Twenty-seven years is a long time. It’s 189 in dog years, and if my math is correct, when factoring how many of those years were spent packed nuts-to-butts in an Econoline van on endless drives to play booze-and-testosterone-fueled gig after booze-and-testosterone-fueled, it equates to roughly “infinity” in “punk rock band years.” And twenty-seven is exactly the age that Hot Water Music, one of the most seminal, genre-defining bands that we’ll ever write about on these here pages, turned once the calendar flipped to 2020. (Oh, FYI… it’s still 2020. I know, right?) This year was supposed to find the band winding down their list of 25th anniversary shows which found them playing full-album shows in honor of two of their ground-breaking releases No Division and Caution (and supporting their 2019 EP, Shake Up The Shadows) in a few dozen markets around the globe. Instead, shortly after a couple successful shows in the Boston area in late February the world, as we all know, ground to a halt.
Not long before that whirlwind weekend of Boston shows, we caught up over the phone with the inimitable Chuck Ragan to reflect on the band’s quarter-century history and the then-still-upcoming run of celebratory shows that the band had planned out. Within the first few moments of our conversation, the ongoing admiration that Ragan has for the fans and the scene that has allowed Hot Water Music to have a long, storied career is palpable. “We definitely don’t take any of this for granted,” he states rather emphatically. “We definitely see it as an achievement by all of us, not just the band. We build this together, and it’s pretty cool… and pretty overwhelming.”
To say that Hot Water Music came from humble roots is perhaps not a surprise. Though the band’s four founding members (Ragan, Chris Wollard, Jason Black, and George Rebelo) descended on Gainesville, and helped cement that city’s legacy in the annals of music history, music wasn’t the only thing that lured them to the swamplands of northern Florida. “We moved to Gainesville to be in a band, we all did,” Ragan explains, “but school was kind of the agenda for (Black and Wollard) for a bit… Jason was still in school, and Wollard was dabbling!” And while they’ve carved out a legacy that’s resulted in the band’s iconic logo being tattooed on the bodies of bearded punk rock guys across the globe, the foursome’s initial goals seem almost comically small in hindsight. “In all honesty,” Ragan deadpans, “and I’m not even kidding, (our first goal) was to do a demo tape. That’s it.”
After hanging and writing music together for a little bit, the band got that first demo under their collective belts. From there, the wheels were set in motion, and the band continued to move the goalposts as they saw fit. After the demo was complete, for example, Ragan et al. decided the next logical step was to play a show. “And we did that,” Ragan states matter-of-factly, adding quickly that “so then it was to do a seven-inch. In all honesty, we spent a lot of those early years completely focused on very, very short term goals… We wanted to record in a studio out of state, you know? Every step and every little thing that we did, I felt like it was something that we’d never dreamed of in the beginning that we learned was possible, and then we set our minds to it and just said ‘we gotta do that,’ you know?”
The pattern of short-term goals and small victories continued through the first handful of years, culminating in the band’s first trip abroad, an occasion that Ragan views as one of the pivotal moments in the Hot Water Music legacy. “When we started playing music and started this band (traveling overseas) was THE FURTHEST from our minds,” Ragan explains. It’s worth mentioning that the mid-1990s were essentially still the pre-internet days, at least as we conceptualize the internet now, making touring anywhere – especially in foreign countries – all the more taxing for a DIY band. “This is back when we had pen pals and a mailing list and a notebook on the table where people would write not their email address – because not everybody had an email address – but they wrote their address down, and we used to come back from tour and sit on the floor of our places and pool our money – set aside some t-shirt money – to go buy a big roll of US stamps and a big roll of global stamps and we would sit down and write postcards and write letters.”
Touring, then, became a constant game of networking, and almost by necessity found the band playing as many shows as they could in as many places as they could for as long as they could. It was a lifestyle that brought with it some new and perhaps unforeseen other challenges that the band would have to confront. “We got to a point where we were traveling so much that no one could really hold down a good job, or those guys couldn’t really focus on school, yet we weren’t making enough money in the band at all to really live on,” explains Ragan. “Those early tours, there were some where we’d come home from tour and find out that we’d been evicted because our roommates blew it, and all of our belongings were literally gone, thrown away, sold, or given away or just trashed. We would come back from some of these runs and find out we were sleeping on a couch or bouncing around or sleeping in the van or just getting by until we left again.”
