Interview :: Chuck Ragan

Seriously, this interview doesn’t deserve to be on a music website. We’re off to work for Woodsmith Magazine!

Ian & Chuck

He might be best known for being a part of Hot Water Music, but Chuck Ragan is a man of many talents. He’s bringing his brand of Floridian country music to the UK in support of Frank Turner and, some might say, he’s outdoing the Winchestrian troubadour…just a little.

Ian Critchley: Because of Hot Water Music, I got into a lot of stuff. Charles Bukowski and Mark Twain just to name two. Is there anything, be it music literature or film that you’d like to recommend to the readers?

Chuck Ragan: Well, you named off a lot of categories there *laughs*. Theroux, he’s a brilliant author. That would definitely be a top choice. What else did you ask for? Music? What have I been listening to lately? There’s an incredible band called The Low Anthem, that’s fantastic. They’re from Rhode Island in the States. There’s another band I’ve just been starting to get into that’s pretty brilliant as well. The Devil Makes Three. Man honestly, since my wife and I have been doing the Revival Tour, I feel like the influx of music around our house has just quadrupled, because not only are we getting a lot of submissions from people who want to play it, but it’s kind of just the way the networking has come together it’s been so much easier to just find incredible music out there. It’s just constant around our house, but yeah those two are fantastic for sure.

IC: There’s this tour, then there’s the Hot Water Music tour is there ever gonna be a Rumbleseat tour or is that as the album implies?

CR: Is Dead. Yeah, but right now I’m writing a record with Brian Fallon from The Gaslight Anthem and we’re planning. He may, most likely, do the Revival Tour in the States early in 2011 and our goal is to bring it over here to Europe and to the UK. I hope he could be on it. We’d love to play shows for the record and tour on the record as far as I know, but I don’t know how much or the extend of it all. Gaslight is putting out a new record in June, so they’re gonna be pretty busy.

IC: How did it come about, this new project?

CR: I just called him up and said “Hey, you wanna write some tunes?” *laughs*.

IC: What kind of stuff is it gonna be?

CR: Well, mostly it’s gonna be all acoustic and maybe along the lines of Gold Country, the last record. We’re recording it in the same studio and producing it ourselves. The songs are really relaxed and just a lot of fun. We’ve been sending them back and forth to each other for a little bit. We have ideas for some real good friends, and really talented artists, that we want to bring in and see what kinda sounds we get. Who knows, man? I just couldn’t be more excited about it.

Anthony Barlow: Just to go back for a second, you’re taking the Revival Tour to Australia this year aren’t you?

CR: Yeah, we are. In April. We’re gonna have Frank Turner on that one, Tim Barry from Avail and Ben Nichols from Lucero.

IC: It’s great. I really hope it does come over to the UK, because it’s basically like all my favorite artists in one place.

CR: You wouldn’t believe it too, the show’s so different from probably any show you’ve seen. It’s just non-stop music. It goes for three, three and a half hours, sometimes four hours long. It actually stays interesting all the way through, so it’s a good time.

AB: You’ve been doing a lot of charity work too?

CR: Not enough man, never enough. At the end of this tour I’m doing a Haiti relief benefit

IC: Is that the one with Jonah Matranga?

CR: Yeah, yeah. In Los Angeles, but we’re kind of in the works of trying to do a lot more with the Revival Tour. On the past two Revival Tour’s we’ve done little things like we bought a guitar and had a guitar raffle and all the proceeds went to an organization called Musicares. Years ago, I cut my hand really badly.

IC: Yeah, was it on a wine glass? I remember reading about that somewhere.

CR: Yeah, it was a broken glass. I was at a point where I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to use my hand again, but Musicares was an organization who we found. Man, they just really stepped up to the plate for us and helped out, along with my mother-in-law, with helping make the ends meet whilst I wasn’t able to work. I do two things to make a living, I play music or I do carpentry work and both I need my hands.

IC: That was actually one of our questions, we weren’t actually sure that you were a carpenter. I’d read it before, but I wasn’t sure. I’ve got a quote from you down here. I’m not quite sure whether I just made it up, or dreamt it, but there was something you said that went along the lines of: ‘There’s something amazing about writing a great song and playing it to a crowd, but there’s also something great about crafting a great piece of pine”. Words to that effect.

