tour in the UK and Europe and most likely weâll do a Revival Tour comp, like we usually do, or weâll do some seven inches together.
Regarding the Revival Tour, whatâs going on with that?
Well, itâs coming to Canada.
Yeah, absolutely. Itâs starting in May in Victoria - about May 26, I think. Yeah, Dave Hause from the Loved Ones will be on it, Cory Branan and Iâm going to try to pop in on some shows, but not the whole thing though. I need to be home more - Iâm not home enough. Thatâs the thing about the road that it definitely takes a toll. But stay tuned for the announcement of some more artists and I think itâs going to be a great tour.
Well itâs certainly built up a good reputation over the past few years. Are you having a good time with it?
Well, itâs tough work and weâve lost a lot of money along the way, but thatâs not what itâs about to us. Itâs more about doing something that we want to last a long time. Weâre bringing in artists that people are familiar with and theyâre like, "Oh, thatâs that person from that band," and that gets them there. But we have the opportunity to put some people on the bill that nobody has ever heard of and expose music that we believe in and expose music that we feel is completely worthy to be heard by the people - itâs a pretty simple concept.
Thereâs a very noble, honest cause behind it allâ¦
Yeah man. Itâs a community thing. We all believe in it and we all absolutely have our heart and souls in it. For that reason alone, I feel like I can say that this tour will be around for years.
Howâs the new Hot Water Music album coming along?
Weâre writing and yeah, we plan on doing a new record. But I donât know when itâs going to happen and thatâs all I can say right now.
Yeah, no idea. Weâre going to be playing a few shows here and there and plan on writing more this summer - weâll start recording when it feels honest and good to go.
How many songs have you written so far?
Weâve got a boat-load of songs.
Are they going to be a little slower? Faster?
Youâre just going to have to wait and see man (laughs).
(laughs) Youâre killing me Chuck!
(laughs) You know how in Hot Water weâd have the straightforward, just rocking songs and then we always had kind of the weird ones that were a little different? Well, we noticed that when weâd go out and play shows that all weâd want to play is the straightforward rocking stuff. So a lot of the newer stuff is really simple, four-on-the-floor fast songs. But thatâs now and weâve still got a lot of writing to do. You never know.
I spoke to Chris (Wollard) over a year ago about his Ship Thieves albumâ¦
Thatâs such an awesome albumâ¦
Oh, I agree man - itâs so good. But he was saying that as good as it was making that album as well as doing other projects, thereâs something about Hot Water that canât be replaced. Like, thereâs a dialogue between you guys thatâs totally unique. Whatâs your take on that?
I donât know man. I mean, Hot Water Music is the band that we all grew up in. Itâs the band that made us the people we are today. We went through a lot of turmoil, hard times and tragic stuff, but we also had a lot of glorious time - a lot of wonderful things happened to us while heading down that road. From, basically, when we were kids to young adults to older adults, and the opportunities we were given, the opportunities that we had and the opportunities that we just took, that defined us as a band and at the same time, it also made us who we are as individuals. I wouldnât trade it for anything - those guys are my brothers and I love them to death. I mean, we love each other like brothers and we fight each other like brothers.
Yeah, we were the band up there and we were the ones writing and playing the songs, but what truly made us who we were, was the friends, the fans and the family who supported us. Hot Water wouldnât be Hot Water Music without the devoted and intense fans that we have.
Aside from Hot Water Music of course, what other bands would you like to see reunited, playing music again?
(smiles) Creedence Clearwater Revival.
What is it about the solo shows like tonightâs that you donât get when youâre playing with a band?
Iâve always done acoustic music, even before I was ever in Hot Water Music. Through Hot Water, I did do other stuff like Rumbleseat but Hot Water was always the main focus. But I never stopped writing songs like this though - itâs just what Iâve done since I was kid, really. Thereâs a huge difference in writing with Hot Water and writing with me - thereâs pros and cons for both. When writing for Hot Water, we write as a collective. So we all write, then weâll come together, weâll rip the songs apart and then put them back together - thatâs a Hot Water song. Itâs amazing, but the fact that you have these three other friends with you, ideas get shot down sometimes for whatever reason. But at the same time, you have this support group, you have these people helping you police your ideas - it puts you in check (laughs).
(laughs) Are the other guys honest during the process?
