Chuck Ragan and The Camaraderie
Whether he's leading fly fishing trips in Grass Valley, Calif., taking care of new son Grady or out on the road with The Camaraderie, Chuck Ragan is constantly navigating the physical and metaphoric waters of his life. We caught up with Ragan on Feb. 4, the day he released his latest project, the soundtrack to the video game The Flame In The Flood.
How did the The Flame In The Flood come about? How did that come together?
Yea, well I’ve been friends with Scott Sinclair for a lot of year. He’s the one who did a lot of the art, the majority of the art, for all the Hot Water Music releases. We were friends before Hot Water was around. We had a long history.
A couple years back, he mentioned an idea they were working on. This project that was coming up… He mentioned this project and mentioned that it was a video game. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a gamer or a game guy. So I was a little apprehensive in terms of being a part of something I wasn’t so familiar with at first, until he explained what the game was all about. You know, he just started going into what they were shooting for and kinda the idea behind the game and I just fell in love with the project. I totally fell in love with it. It made all the sense in the world to me and he invited me to score it, do some music. Even just going into it, explaining it in short he said “Oh you know, it’s a game about survival. It’s this game about this young girl and her dog navigating the rivers and delta systems and camping and finding food. Healing themselves when they’re sick, you know. Avoiding dangers.”
Right off the bat, it was pretty easy to imagine what we could do and what I wanted to do. It wasn’t a stretch for me. I live close to a lot of rivers. I’m on the river all the time. We’re camping and we’re out there. So to me, right away, that’s kind of where I wanted to hone a lot of these songs. I’ve started intentionally going on a few trips, with writing in mind. Just go out, camp on the side of the river a few times and kind put some stuff together. Or when I was drifting the river, kind of thinking about a lot of those lyrics. I wrote a lot of the lyrics and a lot of the songs while camping and floating our local river here. It was really cool, different and the people that we had on board, The Camaraderie, of course and I invited some other friends in on the project to contribute whatever they wanted and made it a fun collaboration. Man, we’re all super proud of it. We’re all real proud of it.
That segues nicely to my next question. Obviously, it goes without saying that you’re a big outdoor guy. Fishing, camping. When did you first start getting outdoors and living that part of your life?
Probably when I was born (laughs). It’s the family I grew up in. The outdoors, you know, fishing and hunting and camping and gardening. It was just always a part of my families’ lives and far back into my family.
It was some of my earliest memories, out on some of the lakes that my grandparents used to live on. They were, on my mother’s side, we’re all Cajun folks. I don’t even know if you know what that is. They were ranch hands down at a ranch outside of Kyle, Texas, a beautiful ranch called The Halifax Ranch. The Blanco River ran through there. We spent a lot of time there, as kids growing up and learned a lot. They were simple folks. They worked their property. They worked their land. They raised cattle and goats and all kinds of animals. They grew the majority of their own food. It was just a life or harvesting fish and game and vegetables [laughs]. To me, it was just so real.
There was definitely a time in my teenage years where I got rebellious, like we all do. And kinda went my own way. Found skateboarding and found all kinds of cool stuff. This whole other alternative life style. From there, skateboarding brings you into punk rock and rock 'n roll. Then next thing you know, I’m playing guitar in a touring band [laughs].I think that even throughout all the years of touring, when I live in Florida for a little while, the outdoors were always a huge part of our lives. I always seemed to be that guy in the band that would be late for practice or rehearsal because I was out on the water fishing too long or something like that [laughs].
Is it a double life for you, being an outdoors guys? Is the guy who’s out on the water the same one who’s playing sold out rooms, playing acoustic guitar and ‘Hot Water Music’ Chuck Ragan?
