CHUCK RAGAN might be best known for his decade-plus service in post-hardcore punk-rock heroes Hot Water Music, but it’s his solo work that’s taken the spotlight in recent years. Now he’ll hit the road with longtime friends and fellow gruff frontmen Tim Barry (Avail) and Ben Nichols (Lucero) on the highly anticipated Revival Tour, set to kick off in less than a week. Expect some honest southern gentlemen singing, alone and together, about love, tragedy and the personal and political (or lack thereof) to a plethora of plaid-primped people, probably with patchy facial hair. Ragan’s 2007 studio debut on SideOne Dummy, Feast Or Famine, was recently followed by Bristle Ridge, a full-length collaboration with Midwest country troubadour Austin Lucas. Brian Shultz spoke with Ragan about his musical past, present and future.
How and when did the idea for the tour first come up?
It just kinda came about [from] the fact that a lot of the shows and tours that I was doing with friends and different artists, most of the time we were out there by the end of the tour–everybody was collaborating and we’d somehow end up on stage together by the end of the show. But every time, it [would] never [happen] until the end of the run. The whole idea in the beginning [for the Revival Tour] was, it’d be really great to do a full-on tour of just like-minded players and individuals–a bunch of friends who have a good time together–and actually intentionally bring a show to the people like that from start to finish. So that’s kinda how it started. It just turned into something where we basically wanted to create more of an event–more of a showcase type of bill rather than just your same old, same old “opener, [opener], headliner” show. Honestly, it was just to do something different for us, as the musicians, going out there and having a good time. But it’s [also] to try and bring something a little more interesting and tangible to the table, just for the folks who are spending their time and money coming to see it.
So the word "revival" in the tour name essentially comes from the old guard of folk and country artists playing together?
Yeah, a little bit… Basically going back to our own personal roots, or just going back to the same reason that we picked up a guitar by ourselves somewhere at a young age in the first place. To me, there’s a lot to going back and stripping everything down–especially after playing in bands for years–to basically get back to the basics, and go back to square one and just stand up in front of people [and play] acoustic. There’s not a whole lot to hide behind. It’s intimidating. It can be challenging, but at the same time, it feels free. It feels totally liberating.
In a sense, that’s what the revival meant to us, just reviving everything that put us where we are today and everything that got us started in the first place.
The collaborations take place within each individual performer’s set, right?
Yeah. The way we’re planning on starting it–we’re trying to let people know, if folks are gonna plan on coming out to see this show, to come early. We’re really trying to break the mold of doing a [typical] bill. There’s not really any headliner per se. We’re planning on starting the show all together, and we have a few things kinda scripted along the way. It’ll be going back and forth from one person [to] everybody fading off, to one person standing up there, to everybody adding back on, and it’s gonna truck along just like that.
We’re doing a bunch of rehearsals for it in the beginning–about a week of rehearsing beforehand, and actually putting together the show we have planned. We’ll have a few things scripted, but everything else will be more or less flying by the seat of our pants and [we’ll] just see how it turns out, especially with all the different special guests and people coming along throughout the run.
Are there gonna be any four-man jam-band sets á la Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?
[Laughs.] You never know, man. You never know. We’re planning on doing all kinds of stuff together, and like I said, we’re not even gonna know how far we’re gonna take it until we’re actually standing up there. It should be real exciting to see what this thing turns into. We’re fired up.
Now, I imagine you’ll be doing the occasional Hot Water Music song.
Possibly. I’m mainly focusing on this whole run–this is kinda gonna be one of my last major tours supporting Feast Or Famine on Side One before I finish up a new record that I’m doing with them. So I’m mainly gonna be focusing on most of those songs and also Bristle Ridge songs, a record my wife and I put out on Ten Four Records. So I mean, Austin Lucas is gonna be on a bunch of the tour [dates] so we’ll probably be playing a bunch of [those songs].
But I don’t know. I’m always up for playing Hot Water songs. It’s always fun. You never know. [Chuckles.]
How about when Chris Wollard joins the tour for those two dates in Florida? Is it kind of a given?
Unfortunately, he had to back out. We’re pretty bummed about that. He just actually finished a solo record that he’s calling And The Ship Thieves, and it’s gonna be coming out on No Idea Records. I’ve been listening to it non-stop; it’s absolutely incredible. We were stoked that he was gonna be on the run, [but] some things came up and he had to back out last minute. But he’s saying he might come out to a few of the shows down there, and if he does, I’ll be damn sure twisting his arm pretty hard to jump up there. So hopefully…[Laughs.]…we’ll get some.