The threadbare early days of the band prompted some difficult, albeit necessary, discussions. “We had conversations early on where we had to make a decision where if we were going to do it, we had to go all in and just do this,” Ragan says, with a keen eye toward the fact that it is that very “go all in and just do this” mentality that earned the respect of their legion of adoring fans. “We played – and still do our best to do it – every show like it was the last show we were ever going to play. We always would leave it all on the table,” explains Ragan. And while that immense work ethic and leave-it-all-on-the-stage mentality can do wonders for building a passionate and dedicated following, it can also turn into a cautionary tale pretty quickly. Ragan notes: “it was easy for us to get worn out real quick when we started booking anything and everything we could and traveling as much as we could.”
And so we arrive at the portion of the Hot Water Music career arc that is marked by their first hiatus. In hindsight, it really wasn’t much of a “hiatus” at all, but it might have seemed that way at the time. Ragan explains: “We were having fun, but we were exhausted. We were overseas at the time, and had been doing a super long tour, and back in those days, before everybody had cell phones and email, ten weeks in Europe might as well be six months. We kind of got to a point where we got sick of each other and everything blew up, and we all sat down in a stairwell in Munich I think, and had a conversation that the smartest thing to do was dump the band. Just quit. We all made that decision, then we had coffee and breakfast the next morning just to reconfirm that the late night drunken talk the night before was still legit. And we made a decision that we loved each other so much that it was way more important to be friends than it was to be a band. That was a conscious decision.”
Though the band had mutually decided to call it quits, they still finished the last ten-or-so dates of the European run they were on before flying home. Ragan calls that decision another one of the more pivotal choices the band made in solidifying their own legacy. Because of the following they’d amassed at that point, Hot Water Music’s label at the time, No Idea, convinced them to do one last show and record it, allowing their live show to be preserved for posterity’s sake. After taking some post-European tour time apart to recalibrate, the band met for pool and beers one night at the Happy Hour Pool Hall in Gainesville and made the decision to play that “one last show,” which would eventually turn into their seminal Live At The Hardback live album. During rehearsals for that show, however, it was determined that the band were not, in fact, broken up at all. “While we were rehearsing, I think we wrote one song and started another one,” Ragan explains. “We just started playing, and we were like ‘what are we doing?’ We laughed about it, and we realized we didn’t need to break up, we just all needed to get some sleep!”
With that, Hot Water Music were back in action, continuing to build on what had already been a well-deserved legacy. Four full length albums would follow in a span of just over five years. At least three of those albums, 1999s appropriately titled No Division, 2001’s A Flight And A Crash and the following year’s Caution, would serve not only as lynchpin albums not just in the band’s career but in the post-punk or melodic hardcore or post-hardcore or whatever we’re calling the genre itself. By 2005, however, the band would find itself staring down the barrel of another set of difficult decisions surrounding their future. “At that time, we had kinda gotten to a point where we had all these agents and we had this management team who were giving the whole “this could be your time! This could be your moment” thing… the same conversation that every manager tells every young band, you know? “All it takes is one song!” “You can go all the way to the top!” It got to the point where our own agendas and our own schedules and families, all these things, just weren’t as important.”
The result was the band’s second, and lengthiest, hiatus. Ragan had moved to California and though he acknowledges being the driving force in what happened, he also insists he didn’t want the band to call it quits. “Man, I just got sick of chasing that carrot, and I got sick of the whole game, and to be honest, I never wanted to stop making music, I just didn’t want to be a musician!” he exclaims. “The guys thought I was crazy for that and I don’t blame them.” The remaining trio of Wollard, Black, and Rebelo continued making music together, forming The Draft and releasing the dynamite full-length album In A Million Pieces in 2006. Ragan, for his part, took up general contracting and, eventually, performing solo under his own name, eventually also launching the highly-lauded Revival Tour. Initially conceived in 2005, the Revival Tour kicked off in 2008, right around the time Hot Water Music put an end to their three-year “breakup.”
