With a near-25-year career and massive experience on the road, Gainesville’ Florida’s Hot Water Music are back with a brand new album entitled Light It Up and it showcases the band at their most invigorating and bolder shape. We caught up with Jason Black about the band’s journey, the new release and what it feels like to be in the USA right now.
It’s been near-25-year career for Hot Water Music and you still going strong as whole. After all these years as a band and going through a hiatus in the middle, what keeps you motivated and excited about your music?
I don’t know what it is. [laughs] We all like to play music. We do it less than we used to because we don’t do this for living anymore, this is not the thing that we do with our lives. While it does play an important part of all of our identities, we try to make it work when we can. It gets harder the older we get, not because of the pain necessarily [laughs] but we have families and jobs. Everyone gets tired. Speaking for myself, I used to love touring but I don’t really like it anymore. I like playing shows but the other 23 hours of the day we’re all away from our families and we’re not at home, so you give up a lot when you go on the road. For example, last night I was talking with my neighbour and he was like “That’s the best thing ever! I want that job.” I think for a band that’s our size it becomes a lot of work to make a living being in a band. We really would have to tour almost constantly and so we don’t tour very much. None of us want to tour constantly.
You guys are going to do some shows this fall and so you are not planning on doing a bigger tour, right? Just playing shows here and there.
Yeah! That’s the plan. Hopefully, we’re gonna do some more shows in the next year, but there’s not gonna be any tour. I don’t know what it would take to get us to go on tour, but whatever it is, it’s more money than we are worth. [laughs] I don’t think we would do it. You kind of realize after doing it for 20 years that it’s an awesome experience and I’m so excited to be able to go to all these places and I’m really thankful for being able to do that, but at some point settling down is fun too.
One of the things that really fascinated me about Hot Water Music is that you’ve never changed a single member, and that’s a rare thing. Do you feel like an old married couple by now?
More like brothers than an old married couple. [laughs] I wouldn’t say taking anything away from our friendship with each other, but it’s very much a family dynamic. A lot of fights like “Oh god, I don’t want to be around that person until next Thanksgiving.” [laughs] But, at the same time they call you and they need something and you’ll be there in 2 seconds, you know? We turned in adults together and so there’s a lot of history. Over the past few years, I think we’ve sort of got better at dealing with each other and respecting each other’s boundaries. The only way we can do with this band is to make it not full-time, because not all of us what to do it full-time. I think what’s been key for us is realize that people are going to say no and that has to be ok, and ever since we decided that, everything has been good.
You guys have so much history together! Is there some remarkable memory that you have of being on Hot Water Music?
I don’t know, we have a lot! At different points in time there were different things. I think now is just the fact that we’re just excited that anyone still cares. It’s pretty easy for a band to not put a record out for 5 years and then having anyone care 5 years later. It’s been a lot and we all remember different stuff in different ways. I don’t know if it’s ever anything remarkable or it’s more just dumb and funny things that happened that stick with you. [laughs] One time our RV caught on fire when we were on tour, I will never forget that. I will probably forget the first show we played in Germany or something, but now I can remember that too. But for me the shows really start to run together. I mean, there are definitely shows we have played that I have people talking to me about and I’m like “Man, I have no idea what you’re talking about but I believe you were there, but I don’t have no record of that show at all.” It’s just like asking someone to remember a specific day in their life from 15 years ago and I just can’t do that. [laughs]
In 2014 you celebrated the band’s 20th anniversary with the release of 20 Year Retrospective. How does it feel to look back to all you have accomplished as a band?
We played a lot of songs on that tour and they were shows that have played in a long time, so that was fun and it’s always interesting when you do something like that realizing what out of your history what people really like the most, you know? I think we’re lucky enough there’s people that like every record and it’s the best. I don’t know if there’s a consensually favorite record from our fans, but I think there’s a lot of different people that like different records and I think that’s something cool that we discovered. Overall, it was really awesome to be able to celebrate that, but that tour was two-week long and it was a really good example of us being like “We can’t do this anymore. We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary and we went on tour for 2 weeks. We’re tired and we want to go home.” That hasn’t changed so let’s keep it short. [laughs]
You said different fans like different Hot Water Music records, so at the moment what’s your favorite record?
Right now is Light It Up. That kind of how it is with every record, it’s always the new one. It sounds cool, we did it ourselves and I think we’re really happy with it. The response has been pretty good so far. Hopefully people like it. We just wanted to make a record for us and for our fans. It’s not that we’re not interested, but we’re not concerned with people that don’t know who our band is, they’re not gonna decide to like us on our 8th or 9th record or whatever. [laughs] We’re comfortable with what we are and we just wanted to make a record for those people. So the new record is probably my favorite so far. [laughs]
“Over the past few years, I think we’ve sort of got better at dealing with each other and respecting each other’s boundaries.”
Light It Up is the follow-up to 2012’s Exister, the full-length you released after the hiatus. When did you begin to work on this album?
Probably about a year and half ago. We had been trying to book recording time since Exister and that’s how long it takes us to get anything done. We kind of had to work backwards where we pick a time to record and then force ourselves to be ready, because otherwise we’ll end up being busy. That’s what we did with this record, we finally settled on a date and worked as hard as we could until we got there and record what we had. We recorded it in January and we really started writing about a year before that.
