Interview :: Chuck Ragan

If you didn’t know already, Chuck Ragan is the man.

Ahead of his final UK show with, Moon & Back ‘Album Of The Year’ winners, The Gaslight Anthem I had a chat with Chuck Ragan. Now, before we get to the interview, I’ve got to let you know that Chuck is one of the nicest, most humble people I’ve ever met. He’s such a good guy and I can’t wait for him to be back in October on The Revival Tour. We talked about upcoming solo projects, the stuff he and the rest of Hot Water Music had planned for the future and I even managed to get his opinion on kites (thanks to Jon Snodgrass).

Ian was on holiday in Spain when all this went down, but I had to call him up so he could deliver the results of our ‘signature question’. Despite flying solo for this one, there is a Critchley cameo.

Anthony Barlow: How’s it going Chuck?

Chuck Ragan: Good, man.

AB: We spoke in March last, how’ve you been since then?

CR: It’s been incredible. We’ve been working really hard. A lot of travel. I’ve been writing a lot lately though; I feel like I’ve been writing more this past year than I have my whole life. It’s been inspiring, I guess. It’s definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things. Writing songs to me has always been more of a necessity than something that I feel like I want to do. If that makes any sense? I mean, the only thing I can compare it to is, if anybody were to keep a journal or like a diary. Sometimes you don’t even know why you’re writing, you just have to do it. That’s kind of how song writing is for me. I think, in the event of getting songs out and actually putting them down, it helps me realise things about myself or determine what my direction is, what my intentions are, and it just simply clarifies my life, and my family, and my friends, and everything. A lot of it, even though I’ve been enjoying it and I’ve been writing new songs, there’s been a lot of awakenings, if that makes any sense?

AB: Yeah, definitely. Is this writing for a new solo record, or a new Hot Water Music record, or both?

CR: That and then some, really *laughs*. I’ve been writing a new record, and I’ve got loads of material, I plan on recording in January and February. We’re getting ready to do a tour with Social Distortion in the States, on the West Coast, and we’ll be recording before that tour and a little after. So we’re kinda shooting to have a new record out by next May, a new solo record. Hot Water’s been writing stuff as well. We’re getting ready, right after this tour, I don’t even go home ’til December 12th. I fly to Louisiana and meet up with my wife and we’re there for five days visiting my grandparents for thanksgiving. She brings my electric guitars, I give her my acoustic guitars, and then I fly straight to New Zealand to go on tour with Hot Water Music and The Bouncing Souls for a couple of weeks. So we’re moving quite a bit. Brian Fallon, from Gaslight, and I have been working on some songs and one really cool thing, I’m really excited about, is he just confirmed to do The Revival Tour over here, in the UK and Europe, in October.

AB: I was just going to ask what your plans were for bringing The Revival Tour over here. Is there anyone else you can confirm for that yet?

CR: Not just yet *laughs*. We’re going to try to get as many people as we can involved. Right now, it’s just Brian and I. It’s still a good ways away, so we’ll see what comes together. I can, pretty much, guarantee you’re not going to be disappointed.

AB: Are you going to try and keep with the usual US lineup or are you going to try and get a lot of UK acts in as well?

CR: I would like to get a lot of local acts, because there’s so much great music over here. Livers & Lungs, Sam Russo, Helen Chambers, Jimmy Islip. I’ve got a lot of good friends over here. Frankie Stubbs from Leatherface. A lot of people who are doing acoustic stuff. There’s a lot of other acts too, that I’ve always wanted to get. It might be a stretch, but I would love to see if Billy Bragg wants anything to do with it or Laura Marling. There’s so much.

AB: It sounds like it’s shaping up to be a really cool tour. This tour with Gaslight has been a pretty mad one, hasn’t it? You played in the UK for a bit, then went over to mainland Europe and now you’re back over here. What’s it been like for you?

CR: This tour has been so special, man. It’s been incredible. I’ve known a lot of these guys for a while, but this is the first time that we’ve ever actually got to sit down and get to know eachother, to spent time with eachother. John Gaunt is with me on this tour, we’re just playing as a two-piece: just acoustic guitar, singing and his fiddle. They [Gaslight] were gracious enough to let us ride with them on the bus. So we’re living with The Gaslight Anthem, and you never really know someone unless you’ve toured with them in that environment. There’s not much personal space, so you really have to get along with people for it to work. We knew it was gonna be cool, but you’re always a little bit apprehensive when you’ve never toured with someone and you’re just going, especially with it being such a long tour. I can honestly say, they’re just a big group of lovely, lovely people. There’s not a negative bone in the bunch. Everyone is extremely positive, they know what they’re doing, they’re happy to be here, they don’t take any of it for granted and they’ve earned all of this, they’ve truly earned it. To me, I’ve toured for a lot of years, and I’ve seen all kinds. They’re doing it for the right reasons, and I have all the respect in the world for that.

