By Michael Lello
Chuck Ragan wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music growing up in Gainesville, Fla., but despite that restriction — or maybe inspired by it — he’s put together a noteworthy career that’s spanned from the early 1990s. He’s known not only for being one of the lead singers in punk band Hot Water Music but also a string of solo albums and a project he conceived called The Revival Tour, which has featured Ragan sharing stages with the likes of Against Me!’s Tom Gabel, Lucero’s Ben Nichols, Frank Turner, Jenny Owen Youngs and Kevin Seconds of 7 Seconds. An upcoming European Revival Tour in the fall will feature Ragan with Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem, Dan Andriano of The Alkaline Trio and Dave Hause of The Loved Ones.
Currently, Ragan is on two tours: a string of dates opening for Social Distortion in large rooms as well as his own headlining slots in smaller clubs. In advance of his Thursday, May 12 show at The Note in West Chester, Pa., and on his way to Columbus, Ohio, for a Social D show the morning after a headlining gig at The Strutt Café in Michigan, we caught up with Ragan to talk about his unique touring philosophy, his new album which is set for a September release on SideOne Dummy Records and what’s up with the on-again, off-again Hot Water Music.
H81R: So you’re touring with Social Distortion and doing solo shows along the way. What has it been like for you, bouncing back and forth between two tours, essentially?
CR: Ya know what, it’s pretty intense. It’s exhausting because we don’t have a lot of days off. It can be real exhausting, just the way the route has been, zigzagging all over the states; there’s not a whole lot of time to sleep.
Other than just the travel part of it, it’s amazing, man. I love having the diversity of being able to play these big sold-out Social D shows for, ya know, thousands of folks, and especially folks who have never heard us before, they have no idea what to expect. We’ve just been meeting some great folks. And at the same time, like we played (a headlining show) last night The Strutt Café in Kalamazoo. Not even close to the same amount of people that we’re doing with Social D, but all these diehards friends and fans that know every word to the songs and just been supporting us for years. I feel really blessed, I feel really honored.
H81R: Tell me about the new album you’re working on.
CR: Oh yeah. Well, we’re calling it “Covering Ground,” because that’s what we’ve been doing since we put “Gold Country” out; we’re just trucking. A lot of the songs on the new record were either written on the road or written about the road, either the trials, the sacrifices you make doing something you love, to everything (like) (making) it home safe and sound to the ones you love. Just a record full of road songs, man. I’m thrilled to start getting it out there. We’re extremely excited about it. It feels like we’ve definitely raised the bar for ourselves in everything that I’ve recorded. I’m just thrilled with it.
We’ve got a lot of great folks, friends, that the way it came together… Christopher Thorne from Blind Melon, he produced and engineered it and actually played on a few songs, and him and his family were just a real joy to work with. We did it as the studio in his home in Silver Lake (Calif.), just a warm, family atmosphere, and that just put it in the zone. Brian Fallon from The Gaslight Anthem sang on it, Audra Mae sang on it, Chris Phillips from Squirrel Nut Zippers did all the percussion. We just had a blast.
H81R: In a radio interview from last year you talked about working on an entire album with Brian Fallon. What’s the status of that project?
CR: We kind of decided to hold off on it because when we were on the tour together last year overseas we had planned to write the record on that tour, and it just got tough. We were super busy, just runnin’ really hard and, ya know, we just decided that we’d hold off and wait ’til we actually have the time to sit down together face-to-face rather than sending stuff back and forth on e-mail. I highly respect him as a songwriter, and I think one of these days we hope it will happen.
H81R: Tell us how and why you put together The Revival Tour.
CR: We’re getting ready to do the fourth year of this thing, and man, I’m just thrilled about it. It’s something that definitely came about when a lot of the tours that I was doing, by the end of the run I was always sharing the stage with whoever I was on tour with, but it would never happen ’til the last two days of a 3-week tour (laughs). The idea was simply, why can’t we share music the old way, and let’s work on this and communicate more and go into a tour with that in mind and collaborate throughout the entire show, and not only that, let’s completely sever the lines and the barriers that go up of who should be a headliner and who should be an opener.
It’s an age, age-old idea, it’s been around for hundreds of years, but I’d never toured this way. I haven’t seen it happen in at least the scene, the community, that I’ve been a part of for the past 17, 18 years. So this was just a way to bring something different to the table and make shows not only more interesting for the show-goers and the people who are paying their money and spending their time, and also make it more interesting for us who are touring, some of us more than two decades.
The Revival Tour and the way that we present that tour is whoever’s on the bill, when the show starts — and a lot of people get it now — if you’re not there early when the show starts, most likely you’re going to miss something, because when we open the show, everyone takes the stage together. Whoever is involved throughout the whole evening, we kick it off together. We almost kind of do a round-robin set of showcasing the songs from each person’s catalog, sometimes we do some covers, you never know. Then people peel off and play by themselves. It doesn’t stop for three and a half hours, and people are coming on and off the stage. It’s a more exciting way of touring for us.
H81R: And you’re bringing The Revival Tour back to Europe this fall, correct?
CR: We are, and we’re already working on the next one for the U.S., but that most likely isn’t going to be until spring of 2012. Maybe bring it to Australia for the second time in December, then ideas for Canada It’s now become an annual, international event, and we’re just completely fired up.
H81R: Who are some of your influences as a songwriter and musician?
CR: Man, I grew up listening to a lot of, like. … My family, where they came from, I was surrounded by gospel music and Cajun music, bluegrass, a lot of country stuff. We weren’t really allowed to listen to any rock and roll, unless I snuck it (laughs). Then I found skateboarding and got into punk and rock and roll and started to rebel against everything. One band tied those worlds together for me, and that was Creedence Clearwater Revival. They were always one of those bands I could always put on, no matter what mood I was in. They were always a huge influence.
Nowadays, the majority of our influence and inspiration has been coming from all of our friends and the people that we meet on the road that we play and tour with, people like Tim Barry, Frank Turner, Brian Fallon, The Drowning Men, The Anderson Family Bluegrass Band. So many folks, I listen to their music, I get into it, I can respect it, but then we meet them as people and we actually get to know them aside from this sound or this thing that everyone knows them for. And to me, when you meet somebody and get to know them outside of what they’re known for, and you just have these simple moments of sitting down and having a cup of coffee together or eating breakfast and shooting the breeze, connecting with them on a personal level, it just throws me into a whole other world of respect for them.
H81R: I believe it’s been four years since Hot Water Music reunited and toured. Should fans expect another tour or an album from the band any time in the near future?
CR: Yeah, we’ve actually played since that tour, we’ve probably played a couple dozen shows a year. We all want to do a new record. We’d love to do it. It’s a matter of time, and everybody is kind of running full- steam — I’m definitely running full-steam in this direction with the Revival Tour, that’s my top priority — but I would love to be able to write with the fellas. We have been writing. The guys are actually doing some demos back in Florida while I’m out on the road here, and they’re going to be sending me some stuff. We’re going to be doing a few shows when I’m dine with the Social D tour at the Ryman Auditorium, which is just a massive honor to play the Grand Ole Opry.
H81R: Are there any other projects you’d like to talk about?
CR: I think we about covered it. We got all kinds of things. … I would just tell people, keep posted on Twitter or Facebook, they’re the easiest way. We have a lot of things on our plate that I’m not able to announce just yet, and we’re extremely excited about. People keep in touch, we’ve got a few tours lined up that we’re getting ready to announced, some other releases.