Hot Water Music sets no limits
By Nate Seltenrich
Ass't Scene Editor
Although Hot Water Music's performance last Tuesday night at Slim's was nothing short of incredible, there's a lot more to this band than just their ability to put on a great show.
These hard-working punk/indie rockers from Gainesville, Fla., have strung together an eight-year musical career that has landed them an ever-growing army of devoted fans, critical acclaim for their musical vision and skill and an impressively varied yet unified discography.
I spoke with singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan before the band's performance in San Francisco on Tuesday in order to gain insight into Hot Water Music's history, philosophy and accomplishments.
"The whole reason we chose [our] name was that at the time, it was just completely abstract, and it really didn't sound like anything," Ragan said. "We never set out to be a punk band or a rock band or a hardcore band or anything."
Rather, the band began simply as a combination of the four members' musical backgrounds. Chris Wollard on vocals and guitar, Jason Black on bass and George Rebelo on drums, together with Ragan, did not have a musical agenda. They just wanted to play music.
The band's initial refusal to allow themselves be boxed into any genre or style has persisted to this day. HWM place no limitations on what they are or on what they sound like.
From 1995's "Finding the Rhythms" to 2002's "Caution," each new release has been a new adventure, another step in the band's journey of discovering and making music and using it to express feelings, thoughts and emotions.
"I look back and hear the records from the first one up to now and I can totally hear the progression. It makes sense to me," said Ragan.
After leaving the indie label No Idea for punk conglomerate Epitaph after 1999's "No Division," Hot Water Music remained true to their past and dedicated to the advancement of their music.
"Caution," HWM's seventh album and second with Epitaph Records, is arguably their best yet. Even after settling in with their new label and releasing 2001's commercially successful and critically acclaimed "A Flight and a Crash," they pushed themselves to make another unique and improved album.
"We're always searching, we're always looking for different sounds and new rhythms and new ideas. That's one of the most special things about this band," said Ragan.
In "Caution," the band certainly found a new sound. Although it contains the HWM essentials such as razor-sharp guitars, rhythmic drumming, technically proficient and distinct bass lines and gruff, emotional vocals, the new album rearranges them and presents them in a fresh and new way.
In addition to the band's strivings to create new music, Ragan also offers another explanation for "Caution's" changes: "We've all grown as far as our playing abilities, individually as well as collectively."
The resulting sound is very focused, tight and deliberate. Rhythms and instrumentation are complex and moving, and can be calm as well as agitated. Lyrics are both poetically dreary and persistently hopeful. The overall effect of these qualities is a stirring and cohesive work of art that reflects the level of musical maturity the band has reached.
Last Tuesday's performance similarly showcased their growing talent and experience.
One thing in particular that any HWM show impresses upon the audience is that the band is more about music than it is about Chuck, Chris, Jason and George.
"When I think about Hot Water Music, I think about a deep connection with people," Ragan said. "It's grown into something way huger than what we are."
As part of a greater family, the band and their fans together share an enthusiasm for music that is evident everywhere from the dance floors at their shows to the active HWM chat boards on Epitaph.com.
The critical music community also recognizes what Hot Water Music offer the scene, and they have been praised accordingly by such publications as Rolling Stone and Alternative Press.
But given their unwavering work ethic, HWM are certainly not content to leave things well enough alone.
As Black explains in an interview on Epitaph.com, "We're just evolving, and this record is a fine foundation to build off of as we expand."
Ragan agrees, "We want to make a different record. I hope the next record's totally different from 'Caution.'"
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