AB: You’ve said previously that you wanted a tour with Gaslight to come together so you and Brian [Fallon] could try out material from your new collaboration. Are we going to hear any of that tonight? I know you like to play with the other acts on a tour so…

CR: Yeah, we may. We might throw one out. Why not, y’know? We’re all here together. The Sharks have been a lot of fun on this tour. They’re a great, young band. I had a birthday on this tour and they said: “make sure you come out and watch us tonight, we have a present for you”. They went up and they started playing this song, and I didn’t even think anything of it. It was one of their songs, but they had enough thought to completely change all the lyrics into a Hot Water Music song. It was a Sharks song – ‘Glove In Hand’ – but they changed all the words to ‘Rooftops’. They’ve been playing that every once in a while and I’ll go out and sing it with them. They’re a bunch of special kids as well, they’re doing great.

AB: I expect there’s a lot of people coming here tonight to see you, as well as Gaslight…

CR: I don’t know about that man *laughs*

AB: Well, working on that assumption *laughs*, how have the crowds taken to your stuff?

CR: I’ve been, honestly, pretty amazed at the responses. It’s always tough to get out and do a support tour. For one it’s tough anyway, for any band supporting a headlining act, because no ones there to see you anyway. What we’re doing is, John and I are getting up and playing an acoustic guitar and a fiddle and we’re getting infront of a band who’s getting ready to blow the roof of the joint. So it’s rather intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been absolutely amazed at the response, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Gaslight has really expanded their age groups over the past couple of years. There’s a lot of older folks at the shows, and I feel like they pick up on what we’re doing. They get it. I mean, younger kids too. I’ve been completely overwhelmed. I’m amazed by it.

AB: We talked a little about Hot Water Music before and the UK tour, what was it like being on the road with those guys again?

CR: It’s great. Nowadays we don’t tour that much as it is, and when we do tour it’s just kinda been short runs. When we come back together it’s kind of like a little family reunion. We’re not stuck in the machine like we used to be. Like Gaslight, or Against Me!, or some of these bands. You get into a cycle where you record a record, then you go on tour and you do a whole circuit. That’s Australia, Europe, UK, US, a couple of support tours, Festival gigs and usually a touring cycle can be a year and a half to two years long. Then you take a month off, you start writing and you record another record, and you start all over again. It’s great, it’s a wonderful thing, but it can definitely weigh heavy on you. For us, Hot Water toured so much as it was that it weighed us down quite a bit. Nowadays, now that we have all this time between these tours, it’s more relaxed. It’s not killing us, and it’s nice like that. We don’t have a record label right now, we don’t have any managers, we don’t have anybody telling us what to do. That’s why we’ve been enjoying writing again so much: There’s no stress, there’s no pressure, we just want to make new songs and do it when it feels right.

AB: Was it a shame that George [Rebelo] wasn’t on tour with you?

CR: Yeah, of course. We had Dave Raun with us, and we wouldn’t have done it without George’s blessing anyway. Dave’s been a good friend of all of us for years, and he’s an animal behind the drum set. It just made sense, y’know? We wanted to go and play these shows, and we even asked George, “what should we do?”, and he said get somebody else, man. We called Dave and we did it *laughs*. Yeah sure, we miss him. He’s gonna be on this Bouncing Souls tour – in Australia – that we’re doing. We’ll be back together soon.

AB: You’ve been playing a lot of charity shows recently too. How have those panned out?

CR: The one we did for the refugee children turned out fantastic. We didn’t really know what to expect and there wasn’t as much communication as we thought there was gonna be between us and them, and there were some language barriers. We just thought ‘well, we’ll just try and get the word out’. And the whole point was to benefit, not only the children themselves and the actual organization that schools, feeds and houses them, but to try and benefit their music and art program. So what we did is we invited people to come and play the show and we just said, beside the kids and the workers that are gonna be there we have room for fifty or sixty people, so you’re more than welcome to come to the show, but please either bring money to donate or bring an intstrument to donate. I can’t even tell you how many instruments showed up. We had a table, like this massive table, and it was just full of guitars and drums and amps and percussion stuff and everything. We raised a load of money for the organization as well, and it was a beautiful thing. All the kids were anywhere from three years old, up to fifteen years old, and we just passed out all the instruments and we played and we let them play along. It was just utter chaos *laughs*. They were banging on guitars and tambourines, and just loving every minute of it. It was a beautiful thing, and we’re definitely gonna be doing a lot more of that. I think it’s important, man. For any artist in the positions that we’re in to do something more than just show up, play a show, get paid and go to the next. There’s a lot to be done out there. We’re definitely going to be driving to do more of that down the road.

We did the interview in a pub, and a fan of Chuck’s comes over to talk to him…

AB: Do you get that a lot?

