Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan speeds up his personal life and slows down his sound
Chuck Ragan is neck deep in the best job he’s ever had. Six months ago, the Americana singer-songwriter, who also fronts post-hardcore band Hot Water Music, became father to a baby boy. When GT catches up with Ragan, he’s out running errands in his hometown of Grass Valley, juggling baby duties with his wife Jill, and doing his best to keep up with the demands of being a new parent.
“The whole time management thing is kind of crazy,” he says. “Your time is just cut in half and then some.”
For Ragan, being a new dad means that life has changed—he’s booking performances closer to home, and he has taken a break from long tours. But he and Jill love their new life as parents. The two planned to have kids for years, but there was always another tour or another record cycle, and parenthood kept getting bumped to the back burner. Once they both hit 40, they knew it was now or never. They made a plan to settle down for a bit and embrace the quiet—something for which Ragan is not especially known.
As frontman for Hot Water Music, Ragan established himself as a charismatic performer, a gifted songwriter, and a powerful vocalist with a strong, resonant voice that easily filled venues and mosh pits. The band became a staple of the ’90s underground music scene, and Ragan held down lead duties with energy and passion.
When Hot Water Music went on hiatus in 2005, Ragan began focusing on the roots music he was raised on. From the outside, switching from post-hardcore to Americana troubadour may seem like a big jump, but it was really a return to the music he was raised on.
Born and raised in the Southeastern U.S., Ragan grew up listening to Cajun music, classic country, bluegrass and old-time gospel. His embrace of punk and hardcore came later.
“I was playing acoustic music before I was ever in a band playing electric music,” he says. “Then I found skateboarding, and rock ’n’ roll, and a more aggressive approach to music. It was exciting. It scared the hell out of me. It was kind of angry and rebellious and that’s how I felt at that age.”
Even through his aggressive phase, Ragan never abandoned his acoustic roots. In the early days of Hot Water Music, the band would write everything on acoustic instruments because they lived in apartment buildings and couldn’t plug in their amps and let loose. The shift to playing roots music was just the next step in Ragan’s musical journey—a journey he counts himself lucky to be on with the many talented artists he shares stages and highways with.
“Where I get the most inspiration nowadays,” he says, “are the singer-songwriters that I actually know. There’s a lot of people that I love, there’s a lot of music that I really get into, but I’m one of the lucky ones that is not only able to know and admire all this great music around us, but to know and admire the people behind it. That’s what really drives me and really inspires.”
Ragan lists Cory Branan, Rocky Votolato, Jenny Owen Young, and Tim Barry as a few of his favorites.
“I’m not only inspired by their music, but I’ve sat down and had coffee with them, broke bread with them, and know what’s truly behind that music,” he says.
A man of many talents, Ragan put together The Road Most Traveled, a collection of artists’ tour stories; he spearheaded the acoustic Revival Tour; he recorded the score for the forthcoming video game The Flame in the Flood; and he is cofounder of a sauce company. He’s also a fly fishing guide who “drifts folks down the river.”
These things all contribute to a songwriter and human who is as real-deal as they come—a humble, salt-of-the-earth artist embracing the beauty of this new chapter in his life.
“I don’t know if happy is the right word,” he says. “I feel so much more than that. Sometimes it’s not all super-positive. Sometimes it’s overwhelming—just wanting to guide this little fella in the right direction. But it is definitely the most whole I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Chuck Ragan will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $20/adv, $25/door. 479-1854.
INFO: Chuck Ragan plays at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19 at Moe’s Alley.