“I played some shows in Florida with Ben Nichols. That’s when I met Ben from Lucero and Todd Beene. I was playing shows with him on the way up to meet up with the Hot Water guys, if I remember right, to where we ended up playing like DC, New York, and Chicago (editor’s note: in hindsight, it was Chicago, Orlando, and Sayreville, NJ)” surrounding the release of Hot Water’s Till The Wheels Fall Off compilation. “I do remember that some of our conversations (upon reuniting around 2008) were like ‘I don’t think we’re a band that breaks up. It doesn’t seem like the right thing to do’,” Ragan explains. “We love each other, we love our music and we do love our supporters. I feel like this whatever you want to call it, this band or this timeline that we have, it wasn’t made by the four of us. It was made by a collective, you know? When we came back together, we said ‘you know, if one of us doesn’t want to do it, or if somebody bows out and we have the blessing to continue, there’s no reason to break up anymore.’ We did that. We broke up a couple times.”
In the dozen years since that second reunion, Hot Water Music has continued to put albums (full-lengths Exister (2012) and Light It Up (2017) preceded last year’s aforementioned Shake Up The Shadows EP and tour at least semi-regularly. They’ve all continued to put in music-industry work outside of Hot Water Music (Ragan as a solo artist, Wollard with the Ship Thieves, Black with Senses Fail and Unwed, Rebelo with Against Me! and, most recently, Bouncing Souls). That balance has helped them maintain the friendships that supercede the band. “Nowadays, we really respect and appreciate how much each of us has devoted over the years,” says Ragan. “We appreciate and respect how much the people and supporters and promoters and all the managers and all the agents, how they’ve helped everything come along. And the record labels. Maturing quite a bit, we’re able to sit back and realize we don’t have to chase that carrot anymore. That’s a young band’s game!”
That family-style relationship has been tested in new ways over the last couple of years. Immediately prior to Hot Water Music’s triumphant hometown appearance at 2017’s FEST 16, co-founding vocalist and guitarist and songwriter Chris Wollard decided he wasn’t able to play. The band powered through two sets that weekend, playing a handful of songs as a three-piece and being joined by The Flatliners’ Chris Cresswell on eight or nine others. Cresswell, in Gainesville to play FEST with The Flats, had been planning on joining the four-piece Hot Water Music lineup on stage for a song when, at the literal last minute, Rebelo asked him how many songs he could learn quickly.
Following that weekend, Wollard posted a lengthy statement on the band’s social media pages acknowledging that, due to factors such as exhaustion, stress, and anxiety, he had to bow out of the band’s live shows for the foreseeable future. Cresswell has continued to carry the torch since, breathing a new and different life into Hot Water’s live show. “Chris Cresswell’s so incredible, man,” explains Ragan. “He’s such an insane talent. Super talented, super passionate, completely, 100% any time that dude steps in the room, steps on stage, picks up a guitar, whatever he does, he does it with full force PMA.” Wollard has stayed in the Hot Water fold, especially in the writing and recording sense, and has fully supported Cresswell’s role in the process. “We miss Wollard dearly. We really do,” Ragan emphasizes.”He’s our brother, he’s family. He and Cresswell are friends and have been for years, and he’s 100% down for it. Cresswell is still as excited as he was when he was a kid and we were on one of his first tours… Jesus, that kid’s got some stamina. He definitely makes the three of us step up to the plate a little more. I can honestly say I don’t know how everything would be if Cresswell wasn’t involved!”
Keep scrolling down to check out the full chat with the great Chuck Ragan! And check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Hot Water Music!
This is the first time that you and I have talked in a while; we’ve run into each other at shows a few times, most recently at the Hot Water show in Boston which I think was actually two years ago now, but the last time we talked like this was when Till Midnight came out. It was just about Hot Water’s 20th anniversary then, and here we are at 25. Time flies!
(*laughs*) That’s crazy. It’s surreal. Sometimes when we say stuff on stage talking about it, and making those announcements, even just hearing myself say to somebody that it’s been twenty-five years, the gravity of the situation comes in. Man, that’s a long time to be doing anything.
We’re all extremely proud that we’ve been able to be a part of such an incredible music community and people that we more or less grew up with in the music scene. That’s across the board, from other bands and people we’ve worked with to promoters and venues and show supporters. Nowadays when we travel around, people come out of the woodwork, and every night is this reunion that we met over twenty years ago.
All of our personal lives have changed, and the paths that we’ve all taken and we’re still here, down to talking about friends we’ve lost along the way. It’s incredible. I feel very lucky to be one of the lucky ones (*laughs*). We’ve got a lot of friends out there who have been doing it just as long and some of them longer than us who are every bit as talented and passionate as what we strive to be, and they just haven’t had the best of luck with their road or their bands or whatnot. We definitely don’t take any of this for granted, and we definitely see it as an achievement by all of us, not just the band. We build this together, and it’s pretty cool… and pretty overwhelming.
