In today’s day and age, it’s hard to create a life in which one can honestly say they live to their means. Living off the land, Chuck Ragan is not only a musical martyr to some, but a hunter, a fisherman and an all around modest family man. Enjoying some good weather and working in the garden back home, I caught up with Chuck and shot the shit about his latest endeavours.
“Came home from the last run and I’ve been writing a lot. Working on some new material, some new songs,” Ragan says excitedly. “I recently had my friend Chris Thorn from Blind Melon, who produced the last record, Covering Ground, I recently had him up for a little while. We just got into the studio and did some early pre-production. Kinda just starting to put the shovel in the dirt on some of these new tunes and go from there.”
Most know Ragan from his days as a guitarist/vocalist for the legendary band, Hot Water Music. Since then, he has kept himself busy with a variety of solo releases and also some other musical projects, like Rumbleseat. His most recent release, Covering Ground, features the likes of Brian Fallon (Gaslight Anthem), Chris Thorn (Blind Melon) and his musical henchmen, Jon Gaunt and Joe Ginsberg.
“A funny story,” Ragan begins his tale. “I was playing back in Hot Water Music and we were playing a basement show in Virginia. John Gaunt happened to be there and we had met in the kitchen during a saltine cracker eating contest. John Gaunt beat me – he won. I think that we were betting a buck or two. High stakes. We met each other for the first time there.
“Years later when I was doing a lot of the Rumbleseat stuff, John started coming up on stage and playing a couple of times with me. I think we played together for the first time maybe nine years ago, when I was getting ready to record Feast or Famine. I was going to play a show in Gainsville, Florida when my buddy Tony mentioned that Gaunt and I should play together. I’d played with him before, so I hollered at him to come on out. When he showed up, we went out to the parking lot practiced a couple songs and went up on stage. A week later, I flew him out and we recorded Los Feliz, which was the live record. We recorded the Feast or Famine record in about a week. So, after that we kinda went full steam ahead.”
Any musician will tell you that they lead a sort of double life: there’s the life they have on the road and the life they hold dear off that road. Keeping both lives separate can be quite the challenge. “It’s always a challenge,” Ragan admits. “It’s one of the hardest things I have ever faced. I wouldn’t be the man that I am today if it wasn’t for my wife. I wouldn’t be the friend that I am today if it wasn’t for my friends. I wouldn’t have the ethic that I have touring today if it wasn’t for my mother and father and the way that they raised me. I wouldn’t have the work ethic that I have if it wasn’t for the things I fully do while I am home. So what I am saying is that every aspect of my life off the road is what makes me. It’s what makes me whole and makes me the person I am on the road.
“I would honestly be happy with some time to fish and grow these tomatoes over here,” Ragan chuckles, “and just keep it really simple in this day and age, especially with the way that the music industry runs and the way that we promote ourselves. The way that let everyone know what’s going on. We’re glued to our screens. We’re constantly on our phones. Conversation is few and far between. Writing letters and keeping journals is a dying art form. We’re becoming desensitized as a society.
“As much as I would like to say I live the simple life,” Ragan continues modestly, “I don’t. It’s actually extremely complicated. I would love it to be simplified. Who knows? One day the time will come where it will make sense just to shut it all down. At the time, it’s just hard to fathom that when you’re going to Canada or going overseas. You’re communicating with people worldwide. It’s a beautiful thing and there are a ton of pros to it, but it does change things quite a bit.”
So why not just make a family out of the open road? Welcome to The Revival Tour, a collection of hand-picked musicians plucked from different bands that come together to play their hearts out as one family. This year, the tour features the likes of Tim Barry from AVAIL, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash, Ragan himself, all joined by local lady Miesha Louie, sans Spanks, on July 8 and with Danny Vacon on July 9. The “special formula” must have struck gold within the Calgary community because after popular demand a second show was promptly added at The Commonwealth.
“A long time ago, I was doing some shows with friends, and a lot of times we would all end up on stage together towards the end of the tour. That was always the best part of the entire trip and the idea was simple,” Ragan lets on. “It was like, ‘Why can’t we just organize a little bit more before hand and go into an entire tour with that in mind?’ Take the best part of the tour and just make that the entire show, while also severing the lines of the egos and the hierarchy of who should be the headliner or who should be the opener. Just go at it straight from the heart and share music together in a very stripped down, grassroots type fashion. Sometimes, the artists submit themselves and sometimes we find the bands through word of mouth, finding them by me just literally going out and just looking and listening for music.
“The thing about this tour is that it’s really about a special formula,” Ragan says. “I will say this isn’t anything original. This way of sharing music has been around for years and years and years – it’s a very old way of sharing. It’s just something that a lot of people haven’t experienced before — especially in the scene and the community I grew up in. I grew up in a little Southern Baptist household, where there was a lot of gospel revivals. There was a lot of spirit-driven type stuff. That’s kinda where my family was from – there was always music, singing and preaching, food and fellowship and this and that. When I got into my teenage years and found skateboarding, I found punk rock and started rebelling against everything. I found this completely different path. I think it has definitely come through in it’s own way.”
Catch Chuck Ragan on the Revival Tour at Commonwealth (Calgary) on July 8 and 9.
By Lori Meyers
Photo: Tom Stone