CR: No always, no.

AB: Do you like it?

CR: It’s overwhelming sometimes. To be so far away from home.

AB: You seemed to get good reception in here when you walked in.

CR: Good people, man. We were talking about the benefits…I just think, especially in Europe, it kinda clicked with me where we play a lot of these youth rec centers, and at night it turns into this big club. They’ve got shows and a bar and the adults come, and the people drink and whatever. We show up sometimes at twelve, one in the afternoon and they have a kindergarten and families there it’s like a proper youth rec center. Then they turn it over and it turns into the club. So I thought ‘we’re here, why not come during the day and play some shows for the kids’. Get the fans involved, get the families involved and try and benefit these local communities, and then play a show for the big kids in the evening *laughs*.

AB: It’s a nice idea, where did it originally come from?

CR: Man, I don’t know. I don’t know. Ever since we were all kids just growing up in the punk scene we would always do benefit shows, or food drives, or do something to give back to a local community. Over the years we’ve been invited into so many cool communities, it feels right to do something wherever we can to give back to all these communities that have been supporting us over the years. Because if it wasn’t for you folks, we wouldn’t be here to begin with.

AB: Yeah, definitely. We’re about done, but I do have a couple of reader questions. The first one comes from an anonymous email, it says: “You’ve worked with a lot of people on both your solo records and with Hot Water Music – guys like Matt Skiba and Austin Lucas – is there anyone you’d really like to work with again on new records?” I know Austin did a lot of backing vocals on Gold Country, didn’t he?

CR: Yeah, yeah. He came in. He passed by. He was just passing through town and I said “come on in”. There’s so many good friends and amazing artists out there that I highly respect and love that, not only am I a fan of, but I love them as people and as friends. I’m always up for [collaborating]. One of the the coolest things about music to me, is sharing it with the people around you.

AB: I noticed that. You’re records have got that kind of community, ‘everyone’s welcome’ kind of feel about them.

CR: That’s cool. Good.

AB: Jon Snodgrass wanted me to ask: “Do you like kites?” I assume this is some kind of ‘in’ joke.

CR: Kites? I love kites *laughs*. That’s not an in joke.

AB: Awesome. I hope Jon’s happy with himself, making me look like an idiot *laughs* . I don’t know if you remember, but last time we spoke, I had Ian with me. Unfortunately he’s in Spain and he’s gutted he couldn’t make it today. So I’m going to give him a call, if that’s ok? He just wants to ask you something.

CR: Spain’s not a bad place. Is he on holiday there?

AB: Yeah

CR: Well I’m sure he’ll be fine!

Ian Critchley: Hello

AB: You’re on with me and Chuck Ragan, how’s it going?

IC: Hi, how’s it going?

CR: Hey Ian, how’s Spain?

IC: It’s alright. It’s raining.

CR: Well you better keep your pants on, you don’t wanna get cold ***

IC: *laughs* I had a hangover, so I walked up a mountian

CR: *laughs*

IC: I thought it’d help me sweat the alcohol out, but now I’m just hungover and I smell

CR: *laughs*

AB: Ian, you’ve got some results to deliver to Chuck, have you not?

IC: Yeah, a while ago we started a tally – it was just after we interviewed you last time – we had a few beers and started thinking about who would win in a fight, you or Henry Rollins. After that we added a shark in as well, for fun, and we’ve been asking every band we’ve interviewed: ‘Who would win in a fight: You, Henry Rollins or a shark?”.

CR: *laughs* Wow.

AB: You won by a landslide. Everyone seemed to think you’d take them both *laughs*.

IC: The thing is, I asked George [Rebelo] and Jason [Black] and they both said Henry Rollins. So you might want to have words with them.

CR: *laughs* Yeah, I’ll have words with them. Maybe Henry Rollins and I will gang up on both of them, and the shark too.

IC: *laughs* Now that’s something I’d want to watch.

CR: I’ve lost a lot of fights to sharks though.

AB: We got some pretty good reasons from people about why they’d chosen you. A lot of people said about you being a good fisherman stuff like that. All of this factored in. We’ve retired that question now.

IC: Yeah, we’ll have to think of another one now, involving you, and we’ll give you the results next time.

CR: Well, for the record I have no bones to pick with Henry Rollins.

AB: That’s good. I’m glad there’s been no Hot Water Music/Rollins Band gang fights. I’m using Naomi’s phone, so I’m gonna have to let you go man.

IC: Alright. Have a good gig Chuck!

CR: Thanks man, and enjoy your holiday. We’ll see you soon!

AB: That’s about all I’ve got for you Chuck. Thanks for doing this and have a good show tonight.

*** This is a reference to Ian sending Chuck a message on Facebook earlier in the year. In his profile photo, Ian was pantsless and showing his arse to the camera.

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