[How about] Rumbleseat songs?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. I’ve been doing a few here and there, so yeah, I’m definitely planning on doing a couple of those here and there, for sure.
How would you contrast the crowd interaction at shows like these as opposed to a Hot Water Music show?
The environment, to me, is a lot more relaxed and low-key; it’s not as high-stress. Doing the acoustic stuff is like that all around for me, anyhow. We definitely get a little bit more of a broad audience–a broader age group. That’s a big difference. But just the all-around vibe is amped up, and there’s a lot of energy–especially for being all acoustic–[Chuckles.]–but it definitely has a little more of a relaxed, toned-down, backyard barbecue, back-porch party feel.
Earlier you mentioned how this tour is gonna bring you back to the roots of why you first picked up a guitar. What were some of those early influences?
Originally, when I picked up a guitar I was pretty much by myself. I’d never even really thought about playing in bands…never thought about doing records. I never thought about touring. None of that was even close to my brain at all. It was more, I picked up a guitar listening to a wide range of [bands] with friends–everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Bad Brains. To me, it was more of an expression. I’d seen people do it at some of the few shows that I’ve been to at an early, early age and that was inspiring. Learning an instrument for the first time, and then actually having that realization that I could actually think of an idea, then physically put it in motion and make myself play something that I thought of…that was an awakening. When I started at an early age, I wanted an electric guitar really bad. My folks finally entertained the idea, took me out [and] bought me a little package deal. You know–you get the guitar, the amp, the chord book, the pick and all that. I brought it home, super fired up, plugged it in, turned [it up]…at that point I didn’t even know that you had to press down on the frets to actually [get] a chord or make a sound. I just turned all the knobs up and started raging on it, trying to mimic whatever I was listening to at the time–I don’t know, the Germs or GBH or something. I remember my dad ran in and yanked the amp out of the wall and took everything out of my room and I thought that was it, and I was done. I was just beside myself and thought it was all over. I came home from school [the next day] and there was an acoustic guitar sitting in my room. [Laughs.] That’s kinda what I started on, and it wasn’t until I actually got brave enough to rebel, that I went out and stashed electric guitars at friends’ houses, or you name it. [Laughs.]
You mentioned you’re making a new record. What are the details on that?
Right now I’ve just been writing as much as I can. Whatever time I can find to write, [I’ve] just been stacking up songs and material. I’m really excited. This is gonna be the new record on SideOneDummy. I’m planning on recording some time in January, [or] during the winter. I don’t really have a deadline, which is pretty cool, so I’d like to keep it that way–just relax and really dig deep in it and write the best record I can.
I found a cool little studio up here where I live in Northern California and it’s on an old mining [site]. So there’s a little cabin out there, and I’m planning on just holing up in that cabin and just [getting] into it.
Does the studio have a name?
The name of the studio is Flying Whale Studio. It’s just out in the sticks, outside of a little town called Cedar Ridge, California. [It’s run by a] fella by the name of Bruce Wheelock. He’s a good guy, a great engineer. [I’m] planning on just doing it myself, producing it myself and having him engineer it. I have a bunch of good friends in mind that I’m gonna try to bring into the session at different times and just make the best record possible.
Would you care to reveal any of those specific collaborations you have in mind?
I’m definitely planning on having Jon Gaunt coming in on some fiddle. There’s quite a few people I have in mind. I don’t even know if I should go into it just yet, because I don’t know who’s definitely gonna be on it or not. [We’ll] just have to wait. [Laughs.]
Speaking of collaborations, you’ve always been a pretty collaborative performer since you first started putting out those 7-inches on No Idea. Feast Or Famine only had your name on it, but of course, it had an extensive list of guests. But between this tour and Bristle Ridge, it seems like this year you’ve been striving to interact even more directly with other musicians. How do you think you benefit from this?
To me, and I think a lot of people that do stuff like this, it only benefits us in a positive way. I’ve always felt I only become a better musician and a better player if I strive to work with, or alongside, or play with people that I respect and look up to and admire. I feel totally blessed that over the years that I’ve been in music to have come in contact with so many genuine, brilliant artists–not only the fact of knowing them, and having a chance to play with them along the line, but actually becoming friends with them and knowing them as individuals rather than whatever name they have on their records, or whatever band they’re in.
In my world, it makes for a stronger community. It makes for better friendships–longer lasting friendships. And it makes us all better players.
Who’s the better fisherman–you or Tim Barry?
I’ve never fished with Tim, but I think [he] and I are gonna sit down and have a catfish contest when I get to Richmond, so we’ll see. [Laughs.] Next week. [Laughs.] We’re gonna stack them up. alt