Do you ever think about Hot Water Music’s place in the sort of pantheon of Punk Rock, Post-Punk, whatever we’re calling the scene now? Do you actively think about the fact that not only are you a part of the scene, but you’re a really important part of it to an awful lot of people?
No. I mean, I’ve always just thought that we’re just a piece of the puzzle, you know? I don’t think we’re any more special or more significant than any band that we were traveling with or playing with, because I’ve been at shows where I’m standing in the crowd watching a band with twenty of us there, and it was life-changing to me. It really resonated and really flipped my head around and upside down.
How would a band be more significant to a person who was at one of those shows as opposed to a show that had three hundred people at it or a thousand people at it? To me, it wouldn’t be right or fair to say we had anything to do with anything other than just doing what we loved, and doing what we did. Hell, I mean we were all inspired by so many different bands and acts that we grew up watching and listening to, and it was the same deal; some of them were very popular bands and some of them never left the garage, but they were all equally important and inspiring to us. Man, we’re just another piece of the puzzle.
I guess maybe a better way to ask that is, at what point did you start to realize collectively that you were bigger than the sum of your parts, and that outside of Gainesville and outside of Florida, that there was this movement out there of people that ended up with Hot Water Music tattoos, you know what I mean? Like, Small Brown Bike was a great band, but not everybody has a Small Brown Bike tattoo, you know? When did that start to resonate?
That’s a great, great question. I would say, you know, a very pivotal point was when we traveled abroad for the first time. When we went overseas. When we started playing music and started this band that was THE FURTHEST from our mind. (*laughs*) We had no idea, until we knew of friends going on tour over there, and that blew our mind.
We had done tours in the States, but the second we heard… and we had known of bands who had traveled overseas, but it wasn’t bands that we actually knew, right? So the second we had friends that we heard were going to Germany… we were like, “what? You can do that?” (*both laugh*) They were like “yeah, all you need is a passport, call this guy, call so-and-so…(*both laugh*) When we went over there for the first time, there were people familiar with our music. Not a lot, but…
Perhaps more over there than in some of the markets you’d played over here.
Yeah, absolutely! Absolutely! So that was definitely eye-opening and humbling and mind-boggling, all at the same time. And this was before we had these social media platforms and a lot of this stuff where music spreads in a heartbeat. This is back when we had pen pals and a mailing list and a notebook on the table where people would write not their email address, because not everybody had an email address, but they wrote their address down, and we used to come back from tour and sit on the floor of our places and pool our money – set aside some t-shirt money – to go buy a big roll of US stamps and a big roll of global stamps and we would sit down and write postcards and write letters. That’s how we networked, and that’s kind of how we started building that foundation over there. That really resonated huge to us, when we would travel a long ways away and there’d be someone there who knew every word to a song.
Where did you have the trajectory set in your minds when you first started out? Was there a band where you said “if we could follow in their footsteps, that would be cool?” Not that anybody looks twenty-five years down the road, but what trajectory did you think would be either cool or achievable?
In all honesty, and I’m not even kidding, it was to do a demo tape.
Yeah. And then we did that, so then it was to play a show. And we did that. And then it was to do a seven-inch. In all honesty, we spent a lot of those early years completely focused on very, very short term goals. A lot of it was things that we had never done, you know? We wanted to record in a studio out of state, you know? (*both laugh*)
Every step and every little thing that we did, I felt like it was something that we’d never dreamed of in the beginning that we learned was possible, and then we set our minds to it and just said “we gotta do that,” you know? It was very short-term goals. When we wrote music, we never really had those conversations of “I want to write a song that sounds like this song, or like this band,” or “we should do more songs like this.”
We were all so completely different, and everybody added something odd from their upbringing and their musical tastes. There were definitely certain bands that we all gravitated and connected with in the punk scene, because that’s where we all felt at home. That was our home. So that was the one thing that was common ground. There were definitely bands that in some weird way, we all kinda connected on. But for the most part, when we would write, it usually started with somebody playing something, and then another person would come in, and then another person would come in, and it would just build from there.
So at what point did the goals change, and you had to start to think a little longer-term and down the road? How deep into the career was it, and was it by the time you first parted ways in ‘97 or whatever it was? Was that kind of a reason for that?
