Punk-turned-Americana rocker Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music spoke with The Triangle April 18 about his co-headlined tour with The White Buffalo, as well as his recent release “Till Midnight.” Down-to-earth and easygoing, he underscored the sense of camaraderie felt both in the studio and on tour. Chuck Ragan played at Theatre of the Living Arts April 23.
The Triangle: How’s the tour going so far?
Chuck Ragan: It’s going great; we’re teamed up with some great guys, some of them we’ve toured with for years, some of them we’ve just met on this road. It ended up being such a wonderful group of people, everyone is on the same level and page, everyone is just having a blast.
TT: So you’re headlining the tour with The White Buffalo, have you guys played together before?
CR: We haven’t, it’s kind of a co-headlining tour. We’ve both been running in our own directions and this was the first time that we’ve actually had the chance to cross paths and play shows together. I’ve been a big fan of [Jake Smith of The White Buffalo] since 2009. I was always trying to get him on the Revival Tour since ’09 but it never really worked out schedule and time-wise. He is great though, super inspiring. He’s been playing as a three-piece this tour and man, he’s just been burning it down every night. It’s awesome.
TT: You tour and record with The Camaraderie; who exactly is The Camaraderie?
CR: We have Jon Gaunt who plays fiddle, Joe Ginsberg who plays upright and electric bass, Todd Beene from Lucero and Glossary who plays pedal steel and electric guitar sometimes, David Hidalgo Jr. from Social Distortion as our drummer. So we’re playing as a five-piece mostly, and man, it’s something else, these guys really bring a lot to the table. For folks who have seen me play, they can expect it to be a different atmosphere. It’s a bigger sound but at the same time we’re able to just add a lot more dynamics to the show. We’re able to really put the pedal down and go full board, but then just strip it down to almost nothing, just a voice and a guitar. It just makes it a lot of fun for us to really be able to play while having all these options and play with the dynamics in a live show.
TT: So going back quite a ways, what kind of music did you grow up listening to? Is there anybody that influenced your sound as a solo artist and with Hot Water Music?
CR: Sure, a ton of stuff. I grew up in a fairly conservative southern Baptist household. On my mother’s side of the family we had a lot of Cajun music in our blood with my Mama and Papa. My Papa — that’s my grandfather on my mother’s side — was an accordion player and they used to sing a lot of French and Cajun songs for us. Those were kind of some of the early inspirations. One of my dad’s friends used to teach me guitar, and we’d sit around and learn a lot of Dylan and that kind of stuff and that was always a big influence early on too.
But, you know, as a young teenager I found skateboarding and that sent me in a whole different direction, different lifestyle, alternative music; I found rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock, metal and hip-hop. You know, whatever teenagers listen to, it’s a really eclectic mix of music. But somehow it all just became kind of seamless in stuff that I listened too and stuff that I love to play, a pretty wide range of stuff.
TT: With “Till Midnight” did the bulk of the songwriting fall on your shoulders or was it more of a collaborative effort?
CR: Yeah, I did the bulk of the songwriting, definitely. I’ve more or less pulled together a large group of tracks I wanted to focus on and I’m constantly writing. The way I normally do it is I just stack stuff up, and I cut through it and narrow it down and usually just keep cutting the list in half. I like to go into the studio [with] at least twice the number of songs that I’m gonna record. So I started with that and from there, [I] got Christopher Thorn up to my place, we kind of narrowed it down a little bit more and finally got comfortable enough to send the tracks to the guys. It was all just in basic formats and then when I gave it to them we all kind of had a great deal to do with the arranging and pulling stuff together. I really wanted them to feel connected and invested in what we are doing. To me, it made for a better session all around.
A lot of the tunes on the record are love stories in a lot of ways. It’s always been a massive part of my inspiration and living and working at on the road and at home through music. My wife is a massive inspiration for me [as well as] my friends, my family, so it’s always had a great deal to do with it. It is definitely a very kind of loving, positive album, a positive energy record, and it seems a lot more optimistic than previous releases that I’ve done.