When it comes to punk rock, one of the bands that just can't be overlooked is a Gainesville's own Hot Water Music. Since 1993 the four-piece released eight records and earned a legendary status in the underground scene. Without the unnecessary introduction, we're bringing you the interview with the bassist Jason Black, about their latest record, future projects and much, much more.
Hello Jason! First of all, thank you for 'Drag My Body' and my all-time favorite bass line. So, what's going on in the Hot Water Music camp? Jason: Thanks for the kind words! That one definitely keeps me honest every time we play it. Right now, we’re just gearing up for our shows coming up at the end of the month and - as far out as it seems - working on ideas for 2019.
It's been 10 years since you got back together, making this the longest period of activity for your band so far. Does it mean that your bond is now stronger than ever, and you finally learned how to deal with living in a different part of the country and still be an active band? Jason: Yeah, I would say so. We were all between eighteen and twenty years old when we started the band, so there is a lot of personal change to work through between then and now. It seems as if we’ve really found a direct, clear line of communication with each other over the past few years, which has been great.
You went on for 25 years without a single change in a lineup. Would you say it's because of your friendship, your loyalty, or you just think that Hot Water Music can only be Hot Water Music without a single piece missing? Jason: A bit of each of these things you mentioned. That said, at this point we have played shows without everyone aside from Chuck. We’re almost to the point where the band is more than the sum of the members, which is a cool feeling. The songs have a life and story of their own now.
Last year you had to play a few shows without Chris. Actually, this interview was supposed to happen then, but we decided it would be a better idea not to bother you at that point. How was the experience? Jason: So far, it’s been going surprisingly well. We would not be playing without him if we wasn’t supportive of it, and we definitely would not be pulling it off without being so lucky as to have Chris Creswell stepping in and killing it.
It was a very brave thing for Chris to step down and talk about his problems. Unfortunately, in the last few years, we witnessed musicians who had mental health struggles, pushed themselves beyond their own limits, and even ending their lives tragically. From your point of view, how many touring musicians suffer from issues like that, and how important is to talk about it? Jason: A lot more than people realize. George and I have also had our bouts with panic attacks and anxiety. I think it’s very important to talk about. It’s a really hard situation to make sense of when you are dealing with it, and having more information to cull from and people to relate to is only going to be helpful.
For many people being in a band, and life on tour can seem like a dream come true, but on the other side, it can be really hard and exhausting, both physically and mentally. For you, what was the point when it all stopped being fun and became a mental and physical drain? Jason: Right now, it’s fun or we wouldn’t be doing it. That’s kind of the promise we’ve all made to each other. If you’re not having fun, then we shouldn’t be here. We don’t really “tour” these days, we focus more on bursts of shows. Everyone has so many other interests and responsibilities that we couldn’t do this as a full time endeavor at this point. I think this is what keeps us around - knowing our limits.
You still play shows and enjoy being on stage, you just do it in shorter runs. Do you feel your shows are getting better because of it? If you're happy on the stage, and fans have to wait for you a bit longer, does it add to the atmosphere? With a new touring cycle, do you ever feel the pressure from the fans if you don't go to some places for a longer time? Jason: To your first question, 100% yes. These shows have been some of the most fun we’ve played in years. Playing live has also always been my favorite part of things. I’m impatient, so the studio isn’t really my strong suit. Question two, not so much at this point. We want to get to as many places as possible, but we know it’s not possible so we just do what we can.
It's been a five-year gap between your last record, and 'Light It Up.' What do you think is the reason for that? Was it solely because of living in different places, or you needed more time for writing a good record like this one? Jason: Most of that time was spent trying to schedule recording. It is insanely hard to find a time when the four of us can commit two-to-four weeks to record.
Speaking of living in different places, how did the writing process look like? Did you rely on technology, or just went the old school way, book the studio time and start from scratch? Jason: We’re now pretty technology driven. Everyone is capable of at least making rough demos of song ideas at home, so we trade ideas via email. It’s really helpful to have time to not only work on and learn songs before we get together, but it also saves a lot of time and discussion when we are in the same room. Editing things ahead of time so we can be hyper focused once we start finalizing things.
You decided to self-produce the record. Can you tell me more about the experience? How hard was for you to take everything in your own hands, instead of relying on a help from others? Jason: The worst part of that is, since we’re a four-piece, there’s no tie breaking vote. It was definitely fun, and something we’ll do again. If we can’t make a Hot Water Music record on our own at this point, we probably don’t have any business releasing one. (laughs)
Would you agree that working this way gave you more freedom, to make a record that will sound exactly the way you want? However, did you ever feel the pressure of responsibility, and fear that everything would not turn out as good as you wanted and as eventually, it did? Jason: A little of both. We knew we could make a good sounding record. Ryan Williams, who engineered and mixed the record, has been our live sound person for a long time now so he is very honed in on what we sound like. There are still things we would change about the record, but that’s how it always is. Each session is as much about learning for the next time as it is for completing the record at hand.
You are no strangers to experimenting and changing your sound. With 'Exister' you tried to explore a bit of a different sound, while on 'Light It Up' you found the middle ground between it, and what you did before. Was it a conscious decision, or it just came to you naturally? Jason: We wanted to make a very direct, raw record which was just a document of the songs we wrote together. We didn’t really have a “vision” or “focus” this time around, we just went for it.
Also, I would love to hear the story behind the artwork, and it's meaning? Jason: It’s literally just a piece that Scott Sinclair had around and somehow it happened to make perfect sense, as we already had the song 'Light It Up' written. Sometimes things just work out.
I would go back for a couple of years to the release of 'Exister.' I know a lot of people who say it's their all-time top 10 records, and actually, a lot of people from outside the punk rock world who got into Hot Water Music with that record. How hard was it to enter the studio for 'Light It Up' knowing you have to top a record like that and did you even think about it that way? Jason: That’s really great to hear, because we usually don’t hear that sort of positive comment on newer records. It’s the same for most bands - every fan has a favorite and it’s never the newest record. (laughs) This being the case, it didn’t enter out minds! We wouldn’t have worried about either way, to be honest. We’ve made enough records to know that you can be informed by what you’ve done in the past, but you shouldn’t rely on it to make what you’re working on in the present. It comes out canned and it’s easy to tell.
Interestingly, 'Exister' was your first record after the reunion, and there have been cases in the past where reunion records aren’t really as good. What was different in your case? Jason: Luck?
One thing I have ever been amazed by is the music, and especially the punk rock scene in Gainesville. It's a relatively small town, but it gave us Hot Water Music, Against Me!, Less Than Jake and many other amazing bands, as well as the legendary No Idea Records. Can you tell me more about the scene, and in your opinion, how did the Gainesville punk scene happen? Jason: College towns in the US all sort of had this same sort of vibe in the 90s, when we started. Other places like Chapel Hill, NC; Austin, TX had similar scenes. I think Gainesville was definitely a product of that time in history here in the US, as well as having a local label to help things along.
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