The return of Hot Water Music: Chuck Ragan’s band goes Punk Rock Bowling again

Ragan (second from right) and his Hot Water Music bandmates
Marco Krenn
Chris Bitonti

Exister is your first studio album in eight years. Why did Hot Water Music decide to go on hiatus in the first place?

Well, at the time we were hitting it extremely hard. It was a combination of just being worn out, overworked, making a lot of sacrifices … I was definitely the one that kind of took a step back. We were singing songs about living free and being true to your friends, and all of a sudden all of these lyrics started ringing truer to me. I hit a point where I felt like if I were to continue on that path, eventually I would just be fooling myself as well as all the good folks who supported Hot Water Music. I just felt like it would become false.

It was too much to risk for me, I simply felt that I needed to re-evaluate my life and the reasons I was playing music to begin with. So I went back to my trade. I never stopped writing music—my own music became more of a priority than Hot Water Music. And then it was just a matter of timing. We knew we would play again at some point, but we had no idea when.

What was it about right now that made writing an album work?

We started playing gigs again around three years ago, and it was great—coming together, playing old songs and just living it up. Again, it was kind of a matter of timing. It finally took us getting tough on ourselves and literally putting a finger on the calendar. Once we put that on ourselves, it was go time.

Did making an album after that long apart feel different than it had before?

You gotta understand that in the course of that eight years, it wasn’t like we were completely out of each others lives. We were communicating; there was a togetherness. And we never stopped playing music … We’re songwriters, we’re musicians and over the years we’ve grown older, we’ve had more experiences. I think we’ve all progressed and grown as individuals and musicians. So coming together and pooling all of that, there was this whole new life breathed into the whole writing and recording process that set us on fire to go. Once we kind of opened those gates it just started flowing. If there was any challenge at all, it would be weeding through the massive amount of material that we had. There was no shortage of inspiration.

How was it working with producer Bill Stevenson [drummer for the Descendents] on the new album?

It was just a massive honor to work with someone of his caliber. He’s known for making fantastic records. We’ve all listened to his work since we were little skate rats. So that in itself was incredible. Aside from all of his known talents, he is just a good man. For us, it was such an honor to have that opportunity and have that experience—not only to work with a hero but to come out of it having a friend.

But I gotta, I feel really blessed and honored to say that about the majority of the people we surround ourselves with. You look up to these people and you grow as a musician, as an individual and you idolize these bands. It’s a testament to the fact that anything can happen as long as you believe in what you’re doing. If you stay stout in your beliefs and you stay strong and stay an individual and come together with all your buds, anything is possible. Sooner or later, if you stick to it long enough you’re going to be playing shows with the bands you went to see when you were a kid.

I know some of it’s timing, and some of it’s who you know, and some of it’s luck, but to me the majority of it is just if you’ve got the heart and the guts to keep pushing forward and not let anybody tell you different,

I’ve seen Hot Water Music and I’ve been to a couple of your Revival Tours, and those are two really different shows. The energy of HWM live versus the cooperative/organic nature of Revival. How differently do you approach the two?

It’s a completely different animal. To me, the Revival Tour is by far the most special way of touring that I’ve ever known in my life. It’s infectious, and there’s this really relaxed atmosphere and really strong feeling of unity and togetherness that’s completely consistent from the first day of the tour to the last.

I’m not saying the Hot Water shows are a bummer. I’m saying that when we’re out touring every night, it could be a whole new set of opening bands. There’s positive things about that, too—it’s always changing, and that can be cool. But at the same time its always kind of a push/pull, start/stop kind of thing. There’s always a little more stress, compared to the Revival Tour, where when we hit the road everybody who’s on the tour is already on the bus. You get to know ’em, and it’s just a big family throughout the whole thing. Hot Water Music is just this extreme blast of 110 percent that is just “uh” right away and for a short period of time.

Hot Water Music has played Punk Rock Bowling before, and your Revival Tour has also been showcased in the festival. This year you’re doing a solo club show and a HWM set. What is it about Punk Rock Bowling that you’re so drawn to?

The Stern Brothers [Punk Rock Bowling’s organizers and promoters]. The Sterns and I have been friends for a long time, and Hot Water did some stuff on their record label. We’ve known them for years, either touring with them or doing records with them or doing Warped Tour, you name it. It’s another one of those connections with old friends that are doing something that we believe in.

Anyone that you are particularly excited to see or play with at PRB?

Man, I heard The Avengers are playing, and I can’t wait to see them. There’s a ton of great bands on that bill, but when I saw them it just blew me away, so I’m stoked.


Previous Discussion:

  • As the singer approaches 50, his vocals remain a high point, his mix of throaty growls and raspy screams sounding near-perfect.

  • He’s done acid in Las Vegas, which he calls “a bad life decision.”

  • "There’s no way we could cover everything we have. It would have to be a three-and-a-half-hour show."

  • Get More Music Stories
Top of Story