When Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan spoke to SPIN via telephone two weeks ago, his voice was no less rugged than it is on tape. The Florida-bred co-frontman had been pulling double duty whilst in Europe, performing sets on his own as well as alongside his recently revived outfit, the latter in support of Exister, their first studio full-length in eight years. Below, find both Ragan and fellow guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Chris Wollard’s breakdown of each of the disc’s tracks as it streams in its entirety.
Chuck Ragan: I held onto this one for quite a while. It was one of those songs, simply just a song about taking on the world, putting the pedal down and heading in, full speed, taking on every positive aspect of life that’s presented to you. It definitely fist as [the record’s opener], relative to where the band is right now, where we all are, in our personal lives. It just made all the sense in the world. We all feel really lucky that we’re here still, alive and kicking and very blessed to have all the opportunities we’ve had over the years to meet the people and work with the people that we do. It’s about really grasping and hanging onto the positive.
“Boy, You’re Gonna Hurt Someone”
CR: That was a song that [guitarist Chris] Wollard wrote about a story of a young kid who’s really living on an edge, a kid who keeps popping up in the papers and getting into some serious trouble. It’s a reflection on this person and some of the consequences of their actions.
“State of Grace?”
CR: A song I wrote about the state of our society right now. I’ve seen how our health system in the states is just failing massively. People are so, so unhealthy, and a lot of it has to do with a lot of the food that we’re putting in our systems, you know? I was thinking a lot about my grandparents, when writing a couple of these songs. My grandparents on my mother’s side, they’ve always lived off the land, more or less. Very self-sufficient. They always had multiple gardens surrounding their home and grew all their own food. They just lived this beautiful, beautiful life and it’s almost like they’ve hung onto this innocence and this simple way of living that seems like way of life that’s dying all around us. It’s about our health system, the food that we’re eating and factory farming.
“Drown in It?
Chris Wollard: I was getting a little fed up and a little overwhelmed with product: buying and selling and commercialism. There’s a million pairs of blue jeans to pick between and you know, and I felt like the people around me, we lose sight of what’s important and we get caught up in the machine of buying and selling. I was just venting a little bit. Feeling overwhelmed by TV culture and the rest of it. I was ranting and I just starting spitting and this is what came out. I try to keep writing everyday and for me, the biggest challenge is just getting that pen moving on the paper. Then I start venting and I get rambling and let myself get caught up in things a little bit. I mean sometimes you just get caught up in the heat of all the emotion that’s coming out. It’s different in this band. There’s no formula to the way we write songs, so you try to keep yourself open. That one kind of flew right out of me, man. Quick and furious.
“Drag My Body”
CR: This is about living fast and running hard, at least as hard as we’ve been running. It takes a toll on you/ You end up making a massive amount of sacrifices to basically do business this way. And the fact of the matter is there are some days it takes just about everything you have, everything you can muster up just to get both those feet on the floor. And [“Drag My Body”] isabout those rough patches where you completely feel completely exhausted after every single effort, aboutstill just trying to keep your head above water and taking the next step forward and getting those feet back on the floor to carry on.
CW: This might seem like a weird reference, but musically, I was feeling a Smithereens kind of thing where I just wanted to write a good rock song, just a solid rock groove. Lyrically, I got kinda pissed off one day — I mean I am still pissed off: My mom is 66 years old and has not quit working a single day and who knows when she’s going to be able to retire. The same was true with my dad until he died and I looked around at my friends and I see their parents and their families still struggling and everybody is hurting. It’s really frustrating to watch your family have to work so hard and these promises that you grow up with you know you work your whole life and you’ll get to an age where you’ll be able to retire and enjoy things. I don’t see that happening a lot. I don’t see people being able to relax and retire. I see people struggling harder and that frustration ended up being that song to me. I don’t know. It’s tough for everybody. That was just something I kinda needed to vent a little bit. I needed to exorcise that demon.
CW: This is kind of a funny one, even though it doesn’t sound like it. We’re really lucky guys and we’ve met a lot of great songwriters and musicians and I’m just constantly bouncing ideas off my friends. One of my buddies that sings in a band called Ninja Gun, out of Georgia, has been working this crappy job in the backroom of a department store. We were talking one day and he’s like, ‘Hey man, how about you work on a song about this horrible job I’m working,’ you know? So we got into it and talked about different things and how to attack it, and that’s what I came up with. It’s just about my friend trying to get by and just slugging it out as a songwriter and as a husband and having to work in a place where he’s not understood. The name kind of took on a different meaning. When we got finished with the record we made it the title of the album. We’re doing this because we want to and we’re working our asses off, but we’re here because we want to and we’re together because we want to be. Things aren’t perfect anywhere, but it was just kind of a statement of no matter what, here we are and we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to make it through.
CW: You know, not too long ago, I was in a pretty tough relationship. Two people are trying everything they can and they care about each other deeply, but can’t seem to make things work. I’m sure everybody’s been there. It’s the lone man and a woman song here.
“Take No Prisoners”
CR: This song was also originally inspired by my grandparents and the term “take no prisoners” is basically referring to their attitude. In all the years that I’ve known my grandparents, they have always had that attitude. They have always had that “no holds barred, full steam ahead” attitude. And it didn’t matter how poor they were. It didn’t matter what tragedies came in and out of their lives — they grew up really hard and I mean they just would carry on and wouldn’t complain and it was nothing short of amazing. They’re just a massive inspiration and influence on my life. If I could be a fraction of the man that my dad or grandfathers were then I’m doing pretty damn good.
“Pledge Wore Thin”
CR: For the most part, I don’t pull a lot of politics into music. But I’d be lying if I told you if it didn’t affect us and drive us to vent. This was basically a song about some folks who put themselves up on a pedestal, who have this holier than thou attitude, whose stance on life is one in which they act as if they can do no wrong yet they don’t fulfill everything they set out to do in the beginning. Sometimes it’s pretty discouraging to think about the fact that it’s fairly unrealistic to think any one person is going to appease everyone’s values. But this song is about some folks who treat people that way.
“No End Left In Sight”
CW: I was chasing a vibe, an energy. It all kind of started with some photos I was looking at from the flooding in New Orleans and there were a couple images I saw that kind of stuck in my head, that had a kind of energy to them. It was a real struggle to not make it so personal, to keep it open for everybody else to find their place in that song. I was trying to recreate musically the mood that I saw in this photo, kind of an experiment for me, songwriting-wise.
CW: It’s about this little town outside of Gainesville where me and [drummer George Rebelo] live. Where we live it’s kind of famous for really bad cops, really bored country cops that just hassle everybody. I went on a trip to go buy a guitar one day and I had to drive through the country, through that town, and I figured it was something that everyone back home would get and everybody back home would understand/ I think it represents some of the attitude back home and our attitude. It’s kind of a famous place in our area and “the traps” is just the speed traps. Kind of a silly song.
“Paid In Full”
CR: This is a dark song. We all have friends who go through some dark times and while some of it’s a product of bad luck, some of it’s self-inflicted, too. It’s a tough thing to witness when you have loved ones who really you know are tearing their own lives apart. It’s important to play music and use music as a tool, as therapy to exorcise those demons, to face the things that really move us and affect us, whether they’re pleasant or not.