Forward-moving flashback: Hot Water Music plays punk like it's the best history lesson ever
Whether Jason Black wants to admit it or not, he's become an old guy. Sure, he's only 28. He can still do a few wind sprints without complaining about his knees, and there are a couple things on MTV that still make sense. But in the punk world, the guy might as well have a ZZ Top beard and talk like the Super Poligrip is about to give way. He's played more shows than he cares to think about. He's been in a band longer than some of his fans have been out of diapers. And he can remember a time when punk wasn't just a marketing term, but and ideal, a lifestyle and a belief system all rolled in one. So it's no surprise that when inevitably a fan comes up to him and starts talking in like Chris Carrabba invented the whole damn thing, he gets a frustrated -- grandpa-pissed-at-those-damn-kids frustrated.
"Some of these kids don't live in the same world as me," he says. "There are kids that come up to me after a show and say they've started a band. I ask what it's like. They say Thursday. That's not a reference point. No offense to the guys in Thursday, but what about Face to Face or Black Flag. All these kids today have missed to the cool punk rock and gone for the dumb punk. Sure, it's bigger, harder, faster and makes more money, but ... "
Black's voice trails off like he knows he's already in trouble.
Even so, he's got a point. In today's world of hypersensitive hoodies and emotionally crushed rockers, few people understand the history behind the whole thing -- or even want to. You don't have to know about Jawbox to sing along to Dashboard. And who cares about Bob Mould as long as your band name sports a day of the week.
But for Black, that just doesn't work. He's got to have all those old reference points tucked inside the back pocket of his jeans. He's got to know that a song like "Remedy," from the group's latest disc, the chunky and blurring Caution, is a dissonant and fractured step away from Bad Religion, or that "One Step to Slip" is equal parts Fugazi and Cro-Mags. Otherwise it doesn't make sense. Sure, most of Hot Water Music's fans will just gloss over the guitars in "It's All Related," not realizing Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard's subtle tribute to Eddie Van Halen. And only hardcore geeks and snotty critics will get the joke behind "Trusty Chords." That might chafe Black a bit, but he knows it's worth it. Like a weary high-school teacher, he just wants to get that one kid to suddenly get it and start digging through the stacks to see where it really started.
More often than not, though, he's staring down a class full of teenagers who couldn't really give a shit unless they can somehow label it emo. "It's really weird how we've all been totally taken over by emo," he says with a hint of disgust. "Now some kids come up at shows and say we started it. No, don't lay the blame for this stuff on me. We didn't start anything."
Black's only solace is the fact that, because of the continued rise of strip-mall punk and formula emo, Hot Water Music has gotten some long-deserved attention. After years of struggling to eat, and even calling it quits once back in '97, the quartet is finally cashing in some karma. Record sales keep rising. Shows are continually packed. Even critics like the band. ("That makes me feel vindicated and worried that no one likes us anymore if the critics are pulling for us," Black says.) Even so, Black is concerned about the bubble breaking.
"All these bands have gotten signed, which is great, but it's so much harder to get noticed because so much is going on that none of them have a long shelf life. Bands just aren't around as long anymore, and it makes me wonder what will happen to us. Sure, we've been around a long time, but who knows. We only had 400 people at our last show. But then I think that we had 400 people on a Monday in Seattle with no new record and no advertising. That's not too bad. We'll just have to see how it all pans out."
By Jeff Inman