Hot Water Music - An interview with drummer George Rebelo
By Timothy Den
Sweet buh-jeesus if Hot Water Music doesn't get better with each release... Year after year, album after album, how do these guys do it? Everything from the vocal delivery (someone took singing lessons!) to the guitar arrangements screams "top notch," and that's not mentioning the band's new-found penchant for earthquake-inducing melodies. Sometimes the guitar lines even sing along: "We'll Say Anything We Want" contains a weeping descending arpeggio that rips your heart right out, while dual guitarists/vocalists Chris Wollard and Chuck Ragan growl road-weary conviction like lions fighting being caged. Breathless and adrenalized, sentimentality roaring like a beat-up old car's struggle to stay alive... magnificent.
As "The End" closes the album with an innards-bearing Wollard conjuring twisted-and beautiful vocal lines, there's no question left. Caution is the album Hot Water Music will be remembered for. It's the result of eight years of grueling touring, self-analysis, improvement, and overall hard work.
A little recap: last Feb., you told me "the upcoming record is by far our best." You were still in the demoing phase at the time, but you were right.
Yeah, and we do put out a lot of records. We definitely think this is our best one, by far. It just seems like everybody (in the band) is on the same page; nobody's fighting with each other. A lot of times in the past, we were more concerned with our individual parts rather than the song. But Brian (McTernan, producer/engineer) refereed the whole thing, and it turned into this unity. Everybody played together. Jason (Black, bassist) and I never played so tight together in the past...
Really? Could've fooled me!
I mean, we definitely know how each other plays, but now we're more of a "rhythm section." Before, it was like "check us out!" (being flashy). But now it's like "check us all out!"
Was this maturation because of your personal musical tastes moving away from punk and hardcore and toward more "pop" stuff?
I don't think so. Every time we get in the van, it's still The Wipers, Gorilla Biscuits... I just think we're more confident with our songwriting now. Chris (Wollard, guitarist/vocalist) and Chuck (Ragan, guitarist/vocalist) really up the ante on us, and it's just incredible. These days, we're more into the arrangement of the songs rather than the individual riffs and parts. We get off on odd little bridges and pre-choruses, and it just flows. I have to think about playing our new stuff more, cuz it's doing more with less.
The choruses, man, they're fucking huge.
We had more time (to work on the songs) this time. Like you said, we demoed the whole record with Brian, so we had pretty good quality recordings of these songs.
Someone told me that Epitaph were so pleased with the demos, they were almost just going to release it as the album?
I wouldn't say the demos were that great. There weren't vocals on a lot of the songs; just "blahblahblahblah." (imitation half-screaming half-singing)
Did Chris and Chuck take vocal lessons for this album?
No. On A Flight and a Crash, Chuck's voice was really harsh. He was ruining his voice. Brian was really concerned. He made Chuck go to this guy who basically taught him some warm ups and how to relax his voice a little. Made him sing more from his diaphragm instead of doing it all from the throat. Cuz (before) he was tensing up, using his whole body when he sang. We were really concerned, cuz -- fuck the band -- he would've eventually lost his voice completely.
How has Epitaph made things easier for the band? You don't have to work day jobs anymore, do you?
We live in Gainesville, which is pretty cheap anyway. We live pretty decent lives. I make a little money. I live like a king in a really, really small castle. I don't have a house, I don't own a car (can't afford one). I live within my means, and (my profession) allows me to travel the world and do what I really love. My family is absolutely proud. My Dad told me the other day -- for the first time -- that I'm the only person he knows who's doing something they love.
Have the records been selling better?
A Flight and a Crash is our best seller to date. The press for the new one is pretty insane. We were doing five, six interviews a day in Europe. We had "press days" and photo shoots and all that kind of stuff. We didn't get into music for all this, but I guess it comes with the territory. I've accepted it. Maybe there will come a time when we refuse to do interviews, cuz some of them are... sickening.
(laughs) Examples, please!
We've done interviews in the past with questions like "what's your favorite Kool-Aid?" It's like "Are you fucking kidding me!?"
Do the Europeans ask that?
No, they ask pretty interesting questions. It's their brutal honesty: "A Flight and a Crash, did not like so much. Quite different direction. But Caution's songwriting is better."
That's not so "sickening."
No, I was talking more about the kids who start fanzines to get into shows for free. There are tons of those. I'm not slagging fanzines, cuz they're awesome when they're done right and for the right reasons, but others do it for scene points. "Look at me, I'm with this guy from this band." A lot of kids do that. It's annoying. Start your own fucking band.
We get shit sometimes, like "Fuel for the Hate Game is your best album." That's cool; that's their opinion. But I actually had this kid tell me the other day that the new record's terrible; "You're selling out, you're neglecting all the fans," etc. I was like "If we wrote songs for our fans, wouldn't that be selling out?" Selling out is when you're compromising your music. I think Caution is our best album, so I'm not selling out at all. I write music cuz -- when all's said and done -- I can listen to it and I can love it. That's how we started this band, and that's how we'll always be. I don't write music for other people. It's cool if they "get it" and can enjoy it, but we're not writing for them. We're writing for us. If the four of us -- who have such different musical tastes -- can listen to the record and think it's good, then it's good for Hot Water Music.
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