Yeah, we definitely came to a point somewhere pretty early on, just after those first few years, where we got busy. We just wanted to play, so we booked anything and everything that we could, and I think we started to burn ourselves out a little bit. We played – and still do our best to do it – every show like it was the last show we were ever going to play. We always would leave it all on the table, and every time we’d write a record, it was the same. That was our therapy.
It was easy for us to get worn out real quick when we started booking anything and everything we could and traveling as much as we could. I think we reached a point where, and this was early on – I think Jason was still in school, Wollard was dabbling in school (*both laugh*) I guess you could say, and George and I just wanted to play. We moved to Gainesville to be in a band; we all did, but school was kind of the agenda for those guys for a bit. We got to a point where we were traveling so much that no one could really hold down a good job, or those guys couldn’t really focus on school, yet we weren’t making enough money in the band at all to really live on.
Those early tours, there were some where we’d come home from tour and find out that we’d been evicted because our roommates blew it, and all of our belongings were literally gone, thrown away, sold, or given away or just trashed. We would come back from some of these runs and find out we were sleeping on a couch or bouncing around or sleeping in the van or just getting by until we left again. We had conversations early on where we had to make a decision where if we were going to do it, we had to go all in and just do this. If not, something had to give; I had to get a job, I had to go back to school, we had to do this and that, you know?
I think even just the fact that you recorded two full-length albums in the span of a year is unheard of nowadays. When Fuel For The Hate Game and Forever And Counting came out – that’s not a thing that happens nowadays, and that was between some pretty relentless touring and things like that. It kinda makes sense that you would burn yourselves out pretty quickly in hindsight.
Yeah, you know, we wrote a lot early on. All four of us wrote, so it was just constant – and it’s turned in to that again now, and it has been the past seven, eight years or so, where more of us are writing again. But early on, everybody was constantly contributing songs and parts and even lyrics and everything. We were just all in.
And then to fast-forward, you seem to have settled into what seems at least from my perspective like a pretty nice groove the last couple of years, and like you said, you’ve been more productive than you had been in a while. Is that just because everybody is comfortable sharing ideas through technology now, rather than waiting til you’re all in a room together? And because it’s not everybody’s full-time job, so not everybody relies on Hot Water to get by? Does that lead to it being easier to be in this groove now?
Yeah, definitely nowadays. I mean, I could hang up the phone with you, record a part on my phone right now, and the guys will have it in twenty minutes, and if they were free, they could dump that into a track and record over it and send it back to me and we could go back and forth and we could have a song in a few days, you know? It’s crazy how it’s become a lot more convenient.
There are drawbacks to writing that way. Unfortunately we don’t spend a lot of time writing in person together in the same room anymore. George and Jason do, they live close together, or Wollard and George or however that combination can come together. But man, I moved to California a long time ago. Shoot, it’s been like seventeen years? Eighteen years? It’s kind of a trip to look back.
People still ask me how Gainesville is. (*both laugh*) I’m like, “man, I’m sure it’s doing just fine!” I’m there maybe a day a year if I’m lucky. It’s wild to look back at, in the grand scheme, how short of a time I was actually there in Gainesville. And when I lived there, we were on the road for half or three quarters of the year!
When you put it that way, it is sort of mind-boggling that you’ve been in California for so long and yet are still seen as such an influential Gainesville icon, for lack of a better work, and yet that was such a relatively short period of your personal journey. I’m sure you’ve been asked before about best shows or worst shows or memorable moments, but do you have a list of most surreal or most bizarre moments from the Hot Water Music experience, and if so, how high on that list does having your music appear on One Tree Hill rank?
(*both laugh*) That was actually pretty surreal! I remember that. It’s weird you mention that, because somebody was talking about that recently. Yeah, that was kinda surreal. You know, there were always moments. Most of them had to do with, I remember in those early days, we got to open up for Pegboy. That was huge, you know? We got to open up for Seaweed, you know? And they liked us! We loved them, but they said some real nice things about us from stage and told the crowd that we need more beard punks in the world! (*both laugh*)
It was surreal, because these were bands – like Jawbox, and Leatherface, bands that we had listened to and loved and, in many ways, just thought we would never get a chance to see them. They seemed like these far away legend inspirations. And then all of a sudden, we’re at that moment where here’s that band, at the venue, in our home town, and they’re sound-checking while we’re loading gear into the venue that we’re about to play! It’s mind-blowing! I look back on that and I remember that electric feeling; excited, nervous, pumped but terrified at the same time, and thinking “I hope they’re cool! (*both laugh*) I hope they’re everything I made them out to be in my mind.” Luckily, they usually always were. They were some wonderful people that we met along the way. Those were pretty surreal moments.
