By Joel Dryden
CALGARY — Chuck Ragan has been on the road a long time.
The frontman of post-hardcore outfit Hot Water Music fills his schedule with the road: he’s currently touring in support of his fourth solo album, Till Midnight, and despite having just recovered from what he calls a “long night” at a gig in Orange County, he still somehow comes across chipper.
“It was awesome; we always have a great time there,” he says. “We got a lot of good folks down there. It was just kind of a big reunion.”
From playing with Hot Water Music to organizing the collaborative acoustic Revival Tour to touring in support of his fourth solo album, Ragan seems to make friends wherever he goes. It’s no surprise (he is plainly humble, refreshingly personable when we speak to him) and his philosophy reflects the honest candor of his music.
“Well, man, I mean, it’s really simple to me,” he says. “We just treat people the way we want to be treated. In this line of work, you meet all types of personalities, from the most genuine, salt-of-the-earth humble person, up to the cockiest know-it-all. And, you know, it’s important to meet all of those types.”
Ragan knows more than most the drain that life on the road can take on a musician. It’s a life lived in hotel rooms and out of suitcases, far away from family and comfort. Pressing through exhaustion and illness and making efforts to thank fans who came out to shows is something he learned watching his mother.
“My mother, who is an entertainer, she would be touring. We were little kids, and she would drive us. She’d be taking care of two little boys, making sure we were all dressed and suited up, and then she would go and perform and work hard,” he says.
“At the end of the night, she would speak to everybody until there was only one person left in the room. I learned a lot from her. That’s kind of where I learned much of my work ethic and how to treat people, on and off the road.”
Ragan’s dedication to his craft, of course, is most evident on stage – the energy of his distinctive grizzly voice being what draws crowds in. But it isn’t a one-sided relationship.
“I just leave it all out on the stage, so I’m as empty as can be,” he explains. “Last night is a perfect example. I was walking around – I thought I was going to fall over. I had to get my legs moving, and my blood flowing.
“Man, I met this family, and they brought their kids, a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. They were so fired up. Asking me questions. Giving me high fives. Man, it can just be the tiniest little things that get you.”
Though his career spans over two decades (this year marks the 20th year reunion of Hot Water Music), Ragan’s latest solo album, Till Midnight, is one of his strongest.
“I’m always growing. Anytime I muster up the guts to get back into the studio, make some more mistakes, play with people that are better than me, that’s always, to me, how I grow,” he says.
“Just to constantly challenge myself and do something everyday that scares me a little bit. We don’t learn by doing stuff right.”
Ragan’s been a big player in the scene a long time before he went solo, and is regarded as something of a “seasoned player.” The March of this year release Till Midnight serves as further confirmation that he is an important part of modern Americana. It’s a sentiment that, when posed to him, he brushes off.
“Man, I mean, hey. It’s very humbling to receive compliments like that. I grew up in a world of music, I travel in music, you know what, there are thousands of people that have exceeded and surpassed my talents and abilities, by far, years ago,” he offers humbly.
“It’s endearing and overwhelming to have something to do with some music or something that at some point at time affected somebody.”
Simultaneous to his tour in support of Till Midnight, Ragan is currently writing the score for The Flame in the Flood, a PC game being developed by some of the team behind the 2007 video game Bioshock. The team behind the game approached Ragan, who agreed to take part, in part because the game’s theme of “survival” was one he already had been contemplating.
“That’s definitely the topic at hand. I’m enjoying it, because I relate it to so many different aspects of my life, and the way I enjoy living,” he says. “I also relate it in many ways to the strength of my wife. I’m definitely deeply connected to that topic.”
For now, he’ll continue on, road weary yet appreciative of the fans.
“I feel really lucky. It sounds kind of cliché or even generic, but I feel really damn lucky that everywhere we go there are good folks that come out and see these shows. There’s an energy that everyone is trading off and picking each other up when the other one is weak,” he says. “There aren’t a whole lot of places where I don’t get that vibe.”
He concludes, “Some shows are larger than others, but the feeling is the same. That connection is the same. I can’t even imagine it being any other way.”
Chuck Ragan will play Broken City on December 18 as part of his 2014 Winter Haul tour.AB, Alberta, Broken City, Chuck Ragan, Hot Water Music