Chuck RaganSideOneDummy Records
By Steven Farkas on Dec 10th, 2014 at Phone
Ahead of his pre-Christmas shows in Canada, Chuck Ragan took time out to speak to us about being back in Canada, his latest album, Till Midnight and the future of the Revival Tour.
Where are you coming from and how far from Portland are you?
Well, coming from Northampton and still got a couple hours left to go
So your latest album, Till Midnight came out earlier this year and it was your first solo record of original material since 2011. Did it feel good to get back to solo stuff after the reunited HWM put out Exister in 2012?
Well for me not really as it had never really gone away. I’m always kind of with it, even when I’m recording stuff or doing shows with Hot Water (Music), or on a solo tour or, a revival tour or working on something else. If anything, I just kind of had a lot of plates spinning at once. It is a little tough to transition from one to the other, but if anything it was harder for our families and loved ones at home as they always seems to get a bit of a raw deal, and that’s where it became really tough.
So what do you mean by that, how tough is it for family and loved ones around how you split your time between stuff with the band and solo material?
Basically between my solo stuff, the revival tour and hot water, every one of those things has to do with me being away from home, or being on the road. Constantly living on the merry go round of the touring cycle can be really tough for family members back home and they’re the true glue that holds it all together. That’s a huge reason why I ended up slowing down quite a bit last year, which I guess compared to some may not seem like slowing down much, but to me and what I did and went through from 2008 to 2013, 2014 was slowing down quite a bit.
It’s all in context though isn’t it, as you still seemed pretty busy in 2014 with Till Midnight, touring relentlessly, which just highlight how busy you must have been in that period between 2008-13!?
Well to me it just seemed more focused and that’s what really needed to happen. I loved doing the Exister record at the blasting room (with Bill Stevenson, Jason Livermore) and that was a real pleasure, but right around then I was also still in the (2011’s) Covering Ground touring cycle, also doing some revival tour stuff and had also just released a book. Basically I just had a whole lot of irons in the fire and just toward the end of 2012, maybe middle of 2013 I started sitting back and deciding to pick my battles, spend some time at home and just try and focus. That’s the mail reasons why there wasn’t much happening with revival tour in 2014. Till Midnight was the focus for sure and then celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Hot Water Music only really lasted for a couple of weeks.
Just a question on Till Midnight then, where did you pull inspiration for the songs from, I read an interview a while back where you talk about there being more love songs on the record, so was that accurate and where did that feeling of being more smitten come from?
Yeah, there’s a time where I had 3 months off the road and it was the longest I’d ever had off the touring cycle in about 10 years and it was just really rejuvenating and healthy to be at home and spend some quality time with my wife and dogs. We live in a really beautiful area of the foothills of Nevada county, just under Lake Tahoe and just surrounded by lakes, rivers and trails and just a great place to create and explore the outdoors while spending time with loved ones and that’s definitely where a lot of it comes from for me.
It’s cool though, even listening to the album and the stories you’re telling, they are almost like love songs for the end of the world, ie there’s a dark slant to them. Does that darkness come through naturally when you’re creating?
Sure yeah, we’re men on the road and what I’m saying when we’re in love and have these bonds and relationships our marriages back home, it’s not easy for either party and that’s where a lot of that darkness comes from. It’s also a reason why it is so important to me to always get a light at the end of the tunnel you know, get that hope in there. It’s not always pleasant out here and it can be rather heartbreaking at times.
But then that’s real life isn’t it, and that’s what comes through in your music, that honesty.
You know songwriting is definitely personal. I mean I love telling stories and writing for other people, hearing a story and transcribing that into music. That’s always a joy to me but for the most part songwriting has always been a therapy tool, kind of take a step in a different direction and look at my life from a different perspective. To more or less figure out how to overcome it or how to get around it you know?
A quick question on the process then, when you are formulating something in your head, do you immediately know whether that’s going to be a Hot Water song, or a track you want to perform on your own?
