At the mention of this outfit’s name, what first comes to mind is the collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski that the group took its name from. If you’ve read the stories, you know that most are vile and vulgar in nature. This image is the exact opposite of the ideals of the Florida native alternative punk rockers, Hot Water Music. Having been their first record in several years due to band breakups, certain expectations for Exister were present. They’ve done nothing but go above and beyond their predicted limitations, creating an unyielding piece of work.
The album has a strong driving force of morality fueling it, as themes of good and evil reoccur throughout its length. Instrumental work on this piece is particularly good, loaded with punk and Americana influences blended with emotional vocals. Putting their bumps in the road behind them, Hot Water Music will commence their tour in early September alongside Rise Against and The Gaslight Anthem as they promote Exister nationwide. They are slated to perform locally on Sept. 8 in Brooklyn for Riot Fest. I spoke with guitarist and singer Chris Wollard about the current happenings of the group and this is what he had to say:
You just released a video for “State Of Grace.” How was the idea for this video conceived?
It came from Chuck [Ragan, guitarist/vocalist]’s lyrics and Joan, who directed it, kind of took it and ran with it. Chuck’s lyrics, it’s obviously better for him to go into it. It’s kind of about… he kind of took inspiration from his grandparents for that song, who kind of grew up really simple—growing their own food, hunting for their own food, keeping things kind of simple. You know, watching what you’re putting into your body. I think it was him taking that inspiration and looking around the world, like what are we doing to ourselves here? Just constantly pouring junk into ourselves and obviously you can see where that goes. Joan took it [and] I believe they talked about it. She came up with ideas that she believed represented it. We had a few different people do that, but we thought she really understood where we were coming from with it. The more she worked on it, the better it got. I think she did a great job. It’s really, really cool.
Does this same principle apply to the whole album?
I don’t know about that specifically, a lot of what we were writing on the album, you know, you’re growing up. We’re all in our late 30s, I think it was kind of a good chance to take a fresh look at what’s going on around us and where we fit into the world now. Your roles kind of change, you know, a couple of the guys are married. I’ve got a 16-year-old kid. How do you fit in now? You’re not 20 years old and just burning up the road without a care anymore. You’re trying to take better care of yourselves and better care of the people around you. In that sense, I think it is definitely part of what the general album is, which is just trying to get by, figure out where you fit in, keep it together…
So is that where the title, Exister, came from?
Kind of, kind of. That title comes from another song, which is actually about a buddy of mine, another songwriter down here—country boy, really, really great songwriter. Me and him talk about lyrics, dumb ideas all the time, riffs, whatever we’re working on. He was like, “Hey man, why don’t you write a song about me working this shitty job? Like, I really hate it.” We just kind of got into it, so that’s what that song’s about. It all kind of fits in—all the songs are a little different. It’s a little bit more daily life in there.
What can you tell me about the upcoming tour with Rise Against and The Gaslight Anthem?
It’s going to be a good one. We’re definitely playing as much of the new stuff as we can live. We’re still playing all of the stuff that is still fun from all the old records and the ones in between. We are having probably the most fun on stage that we have had in a long time. We’re getting really tight—everyone is communicating really well. I don’t know, it’s a good time in this band. I think it’s going to be a good show for everybody. We’re really good friends with Gaslight Anthem. Really good friends with Rise Against. There should be a really good vibe in that room. A lot of good rock and roll. I’m super excited about it. Back in the old days, we got caught up in the whole rhythm of just road doggin’ it. We used to tour for a year and a half and then come home and go straight into five days a week of writing, then straight in a six-week recording studio and you’d be right back on tour before the album’s even out. At some point it started becoming like a grind. Like, I need to go home and do some living, and this one was totally different. We took our time, made sure that we all blocked out the time to do it, and be able to really concentrate on it. When we walked in that studio, we just had so many ideas, so many songs, and everybody was just, like, chomping at the bit. Just like, “Check this out, check that out.” It was super fun to make it. You could tell that everybody wanted to be there.
So I saw on your website that you collaborated with the watch making company, Vannen, to create the Exister watch…
Um, well, why not? Really, we saw that they did one for The Descendants, and we were like, “That’s cool as shit.” The one they did for them is really simple and classy and we’ve never done that before. Then all of a sudden the guy was super into it. We got him and our artist together. I think it looks sharp. It’s kind of a weird thing to do. My kid was super pumped, my mom was super pumped. Like, “How did you do this?” To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a clue how to make a watch. But this guy’s obviously pretty good at it.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Over the summer, I have had a re-found love in I Against I [by] Bad Brains. I haven’t stopped listening to that all summer. I listen to a lot of reggae. Burning Spear, obviously Bob Marley. Got into some calypso music when I was down in Jamaica. Roaring Lion, a dude out of Trinidad, 1930s. Really, really cool stuff. I’ve also been listening GBH. I grew up listening to them. We played a show with them a few months ago and it was like, “Goddamn, I love this band.” I have not listened to them in a little too long. Motörhead, a lot of Paul Kelly. I like a lot of Australian music, The Saints. When I want to tune out and enjoy it, it’s a little easier to do that with genres that I don’t play. I listen to punk rock and I’m picking apart the chord structures. I’m picking apart how they arranged it, what the drummer is doing, what the backups are doing, guitar tones. I can’t get my mind to shut down.
That seems to be the case with most musicians.
It’s just like totally part of my life, but still being a huge fan of music, I want to be able to tune out as well. Just enjoy it. I’m always listening for styles that I haven’t heard before.
What do you think sets you apart from other bands in the genre?
We’ve lasted. That might be it, in my opinion. I don’t know what’s different. We have a lot of friends that tour the same way, live by the same ethic, work with the same ethic, write from the same places in their guts. It would just be somehow we’ve figured out how to make it work. 18 years. We’ve grown up together. We’ve seen each other fall apart and get back up. Our band has lasted and our friendship has lasted. That might be it. We’ve broken up twice and it was always to preserve the friendship. When the band started getting in the way, we were like, “Look, it’s not worth it, we’ll get back to it when we want to.” We put our friendship and each other’s well-being first.
Hot Water Music will be at Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Park as part of Riot Fest on Sept. 8. Their new album, Exister, is available through Rise Records. For more information, go to hotwatermusic.com.