Published Jun 16, 2011As singer/guitarist of iconic Gainesville, FL punk outfit Hot Water Music and a successful solo musician, one would assume that after over 15 years of touring, Chuck Ragan making a trip through customs would be as routine as the paperwork itself.
"Are you kidding me?" Ragan laughs. "Canada's one of the hardest countries to get into if you're a band... But I've always just absolutely loved it up there. Small or big show, I just could honestly say I don't feel like I've ever had a bad show in Canada."
Making any potential hassle even more worthwhile is the fact that Ragan is heading to Canada for a full month of shows. Currently traipsing Canada's eastern half on a solo tour with Philadelphia singer-songwriter (and fellow part-time punk frontman) Dave Hause, Ragan will also buddy up with the rest of Hot Water Music for shows in London, ON (June 16) and at Montebello, QC's D-Tox Rockfest (June 17) before a high-profile appearance at the NXNE festival in Toronto on Saturday (June 18). From there it's westward, as he opens a string of solo shows for the Dropkick Murphys, wrapping up on June 26 in Vancouver.
Ragan is the first to admit the schedule's a gruelling one, but says the diversity is inspiring before it's exhausting.
"I really feel lucky to have the opportunity to basically, for me, do the best of all worlds," he says. "We're playing some small, really intimate club shows for people who know the songs, singing along and having a great time with us, and then we're playing these massive club shows opening for Dropkick to a crowd who has no idea who we are. And that puts a whole other fire in your belly."
The stripped-down folk stylings of Ragan's solo work has built a strong fanbase of its own since the release of his excellent debut studio album Feast or Famine in 2007. It's a good time for the punk-turned-troubadour, and Ragan finds himself within a rising group of solo artists known perhaps first for fronting full bands; tourmate Hause (the Loved Ones), Joey Cape (Lagwagon) and Frank Turner (Million Dead) are just a few examples.
"To me, that kind of music and the stuff that a lot of us are known for or grew up doing is always kind of gone hand in hand," Ragan says of the abundance of successful solo outings within the punk community. "I've always really respected [it], and I've always felt a serious calling to do it myself. There's something about it that still charges me and scares me, in a sense. But when you do it and get through it, it can be a completely liberating and wonderful feeling."
Still currently supporting 2009's Gold Country, Ragan, ever restless, has already finished the follow-up, an unintentional concept album of road songs to be titled Covering Ground. Set for release sometime around early September -- the same time he plans to start his ambitious community-building Californian campground tour (no joke) -- the album features guest spots from peers, such as Turner and Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon, and was produced and engineered by Blind Melon guitarist Christopher Thorn. An inspiring collection of songs and people, Ragan says its scope didn't even hit him until it was nearly complete.
"It wasn't until sitting back and listening after finishing tracking and thinking, 'Wow, how did this happen?'" says Ragan excitedly. "The last piece of the puzzle is Frank Turner singing on some stuff. He's in Berlin right now with Social Distortion, and some of the Social D guys are going to be recording his vocals. We're going to be finished up mixing, and the artwork. I couldn't be more thrilled about it."
But before we hear new Ragan solo work, get set for new music from Hot Water Music -- a recent update on the band's Twitter indicated an eight-week wait till the fruits of their sort-of-secretive labours would be ready. Though they split amicably in 2006, the band have since reunited to do sporadic shows, a covers split single with the Bouncing Souls, and a seven-inch series called Live in Chicago in late 2010. Ragan confirms -- albeit cryptically -- what's taken them so long to record new Hot Water Music material, and what we can expect.
"We're so spread out and the schedules are just hard to lock," Ragan offers. "In August, we're doing a tour overseas, and we'll be releasing some brand new songs that nobody's ever heard, as well as a bunch of old stuff that nobody's ever heard before. We're just kind of tying up some loose ends and we'll be making some announcements soon."
In the meantime, you can view Ragan's Canada-heavy tour schedule here.