Sure, good question man, basically for me I write a lot. But I write in no real consistent time frame, it’s totally random. I’m the kind of person that I’ll be doing something and a phrase or song or melody or riff will come to me and I think about it and then can’t shake it. So I’ll need to write it down or record it, like lay it down right then, and sometimes these songs get finished on the spot, depending on where I’m at or what I’m doing, and sometimes they might never get finished or make it out anywhere. So it totally varies and really is very random. When it comes to separating between solo and Hot Water there’s definitely some things that I do solo or that I do with the camaraderie with the guys and some stuff would just never work as a Hot Water song and that’s pretty obvious. Lyrically there’s not a ton of difference between the two for me. I’m gonna write whatever lyrics I’m gonna write to whatever music is going down. Hot Water has a more aggressive energy so there’s a bit of variance there but for the most part, musically the writing is on the wall. When a song goes down it’s pretty obvious which way to push it in.
I read on Twitter recently that most of the time you love dogs more than people, so is there any canine inspiration on Till Midnight?
(laughs) Like most of that stuff, my dogs were sitting right next to me! Maybe no, man, I don’t know I’d have to go through the lyrics, but I can’t think of any canine reference off the top of my head (laughs)! They certainly are a huge part of our lives and make the world a better place and it’s amazing how attached we get to them, you know?
Absolutely man, I totally agree. The overall sound on Till Midnight has a real traditional country flavour, especially Bedroll Lullaby and Wake With You which have a real Hank Williams III vibe to them. Was traditional country always a big influence?
Sure, yeah I owe all that to the guys in the band and everything they contributed. We all grew up with different influences, and when I was growing up, my mama’s side of the family are all Cajun folk so early on was all Cajun and French folk and my papa was an accordion player and my mama also used to sing. I grew up in an old school southern Baptist household, lots of old time gospel and spirit driven hymnals and obviously growing up in the southeast I was surrounded by a lot of country and bluegrass and that was even before I found skateboarding and all that sent me in a diff direction. You could go around this whole band and find every influence out there, from punk rock to new wave to bluegrass to jazz, country folk and a bit of rock and roll. We’re lovers of the music (laughs).
And that def comes across in the music that you make! Just on the revivral tour, had the idea been floating about in your head for a while before it became a reality
Yeah, the idea came about in 2007 and we didn’t do the 1ast one until 2008. When I look back now you know, my mother was a performer and we grew up going to revivals and granted it was a totally different genre, when we finally got around to doing it, I just loved the fact that it is an old way of sharing music and for me a very healthy way of sharing music by just making it more communal and open, doing away with the hierarchy that we seem to find when big billed shows are on. Granted that’s done for a reason and makes for a great show there are bands and artists that are bigger and more people want to come and see so it makes sense to put on support acts to build a climax to the evening you know> To us, what we wanted to do was not only spotlight these songwriters that weren’t well known but also root and support the underdogs and present people that we feel the world needs to hear. I can’t tell you over the course of the revival tour we hosted over 150 diff people and it’s incredible how many of them I found were just not known and incredible and that’s just the nature of the beast, just music you know? Some of us who are the ‘headliners’ aren’t any better than anybody else, that we’re a better musician? When it comes right down to it we’re all doing the same thing, no matter how it unfolds, we’re all there for the same reason. Some of us become more popular than others but in no way does it even mean that any one of us are any better than anyone else, you know what I’m saying?
How does the lineup for The Revival Tour comes together?
In the beginning honestly it just started with shaking hands with a buddy, Ben Nichols was one of the first artists who agreed to do it and then him and I sat down and said who else? Let’s go get Tim Barry and that’s how those first tours started man, it would start with me calling a buddy and then we’d think about who to get and who was available. There are so many moving pieces but then after we’ve been doing it for 7 years we get a lot of submissions which is just really incredible you know? We have always been hungry to find songwriters full of new music, and just see what kind of music everyone is into and like I said it’s about presenting not only the well known artists but also the unknown underdogs that we want to get out there. So it still happens in a few different ways, either word of mouth, people submitting themselves or just random chance. We’ve even invited people in off the street and it has worked out really well. You know we will pull into town and see a street performer and just say, “hey, turn up at this venue tonight and just jump right on stage”!
It seems like too that the community and the relationships that have been built through the revival tour have continued on outside the revival tour, I know Tim Barry and Frank Turner have toured together recently and that’s got to be pleasing to see for you?