This new record was entirely self-produced by you guys! How was the experience to have total control over everything?
It was good and bad, I think. The bad thing is whenever we have a producer, we always lean on them to be like “We’re just gonna go with what they say, unless we think they’re completely wrong”. Not having that was more work. I mean, George [Rebelo] was in the studio every single day for the whole thing, probably too many days for his sanity. [laughs] You kind of have to please yourself, which the bad part about that is there’s four people in the band and so it’s really easy to have a tie. That’s one of the good things about having a producer is that we have a tie breaker. [laughs] Our tour sound engineer recorded the record as well and so we kind of used him as a standard producer like “We really need someone else’s opinion, what do you think?” We asked his opinion a lot and so it was helpful to have someone and that was good for the process to record with someone that we tour with and that spent years on the road with. We knew each other and it was cool to just relax in a friend environment that way. I think we’ll probably do it again that way next time, it’s just easier, because all of us going away from home for a month is impossible, so that made it a little simpler.
I read that you guys said that you haven’t made a record this way since [1997 debut LP] Fuel For the Hate Game. What did you mean with that?
That we haven’t done with a producer. Fuel For the Hate Game was the last record that we made without someone sort of running the show for us. Our intention with this record was to not overthink it, to not spend too much time on details. It wasn’t like we didn’t spend any time on it, but we didn’t want to get caught up. You can record an album for 3 years and you can change everything as many times as you want, but at some point you have to let it be what it is and so that was kind of our big picture for this thing. It was like just making it and work no matter how long we spend on it and we’ll be happy with it and see how it goes.
Was there a particular theme or concept that you wanted to convey on Light It Up?
Not really. It’s the same as usual for Chuck [Ragan] and Chris [Wollard]. Whatever they’re going through at the time, they write about it. While this record is more political, it’s just the usual thing, like whatever is on their minds. I stay out of it because I don’t have to sing how I feel. For me, it’s like “You’re the one who has to get up there and mean this every night, so do what feels good for you.”
Like you mentioned, this record has a more political and social side to it and it’s almost inevitable for people to be influenced and write about what’s going on our society right now. What are your thoughts about the current situation of USA and all over the world?
It’s pretty scary. I can’t believe it, but I can definitely believe it because it’s happening and so it’s real. I think here there’s a number of reasons for it in the States. My hope is that this is sort of the last and the deathrattle of angry white men. I feel like white men have been in charge enough. Being a white dude, I feel comfortable thing that I think we can go ahead and give it up for a little while. I understand when the US election happened, I understand why people voted the way they voted, they were upset and they wanted something different. I don’t think they thought it through because this is what you got. I voted for Clinton, the whole band voted for Clinton. We would all definitely vote for Sanders if he was running and that’s us. We’re not a political band, but we’re all very liberal dudes. I get why people voted for Trump and I don’t think they thought it through. I also think it kind of came down to how broken our system is here because he won but just about 30% of the population really support him. It really brought out of the shadows how broken the system is. The funny thing is this is him and his supporters are using in their advantage by saying that they’re unringing the system when all they’re making it worst. The guy has only been there for 7 months, which is kind of remarkable, but you got hope by the end of 4 years that people are really gonna see what this means. I think the big problem we have in the States, and I’m as guilt as everyone else, is that nobody is locally politically active and that is very much literally how you can change the bigger picture. If you only voted in the presidential election, you’re not really going to change anything. It’s either going on way or the other, but if you voted on local elections, then you can actually change things. I hope that’s the take away for whatever the liberal people on our side decide that’s what they need to do.
What do you think about the United States at the moment?
I’ve been saying this for years which I think one big problem of the US is very different than almost any other country. We are huge and we are isolated, so people that live in the middle of the US don’t generally come in contact with very many minorities and that happens in a lot of places. I lived in NY for a while and I feel that’s sort of like Europe. You can go in most major cities in Europe and you’ll see a lot of different types of people. While there still is racism obviously everywhere in world, if you’re not exposed to different types of people, than I understand why you are scared of them. There’s a lot of that in the States. I think in Europe everything is close and you have a more global thought process. In the US we’ve been the biggest, best and most giant isolated thing in the world and people don’t understand any difference. They’ve never had to think any differently and that’s the result how bigger and dumber our country is. [laughs] I think there’s a lot of things playing in that and I think a lot of people here are sad, upset and in financial distress, and the problem is that they voted for those people, and this is where I don’t really understand which is that poor white Christian people voting for Republicans just because they’re so against the abortion that they can’t vote for a liberal person who’s actually gonna do social programs. They don’t help them because in their minds social programs only help black people and don’t help poor white people. It’s insane that people don’t know more than that, but that’s part of the problem which is educating people, not like in college, just in understanding how government can work for you if you let it. Universal health care would be good because then everyone would be healthier and then it would cost less for everyone, but they don’t wanna pay for somebody else’s health because they only wanna pay for their own without thinking the next step is that if you’re paying for somebody else than somebody else is paying for you. People are very unwilling to cooperate with other people that they don’t know here, which is pretty dumb.