If the band’s 1996 full-length debut Fuel For the Hate Game is a punk fan’s baptism into the cult of Hot Water Music, then consider that album’s follow-up, Forever and Counting, to be the work that forged their allegiance to the Floridian rock band in fire. Hate Game collected the influences of acts like Quicksand, Mineral, and Leatherface, then filtered them through the hands and throats of frontmen Chris Wollard and Chuck Ragan. It feels like a seminal statement in the story that was post-grunge, pre-emo rock.
Forever and Counting, an album whose slight polish turned off some fans, firmly established Ragan and Wollard’s band with bassist Jason Black and drummer George Rebelo as one worth paying attention to. The group of misfits, originally from Sarasota, toured Europe on the back of Forever, but the success nearly led to Hot Water Music’s breakup.
Still, both efforts are packed to the edges with multitudes of angsty missives only capable of being delivered by angry, and irritated, suburban kids rebelling against their parents’ religious beliefs and the world at large. Hot Water Music did break up up eight years later, but has released two albums — including last year’s Light It Up — since reuniting in 2007.
Ragan, 43, says it’s that nervous energy that really tuckers him out these days.
“I mean, the body definitely doesn’t really bounce back the way it used to,” Ragan tells CL during an early morning call that finds him tiptoeing around his home in Grass Valley, California, about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. He’s pouring coffee and trying to get to his porch before he wakes up his son, and admits that “all of that angst from the early albums definitely comes back when we’re onstage.”
That angst also led a teenage Ragan to run away from home. He ended up in The Life Program, a seven-step, long-term rehabilitation center for depressed, violent, and addicted kids — think of it kind of like “Scared Straight,” but with more compassion and caring (versus just telling kids they’re gonna die on the street).
“I was telling my parents I wanted to disown them, spitting in their faces, that whole thing, and it breaks my heart when I think about it now,” Ragan says. He finished the program in 14 months and was asked to stay on as a counselor for kids his own age and older. He admits to missing out on a lot of stuff that teenagers take for granted, but he has said that he wouldn’t have it any other way. He ended up diving into Bradenton’s hardcore scene and meeting his Hot Water Music bandmates. Today he has comrades around the world and truly cherishes every one of them. There are stories about Ragan literally giving fans or friends the shoes off of his feet.
“One time in Philly it took us a half-hour to walk two blocks to grab some food because he greeted every fan along the way and had a conversation with each of them,” Gary Strack, a music publicist who has known Ragan for a decade, tells CL.
Strack, 39, turned Ragan on to Reverend electric guitars some time ago, and he says being friends with Ragan has been the cherry on top of a professional career that’s seen the rocker take several of the PR firm’s young bands on their first tours. “I can’t put into words how much he has helped me.”
Ragan is excited to see buddies on the band’s current Florida run, but don’t be surprised if he’s a little late to the gig, skips a soundcheck or puts an early end to a post-show hang.
“I’m not afraid to dip out so that I can get out on the water early the next day,” Ragan says when asked about his fishing habit (he’s a fishing guide when not on tour or in the studio). He learned to love the water from his dad, who recently passed away; Ragan says Pops was at a place where he could’ve been around or another day or another five years."
“I remember saying goodbye to him last time I was in Alabama and kind of getting that feeling,” Ragan says, adding that his thoughts immediately went to how he was gonna take care of his mom. “He was just so peaceful, one of the most peaceful people I’ve ever known.”
Finding peace or coping isn’t always easy for Ragan, and while some friends have given him some insight into losing a parent, he does admit to having recently broken down while running errands at the hardware store.
“There’s this old lady stocking shelves. I reach down to grab a floodlight, but I knocked one over and it just shattered everywhere. I remember looking up, I was just going to ask for a broom and say that I would clean it up and pay for it, but there she was just looking at me,” Ragan says.
“My eyes just started welling up and she asked if I was OK. She must have been like, ‘Oh we got a crazy one here,’ but I just told her it was a rough week.”
By now, Ragan knows how to cope with difficult stuff. Maybe that maturity will make it into the new music Hot Water Music is working on. Maybe it’ll be on a solo record. Either way, Ragan knows he’s got to keep living.
“It’s that circle of life,” Ragan said, adding that his family keeps him grounded. “I’ll be thinking about it and then all of a sudden there’s a kid tugging on you — makes you remember what you’ve got.”
As if on cue, Ragan’s two closest friends, his wife and son, emerge from their rooms, and he once again has just the right words to say.
“Speaking of that circle, I think our talk has come to its conclusion,” Ragan says, putting an end to another one of the countless, heartfelt conversations he has with folks he meets around the world. “My boy is up and he’s gonna need my attention.”