Chuck Ragan

By paul

Paul: Hey Chuck, how are things with you right now?
Chuck: All is well. I’m in Hamburg right now at our bass player Digger‘s flat. I’m a little lagged at the moment from a 30 hour run on travel day, but fired up to be here with the boys to start playing some shows.

Paul: Describe ‘Gold Country’ for those yet to hear it.
Chuck: For starters I’d say it’s another record I did that’s in the same vein of “Feast or Famine” but quite a bit more raw and unpolished. For folks who haven’t heard either, I’d say it’s just a collection of songs that delve into simple atmospheres of simple music. I recorded with a great bunch of good friends and neighbors and we did our best to play as best we could and have fun doing it and it worked out that it came through on the recording. The topics on this record weren’t so much thought out ahead or contrived in anyway other than one by one as they showed themselves. In other words, it wasn’t meant to be a concept record. My writing to me is more like therapy than anything else so the songs tend to sit as more of a journal entry or page in the book than as any concept of sorts. It’s fun, but it is simple music that range from love to travel to friends to politics to reflection and remedy. We enjoy it.

Paul: As a youngster you moved around the States quite a lot. How do you think, if at all, that has affected you as a songwriter?
Chuck: I believe moving certainly had quite a lot to do with it. I can’t see how it couldn’t of not affected me in terms of writing really. It affected every other aspect of my life. When I think of writing songs my first thought of what it takes to make songs, and that’s plain honest reflection. It may be different for many people but for me that’s all it really can be. When I look back at all the years we traveled and moved around to different cities or always the “new kid,” I feel like it built a certain character that I needed to get by or to sustain. I’m sure it’s the same way for any kid who grew up on the move. We’re built to adapt and by adapting we are influenced and inspired. We grow. Writing nowadays to me is telling stories old and new and just documenting thought processes and times and doing what I can to have fun doing it. Granted I’ve been very envious of friends that I know who’ve been born in an area, have grown up there and either still live there or visit their loved ones and return to familiarity. I think that could be inspiring as well, I just wasn’t raised with that option.

Paul: So how did you become interested in acoustic/folk/punk? Are there any artists that you look towards as influences on your own sound?
Chuck: I’ve always been interested to it or drawn to it in one way or the other from and early age on. I was raised in the Southeast and there was a lot of gospel, bluegrass and cajun music influences that were around from the church or my family. I found myself a little later on scared, attracted and fully inspired by punk rock music when I got into skateboarding at a young age. But even through those years one of my all time faves was CCR. So for me it was more about the energy of the music over the style. If it felt right, honest and raw it was definitely for me. In the early HWM days we all wrote on acoustic not really out of choice at first but because we all lived in flats around a lot of people and couldn’t afford a rehearsal space. So acoustic was the way to go. So to me it’s always been an interest in one way or the other. Old influences stream in and mix with what I’ve learned and what ‘s going on now and it is what is. As far as artists go, there’s so many. Rob McGregor who is a Gainesville legend in my eyes was a huge influence early on. Nowadays I’m surrounded by so many amazing friends who are such brilliant songwriters that there’s a new inspiration and fire with every time I turn around. Ben Nichols, Tom Gable, Audra Mae, Frank Turner, Digger Barnes, Jon Gaunt, Austin Lucas, Possessed By Paul James, William Elliot Whitmore. I could go on and on. I feel damn lucky to live in the days of these songwriters and players and even more so honored to share the stage with them.

Paul: Did you learn anything from your previous solo records before writing and recording the new album? Were there any changes to that process as a result of any lessons learned?
Chuck: Absolutely. What I was shooting for on this record was to find a medium or middle ground between something very polished and something completely raw and stripped down. I came up with a group of songs with the intention of making them strong enough to stand on their own with a voice and a guitar before filling them up with anything. For a bit I wasn’t sure whether I should do a very stripped down release or to just go for it and stack up the sounds as they made sense. I decided to go for it. And as soon as I got my friends in the picture it all made total sense. I just wanted to spend more time on this project, take my time where I could or where I could afford to and just put together a collection of songs that transcribed a good feeling of friends playing together and having some fun. As well as releasing a group of songs that had clarity and simplicity without too much unnecessary overdubs or overplaying on it. I’m thrilled and very stoked on all the releases that I’ve done up to this point. I love all the live stuff and one off sessions as well as Los Feliz for the rawness of it. I loved Feast and working with Ted Hutt and the high production of it, but I’m the most happiest and comfortable with these sessions than I’ve ever been with any other project I’ve done.

