Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music on finally being able to record at the Blasting Room
What inspired you to put together The Road Most Traveled? Why
was it important for it to be more than just a collection of anecdotes?
I explain it in the forward a bit, but I was being interviewed by the Kalamazoo Gazette at one point, and the interviewer relayed a question posed by a buddy of mine, Travis Dopp, from that band Small Brown Bike, "What's your most memorable experience or most important thing you learned on the road?" That's a tough question for anybody that has traveled for a long time. I answered the question as best I could at that point -- I don't recall how, and I'd like to find that interview and see.
However, as soon as the interview was over, I ended up thinking about the question again and thinking about what I could have said. The day went on, and I kept thinking about it. I woke up the next day thinking about it. It remained on my mind for quite a while afterward. I realized you could ask me that question every day, and I could answer it in a different way every single day. Everything that affects us from day to day on the road is an awakening experience in one way or another. Those experiences are just non-stop. It's fast living. It's fast moving. It's sensory overload. If you open your eyes and ears, there's quite a lot to learn while you're out here.
It got me to thinking about how the majority of the people that I know and love and work with I've known through music. I've had the opportunity to just be invited into so many incredible communities. Not just the artists that people know of or see on the stage, under the lights, on the marquees or whatever; there's a whole community that makes this machine work. The bus drivers, the crew people, the cooks and the venue owners, bartenders and the staff, the bouncers, the agents -- it's so vast. It got me to thinking how much knowledge each person holds and how many collective years all of us hold, when you think about all the traveling that's been done and the lessons learned and the mistakes made.
I did it for quite a few reasons, but one that was really important was not only to put together a book of lessons and stories and words of advice from people that have been out there cutting their teeth doing what they do. To me, what I thought it would be great to have, even just for myself, are bits of, like, that old phrase, "What's obvious isn't always what's seen." The whole time I was putting that book together, I received submissions from all these people; it was blowing my mind and it was constantly inspiring. I also shook my head, thinking, "You remember that?"
It's just like anything else. If you do something enough and quite often, it can become stagnant. Anybody can become jaded in a lot of ways, and they can forget what truly makes the gears spin. They can forget the reason why we even have the opportunity to have a job and share music that we love with people. So it was important for me to collect a bunch of advice for not only the seasoned road dogs that have been running out there for twenty to thirty years but also to put together a collection of these words of advice for the younger generation and kids who feel like they want to take a stab at life on the road and hopefully help them avoid making the same mistakes that we've all made.
You recorded Exister at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins. What do you appreciate about that place and perhaps the staff, including Jason Livermore and Bill Stevenson?
The Blasting Room was this studio that we had wanted to record at for years. Obviously, we grew up as fans in a lot of ways of what those gentlemen have done and the bands that they've been a part of and the bands that they've recorded. We've respected a lot of the records that have come out of that place. Those fellows just churn out incredible work.
At the time we all lived in Florida, and the Blasting Room -- even though we came through Denver quite often -- when it came to recording, it just felt like it was a million miles away. It felt out of reach. We always wanted to record there, but we were tied in with Brian McTernan for a while, and we stayed on the train with him recording those records. It never worked out.
When we decided to put out a new record, when that idea even came up, there wasn't a doubt in anybody's mind. Everybody was full on. It was like, can that happen? How do we make that happen? Once we knew it was going on, man everybody was just fired up and besides themselves.
Working with that whole gang there was a sheer joy. When we went in, they knew how to capture the best of the band. They kind of set us up in a room, and the first thing Bill said was, "Alright, I just want you guys to set up just like you would be playing live. Face this wall, everybody get your gear dialed in, get into your comfort zone." Then he just let us go, and said, "Just rock."
Once we decided on a handful of songs we were going to take a stab at, we were just burning through them and working out any kinks and doing tempo maps. But he wanted to just let us be the band that we've always been. He wanted us to get comfortable working in that studio and working with him. It was just an incredible way to begin that session.
We had a lot of help from a lot of friends in Denver, like Jon Snodgrass. He helped us out when we flew in, and he loaned us his van. The guys from Teenage Bottlerocket loaned us their rehearsal space to work out the songs, and that was pretty insane because that was the first time the four of us had been in a rehearsal space together for the first time in eight years or whatever it was. It was a big team effort.
The whole gang at The Blasting Room was incredible. The momentum carried on and stayed up, and so did the energy. Every day was positive. There were no hang-ups or lulls. Everybody was open-minded, and, man, we just burned through it, cooked through it. It was, by far, my favorite recording session with Hot Water Music ever.