Proceed With Caution: Hot Water Music

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On the eve of the release of Hot Water Music's seventh full-length, Caution, bassist Jason Black is actually at home. No, seriously. In Gainesville, not Japan or England or some other far-flung locale, trying to fit both food and sleep into a travel day. When Caution officially drops in a week or so, the notoriously road-ready posthardcore band will already be in the midst of another American headlining tour; right now, however, they're following a week's worth of Australian dates with a week's respite.

"We usually try to come home for as long as we were on tour for," says Black. "It's this weird guideline we came up with that seems to work pretty well."

Not that it's always possible. The quartet may have loosened its schedule a bit in recent years — they've been known to spend more than 250 days on the road annually — but not much. Australia came literally days after the band finished spending its entire summer "vacation" as main-stage iconoclasts on 2002's decidedly mainstream-courting installment of the Warped Tour. Black describes their second Warped jaunt as a now-familiar mixture of fun and torpor.

"It's kind of miserable but can be a lot of fun," he says.

Hot Water's commitment to playing as often and as well they possibly can has earned them a religiously reverent fanbase and a reputation as one of the most intense live acts this side of the early Who. It has also engendered, for better or worse, the notion of Hot Water Music as a band whose studio work has never quite lived up to what happens onstage. While the airtight rhythms, gnashing guitars and shout-along choruses of their jagged anthems sound pretty fine on record, once you've experienced the all-out visceral ventage of a live set, listening to the discs tends to make you pine for the show more than anything else.

A Flight And A Crash, the quartet's first record for Cali punk-rock institution Epitaph records, achieved an intriguing depth by screwing around heavily with their established style. More dynamic and adventurous than previous discs, it was the result of HWM's first collaboration with producer/engineer Brian McTernan. The band has long been known as an insular, populist group with little use for the mechanics of the industry beyond their music and their fans; the process of involving an additional voice was a difficult one, but yielded a complex, detailed and almost unbelievably headphone-friendly (relatively speaking) album.

"It was a "growing pains' album. I don't think we would have thought of it that way until we'd finished Caution, but Flight was a really hard record to make for a lot of reasons," Black says. "It was the first time we were in the studio with a lot of time, five weeks. It was our first time working with Brian, with someone who was — I don't want to say invasive, because of the context, but someone that was involved and opinionated about what he was going to let come out of the studio."

The experience made McTernan a trusted comrade, and returning to work with him on Caution was "the easiest thing in the world," according to the bassist. This time around, however, HWM applied that focus on songwriting and detail to more concise, straightforward material. Caution displays an obviously heightened comfort level, thankfully without lightening up on the band's familiar scorched-earth execution and inspiring emotional investment. In short, it's their most well-conceived, crafted and listenable effort to date, a release that reflects the muscle and catharsis of their live set, and backs that vibe up with excellent songs.

"We kind of came in with a more bare-bones record with Caution, just a guitars, bass and drums kind of record," says Black. "I think we've finally gotten comfortable enough with ourselves that instead of playing tricks with each other's individual instruments and parts, we can play tricks with the whole song."

A new record means the beginning of a new touring cycle, as if this outfit ever really cycles down between them. And the band will be doing more headlining, which usually means longer legs. So if the band holds to their "equal time" provision, a whole lot of down time will follow their current U.S. tour. Perhaps more time than a band as conditioned to life on the road as Hot Water Music will know what to do with.

"We've been really, really busy this year as far as how much we've been out of town, and I think everybody looking for their (time) off, but with a little bit of trepidation," agrees Black. "That's a lot of time to be sitting here. I need a new hobby.

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