When you’re doing a DIY tour, sometimes you’re SOL.
Such is the case for Ravagers singer Alex Hagen, pumping gas into a rented box truck, while other band members are somewhere up on the road up ahead. The band’s 2003 Ford Econoline wagon didn’t enjoy the sandstorm between Tempe, Arizona and Austin, and it protested with a cracked head gasket.
It’s not exactly what they wanted on the tour supporting their badass Badlands LP on Atlanta, Georgia label Spaghetty Town Records — a debut album the band self-describes as “an auditory onslaught of filth and fun, of catchiness and catastrophe.”
Stepped in the coolness of the distant punk rock past (Iggy Pop, the Dead Boys) and the more recent past (Turbonegro), but charging into the future with tightly crafted songs, Ravagers even made a concession this tour to avoid that aforementioned “catastrophe” stuff: no booze.
“We’re trying to stay focused,” Hagen says. “We’re not drinking — keeping our act together. It’s made it a lot easier to stay organized and get along a lot better. Also, no drinking makes us not have crazy mood swings and not forget things at the venue.”
Forget no fun, no future. There’s lots of both here. It all began with a debut EP, 2014’s Livin’ In Oblivion. Then came another EP in 2015 and shows with The Damned, Fear, and festivals like Las Vegas’ Punk Rock Bowling.
Ravagers guitarist Matt Gabs (ex-Biters) is at the wheel, so Hagen can chat on their haul to the next gig. Bassist Curt Schmelz and drummer Ray Peters are driving ahead. Hopefully, the foursome will meet up ahead of their sound check at the Star Community Bar in Atlanta, one of less than a half-dozen shows left before they end triumphantly to their home city of Baltimore.
As for the newest album itself, the pandemic proved a boon when it came to writing and recording Badlands, because the band finally had something they frequently lack: time.
“That was all I was focusing on,” Hagen explains. “I didn’t have a lot of outside jobs coming in. We were getting stimulus checks. I had free time to really just focus on my music. I think I improved at songwriting and finding my voice a little bit more. Previous records, I wrote songs really quickly. We evolved our sound a little bit more.”
When it comes to the delicate dance of loving ‘70s punk and making original, forward-thinking music in 2022, Hagen and the band mostly just try to stay out of their own way.
“I don’t overthink that,” Hagen says. “I just put all that stuff in a blender and whatever comes out and is a good song, I’m happy with. We don’t really hold ourselves back with constraints between genres. It’s rock and roll music. And if it’s coming through my voice and our guitars, and we’re playing it together, it’s still gonna sound cohesive as a band.”
The lyrical content of the tracks range from highly narrative storytelling to deeply personal introspection. For instance, the snotty riffing of “White Widow” lyrically explores a femme fatale theme (“It’s true, you know you’re gonna regret her”) while several other songs on Badlands are influenced by their hometown.
“It’s about the feeling of being an outsider or living in Baltimore City — where it feels like you’re living in the apocalypse, almost,” Hagen says. “In 2020 there, it felt like the world was over. Our music has always been influenced by just living in Baltimore City and the things we see every day. Then, I’m also really into old grindhouse movies and pulp stuff. I can make a connection between that and my current situation of living in Baltimore City.”
Circa 2022, Ravagers are definitely moving on up. Rather than Hagen booking a tour through Facebook, they have a booking agent who’s getting them guarantees for many shows. On tour with the incendiary Suzi Moon, they’re kicking ass and refusing beers — and selling lots of vinyl. That’s actually where the pandemic proved a problem for the band. Ravagers recorded the LP in 2020 for a 2021 release, but the supply chain issues meant they wouldn’t have a physical vinyl until this year. Thankfully, it turned out to be fortuitous timing.
“Our friend Suzi asked us to be on the tour, and we got our records just in time right before the tour,” Hagen says. “Now we have a merch guy. It’s all been insanely great… Except for the car.”
A DIY band like the Ravagers can make $200 or $300 in a night. It’s not exactly money you can take to the bank, but you can take it to Motel 6 on a good night. Otherwise, they’re living the dream of staying with friends and crashing on couches as they work their way across the country. It’s not the most glamorous lifestyle, but things continue to trend upwards for the rockers. Internet and indie radio stations give the band love, plus their second single from Badlands, the poppy but frenetic “Down That Road,” was featured as “the coolest song in the world” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show.
The Ravagers’ next plateau to hit? Europe. They have a European label, Wanda Records, and Badlands’ first pressing sold out overseas, as it did in the States. But even as they hope their ever-growing fanbase continues to dig them, Hagen admits that he still writes music primarily for himself.
“I’ve tried not to focus on what other people want to hear,” Hagen says. “I feel like I have good taste in music. And I hope that other people can appreciate where I’m coming from when I write a song. I want to be able to express myself in the music, and also make a connection with the people who hear it and watch it live. That’s all I’m obsessed with when it comes to putting songs together.”