If life is a highway, Chuck Ragan has been writing its soundtrack. The frontman from the influential punk band, Hot Water Music, has been busy since his band’s supposed breakup, releasing a solo CD, recording Hot Water’s first album in eight years, organizing an americana inspired tour and relentlessly traveling the road.
With a dusty voice and a lifetime’s worth of road storie, Ragan’s third solo effort is a tapestry weaved from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, embroidered with the folk soul of Woody Guthrie strung out on the fiddle.
This came on the heels of completing the long overdue album, Exister, with the group — Hot Water Music — that got him here in the first place. The Gainesville, Fla., punkers were thought to have gone extinct after Ragan took time away to pursue his solo career.
The idea for the revival tour came during this period, eventuallytaking stage in 2008.
With a tour-strained voice speaking over the roaring wind from an open window on his tour bus, Ragan delved into Hot Water Music, his folk music roots, (waning) love for the road and what makes the revival tour (aptly titled "The Revival Tour") special.
The Reader: How was it getting back into the studio with all the original members of Hot Water?
Ragan: It was great. We’ve all been wanting to do something for quite a while. It was pretty intense getting back at it with the guys.
Where does the folk side of your talent come from and what were your influences?
I grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist household. Before I ever found skateboarding, punk rock and rebellion, I grew up around music that ranged anywhere from old bluegrass and gospel music to cajun creole music. Some of my earliest musical memories are of watching my papa and mama playing accordion and banging on a tambourine singing French songs. Some of my dad’s friends taught me how to play guitar and we’d sit around and play Dylan songs.
Covering Ground’s lyrical content deals with themes of living on the road and the ups and downs of a transient existence. After two decades of mostly touring, is this album your response to that experience?
Absolutely. I use music as a tool. A therapeutic outlet. By using it in such a personal frame I tend to write songs about the present, especially using it to attack life and find the barriers. Now, when I look back on two decades of songwriting, it’s like flipping through old diaries.
Was that idea meant to be a theme on the record?
I didn’t intend for Covering Ground to be any type of concept record. I’ve been touring non-stop for a long time and I hit a point in my life where, it’s like, bam! I have a love-hate relationship with the road. I’m really looking forward to slowing down, I’m looking forward to family and I’m really looking forward to, hopefully, touring less (laughing) in the future. Something hit me where I thought, “I’ve literally been moving around my entire life.” Since I was born I was moving around because of my parents' careers. I joined a band and, as soon as I was old enough, I hit the road.
This is the Revival Tour’s fifth year. Why has it been so successful?
The concept behind it is simple and has been around for ages. The idea is to communicate more with my friends and like- minded people that I’ve toured with. We go into a show and basically tear down the walls of who should be a headliner and who should be an opener and share music in a very stripped-down, grassroots, old-fashioned way. The most special part of this tour is the camaraderie that makes it up.
The shows feature an ever-revolving carousel of notable punk artists, such as Avail’s Tim Barry, Against Me!’s Tom Gabel, Lucero’s Ben Nichols and an exciting group of emerging artists. Who have you really enjoyed perfroming with?
Cory Branan and Nathaniel Rateliff for sure. I respect everyone you see on the Revival Tour. These two gentlemen in particular I’ve been really looking forward to playing with. I’ve admired the way they carry themselves and their songwriting for a long time. When we got them to do the tour, I felt like we won the lottery.
How long do you hope to keep the Revival Tour going?
For as long as it still feels like the first Revival Tour.
The Revival Tour 2012 is Wednesday, April 11, at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. Tickets are $15 advance and $18 at the door. For more information, visit www.theslowdown.com.