Chuck Ragan is backstage at Scala, preparing for his headline London show touring the Till Midnight album with his current band The Camaraderie. He’s a week or so into his latest European tour and, before the doors open, he takes the time to talk about a life without regrets – fishing as meditation, scoring video games as a path to concept albums, Hot Water Music’s next tentative move and the desire to breathe life back into the mighty Revival Tour.
How has the tour been going so far?
We kicked off in Dublin and it was loads of fun. Both Dublin and Belfast were sold out, just packed to the gills, then we went up to Scotland and had some great shows. Got to do some fishing one morning on the River Tay. It’s been lovely.
You’re a big fishing fan is that right?
I am, yeah. I love the peace and the reflection and fresh air.
Is it like meditation for you?
Truly. Very therapeutic. I’m an advocate for the outdoors.The community that I’m involved with, the fishing community and the outdoors community, we’re pretty keen on protecting it and keeping it as clean and true and real as possible.
For people who’ve never seen you live, what should they expect from a Chuck Ragan show?
Our duty is to give people a night to remember, to leave the troubles at the door for a bit and go somewhere else. Walk away with a story, walk away with a little bit of inspiration, walk away with a smile or just that feeling that you felt good around people. If I send one person home feeling that way tonight, then I did what I came to do.
How are you choosing the setlist on this tour?
We’re playing a lot of stuff off Till Midnight, which is the newest release. We’ve actually just finished a new record. It’s a soundtrack for a video game. We’re working with a group called The Molasses Flood – they’re some of the creators of BioShock. They invited me to score the entire soundtrack for this beautiful game – I was immediately sold on it. The main character is this young girl and it’s in a post-apocalyptic world and she’s cruising around on make-shift rafts, surviving with her dog and navigating through deltas and river systems and through broken down cities.
How do you approach writing for something like that, as opposed to the way you would normally?
Normally, when I’m writing, the closest way I can explain it, is like keeping journals. It’s always been very therapeutic. It’s something that I love to do but it’s also something that I just need to do. I have to get stuff off of my chest or out of my head and I almost can’t really focus until I do. So, I may be working on a project around the house and I’ll think of something and I have to go document it before I lose it. Probably why I have a lot of unfinished projects! [Laughs.] Then I find the time to sit down and filter through everything. This was totally different because I’d never intentionally written any kind of concept record. Covering Ground [his 2011 album] definitely seemed like a concept record because it was all road songs, but it was just that we were constantly on the road and we wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered that thing on and in between tours. So, this was the first time I sat down with someone and they showed me footage. I asked them to just flood me with every bit of idea, inspiration behind the game. I started writing and sending them stuff and had them choose bits, just to get a feel of what they’re looking for. We did a lot of communication like that and then, when I finally had an idea of the vibe and what they were wanting to get across, I started laying stuff down.
Is this music only going to exist in the game or are you going to release it?
We’re going to release it as a full length in, I think, July. The artwork is incredible – Scott Sinclair, who did all of the art for the Hot Water Music albums over the years, he’s one of the main artists in The Molasses Flood.
Talking about Hot Water Music, will there be anything else happening with them?
Absolutely! We’re writing and planning on doing some new releases. We’re all brothers. I’ve known George [Rebelo, Hot Water Music’s drummer, who just walked into the room during the interview] going on over 25 years, so it’s just incredible to still just look at each other in the middle of the song, like ‘wow, we still doing it!’. [Laughs.]
Will you be bringing back the Revival Tour (the showcase tour for a range of artists)?
I would love to bring Revival out again. We’re working on a few things but it’s a really tough tour to organise. It’s been eight years now. We’ve had the opportunity to take it all over Europe, Canada, the States, Australia and people love it, we love it, it seems like it’s a wonderful thing, it really pulls people together, so we’ll definitely do it again. I love sharing music with people and that’s never changed. I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager, so over the years, I went from constantly living on crumbs, literally, and then having it kind of evolve into a livelihood. I have all the love and respect for these people that I play with and, not only that, but love and respect for the people who come out to these shows. We all highly respect the fact that these people have a choice, it’s a big city, there’s a lot of options and there’s a lot of people coming to see this show tonight – and that I’m forever grateful for. I think it’s something that is important for all of us to notice as musicians, as travelling musicians.
Did you think when you first started out that you’d still be doing this now?
I never thought that I’d live past the age of 18. I really didn’t and you know what, it’s pretty dismal to say it, but back then I was fine with it. I didn’t care. Different mindset for sure. But I never had any clue. I played in a bunch of different bands and when we got into Hot Water Music, that was the first time I’d ever played in a band where people were coming to shows and everything. There were a good eight or nine years of that band where I wasn’t sure about it, until one day we were all like, ‘I guess this is my career. I’m a musician’. I’d always been in the food industry or I’d been a carpenter or thought I’d end up as a commercial fisherman somewhere. It’s amazing where these roads take you, you never know.
Going back to working with other people, you’ve recorded and toured with so many people. Are there still people you want to work with?
Sure. I mean that list is super long! I think about that for the Revival Tour. There’s so many artists that we would love to have on the Revival Tour. Laura Marling, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, lot of people.
Given that you spend so much time touring do you get to go out and see other bands live?
On the road we’re surrounded by it, we’re saturated with it, we’re always at a live show. When I’m home, it’s kind of the opposite for me. My wife and I are out in the woods with the dogs, we’re out on the boat, we’re working in the garden, breathing fresh air. I’m up at 4.30 every morning, I’m feeding my dogs and doing my own work early in the morning. My wife gets up a little bit later and then we start our day and I’m either working at the house, or in the studio, or I’m out on the water, in the woods.
What sort of music are you listening to at the moment yourself?
That always changes. Lately I’ve been getting back into Calexico, they’re one of my favourites. I’ve listened to a lot of Rocky Votolato. He’s a dear friend of ours and I have a split coming out with him on Side One Dummy pretty soon. But yeah, Rocky, Cory Branan, Tim Barry. We had a young fellow who actually lives here in town and he came out and played the first three shows of this tour. His name is Rob Lynch. He’s great.
Lastly, looking back to when you started out, is there any advice you’d give yourself, knowing what you know now?
Yeah, I’d probably say pace myself, take better care of myself and don’t waste so many nights away. See, that’s kind of a trick question, because it’s hard for me to have any regrets. I love where I am. I’m married to my best friend, we have these incredible dogs and, actually, I’m going to be a dad. I’m so blessed and grateful for where I am – the people I play with, the fact that I’m halfway across the world and I’m playing a show that people are coming to see, you know, it’s amazing. I feel like if I would’ve done any certain thing different in my life, whether good or bad, I wouldn’t be exactly at this point. So, I don’t have any regrets. I mean I should probably have drank less and done more yoga and swam more… [Laughs].
With this life-affirming stance and warm-hearted approach to his audience and fellow musicians, Chuck shakes my hand and asks if I’m staying to watch the show. I absolutely wanted to stay for the music and the night’s mighty performance left me, too, with no regrets…
Interview. Chuck Ragan. Leave Your Troubles At The Door.
25 March, 2015 by Imelda Michalczyk. Imelda has her own great website here; http://www.rebeladelica.com