“Exister” – the title of Hot Water Music’s new record sounds like a statement. For the first time in eight years, the four mid-thirty-year-olds rejoined to record a new full-length album. In the 90s and early 00s the band from Gainesville/Florida influenced a whole generation of kids and young adults with their melodic but powerful version of punk rock. Their technical skills on bass, guitar and drums are outstandin and Chuck Ragan’s and Chris Wollard’s rough vocals are characteristic. From April to June Hot Water Music were touring the United States and Europe supported by post-hardcore’s bearers-of-hope La Dispute. I met singer and guitarist Chris Wollard and bassist Jason Black before their show in Dresden and spoke with them about decreasing alcohol consumption, about staying hungry and about moments in which adult men still feel like little kids.
You’ve been playing in this band for 18 years now, which is half of your life. Does this in any way feel like having two families – one at home in Florida and one with you on tour all over the world?
Chris: That’s how it is because we grew up together. We were kids when we started this and now we are men. There are wives and kids back home. We know each other about as much as you can possibly know somebody. When they walk into a room I don’t even have to hear them say anything. Just from the way they’re walking I know who it is. It’s bizarre. It’s two families for sure.
What has changed the most over the years?
Jason: We drink a lot less because we’re old (laughs). I think, not a lot, really. We don’t have to play as many bad shows as we used to either. I would say us as people have changed more than anything with the band. The band still pretty much operates the same as it always has.
In many bands that exist as long as yours band members have changed at least once. Hot Water Music are still the same four guys. What’s the secret behind that?
Jason: Who can you change? Everyone does a good job, so you can’t replace him (laughs).
Chris: We all promised each other when we started it: “It’s the four of us. If somebody gets tired or can’t go out for some reason, then we just don’t do it.” We made that promise and we meant it. This band sounds the way it does because it’s the four of us. You can’t replace anybody. It’s too peculiar. It’s not like any other band I’ve ever been in.
But there have been moments in your career when you did split up for a while. Like when Chuck left the band a few years ago, you released a record as The Draft together with Todd Rockhill. Did you know from the beginning that this would last for only one album and Chuck would join Hot Water Music again?
Chris: We probably knew that Hot Water Music would do more stuff but as far as The Draft goes, we didn’t really have much of a plan. We just wanted to keep playing and had a lot of ideas. That ran it’s natural course. You can’t plan that far ahead with rock’n roll. Things change to much and too fast. You just trying to keep busy and keep working and hope for the best.
During the last eight years, all of you have played in other bands and had other projects. How did this change the way you see Hot Water Music – your main band?
Jason: That’s one of the only ways to learn as far as being a musician. If the four of us don’t ever bring anything new to the table then the band eventually is gonna sound the same and we’ll do the same thing over and over again. So I think it’s important especially for a band like us that everybody can do different stuff and their own thing for a while and operate in a different set of circumstances. It tends to make the band better. At least more exciting again.
Chris: Just as players, that’s how you get better. By playing with other people, learning their reference points, learning how they build a song, learning how different people think about records, different sounds and techniques. That’s how you get better. If you’re just sitting in your living room by yourself, your not getting any better. You have to be constantly learning. You have to stay a student. We’re all pretty serious about our instruments. Like ever since we were kids, we are asking: “How do I get better?” If we have strange ideas about different kinds of songs or different kinds of music we want to experiment, then we just do it. Maybe it doesn’t fit it with what Hot Water Music is doing but we’re all supporting each other with what we do. It’s the way it should be, I think.
Is there somebody or something that has influenced you in a special way?
Jason: You learn from everything, be there something that you like or something that you don’t like. So even the people that do things musically that you know you don’t wanna do – that’s still influential.
Chris: When I’m listening to a record, I think it might be different than how most people listen to a record. Because I’ll be thinking, the first time I hear something: “What kind of guitar are they using? How would I do this? How do I learn that?” It’s not very relaxing. My brain starts going “Whoom. Whoom. Whoom.” Me and Jason listen to a lot of Reggae but we don’t play Reggae. But I sit there and think: “Wow! What a cool idea!” It’s so different from what we do. “What can I learn from this?” It’s different when you’ve been doing this your whole life. It’s a different way of listening.
You had 44 song ideas for “Exister”. How far has this been the effect of all the experiences you made with other bands and projects?
Chris: When we decided to start working on this new album it took us a while before we could actually make the time. When we got into the writing mode everybody had so many ideas from everything that we’ve been learning. It was like: “Oh, I can’t wait to show the guys this new idea.” Every idea we worked on went through a very natural process and the 13 that we were the most excited about became the album. It was like controlled chaos because the ideas are coming from everywhere.
You played the festival “Monster Bash” in Berlin earlier this year, together with many other punk rock bands. Is there still something like a punk rock community?
Chris: Between the bands and the road crew? Hell yeah! Everybody knows each other. We’re about to go to Hurricane and Southside Festival and we already know there’s a lot of our friends gonna be there. You really look forward to those moments. Traveling the world and you meet your friends in some random spot, that’s cool. It wasn’t like that in the old days cause we didn’t know as many people.
Jason: But now, if there’s a lot of bands on the bill somewhere, we know somebody for sure. Everyone gets along very well, even if they’re not like friends. I mean, we’re all doing the same thing so you have a really easy touchstone as far as conversations come.
Chris: Sometimes it gets hard for people who don’t do this to understand us. Your best friends become these other bands. These are the people that get you, that understand you. This is a weird life, traveling every day and every day is a different city. It’s very different than what most people do and physically demanding. You’re always gone, you’re always away from your family. It’s a very solid community between all us bands and the crew. It’s an important part of it.
So when you’re at home, do you feel restless, do you get cabin fever?
Jason: No, not at all. It’s totally relaxed usually. It takes a day or two to get accustomed to the quiet.
Chris: I’m sure when I get home, I’ll probably sleep for two days. Home is mellow. I don’t really do anything except for writing music, hanging out with the family and the dogs and planting some new vegetables. It’s boring. But that’s life (laughs).
In Berlin especially the young bands felt very honored to share the stage with bands like Lagwagon or with you. Do you realize that you’re something like a role model for them?
Jason: Yeah, but we’ve been in that situation a lot too and we still are sometimes. I think that’s awesome and super flattering but I don’t really think about it. It’s rad that people feel that way.
Chris: We still feel the same way too. We’re still really crazy fans of music too. At Hurricane Festival we’re playing with The Cure. The Cure! Give me a break! We’re gonna be doing the same thing. Like “Oh my god! Oh my god! We’re gonna go watch this!” We’re freaking out like little kids.
Jason: I don’t think that ever really ends if you like music. It’s just part of it.