Chris Wollard (Hot Water Music, the Ship Thieves)
Contributed by Shogun, Posted by No Idea Interviews

Chris Wollard has had a busy year. On top of Hot Water Music's first album in eight years in Exister, the Gainesville artist also released the almost equally-as-buzzed-about Canyons, the second recording as Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves.

This album had listeners anxiously waiting not only because the self-titled debut was so impressive, but also that, at the time, the Ship Thieves project appeared to be a one-off idea, a fleeting spark that filled the creative vacancy left by the disassembled Hot Water Music. With an energetic, evolved sound, a stabilized band lineup as well as a thriving Hot Water Music in the background, Canyons swallows any fears of the Ship Thieves dropping anchor any time soon.

"I'm half happy and half relieved it's done," he said in a croaky, but almost jovial Florida drawl. "Putting an album together is a lot of work - you've got to do all the songs, you've got to put the art together, you have to record it, it's a lot of practice. By the time you get to the end of it, you're pretty exhausted."

"But man, it's so much fun."

Wollard recently sat down with Punknews interviewer Gen Handley to talk about his new album, what the past year's been like and how Hot Water Music is doing things a bit differently this time.

How was making Canyons different from the first album?

Well, I mean there’s a band on this one. [Laughs.] So most of the writing gets done here at the house. But on that first album, what was it, like five drummers on it? And there were tons of different bass players and other players, and we recorded it in multiple studios all over the place and really, the whole time when we were working on that record, there wasn’t a single practice – not one, not for any song. Not once, not with any person, at any time was there a practice. [Laughs.] It was like, here’s a song, and I’d invite lots of friends to house studios and we’d just work on things. We were just having fun and we didn’t think we were making a record.

Some of these songs on the second record are old songs, but they just didn’t work in that format of just like a jam. So the more I got into it, I felt like I needed to get a band together and have a permanent warehouse and just go out there and work and work and work.

After a while we had a super, kick-ass band. It took a while to put that band together, but I guess that usually is the case. So for this one, it’s the four of us on every song and there’s a super-tight rhythm section. Everything about this record is kind of different from the last one.

Did you have the lineup in mind when you were trying get a static band together?

Well, Addison (Burns), the guitar player, he’s been in it for a while. He was on the first record - he kind of came into the project about halfway through that record. But I’ve known him forever. Like, in ’89 or ’90 is when we started playing shows together. Once he got in the project, it was obvious it was working pretty well. And Ben Lovett, he was a major part of the first record and he doesn’t live here, but he still plays on Canyons and is part of the project but not as full time as the rest of us.

When I started putting a band together, George (Rebelo) and Jason (Black) from Hot Water Music, and neither one of them had said this to me before, both of them separately, within like a week, came up to me and were like, "Hey, you know if you’re gonna be putting a band together you should really check out this dude Chad Darby." And Jason said that to me first and I was like, "Dude, you never says things like that." So you listen, right? [Laughs.] And then George came up to me like a week later and said the same thing to me. So they introduced us, and we’ve been sailing for the last two or three years with Chad. Bobby’s the new guy even though he’s not the new guy anymore, and he used to jam with Jeffrey who’s in that band Ninja Gun from like an hour and a half north of us. So Ninja Gun got pretty busy and so was Ship Thieves so Jeffrey was like, "You’ve got to check out my buddy Bobby (Brown) and he’s a real drummer." [Laughs.] But once we got Bobby, we got the band. The rhythm section started clicking really easily and we just started honing in on what we’re good at. It’s been a crazy ride, man.

Back when we chatted a few years ago, you mentioned that the songs on the first album were like a conversation with your girlfriend or partner. Is that conversation still the same on Canyons?

It is still kind of like that, but you don’t think about it too much while you’re doing it. I wasn’t really thinking about it in anything bigger than working on the one song I was working on at the time. When you get a bunch of them together, it kind of forms a bigger picture and that’s kind of hard to predict – the bigger one. That’s why you end up going in and recording 16 or 17 songs and then you’ve got to boil it down. You don’t know what’s going work with each other because they’re all like random thoughts, you know?

But yeah, definitely things have changed on it – I have different things going on in my life. So the subject matter got a little different. Like, my pops died, my kid’s getting older, almost 17 now. So you know, you think about different things. I’m still trying to tackle things in the same way and trying to have a conversation, but it was also painting pictures a bit too. I was trying to get the landscape in there – like where is this all taking place. I started noticing a lot of the writers I been getting into that they’re real experts at that – at looking at the characters and the place.

Is the title Canyons a reflection of that focus on place?

Well, it’s one of the reasons why I thought it fit. The title came from one of the songs. It’s a simple metaphor in one of the songs, but I thought it fit and yeah it was part of the reason. But of course there were multiple ideas for album titles so it wasn’t the only one. When it was all said and done, I thought it was the most appropriate.

