Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music on finally being able to record at the Blasting Room
Marco Krenn Hot Water Music
Hot Water Music came together in Gainesville, Florida when four friends moved there in 1993. Fueled by youthful exuberance and inspired in part by the music that surrounding the skateboarding culture of the time, Chuck Ragan, Chris Wollard, Jason Black and George Rebelo created a band that had that punk edge informing songs that were melodic and emotionally-charged. While loud and aggressive, there was and still is an undeniable vulnerability built into the band's sound that had a broader appeal than its component parts could alone.
The band split in 2006 on good terms and all the members explored various musical pursuits, but in 2008 the yen to play the Hot Water Music material again proved strong enough to bring the group back together. Since then, Hot Water has toured extensively, and early last year, the foursome took its new songs into The Blasting Room in Fort Collins. The result was Exister, Hot Water's first studio release in nearly a decade. We recently spoke with the incredibly gracious and affable Chuck Ragan about the early history of the band, his recent book and the fulfillment of a dream for him of recording at the Blasting Room.
Westword: How did you become exposed to punk growing up?
Chuck Ragan: Skateboarding. I grew up skating and got into skateboarding from free style bikes. From where I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where free-styling was everything, I moved to Louisiana where free-styling was out and skateboarding was in. Man, it was just this whole new awakening of culture and music and attitude and energy that blew my mind.
So I got heavy into skating, and in those days the majority of the music that revolved around skateboarding was punk rock, rock and roll, metal and all kinds of highly energetic and aggressive music. Coming from the household I came from that was rather conservative, it woke me up and got me fired up, and it scared the hell out of me at the same time. I was just drawn to it.
What was one of the earliest punk shows you got to see?
We're kicking off the tour here in Tampa, and it was actually here right down the road where I snuck away from home and got with my friends. I lived about an hour from here, maybe 45 minutes, at the time. I told me parents that I was spending the night somewhere and ran up here to the city to a venue that I don't know if it's still around anymore, even though the structure is, called the Cuban Club. I saw D.R.I., Nasty Savage and Sick of it All. That was one of my first intros to a live music scene. Back then, shows around here were super rough, super violent, totally insane. At the same time, for a kid into what I was doing back then, it was attractive. It was crazy, chaos.
Where did Hot Water Music get its start?
The band originated in Gainesville, but we all moved to Gainesville more or less together. We all came from two little towns south of Gainesville on the gulf side of Florida called Sarasota and Bradenton. Chris [Wollard] lived in Bradenton. George [Rebelo], Jason [Black] and myself lived in Sarasota. We were all in completely different scenes when we were younger. Chris was definitely into this kind of hardcore, straight edge scene in Bradenton. George was way into death metal and all kinds of metal really. Jason was into punk and funk music and independent music -- Jason was across the board. I was just into the skateboarding, punk rock, rock and roll scene.
George and Jason ended up going to school together and met each other in jazz combos. That's how their relationship began. They were smokin' jazz players back then, if I remember. This is totally random, but I ended up meeting George because he worked in a Zack's Frozen Yogurt right next to the Subway I was working in. I'd hear from my buddies that, "Oh yeah, that guy that works in there is just an incredible drummer." We got to talking, and we used to trade food. Our corner became this hangout where our friends into music would come in and hang out.
Then we got to know each other's bands. I used to go watch him practice, and he used to come watch us. Those were the days when we would literally go to each other's houses or warehouse spaces and watch our friends just jam and practice. My band back then was called Yellow Section, and he was in this insane death metal band from this area called Burial. They were pretty underground, but looking back on it now, I think they were way ahead of their time. He played drums for that band, and him and Jason were in a band called Kelly Green.
Chris came along later on in the picture. Even though Bradenton was only about twenty miles away, it was a whole other scene. There was this common ground I remember we found in this storage facility called Oneco Mini Storage. I remember that being one of the places where Bradenton bands rehearsed and Sarasota bands rehearsed. A lot of the storage units were kind of taken over by various bands. You would go pull in there and there was death metal, blues, punk and rock and roll and a cover band. You name it. That's how we initially all met.
Jason and Chris started this band called Thread. As George and I got closer, him and I started a band called Fossil. So we were these two bands and we kind of knew each other, though I didn't know Chris as well, as I had just me him, and something kind of clicked. All of us, at one point, realized, "There's just nothing here." In Sarasota and Bradenton, it was hard to get shows. We were constantly renting out VFW halls, or friends would rent it out, and we would do shows there. There just weren't a whole lot of places to play. And we always heard of this punk rock Mecca called Gainesville, Florida.
We started looking into it and Jason told us about it [because he went there for college] and had been there a year before we moved up there. In a very short period of time, literally within a month, we decided and took off. We pooled all the money that we had, and the rest of us moved up with some other friends from the Sarasota-Bradenton area. So we moved up to Gainesville as two bands.
Right at the same time we did that, the singer for Fossil decided to stay for some reason, and so did the singer of Thread. When we moved up there, Jason played bass filling in, and our plan was to move to Gainesville to find a bass player. George was filling in with Thread, and their plan was to move up to find a drummer. So the last four people standing were the four of us.
Originally they just wanted me to sing. I wasn't that good a guitar player. But I loved playing guitar, so I decided to stick with guitar, and then Chris and I both decided to sing. In a nutshell, that's how it all kicked off.