Posted: March 5th, 2009
"We’re extremely low-maintenance, we move fast"
Interview & Photo by Lee Bender
When you’re young and all you’ve got is skateboarding, friendships, and music, there seems to be those one or two special bands that pull everything together—from single songs on broken mixtapes to full discographies on repeat through the night. With his song titles etched in griptape and his raspy recorded voice, Chuck Ragan——formerly of Hot Water Music and Rumbleseat—delivers music that’s more than driving and more than personal, often about simple subjects that are not only uplifting but real as well.
What did you grow up listening to and reading?
I was born and raised in the Southeast of the US with a Southern Baptist background, alongside my brother Paul. Growing up that way was fine until we reached the age to actually think and decide for ourselves. When those decisions were “out of bounds” as they sometimes were, there was a definite clash. So early on, I always found music through rebellion. Or vice versa. Much of the music in our household and communities were old-time standards like bluegrass and gospel. I enjoyed the harmonies and energies from time to time, but was never in search of it. We moved to Lafayette, LA from Chattanooga, TN in 1985e. Freestyle bikes were out and skateboarding was huge, at least to us and where we lived. We found riding and the music that went with it to be exhilarating beyond belief, and from then on were changed for good. Back then it was bands like GBH, Bad Brains, Germs, Metallica, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and every song on every skate video we ever owned. The music then somewhat scared me. The same with riding. It was foreign and risky at that age and there was always something about it that I could relate to or make sense with. To say the least, I became very much so attached to it.
How soon after you discovered this did it take for you to become more involved with making music?
We moved to Sarasota, FL shortly after our move to Louisiana. I had a guitar then, but it collected dust mostly. I was way more interested in being outside. I did play in some bands and tried to learn the best I could, but it wasn’t ever easy. My parents were trying to protect me from getting wrapped up in something dark and negative. At the time I thought they were crazy, but getting older now I can certainly see what frightened them about me and the crowd I was running with. I was reckless and sometimes dangerous, and they blamed the music. I’ll agree now that it did add fuel to the fire. I have a great friend by the name of Christian Prather who taught me how to play a barre chord and do homemade tattoos. In those days if we weren’t skating, we were inside skipping school, eating MoonPies, drinking RC Cola, giving each other tattoos, and learning Misfits songs. I still think we’re all lucky to be alive.
Did you ever think playing music would lead to all of the traveling, and becoming the tight-knit family that it did?
I had no idea and never expected anything of the sort. The majority of the people that I know and love I’ve met through music. For me it’s just a testimony that I was blessed enough to be involved within a community of people who really cared about what we were doing, as well as cared for one another. At least from my perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all or was all a bunch of roses and cream. It was growing up and as most of us know, growing up can get excruciatingly messy. I think most families can be dysfunctional at times. The travelling as well was something that I had never dreamed it would be. It was amazing seeing all new places for the first time over land and seas and everywhere in between. As years pass, and you become familiar with the gas stations, clubs, rest stops, hotels, and telephones, the perspective changes. When you get out of a Sprinter in the middle of Bavaria, take one look around and know exactly where you are, where the phone and bathroom are, you change a little. All in all though, we did the best we could and took pride in what we did to get to the point where we are now. The answer is no way, I never thought it would become the family that it is now, but I’m very thankful.
Did you grow up with anyone that skateboarders could connect with these days, or in a past generation of skateboarding?
The skaters that I grew up with an admired the most were all friends. Nowadays they’re graphic artists, contractors, writers, or musicians. There were always some great guys out there that I always wanted to skate next to and try to keep up with. The key was to find somebody better than you were to learn what they had to offer. In Lafayette, the Richard family owned a skateshop which was the coolest thing in the world at the time. Still is, really. Our friend Carl’s mom and dad were always supportive, either building ramps or taking us hooligans around town to new spots. They bought and opened a shop and put on a demo in the parking lot. We had a big contest and they flew out Mike Vallely. Again, this was late ’80s. I remember six or seven of us kids, maybe more, piling into Carl’s mom’s van to go pick him up at the airport. Mike stepped out of the plane door with a backpack and a skateboard. He looked around, put his trucks on the handrail for a 50-50 and walked down the stairs. When we saw that, we all exploded! Screaming, laughing, and wrestling until we fell down in the airport. Kids are funny. Needless to say, Mike made a huge impression on us, from new tricks to actually taking it seriously and answering our hundreds of questions. I saw him some time ago in LA at an Against Me! show. He was walking away and I stopped him to tell him a little about that time and to thank him for the years. I don’t think I could ever really do it justice, though.
Do you still roll?
No question. I can’t go as fast or as big as I once did, and the bones and joints aren’t what they were some years ago, but I love it. I only ride transition nowadays, and mostly concrete. Not much street skating unless I go pick up our mail or bring the recycling down the road. You’re definitely not as risky when you grow up, kids, so enjoy those handrails now!
Where did the name Hot Water Music come from?
We got the name from an old Charles Bukowski short story book. It made sense at the time and just stuck. There was another band called that at one time and we battled their label over the name for quite awhile. At one time we offered to wrestle for it, but they didn’t find that too amusing or professional.
Compared to being a part of a family like Hot Water Music, how is it being on more of a solo kick?
Not as different as you would think except there’s a hell of a lot less prep time, worry, stress, and drama. Less people equals less all of that. It’s usually Jill and I on the road together, along with our fiddle player Jon Gaunt. We’re extremely low-maintenance, we move fast, we decide fast, and eliminate a lot of waiting-around time the best we can. Jill has managed everything for the solo tours and does an incredible job, coming from a film production background where they’re quite a bit more strict than in the music business. So we still have a family feel, just a bit more close-knit. We still deal with many of the same promoters as HWM did, and many of the same venues.
You mentioned that you and your wife have started your own record label. Did the DIY attitude come from your youth?
We just began our little mom and pop label that we’re calling Ten Four Records. We’re getting ready to kick off a new webstore over at Chuckraganmusic.com where we’ll be putting up limited releases, shirts, and other swag. We always thought it would be cool, but had no idea that it would be happening now. As far as the DIY approach, it just seems right. We’re far from finished with working with other labels, though. I’m in the early stages of writing for the next Side One Dummy release, which I’m more excited for than ever. This little label should be fun though, and hopefully will bring in enough to enable me to continue writing music and releasing random records of all sorts in the future. You never know until you give it a shot. We’ll do our best!
Download Chuck Ragan from the iTunes store here.