What’s the song "Poison Friends" about? Anything specific? [Laughs.] Well, all of these songs start one way and end up a different way. But when you boil it down, it’s about group thought and just the dangers of fucking group thought. I know where the inspiration came from, but it became way more broad than that. But yeah, it’s easy to conform and it’s not easy to be yourself and it’s not easy to think for yourself. Even if you are out there doing the fact checking and trying to form your own opinion, you still got to read it through the filter of some journalist; it’s hard to think for yourself and it’s hard to remain an individual. The more I thought about it, the more I went off on tangents and pulled imagery from different things and kind of came out in a torrent, really.

What was this inspiration you mentioned?

Well, it’s not really something I want to talk about [Laughs.] But you see your friends get caught up in certain things and I just started seeing my friends walking around like lemmings, you know? It was all just kind of brainless and I started getting frustrated and let myself spit some fire. I got myself all worked up. It’s, like, the simplest song ever, especially in punk rock – like, "be yourself, be yourself," right? [Laughs.]

Like I said, my kid’s growing up and it was something that was on my mind. Like, don’t listen to all these idiots and don’t follow them – think things out on your own. It’s kind of like for my kid.

How’s Hot Water Music’s going? You guys are coming up to Vancouver in Februar

Yeah, do I need like galoshes? What do I need? I know I need a thicker jacket [Laughs.] I was looking online for some waterproof boots and like some kind of ski cap or something. But I’m thoroughly unprepared for it [Laughs.] [Laughs.] You guys seem like you’re having a good time right now…

Yeah man, we’re having a good time right now. We just took a few months off after that last Rise Against run and that was super fun. Jason went home and jumped into some studio projects, and Chuck’s been out living on the Revival Tour. We’ve been home writing and it’ll be nice to be back out on the road because three months at home…that’s a long time. [Laughs.]

It’ll be cool. The dudes are going to come to town here – the tour starts in Florida – so they’re going to come here a week before and we’ll just jam out in the warehouse. I think that’ll be good. We’ve written all over the world over the last bunch of years and it’ll be neat to be back in Gainesville and I think it’ll be a good way to start the tour.

There were a lot of people really excited about Exister, anticipating the first Hot Water release in a while. Did you feel a ton of pressure when making that record?

I don’t know man, there’s always that. You always have that. I almost think that the only album that you don’t have any pressure on is the first one. You’re just so blown away by the process that you don’t have any time to think about the pressure; you’re learning everything at the beginning. By the time you’re doing your second one, you’re already comparing it to the first one – and so is everybody else – and you’re dealing with pressure. Every fucking album you do, that pressure is totally there and you either pay attention to it or you don’t. I don’t really pay attention to it. I figure you’re always doing the best you can, you’re always working as hard as possible and always trying every idea you have. But you just got to have some faith. If it’s not good enough, it’s not for lack of trying.

But especially for the last album, there had to have been some extra pressure.

Yeah, for sure. But putting out a record, that moment when you get it, it’s one of the best moments ever. Like I was saying, there’s all that release and all of that weight falls off your shoulders. It’s just such a killer moment, but it doesn’t matter what record it is. With the Hot Water boys, we’ve had 18 years together and it’s a different kind of chemistry.

Like a brotherhood.

Yeah, like that. You communicate in a different way. After 18 years, if you’re with the same partner, you don’t even have to say something, you just look at each other. Like, everything you’re describing, you guys have a shared vocabulary. You know exactly what each of you mean. When you’re jamming with new people, that’s one of the things that makes it so challenging and interesting and fun is you’re learning somebody else’s reference points and somebody else’s vocabulary. So it’s a different kind of chemistry after a whole bunch of years.

After that many years, especially touring so much, Hot Water kind of found itself burned out. What are you doing this time so that won’t happen again?

Well, everybody’s different still. ‘Cause just because Hot Water’s not doing something, doesn’t mean everybody’s sitting at home, obviously. Like, Chuck doesn’t really go home, it doesn’t seem like it [Laughs.] and the same is kind of true with Jason, because he’ll go out and do some session work or tour manage or any number of things. For me, I do have to limit how long the tours are. I used to be able to do six or seven weeks and go home for a week and go right back out, and now I get totally exhausted. Now, I do the best I can to keep on going but it’s not always easy to find a proper day off or to be able to afford it or to keep the tours to a certain length. But it’s not that hard right now, because we’re all kind of on the same page – we have to stay busy and we have to stay proactive.

But, I don’t think any one of us wants to be on the road for 250 days a year because you’ve got people married and with kids and houses. Being away when I was 20, I didn’t really give a shit, I didn’t care and I didn’t want to go home, but things change. We’re finding that level of going home for a couple of months to recharge the batteries and then go out for another month. It’s just something we all have to communicate a lot on and keep everybody in the loop with what your personal plans are and stuff like that.

So 2012 was a pretty good year?

Oh man, it was a whirlwind. Like, two albums out, two or three times to Europe and the States a few times – it’s been a lot. Everything from festivals to radio shows to club shows to squats to hockey arenas to dive bars. It’s just been totally crazy. It’s been killer to have those opportunities to be that busy. It’s awesome, man.