Oh yeah buddy, brutally honest. So with the solo stuff, itâs the same thing, but just flipped. I love writing my own stuff because Iâm completely uninhibited and can do whatever I want - I donât have any boundaries. Itâs a very free feeling and itâs very liberating, but at the same time, itâs a heck of a lot more intimidating. Granted, these days, I have Jon Gaunt, Joe and these guys who I would love to think that they would be like, "Hey buddy, thatâs just a bad song - donât do that." (laughs) So itâs kind of changed.
Have you found that with the solo career, your audience has broadened into different areas?
Absolutely. When I first started doing it, obviously, everyone was coming out because, "Oh, itâs the guy whoâs in Hot Water Music." Otherwise, I was this over-30-year-old-kind-of-overweight-bearded-carpenter guy up there playing a guitar. Iâve found that over the years, it seems that a majority of the audience at the shows are people who have maybe heard of Hot Water Music - and it seems like a lot of them havenât even heard the band, which is crazy.
Well, I gave Feast or Famine to my dad and he described you as "intergenerational" and Iâve never heard him say that before about a singer.
Well, thank you - thatâs huge. Iâve had nothing but positive support from friends and from family. Itâs been nothing but good energy.
Because an acoustic set is stripped down and more vulnerable in a way, is it intimidating in a way because youâre more exposed?
Absolutely. I think that anybody who stands up with an acoustic guitar doesnât have much to hide behind - you either make it work or you donât. Itâs different when youâve got a whole raging band behind you and thereâs distortion and you can just flail and get all crazy-eyed (laughs). You canât really do that on an acoustic guitar - itâs only a wooden box and your voice. (laughs) But thatâs what I love about it most is that it still scares the hell out of me and I get nervous still. Itâs not fear, itâs just like, "Alright, Iâve got to do this and just let it go and let it out." That to me is definitely a high point and a fire that keeps it all going.
So vice-versa, what is it about being in the band that you miss while playing solo.
(shrugs his shoulders) Hey, sometimes youâve just got to turn it up (laughs). I havenât ever in my life felt so blessed because people are into the solo stuff and I love it and I thank them for it. And then we have such an awesome fan base and a history with Hot Water Music - weâre able to go out to play shows while people give us this energy and we can give it back, keeping that cycle going.
I mean, as an older fellow like me, Les Pauls are getting really heavy, and jumping around like a mad man is hard on the knees, on the back and on the voice. But, I feel like I get the best of both worlds.
Thereâs some balance there thenâ¦
Well thatâs the trick - finding balance and hanging onto that medium.
With the recent split with the Bouncing Souls, did each band pick the songs they covered?
Yeah, but I didnât know they were going to pick "Wayfarers" as the song.
Where did the idea come from for the split?
It was pretty much like, "Hey, you guys want to do a split? Yeah! Lets do it." (laughs)
Do you know if thatâs being released digitally?
Iâm sure it will be soon man.
I need to get the old record player hooked up so I can I listen to itâ¦
Yeah man, get that fixed. (laughs)
Are still doing carpentry?
Just on my own home, which has been a dream come true. I miss it and I still have a massive shop of tools. Iâm a worker - I love getting up at 4:30 or 5 a.m., having my coffee, taking my dog out, kissing my wife and then looking at a set of prints before I head out onto the job site and make it happen. Itâs fulfilling, it feels good and it revives me, truly. I miss it but to me, carpentry and music have always been one and the same. Itâs all these things I love - fishing, cooking, carpentry, music, my life, my wife, my dog. Theyâre all one and the same.
Whatâs the most challenging thing youâve built with wood?
Man, probably some custom window frames that I built on site, which was crazy because they had to be just perfect and not leak (laughs). It was my first time doing it so I was kind of learning as I went. Iâm not a bad craftsman, but I know how to cut a big stick into a little stick. (laughs)
Where do you get all of the energy to stay so busy, so productive most of the time?
Right here man. Honestly, itâs everything I come in contact with and the people I come in contact with from the moment I wake up to the moment I lay down. My wife, my family, my friends, the folks who come to these shows, the bands we meet on tour - thatâs where it comes from. Itâs whatever that touches you or inspires you - or shot you down or put you down. Whether itâs positive or negative, or if it affects you and shakes your bones, to me, itâs worth telling a story about and getting off your chest.