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The dry spell has ended. In May, Hot Water Music will release Exister, their first new record in almost a decade. Home from a recent mini-tour of Europe, Jason Black says reaction to the new material was as good as ever. "We haven't put out a record in the era where people stream music," he says and laughs. "And there were people in the audience already singing along to the new stuff. So we started introducing our music like this: We'd say, 'Hey, here's a new song, and maybe you've heard it already.'"
Hot Water Music, originally from Gainesville, Florida, were one of the meatiest of the '90s-era post-punk voices with their farm-boy tractor chic and dual singer/guitarists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard. Started in 1993 by bassist Black and childhood friend and drummer George Rebelo, Hot Water Music were born flush with ideas. By 1995, they'd released a 7-inch, an EP, and their full-length debut, Finding the Rhythms. Three more full-lengths and multiple EPs followed in rapid succession, after which the band announced they needed a break. That was 1998.
Hot Water Music regrouped soon after and continued until Ragan announced a hiatus in 2005; they made the break permanent in 2006. Ragan moved to the West Coast. Without him, there was no more Hot Water Music, so instead, the remaining members formed a band called the Draft and released In a Million Pieces that same year.
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Once settled in California, the raspy-voiced punk shouter began recording folk music in earnest. Ragan had been flirting with folk ideas earlier in Rumbleseat, a side project with Wollard. But if his new career move fazed any of his former band mates, it didn't show.
"We've always kept a wide berth, as in, 'If you need to go do it, whatever it is, then go do it,'" Black says. He thinks Hot Water Music's currency is actually enhanced by such side projects. When they regrouped again in 2007, he says, songwriters Ragan and Wollard "came back to the table with more stuff than in the past."
Today, the band who took their name from a Charles Bukowski story collection are spread out across the country. Ragan still lives in California. Black lives in Seattle, having moved there to follow his wife's career. "I don't know if it's harder or easier," Black says, then laughs. "Chuck's lived on the West Coast for 10 years, and we've been dealing with that for quite a while. It's hard, but it's not impossible."
In a way, the band's side projects also tend to define Hot Water Music's future. Wollard, Black, Ragan and Rebelo remain as busy as ever. "That's part of why we're not doing an eight-week tour on top of the record. We're trying to work smarter, not harder," Black says.
"We're not approaching this as 'everyone has to find out about the band.' Overtouring is the easiest way to kill your band," he continues. This is a lesson Hot Water Music surely learned in their early days when they were new and making records as fast as possible. "If people know you're doing shows every six months, they're skipping one of them. Long-term, that works against you. Instead, I'd rather play six sold-out shows that are great."
This article appeared in print as "Punk Wears Flannel: Post-punk icons Hot Water Music set to release their first new CD in eight years."