Hot Water Music's trail went cold in late 2005 when the Gainesville, Fla., punk band seemed to announce that it was wrapping things up after seven albums and nearly 12 years of relentless touring.
"Everybody took it as we were no more, we were completely broken up and never to play again," says singer-guitarist Chuck Ragan, who brings the band to Altar Bar Wednesday, "and that really wasn't what we were trying to get across to people. When I was asked to make a public statement, it was basically that Hot Water Music wasn't going to be the band that everyone had known us to be, which is just constantly on the road, constantly just grinding it out. It was a time where, personally, I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my life and why I was playing music, what I enjoyed about it and just find that fire again."
His bandmates found it by forming a new project called The Draft and releasing an album a year later. They also hooked up with other bands, like drummer George Rebelo with Against Me! and bassist Jason Black with Senses Fail.
Mr. Ragan, a passionate singer-songwriter with a fierce growl, unplugged to pursue his folkier, rootsier side, not unlike the HWM side project Rumbleseat. He blew away big crowds here a few times opening for the Dropkick Murphys and Social Distortion (at the premiere night for Stage AE Outdoors).
"My own stuff, it's just definitely a lot more relaxed and a lot more intimate," he says. "Hot Water feels, with the guys and the whole fanbase, those songs, it feels more like being part of a big machine in a sense, while with my own stuff, I'm able to dig a little deeper personally into the music."
Throughout the split, Hot Water tried to connect when possible, but scheduling conflicts abounded. There was a brief reunion tour in 2008 and scattered dates over the next few years. In January 2012, the band finally assembled to work on a new album, "Exister," its first in eight years. Mr. Ragan and co-singer-guitarist Chris Wollard trade songs on an intense album, with tracks like "State of Grace?," "Pledge Worn Thin" and "Paid in Full" that rage on about the struggles people are going through in the country today.
"We were blessed to be around people who showed us at a young age that playing music didn't have to be about seeing your name in lights or making money or getting notice, or whatever, but it can be used more or less as a tool to overcome obstacles, and more or less be used as a form of therapy when we need it most," Mr. Ragan says. "We also learned along the way that we could use it to express and tell stories and do it in a creative, artistic way."
Although Mr. Ragan's solo shows still have been loaded with vein-popping emotion, he admits that something else takes over when he gets on stage with Hot Water Music.
"It's two completely different animals. I do put out a lot of energy in both ventures, in both ways. Hot Water, there's something about playing their songs, where I just feel the need to just destroy myself. I don't understand why. Even though I'm getting older and my knees and my voice and my back and everything is just kind of suffering from years and years of abuse, for some reason, I get up there and I can't help it. I can't just stand there. It doesn't feel right unless I break myself into a sweat and just cut loose. It's kind of a blessing and a curse, really."music
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.