In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate them in order of personal preference.
There's no question that most longtime Hot Water Music fans have spent some time ranking the band's albums. But when you're in the band, you're generally more concerned about pushing forward than looking backward. Furthermore, when you've been a band for more than two decades (save for a few brief break-ups), there's a lot of sonic ground to cover in the rearview mirror.
Essentially, there are three eras of Hot Water Music—although their lineup of guitarists/vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard, bassist Jason Black, and drummer George Rebelo hasn't shifted. There's the band’s initial, scrappy albums during their No Idea Records days, the more polished Epitaph Records-era recordings, and the latest chapter of the band which includes 2012's Exister, their first new full length in eight years.
We sat down with Jason Black—whose instantly recognizable basslines have been consant throughout the band's career—a few months before their current label Rise Records is set to release a quadruple LP twentieth anniversary retrospective, to discuss the band's seven full-lengths. Even if you're a hardcore fan, we're guessing you'll learn something—even if you disagree with Black's sequencing (which you probably will).
7. FOREVER AND COUNTING
Noisey: So what is your least favorite Hot Water Music album?
Jason Black: My least favorite is definitely Forever and Counting. It sounds so bad, I can’t deal with it.
That’s surprising because I feel like that’s a real fan favorite.
Yeah, that’s how it goes. I think there’s some cool songs on it, that’s definitely one record we’ve thought about re-recording a lot but we haven’t because people like it so much. It just sounds terrible.
Any time we go back and listen to those songs it’s just like, “Holy shit! This sounds terrible! How did the first demos we made sound the same as this?” Every record has a couple of songs that I think suck and that one definitely has some songs on it that when you play you kinda laugh. Not like, "Oh this is fun, I like you guys, it’s cool that we’ve done this for 20 years.” It’s like, “This is fucking embarrassing. I can’t believe we wrote this."
6. NO DIVISION
All right. Moving onto your second-least favorite or sixth favorite album, depending on how you look at it.
It’s kind of a tie between Exister and No Division. No Division was awesome, we recorded it in Richmond at a cool studio and Walter Shreifels produced it. The whole experience of making it was awesome. That one is probably my second least favorite not because of how it sounds, but because of the performances on it. I still wish we had another crack at “Rooftops" because it wasn’t quite done and we recorded it anyway. I don’t dislike the song at all, I mean I know people really like it and I understand why. I just always felt like we could have done better on that one.
It's funny you would mention not liking the performances because I feel like "Radio Free Gainesville" has one of your most memorable and impressive basslines.
I like playing that song a lot and other people in the band are like, “Dude, that shit’s boring.” So that goes to show perspective for you. There’s a lot of stuff I love about that record, and I think it sounds pretty good, considering the situation, technology, and time. Given what everyone making the record knew that was the “we’re almost making a real record” feeling. Oh, and “Driving Home,” too. I don't feel like we got that quite where it needed to be or maybe it didn’t need to be on the record at all. We weren’t quite done and didn’t really know how to finish things at that point.
Exister is next?
Yeah, that was a weird one because strangely enough, we all had written in groups of three, not four—so it was either me, George, and Chuck or me, George, and Chris. Then we went to Fort Collins and rehearsed there for three days to get the songs together and then we recorded it. I don’t think that record could have come out any better than it did but I think that because we were doing the songs in groups of three and not four, we were maybe a little bit too autopilot on the songwriting front. That’s not in any way saying that we were lazy, everyone did the best they could with what we had to work with—and considering the fact that we spent literally four days in the same room before we put it out, I think it’s fucking great. But I think we can do better.
Are the logistics of getting the four of you together in the same room these days a complete nightmare?
It sucks on a lot of levels for a lot of different reasons. The band’s from Gainesville, that’s where all of our gear is and that’s where 50 percent of the band still lives. So there’s always a lot of, “We should practice here, this is where we’re from.” Then it also is like, “Dude, I don’t live there, I also go to work five days a week.”
What did you learn from the experience?
I think that if we get around to doing another record, we’ll make more of an effort to have a little bit better line of communication. It was a little haphazard with that one. George and I have worked on songs with Chuck, and George and I have worked on songs with Chris. But Chris and Chuck hadn't worked on songs with each other until we got into the studio. I think if we can get over that hump, that will be a really good bonus. But [logistically] it sucks. It’s a nightmare. No one wants to be gone and home is in literally four different corners of the country right now. I think that the way to do it is to have a bunch of stuff kind of ready to go and spend a couple of days fixing it. Those couple of days not being when you’re in the studio. [Laughs.]