CR: *laughs* Yeah, I’m definitely not the best carpenter out there at all. I started working with wood when I was a young kid, building skateboard ramps with my brother and over the years, being in a band, it was always tough to hold down any secure job with any company. I’ve always been some kind of independent worker. We’re musicians, we do all kinds of stuff. Working from restaurants, to garbage, all different kinds of construction and I got into construction at a young age and just really kind of got interested in building and carpentry work from there. Once a family took me in when I was going through a tough time. He was just a brilliant, fine wood worker. I lived above their cabinet shop and I helped him build his home. At that point I’d only built a couple of homes before, but helped him build his home. We worked on it for about three years and did it the old school way. Most of the wood we milled ourselves. It was mostly, in those days, a lot of hand drives rather than using pneumatic tools. It’s just a once in a lifetime experience. People don’t build homes like that anymore, because it’s not cost efficient unless you want that look.

IC: It’s a lot more personal isn’t it

CR: Oh yeah, but after meeting him and building that home I got really into just, simple, fine wood working. Doors, windows. Like making custom doors and custom windows and that’s kinda how I made most of my living, doing carpentry work. Wood floors whatever, crown molding…

IC: Surely there’s a big contrast between your carpentry work and playing on stage?

CR: Yeah, but in all honesty, I’ve always had just as much passion and that’s probably what I was getting at with that…whatever I said *laughs*. I’ve always had just as much passion working with wood as I have writing a song, because to me they’re kinda one and the same. Whether I’m building for myself or I’ve been hired on to do a contracted job or whatnot. When you look at a space or whatever and you have to design something. That’s what I love about that kind of work, is doing design build stuff. When I sit down with someone, it’s like “ok, what do you want? How do you want to use it? What kind of material?” and you basically create this idea and then you source materials and then you materialize that idea and then you utilize that idea. To me, that’s the same as sitting down as sitting down with an inspiration for a song and writing a story, kind of mapping it out, coming up with parts and then writing that song, putting it together, going into a studio, putting it on tape, having that record materialized and then holding that and utilizing that, playing it.

IC: Is that why you self-produced Gold Country?

CR: Yeah, a little more fulfilling, but a lot of reason is for years all the sessions I’ve done have had a very strict time frame, budget, everything and it was like ‘go, go, go, go’. There was a lot of stress. It was just kinda chaotic and sometimes that’s good, because it kinda puts a fire under you and you just go right at it and whatever happens, happens. That’s great, but I just wanted to do a record that was more raw, stripped down and just kind of relax more doing it. Having control of the budget and the time frame, I was kind of able to space it out and go into the studio and just truly want to be there every time I was there working on it.

IC: How do you feel the response has been towards it?

CR: Oh, it’s been brilliant. I could never ask for more. Everything I’ve ever done, I feel like I’m just completely blessed to even be sitting here talking with you guys.

AB & IC: *laughs*

IC: That’s a bit…

CR: I mean, I’m just being honest with you. I mean, to have these opportunities. I never dreamed this as a young kid at all. I had no idea. Y’know, I just wanted to learn how to play some chords. Man, to me, I fulfilled everything that I’d ever dreamed a long, long time ago and I just feel like everything that has happened and everything that’s happening is just another blessing along the way and I don’t take it for granted.

IC: Do you feel playing solo is a more personal thing then and the full band thing is more, not fun, but more rowdy, if you know what I mean? A ‘guys in a band’ kind of thing?

CR: Yeah, yeah definitely. I mean, I’ve been bringing along some great musicians with me, doing my solo stuff and, definitely, a lot of the songs a lot more personal. A lot of that just comes from the writing. Not that they weren’t personal in Hot Water Music, it was just the fact that we wrote more all together. We would write individually, but we were also a collective. One person would bring a song in and we would just rip it apart and put it back together, where four of us would agree. There’s a lot of great things about that and then, at the same time, there’s pro’s and cons to both. Playing wise, I love it both. Even the acoustic stuff, it’s high energy, but my acoustic guitars are a lot lighter than old Les Paul’s, easier on the back.

IC: You’ve had your own custom guitar made haven’t you?

CR: Yeah, yeah.

IC: Was that exciting for you?

CR: Yeah *laughs*

IC: Does it make you feel like a true rock star?

CR: *laughs* I don’t know how it made me feel. I opened it up and I was pretty, like, “do I deserve this?”. It made me want to take more guitar lessons, to be honest. Yeah, that was a huge honor, a huge honor. Eastman has been very kind to us and have been very supportive of the Revival Tour. We had them donate the guitars that we raffled off for Musicares and also the Society Of Singers. Yeah, that was pretty insane. The first time I opened that up and saw it, wow.

IC: Well, we’re pretty much out of questions. Thank you

AB: Yeah, thanks a lot.

CR: Thanks so much for making it out.

Thanks a lot to Chuck and everyone who helped make this happen. However, I think there was one obvious question, what with all that carpentry talk, that we think was missing – “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”. Then again, Chuck’s a big guy, we wouldn’t want to piss him off, would we.

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