Do you still have those moments? Is that still a thing that happens this far down the road?
Oh yeah. Yeah, sure! It’s a big world, and it’s a big scene, and there are a lot of amazing musicians out there, and venues out there. I mean, there’s times where we’ll walk in a venue that I’ve known about and maybe been there but hadn’t played there, or theaters… and you walk in and it’s like “oh wow!” We still get excited and we still get humbled.
Are there things that have surprised you along the way in terms of what made a big impact? I look at a song like “Trusty Chords,” and that’s a song that’s become an anthem for so many people, myself included, and so it’s weird that that’s the ringtone on my phone, and so when you called me, my phone said “Chuck Ragan” as “Trusty Chords” started playing… speaking of surreal moments.
That’s pretty cool!
Are there things along the way that surprised you at just how big they became, or did you know when a song like “Trusty Chords” was written and recorded that “you know what, we’ve got something here, this seems special”?
No, not at all, because in one way or another, we were always super connected with each song that came out when we wrote it. Any musician, when you make a recording, you listen to it and dissect it until you just can’t listen to it any more. This is the way I was. Every once in a while, we would put a record out, and you would listen to it all the way through and you’re like “awesome!” And maybe the next time through it you might skip a song. (*both laugh*) And then the next time through you might skip two songs. And then by the time you listen to it the fifth or sixth time, you’re just like “eh…”
It always felt good putting those records out, especially using music as therapy, where it was almost a form of closure in whatever issues we’re dealing with at the time. We write that song and then it’s almost like you shut the book, sew it shut, and then you’re done. Now I can get on to tomorrow, you know? So no, we never had any idea which songs were going to resonate, because there were songs that I would get really excited about and they’d pump me up, and we would play them for a little bit and they would just kinda make their way off the setlist, never to be played again.
Like what? I’m curious, if there’s a song that you’re fired up about but it doesn’t land the same way on us, on the audience. Not to put you on the spot! (*laughs*)
There’s a song called “Home” that kinda got swept aside. We do this when we make a setlist; it’s kinda crazy, we’ll be like “hey, we’ve got 26 songs on the setlist, but there’s no songs on there off of this record, there’s no songs off of this release, there’s only one song off of that, there’s six songs off of this one.” You know what I mean?
It’s funny how you get into these grooves not just of what the crowd likes but just what feels good playing where you get into this groove and the band starts rolling with it, and you totally forget about all these other tracks until you bring them back up, regurgitate them. “Difference Engine,” that was one of them. We used to love playing that song! Man, that song used to get me pumped! I don’t know what happened, but it just went away, you know?
Has that been one of the treats of playing these album shows for the 25th anniversary, getting to revisit songs you haven’t played in fifteen years?
Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Some of them definitely feel like fifteen years! (*both laugh*) I remember when we got together to rehearse… Chris Cresswell’s so incredible, man. He’s such an insane talent. Super talented, super passionate, completely, 100% any time that dude steps in the room, steps on stage, picks up a guitar, whatever he does, he does it with full force PMA.
We were coming together, I was working a ton here at home, and I kept thinking “man, I’ve gotta get in there, I’ve gotta work on these songs.” I kept telling myself this every day, and I’d get home from work, and I’m on dad duty. By the time we got the boy to bed and had some food, man, my body just shut down. Then I’m up at 3, 3:30 in the morning getting back on it, and I kept skipping my little scheduled rehearsal times until a day or two before I had to fly to Florida to rehearse with the guys. I’m like “AAHHHH!” It was cram time!
And I was listening through these records and I swear, man, it was trying to remember or figure out “is that Chris playing that part? Is that me playing that part? Is that one guitar or two guitars doing that? Who’s singing the backups there? I think that’s me but it could be Chris!” It was insane, and when I showed up for the band rehearsals, I was not as prepared as I should have been, but Cresswell was so on point. I was sitting there scratching my head, and he’d say “I think you’re playing this (mimics noodling guitar noise)” or “no, I think you’re playing this part (mimics melody) and Chris does this part (mimics alternate melody).” And I’m like “oh boy…” He completely put me in my place.
