After a hiatus in 2005, the former guitar-wielding front man of post-punk outfit Hot Water Music embarked on a path into rugged folk-rock. And nine years later, Chuck Ragan's latest album, Till Midnight, is the 39-year-old's most lyrically compelling, well-rounded effort yet. The emotion and continuity on Till Midnight arguably stem from a preproduction session at Ragan's home, where his band, the Camaraderie, made time to gel into a solid unit. Though Wednesday's show will be a stripped-down solo performance, there's no doubt the alt-folk troubadour will bring the collaborative fruits of Till Midnight to the Coach House stage.
OC Weekly (Heidi Darby): This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hot Water Music? Chuck Ragan: That's right. It's crazy to say it out loud; 20 years is a long time to be doing anything. . . . We have a lot of friends and longtime supporters coming out of the woodwork that we haven't seen in years.
Considering your new album has a slew of guest spots, I can't help but wonder if it was a harmonious experience or if it was more like herding cats? Harmonious, for sure. Ben Nichols [of Lucero] was in town on a whim, and he stopped in unannounced to say hello and ended up being on the record. Dave Hause was playing down the street while we were recording and popped over, and we caught Jenny O. the day before she moved to Nashville. That's just kind of how things took place. Everything was spontaneous and organic. I love when it happens that way, when it's not contrived. . . . We actually had a short preproduction period in my neck of the woods. I flew all of the guys out to Northern California, and we spent a little more than a week hanging out. I'd wake them up really early, and we'd go fishing, then come back and start plugging away on some songs.
It's hard for me to imagine a boatful of musicians fishing at the crack of dawn. Anybody end up hooked or leave with a good fish story? Oh, man, yes! Tons of stories. One morning, [steel pedal player] Todd Beene caught a real nice bass. We were fishing by this big submerged tree, and the fish got tangled up 4 or 5 feet under water. It was Todd's first fish on this lake, and as soon as he hooked it, we were all like, "We can't lose this fish!" I ended up grabbing a mask, jumping in and swimming down to untangle it.You jumped out of the boat?
We couldn't lose this one! I had finally started to lead him out of the tree and guide him out, but it ended up shaking loose. I made it up for air, so it all ended well. . . . That week was something special. I believe these stories that we build together, these energies and feelings, all seep into what you're creating and come out in the songs.
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You seem to be thriving so much with your various collaborators and band mates right now, but your upcoming tour is solo? It's a different animal when I'm playing solo. It's still an intimidating thing for me to stand up onstage and perform with just me and my guitar. There's no place to hide. I think it's a healthy thing, though, to step out of your box and do something that makes you nervous. It keeps you from getting too comfortable.
Chuck Ragan performs at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, Ste. C, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Wed., 8 p.m. $15. 21+. For more information on Chuck Ragan, visit www.chuckraganmusic.com.