That’s a great question. I mean yes and no. Yes in the sense that when I’m home, I have such a different schedule then when I’m on the road. I’m like a 4-4:30 a.m. kinda guy. I’m up before anyone and kinda just doing things. I’m out either preparing the boat to get out on the water … I don’t know if you know, but when I’m home, I’m a fly fishing guide. So that’s what I do for work. I’m either doing something, preparing to get out or I’m out with my dogs or I’m out working in the shop. Doing something. That’s my favorite time of the day. It feels like the rest of the world is sleeping and it feels like I can kinda focus and get things done. Then I’m in bed, conked out at 9:30 [p.m.]
When I’m on the road, of course that completely changes. Especially if we’re running in a tour bus, where you’re sleeping in those bunks that are similar to coffins, you know what I mean. They’ve got a curtain and it’s just black and dark and you’re in this cocoon. It’s really easy to shut your eyes and wake up and it’s like 2 in the afternoon [laughs]. So to answer your questions, yes in the sense that it’s a complete switch.
I get out on the road and I’m on a completely different schedule. As I’ve grown older, it takes me longer to kinda adapt, one way or the other. If I’m going out, I find myself exhausted at sound check. I’m like “Man, we just got here” [laughs.] And then when I come home, my schedules all outta whack, because I’ve been up working and not going to sleep until 2:30, 3 a.m. sometimes. But on the other side of that, at the same time, I tour a lot differently than a lot of people. In a lot of ways when we’re out on the road, I do my best to kinda take advantage to where we’re at. It took me a lot of years to realize how much time one can waste on the road. There’s all this down time. It’s always kind of a hurry up and wait situation, right. You’re rushing, rushing, rushing to the venue. You’re rushing to load in. You rush to sound check. Then you just wait til it’s time [to play.] Or you get to town super early to beat the traffic and then they don’t open the venue for six hours and you wait. After a while, I kinda realized “Man, here we are. We’re in all these beautiful places." Either I could sit in a hotel room, sit at a truck stop diner or sit in a food court at some terrible mall somewhere. Or I can plan around it and go get out on the water somewhere. Somewhere unique ... that I’ve never been.
To answer your question further, yes and no. Yes in the sense that my schedule changes drastically. But it is the same person. I am the same person [laughs]. I love taken advantage of the opportunities we have while we’re out there.
One more outdoor question then we’ll get to music. When you’re at home out on the water and living the outdoor life and a tour is coming up, do you ever wish you had a day, a week or however longer to keep doing that? Is it hard for you to leave and go on tour sometimes?
Yea absolutely. I’m just being honest. And it’s not the music and it’s not the stage and it’s not the people, that’s the best part of it. It’s the other 23 hours of the day that can be tough. The toughest part, what I’m faced with now, my wife and I just had our first child. Our beautiful baby boy Grady Joseph and life has just changed for us drastically and it’s changing every day. Every day. When we had him, I made a conscious decision with those long six-, eight-week runs. It just doesn’t make any sense. Ideally, I think I’d be fine if I never did a tour for the rest of my life. I love playing shows, but the amount of work that goes into it and the time away from home, compared to it being worth being away from my wife and my boy. It doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to me anymore.
It is tough and I’m just shooing straight with you. Coming up I have a guide trip tomorrow. I have another one the day before I leave. And it’s a lot of work. When those guide trips are done, I gotta come in, button up all my gear. I gotta button up the boats. I gotta make sure everything is winterized and covered and good and immediately switch gears and pack guitars and kind of get it all together to go. It’s my livelihood. It’s my work and it’s what I need to do for my family. I do love meeting people. I do love playing the music. I love playing with The Camaraderie and everything. But, it’s tough man. To just pull the plug and take off.
It’s hard on my wife. It’s hard on the family, you know. I need to be home. But at the same time, we need to follow through with our commitments and be responsible in terms of our livelihood. Definitely torn. It’s easy doing the guided trips. I love it. I work with a lot of kids. I work with a lot of beginners at times. And it can be tough, don’t get me wrong. It sounds easy and peaceful when you think “Oh, you’re just floating down a river. Teaching people how to fish.” It’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. But at the end of the day, I’m home with my wife and boy and I’m not in a hotel on the other side of the world.