Do you think you guys would be here at twenty-five years if you didn’t take a couple breaks along the way and sort of recalibrate?
Probably not. Probably not. I honestly don’t think we would. Early on, I think it was probably one of the most important things we’d ever done as a band, because we were at a point where, like we were talking about earlier, we were just burned out. We were having fun, but we were exhausted. We were overseas at the time, and had been doing a super long tour, and back in those days, before everybody had cell phones and email, ten weeks in Europe might as well be six months. It just feels so long away from home, away from family. Relationships suffer greatly. There are stresses at home, where we were doing everything we could just to live hand to mouth.
We kind of got to a point where we got sick of each other and everything blew up, and we all sat down in a stairwell in Munich I think, and had a conversation that the smartest thing to do was dump the band. Just quit. We all made that decision, then we had coffee and breakfast the next morning just to reconfirm that the late night drunken talk the night before was still legit; was still real. And we made a decision that we loved each other so much that it was way more important to be friends than it was to be a band. That was a conscious decision.
When I look back on it now, that, along with the foundation that we had built the band on, that became a defining moment in the ethic and the integrity of Hot Water Music. In the end, we ended up finishing that tour as a broken-up band (*both laugh*), playing another like week-and-a-half of shows, finished the tour, came home, and that’s when No Idea wanted to do one last show and record it, which later became Live At The Hardback. We took a couple months off, maybe less, maybe more, somewhere around there, and we all decided to go play pool one night at Happy Hour Pool Hall in Gainesville, and we met up for beers and pool and kinda made the decision to play this last show, and we decided to rehearse for the show, and while we were rehearsing, I think we wrote one song and started another one. (*both laugh*)
We just started playing, and we were like “what are we doing?” We laughed about it, and we realized we didn’t need to break up, we just all needed to get some sleep. (*both laugh*) That was pretty much it. We had to take care of home and get a grip on what we were doing and reevaluate everything. But to me, making that decision was so important because it proved to us that everything that we were singing about, everything that we believed this band was about was true.
Was it the same circumstances at the second break-up and getting back together? Was it the same sort of prevailing idea that you had to stay friends so you don’t kill each other, that kind of mentality?
Well, the second one was a little different. I was definitely the driving force on what ended up (happening), but I never wanted the band to break up. I just didn’t want to be under anybody’s thumb or under anybody’s agenda anymore, you know? At that time, we had kinda gotten to a point where we had all these agents and we had this management team who were giving the whole “this could be your time! This could be your moment” thing… the same conversation that every manager tells every young band, you know? “All it takes is one song!” “You can go all the way to the top!”
It got to the point, man, where our own agendas and our own schedules – family, all these things – just weren’t as important, you know? Things would get overlooked, and you end up missing births and funerals and birthdays and anniversaries, and all these things that make family family and make community community. Man, I just got sick of chasing that carrot, and I got sick of the whole game, and to be honest, I never wanted to stop making music, I just didn’t want to be a musician! (*both laugh*) The guys thought I was crazy for that and I don’t blame them.
When I look back at it, I can see where they were like “But this is our job! This is what we do!” To me, I’m like “no… I don’t want that job.” You know? I didn’t want the band to break up, but those guys didn’t want to stop, and they started The Draft pretty much immediately, I think. I was living in California and, at the time, I was building, doing a lot of contracting work. I thought I wanted to be a general contractor for a little bit. I thought, maybe that’s what I was supposed to do. I started playing more solo because I didn’t have anybody else to play with (*both laugh*). As far as getting back together, man, I can’t even remember how it all came to be. I feel like Jason Black and I were talking about it. It ended up being a three-year hiatus or so.
Yeah, I feel like maybe it was. I feel like it was 2007, and I played some shows in Florida with Ben Nichols. That’s when I met Ben from Lucero and Todd Beene. I was playing shows with him on the way up to meet up with the Hot Water guys, if I remember right, to where we ended up playing like DC, New York and Chicago (editor’s note: in hindsight, it was Chicago, Orlando, and Sayreville, NJ). Then Revival Tour started later that year, so that was 2008.
From the outside, it seems like things have been pretty solid for the eleven or twelve years since you got back together.