That’s a real joy to see because we get people come onto these tours as complete strangers and you know it iss always important to have people on the tour that have done it before to keep that vibe and communal fire but you end up seeing people come on the tour as complete strangers and then everybody leaves as a family. We see splits, collaborations, writing partnerships and then people touring together and it’s just a really cool thing to witness and be a part of, just to see people build these bonds and relationships that will last a lifetime.
What is the future of the Revival Tour in 2015?
Well yeah, we’re always working on it, I can say we are definitely working on something for 2015 and we’re gonna give it our best shot.
You put together a book, The Road Most Travelled back in 2012 full of tour stories from a wide array of people which comes across as a bit of bible/how to guide for the next generation of musicians. Was that deliberate?
Absolutely the whole idea was the fact that the majority of people that I know or run with, I met on the road. To me there are so many of us out there and everybody brings something different to the table and pulls their own weight. There’s so many people that make this possible, it takes a village to keep this stuff going, and it is important to reach out to not just the well known band members or musicians, but also the hotel managers, the catering people, the road crew and bar staff the agents, these are all people who are just as important as the people playing the music when it comes down to making the tours happen and making them sustainable. Their stories and advice is just as valuable as the guy or gal whose name is on the marquee. When I was compiling the book and reading through all the stories it was incredible walking through the footsteps of these people and read through the paths they cut and the mistakes they made, and that was the point of the book. I mean I’ve been doing it a long time, and learned a lot just from compiling the book and it’s like the old saying ‘whats obvious isn’t always seen’ you know? When we’re out here doing this, sometimes you get in a cycle of emotion where you can neglect the fundamentals (laughs) and sometimes it takes a different perspective, or hearing your buddy explain something where you think “oh yeah, that’s how that is supposed to work!” (laughs). So to me the two main points I was trying to get across were the guys and ladies who I’ve met on the road, travelling for years is for us to be able to remember the basics, and you know get back to the basics and remember why were there and never forget to pay the respects and to give credit where credit is due, and the other point is for the younger generation and hope this helps them not to make the same mistakes that we did and also find all the positive things that come with being on the road as well.
When you read through all the stories of all the people who have contributed to the book there’s a recurring theme of just being a good person, and be kind and respectful to everyone you meet as you know you’re going to meet these people again
Yeah man, we meet all types! There’s a lot of people we meet that stand up to everything they’re about and there’s a lot of people can definitely talk the talk, you know what I’m saying? I think it would take a lot for me to step in and intervene in somebody’s business, I mean I’m a true believer, especially when it comes to the younger generation that you can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it takes all of us getting out there and making our own mistakes. You don’t really learn anything from doing anything right you know? And we definitely come in contact with kids where we’ve in the nicest way possible, tried to set them straight (laughs).
Yeah, I mean you’ve got to let people make their own mistakes and then learn from them
Yeah, it’s hard. Also we still make mistakes! (laughs), we are still learning ourselves. And to a lot of people out there, we’re still the young guns. I don’t ever want to preach to anybody and everybody needs to make their own mistakes and we all need to keep our eyes and ears open. But one thing that just drives me nuts that I can’t stomach is the entitlement attitude. Folk that feel something is owed to them from something that they’ve done or something that they did. The fact of the matter is yesterday is yesterday (laughs) you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter and I think we need to live in the moment and it’s important to pay respect to every single person who’s responsible for putting that show on. That’s just my opinion.
I know you’re heading up to Canada for a few shows, but what I wanted to ask why you guys are skipping the middle of the country?
I’m just trying to get home before Christmas! (laughs) to be honest, so yeah. But we definitely haven’t done as much as we would have liked in Canada, and even in the last couple of years we’ve had tours that have fallen through and that’s been really disappointing. And we’re gonna try to get back as oon as we can!
Like I said, I’ve probably taken up far too much of your time, and I really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us!
No worries man
Enjoy the remaining dates on the tour and the journey across Canada. I hope you get back home for Christmas without any issues!
Thanks Man, thanks so much for taking the time.
Chuck Ragan’s Till Midnight is out now via SideOneDummy Records, and check out his remaining shows in Canada, here.