If You Go
What: Hot Water Music, in concert.
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 8.
Where: Hawthorne Theatre, 3862 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., Portland.
Cost: $18-$20 through Cascade Tickets, 855-227-8499.
Information: 503-233-7100 or Hawthorne Theatre
The latest Hot Water Music album, "Exister," gave the band an experience it had never had on its previous seven studio albums.
"It was the only album where we didn't argue," singer/guitarist Chris Wollard said in an early January interview. "When we got done with the record, there was a moment, and we were all still smiling. Holy cow, we just finished that entire record and everybody's been smiling the whole time. Everybody's been happy the whole time. There have been no power struggles. There have been no arguments. Every idea was welcomed, and every idea got tried -- and it was really great, because sometimes when you make a record, you leave that studio and you just feel spent."
The group, which started out in 1993 in Gainesville, Fla., had valid reasons to feel good about things after wrapping "Exister." It's one of the group's best and most varied albums.
Songs like "Traps," "Mainline" and the title track are prime examples of the urgent and catchy punk-rooted rock that has always been Hot Water Music's signature. But there are also more straight-ahead rock songs like "Boy, You're Gonna Hurt Someone" and "State Of Grace" that might represent musical risks for the band if they weren't so undeniably strong and even a cool, rather slow-burning rocker in "No End Left In Sight."
The harmony and happiness that defined the "Exister" sessions weren't the only things that were different about doing the latest album. The way many of the songs got written changed, largely because the four band members no longer all live in Gainesville. Singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan now lives in Northern California, while bassist Jason Black calls Seattle home. Wollard and drummer George Rebelo still live in Gainesville.
Where in the past the band usually got together in Gainesville to jam and write its songs, the band members by necessity wrote more individually for "Exister."
"I was writing at home, doing little demos," Wollard said. "Chuck was doing the same thing. Jason was writing music and sending it out to everybody. We still had a few (songs) that tended to get put together by everybody, but it was different. In the old days, you had an idea and you were going to see the guys the next day. So you just go out there and go, 'Hey, what do you think about something like this?' And you get a straight answer super quick. This way was, it was a little tougher for us just because you're working on a song maybe for a month before you have a chance to play it for somebody else. So it's a little nerve wracking. You're like, 'Man, I don't want to spend a bunch of time on an idea if nobody likes it.' But you just have to check yourself at that point and have a little faith in what you're doing."
The recording itself was different, as well. For the first time, Hot Water Music worked with producers Bill Stevenson (of the punk bands the Descendents and All) and Jason Livermore at their studio, the Blasting Room, in Ft. Collins, Colo. The group also recorded most of "Exister" live in the studio -- something the band hadn't done often.
"That was all different, working with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore," Wollard said. "Those guys are incredible. As engineers and as producers, I don't know, it just went super smooth. And we had never worked with them before, so it could have gone either way."
For all the things that were different about "Exister," in one important respect, the project reminded Wollard of the band's earliest albums when there were no expectations for the band and no certain sound that the band was expected to have.
"We just got to a point (going into "Exister") where it was like we don't really care what you think," he said. "We're not doing it (the album) for anybody else. We're not doing it to prove anything to anybody else. We just want to make a record because we like playing music together. That really is how the band got started."
That stubborn independent streak and the friendships within the band have only become stronger over a two-decade history that has seen the band survive a pair of temporary breakups -- one in 1998 and the other in 2006 -- and earn a place as one of rock's most respected punk-rooted bands.
The group has also decided that whatever tours or recording projects the group did, they have to be fun.
"It was let's just do whatever feels good," Wollard said. "Let's just make sure we're all on the same page and really cool with everything."
Hot Water Music will be trying to keep the good times rolling on the road.
"This tour we're headliners, so we can kind of play however long we want to," Wollard said. "I wouldn't expect any two-hour sets. There's only so long that you can keep screaming. But probably we'll be doing five or six songs off of the new album and a lot of just different old stuff."