Yeah, when we came back together, I do remember that some of our conversations were like “I don’t think we’re a band that breaks up. It doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.” We love each other, we love our music and we do love our supporters, and like I said at the beginning of this talk, I feel like this whatever you want to call it, this band or this timeline that we have, it wasn’t made by the four of us. It was made by a collective, you know? When we came back together, we said “you know, if one of us doesn’t want to do it, or if somebody bows out and we have the blessing to continue, there’s no reason to break up anymore.” We did that. We broke up a couple times. (*laughs*) I feel like after that, we definitely felt like “alright, cool, this is something.”
I think a lot of that, man, has to do with our age, and maturing a lot, and getting past a lot of the petty bickers we had with one another that ended up getting in the way, you know what I mean? Nowadays, we really respect and appreciate how much each of us has devoted over the years. We appreciate and respect how much the people and supporters and promoters and all the managers and all the agents, how they’ve helped everything come along. And the record labels. Maturing quite a bit, we’re able to sit back and realize we don’t have to chase that carrot anymore. That’s a young band’s game! (*both laugh*)
It’s hard on families, it’s hard on your well-being, it’s hard on everything, you know? We love to play, and we’re not going to go out and play unless we’re 100% into it, fired-up, and that’s why we’re there. That’s why when the whole 25th anniversary came up, it actually kinda came up almost by accident. Jason and I had a couple of conversations that I look back on like “man, if we hadn’t had those conversations, we would have gone “oh, wow, we’ve been a band for twenty-seven years!” We wouldn’t have even thought of it. We had played some shows, I’m trying to think back when it was… I think I was getting toward the middle or to the end of the Till Midnight touring cycle. Then, Hot Water was doing shows, I was doing shows, it was hectic. I didn’t want to put my family through it anymore. I was gone all the time.
Jason and I started talking, and then it turns into “well, when are you free?” And then it’s looking at the calendar like three years in ahead, you know what I mean? It’s insane that that’s how we plan nowadays, but that’s kinda how we have to do it. It was looking I think at a weekend of shows somewhere, and it was so far ahead. And then I started looking at the year and did the math and said “holy smokes, that’s like four months away from our twenty-five year anniversary.” Then it turned into “we should do something.” The original conversation was “we should put out a 7-inch.” (*laughs*) It’s our 25th anniversary, let’s put out a 7-inch and maybe play a couple shows, you know? And it just went from there.
This has been a great conversation. I genuinely appreciate it. The shadow that you have kind of cast over the whole scene is really one of the primary reasons that I do this part of what I do, and why I listen to a lot of the music I’ve listened to for the last twenty, twenty-five years. I greatly appreciate this.
I appreciate that. That’s very kind. I’m honored to be a piece of the puzzle, and to have been able to contribute something that people got something out of, you know? Other people did the same for me when I was a kid, you know? It’s humbling and I really appreciate you saying that.
I think it’s important to point out, too, that it’s not just that this is a history tour, digging through the past of Hot Water Music. Light It Up and the new EP are just as good as anything lately. You guys still sound great! Your voice is as good as ever, some of those grooves are as heavy as ever. It’s not just past tense, it’s very much present and future tenses as well.
Thank you, man. We have a blast, you know. Anybody reading this, if you’re not still having a blast after twenty-five years, you might need to figure something else out! (*both laugh*)
Thank you very much. And I hope Wollard is doing well too. I know he’s not on the road anymore, but I hope he’s doing well. He means a lot to a lot of people.
Yeah, totally, man. We miss him, but we wouldn’t be doing this if he wasn’t 100% down with it, you know? The more we have Cresswell out there and just how he’s filled those boots and what he adds with his own ability and talent and stamina – Jesus, that kid’s got some stamina. He definitely makes the three of us step up to the plate a little more.
I can honestly say I don’t know how everything would be if Cresswell wasn’t involved. I don’t know if we’d be doing it, honestly. I’m not sure. That’s a tough one. He definitely has just revitalist and breathed a new air into the lungs of the band. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that in any negative way. We miss Wollard dearly. We really do. He’s our brother, he’s family. He and Cresswell are friends and have been for years, and he’s 100% down for it.
Cresswell is still as excited as he was when he was a kid and we were on one of his first tours. What’s wild is he’s played in Hot Water since October 2017. It’s been since Fest a couple years ago. We love The Flatliners and would never want to take anything away from that band. It’s all done with total respect within our little circle and our family. Man, does he just really turn it on. We miss Wollard. Right now it’s not in the cards. It doesn’t seem like he’s going to be back on stage any time soon, but he still wants to write and be a part. We take it day by day.