Published Mar 14, 2014Despite years of accolades, Chuck Ragan is not the kind of man to take full credit for his accomplishments, not even the impressive slice of Americana that is his latest album, Till Midnight.
Released March 25 on Dine Alone Records in Canada and SideOneDummy Records in the U.S., Ragan's fourth full-length album is the collective work of the jolly man himself, fiddler Jon Gaunt, bassist Joe Ginsberg, guitarist Todd Beene (Lucero, Glossary), Social Distortion drummer David Hidalgo Jr., and a host of guest vocalists and musicians.
"I respect all of these players so much and I admire them so much. Not just as musicians, but as people. They're my friends. They're my brothers," Ragan tells Exclaim! "I love playing with people that I respect and when these guys aren't on stage with me and on stage with someone else, I'm in the crowd as a fan. I love them. To have them care enough to really play with that conviction on my songs is just a massive honour and I couldn't be more grateful."
The songs on Till Midnight benefit from the highly developed sound of musicians who are fully behind Ragan's vision. By the time the finished songs were recorded by Blind Melon's Christopher Thorn at Fireside Sound and Fonogenic Studios in Los Angeles, the songs he wrote had taken on a new life, says Ragan.
"The songs were pretty solid structurally; the bare bones of them didn't change other than a couple of them that were written together with the guys," he says. "But when you strip down the songs, I'm just kind of hanging back, just strumming. They're really simple, straightforward folks songs, but when you stack up the talent of all of these guys that had a part in this album it really just coloured the atmosphere completely and just broadened everything. I'm thrilled."
One consideration that Ragan made along the way was the branding of his own name on the album. Because Till Midnight was such a team effort, Ragan says he wanted to define the touring portion of the album more clearly. His band is touring the U.S. through April and May.
"There's a difference when I play by myself and the tour we're about to do, which is going to be a completely different animal with the whole group. I want people to know what they are coming to see, so we've decided to call this band, these guys, whenever they are a part of the show, we want to call them the Camaraderie," explains Ragan. "So we'll be billed as Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie. It does get strange when your name is on there and T-shirts come into play, or records come into play, and you see your name plastered on all of this stuff. It's awkward because your name is becoming a brand. There's that fine line of wanting to be true to people, so we decided to bill it as Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie, and if I'm playing by myself it will just be Chuck Ragan."
Known for spearheading the popular Revival Tour, now in the planning stages for its seventh year, Ragan has tapped members of his band for the ensemble tour (which featured the likes of Dave Hause, Rocky Votolato and Tim McIlrath in its 2013 edition). The experience of playing together with so many talent musicians on the Revival Tour, and the positive energy of it, rubbed off on Till Midnight, Ragan says.
"We've all kind of lived and breathed this natural collaboration and this intense joy and spontaneous vibe that we all get playing together, and just kind of going for it. It definitely happened in a very natural way. For those who have followed what I've done, this record makes complete sense. If someone listened to three records back and then listened to this, it might seem like a big departure but in reality it's not; it's just us being a little more organized and together and just doing it right."
Ragan says the happier, more upbeat vibe of his fourth album comes from where he is in his life right now: a positive space surrounded by friends and family.
"I feel like I'm in a wonderful place, man. I couldn't be happier and I just feel really comfortable. I'm surrounded by incredible people, positive people, forward-thinking people, progressive people and I just feel really lucky," he says. "I'm happily married to an incredibly strong woman who has inspired me to no end and that's a huge part of it. My wife is the greatest inspiration I could ever ask for. She is my muse. And I'm just pumped to be playing music and to have an opportunity to have songs I care about heard."
As for Ragan's band, Hot Water Music, who reformed in 2009 and released the stellar Exister album in 2011 after a lengthy hiatus, the four-piece are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year and have no plans to slow down, he says.
"We've got some stuff in the works. Everybody's so spread out, we have been for over a decade. Not only that, but everyone has their own stuff going on. But I can't ever see Hot Water Music not being a band, unless somebody drops out of it, and that ain't happening."
While Ragan has no shows booked yet in Canada, you can see his upcoming tour schedule here.
Read our full interview with Ragan here.