4. THE NEW WHAT NEXT
So what would be next for you?
I think it would be The New What Next. I actually really like listening to that record the most out of all of our albums, but the band was in a bad spot when we did that and we quit playing right after we put it out. Everyone was kind of going in a different direction and we were definitely not operating as a complete unit. It was not easy to record, it was almost impossible to write. We definitely didn’t write it as a band at all, so there’s a lot of stuff on there that feels a little afterthought-y to me. I know a lot of people think it’s super weird and don’t really like it because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of our stuff, but I think that’s because we weren’t all writing.
What was happening with the band internally at this point?
That was the second record we wrote after Chuck moved out to California and we just couldn’t get any scheduling together to all be in the same place. Technology was not there to meet the remote band situation very well, nor did anyone know how to use it if it was. It just was not a unit making that record—and when you lock yourself into a studio for three or four weeks and you’re not a unit, it is not fun. I feel like that’s sort of where a lot of the bad vibes come from for everyone. A lot of the weird shit is music stuff that I kind of brought to the table, which is probably why people don’t like it. I guess on my part it was sort of a conscious effort of, "This is the kind of music that I like and so if the writing process is working a little bit more disjointed I’m just gonna go for it." That was at the beginning of the bigger dissolution of the band. The second or third time we broke up. [Laughs.]
3. A FLIGHT AND A CRASH
What Hot Water Music album gets the bronze medal?
I would have to say A Flight And A Crash. That was right around where we started to get pretty serious. It’s the first record we made with Brian McTernan and we were pretty much ready when we made it. The songs were basically done. I think the only one that we couldn’t figure out was “She Takes It So Well,” which is why it ended up with weird programming. We didn’t want to put an acoustic song on the record because Chris and Chuck were doing Rumbleseat and it’s been sort of something we’ve tried to not to do.
I haven’t thought about Rumbleseat in so long.
Yeah. That happened a long time ago because George and I didn’t want to play a lot of the songs that Chris and Chuck were writing. We were like, “Those are kind of not really our deal.”
Looking back, it’s crazy what Chuck has ended up doing now.
He just kept going. Full banjo.
2. FUEL FOR THE HATE GAME
It's finally time for the runner-up.
I would probably put Fuel For The Hate Game as my second favorite album. I think it still stands up; it sounds dated but it doesn’t sound shitty. We re-learned a lot of those songs for this last run and I was like, “These are fucking cool.” A lot of the things on Fuel that made it cool make no sense and is completely extra stuff that doesn’t need to be there, but I think that’s what was cool about the record and the band when that came out. Those songs went well live, too. We were just playing them for the first time in I don’t know how long and it was a really fun part of the set. I definitely stand behind that record. Nobody liked us. We didn’t fit in with anyone. It was a super serious time. Really aggressive. We were super young when we made that.
How old were you guys?
We did that in ’96 so I was like, 21? So, super young by my brain’s standards but kids in bands are, like, 12 now. I'm proud of that being our first album.
Which leads up to…
I’d say Caution is the best record we did. I think it sounds awesome, it was fun to make, there was nothing lame to report about it. The whole touring cycle on that was awesome.
Do you think that was the height of your popularity?
Yeah, as a fully functioning band that was the height of our popularity. A lot of things worked around that record: We got good tours, Epitaph did a really good job with it and I think the songs are good. That was the point where there was still some of the weird stuff left over but it had smoothed out into better songs and hadn’t gotten over-refined, not that I think our next two albums were over-refined. There’s still dumb, weird songs [on Caution] that didn’t make sense from a songwriter’s standpoint but it was like, "We just like it so we’re gonna do it."
This was also the album where Chris and Chuck started singing separately instead of on top of each other.
I don’t know why they starting doing that. This is a question I ask a lot. I get the same answer that you got from me. They don’t have an explanation for it and I don’t either. I heard that they have been talking about trying to write together more if we do any new stuff, hopefully they'll sing together again. But yeah, who fucking knows?
Jonah Bayer thought that Alkaline Trio split was pretty cool. Follow him on Twitter - @mynameisjonah