Paul: How did you come around to getting together with Austin Lucas to put Bristle Ridge together? Do the pair of you have any plans to combine forces again on record in the near future?
Chuck: We met years and years ago over a conversation about records, Leatherface and punk rock but didn’t come together or really get to know each other until a few years ago. We connected through our friend in Germany who runs Hometown Caravan records. We agreed to do a split together and before it was finished we rendezvoused in the states cris-crossing on our own tours. We met in NYC and then a few weeks later I had started a song called “hold my bed.” I got stuck on the second verse and called Austin to see if he’d be into finishing it. That was 3 days before we were to meet in Vegas. He wrote a second verse and when he arrived in Vegas we recorded it in the bathroom of the Dive Bar on Tropicana and have been great friends ever since. We’d always talked about writing more together so something like “Bristle Ridge” was inevitable. It was just a matter of time. We’re very much into doing another project but right now we just don’t know when and where or how we’ll do it but it’s certainly something we’d all look forward to doing again.

Paul: Are there any other artists you would like to work with who you are yet to do so?
Chuck: Tons. Tom Gable, Skiba, Frank Turner, Nichols, Tim Barry, Will Whitmore, I could go on and on. Who knows what will ever happen but I love all this music so much and feel it’s worth learning and staying in touch and in tune with and any chance I get that I’m able to collaborate with some of these greats I will.

Paul: You’ve spent a lot of time in Europe over the last year or so, what do you think of UK bands? Are there any you listen to a lot? I’ve seen you mention Frank Turner quite a bit…
Chuck: I have been in Europe a lot but unfortunately not the UK so much. We plan to change that this next year. I love it there and have a lot of great friends so I’m looking forward to hopefully starting to visit on a more consistent basis. I’ve been listening to Frank Turner of course as well as Sam Russo.

Paul: Your back in the UK for the Reading and Leeds Festivals – what can we expect from those shows? Are you more comfortable with the bigger shows or the smaller ones?
Chuck: Yea, I’m really honored to be playing those gigs. It’ll be the first for me. I’m fired up to give it everything we got for the short time we’re on stage so if anything you can expect us to have a good time!! Hope you do too! I have a full band with me on this run so we’re anxious to get started. As far as size of shows, I love the diversity of playing both sides. You never know really. Whether it’s 20 folks or 20,000. One or the other can be just as exciting or just as tough and irritating to get through. A lot depends on the crowd and their energy but most of all and most importantly, it all depends on the attitude you take with you onto the stage. Or onto the floor.

Paul: After that, when can we expect to see you in the UK again?
Chuck: Can’t say just yet but I’m hoping and working on it to be really soon.

Paul: What status are Hot Water Music at? Can we expect further dates or even new material? Does it frustrate you that people continue to ask about HWM rather than focus on the many other side projects that have come since the downtime?
Chuck: We’ve actually recently been in touch about doing some more shows soon. What I’m looking forward to is to be doing some more writing with the boys. We’ll see. Again, it’s a matter of time. We’ll get there. The best part of it all is that everyone is in a good spot. Playing music, getting by and loving what we’re doing. None of us would be where we are today if it wasn’t for the supporters, our families, the labels and close friends who helped us on in the tougher days. I appreciate that and respect that to the fullest, so no. I don’t tire at all when folks ask about HWM. I’m honored to be apart of that movement and to have had so many awesome people join us along the way. It made us all who we are today and now being comfortable and feeling solid and confident through music, there is no frustration or regrets. What people focus on is their business. Can’t blame anyone for that at all. The music that we’re all doing on our own is what we do and certainly not looked at as “side projects” at all though. We put our heart and soul, time and money into our music in whatever form it is and living and breathing it just as we always have. HWM will always be our band in the terms of the four of us who were in it, but as for the friends and players we’re all with now, that’s been our major focus, which means if anything, HWM is the side project. And in all honesty, that’s been awesome. We’re there to enjoy each other and have a great time in the short time we have it. When we do get on stage it feels fresh and new and we all feel like we’re in our 20’s again and to me that feels like it felt in the beginning.

Paul: And finally, a question from one of the readers of our website, how does it feel to be an idol and inspiration to so many young beard-growers?
Chuck: Ha! Most likely as frustrated as they are to consistently have hair growing out of our face.
Thank you friends!

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]