You alluded to it, but how has the birth of your son Grady changed you as a person, as a musician? Obviously, it goes without saying that things change in a big way when you have a child.
I don’t even know where to begin. What amazed me the most is you think about all the choices you make through your whole life and all the paths and all the circumstances that brought you to where you are, right here, today. If you would’ve made any other decision along the way, it could have altered that path in a completely different direction. I’ve always realized that and I’ve always thought about that, especially when I found Jill. Here I found the most perfect, incredible woman that I could ever ask for when I was at a time in my life where I didn’t care to ever have anybody in my life ever again. And all the sudden, my eyes were just turned to the sky. And all the sudden, life was worth living again. I’ve always thought about that because every single direction or choice that we’ve made, if I would’ve done it different, I may not have ended up in California or with her, you know.
The moment that the two of us are in that room, holding this brand new baby boy. Man, the feeling is so hard to describe. But it’s almost like all the sudden, you feel every single one of those choices and decisions that I’d made my entire life, since I was a kid. It all made sense. It all led to this kid, right here. That to me was such an awakening.
As far as changing me musically or anything, it’s hard to say until we start putting some new stuff down. I got a lot of love in my heart right now. It’s definitely a time in my life where I’m not gonna write a bunch of angry songs [laughs].
I was looking through Hot Water’s twitter and saw a photo posted in January of a mic and what looked like a recording studio. Is there anything going on there?
Yea. We’ve been writing for a long time. Our writing process is slow as molasses. It’s tough. All four of us have a ton of stuff going on. George [Rebelo] is playing with The Bouncing Souls. Chris Wollard just released a new Ship Thieves record, which is insane ... It’s called No Anchor
. It’s ridiculous man. It’s really, really incredible. Jason [Black] is super busy with work and living in New York. All of us are just completely spread out and running in all kinds of directions. As you can imagine, it’s been really tough to pin down anything. It’s rare that all four of us even together in the same room, anymore, unless we’re playing a show. And those are few and far between.
We said a long time ago that we think this band will always be around. Nobody’s quitting [laughs]. We’ll always right, here and there. When it’s gonna happen I couldn’t even tell ya. But it’s a cool position for us to be in because we don’t have any weight on our shoulders. We don’t have anyone telling us what to do or when to do it. It’s gonna happen when it’s right. It’s gonna happen organically. Nothings gonna happen without all four of us having our stamp on it. We’re always writing a little.
Final question and I’ll let you go. How much time do you think you have left as a touring musician? Before you say “I’m not going on the road anymore.”
That’s a great question, man. There’s been plenty of times just this past year, with Grady on the way, Grady being born, with him here that I thought to myself “That’s it. I’m done. I did everything and then some that I ever dreamed, in music and on the road.” And I definitely thought at times “I wanna make records. I wanna make music for the rest of my life. It’s something I need to do. It’s something I want to do. But why do we have to tour? Why do I have to leave home and leave my kid? I don’t want to be an absent dad.”
I know a lot of guys and girls who do it and tour with kids at home and some people make it work. For me, right now, it’s tough. I haven’t really figured that out. I will say though, that my wife and I have talked about a day where we’re gonna bring him on the road. I may go away for a little while, then when he’s old enough to jump in the van or on the tour bus or on the plane then it may be a different story. I think it could be an extremely healthy and rich life style, life for a kid to live, experiencing all these cultures that a lot of kids don’t grow up to see. If I have the opportunity to bring him over to Europe or to the UK or Canada or over into the Northeast or down the Eastern seaboard, when all he’s known is northern California.
I think that could be a beautiful thing for this kid to experience at a young age. Especially when he’s at an age where he actually knows where he is on a map. Just to experience other accents and food and cultures and currency, ya know. I think it’s important and to me, that’s when I think touring and the vehicle of music, I could be looking at in a completely different light. So I don’t know man [laughs]. It’s a great question but a tough one to answer.
CHUCK RAGAN AND THE CAMARADERIE
. 8 p.m. Wed., Feb. 17. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. $15-17. 412-381-6811