Five Questions with … Chuck Ragan

March 29th, 2012

When Gainesville, Fla., punk band Hot Water Music broke up amicably in 2006, singer-songwriter-guitarist Chuck Ragan (above, playing “Nothing Left to Prove” for Cardinal Sessions) chose a different musical path, launching a solo career as a folk musician. Eventually he decided to put together the Revival Tour, which grouped together like-minded musicians traveling the country (and Europe) making and playing music together as they go. “The lineup constantly changes,” said the affable, talented Ragan over the phone from his house in California. “It always stays fresh. It always stays unpredictable and exciting. The energy and the camaraderie is the most special element of the tour.” And in advance of two Revival Tour 2012 shows tomorrow at The Bowery Ballroom (the early show is sold out, but tickets remain for the late one), Chuck Ragan rang up The House List to answer Five Questions.

Which New York City musician—past or present—would you most like to play with?
Jenny Owen Youngs. I really admire her way of playing music. And I admire her songwriting and her ethics and how she treats her fans and tourmates. Just all around. I think she’s absolutely fantastic. She just put out an incredible record called An Unwavering Band of Light.

Where do you like to hang out in NYC? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
For years I really thought, “No way.” I grew up in the South, in a not-so-congested area. But back about a decade ago, I moved from Micanopy, Florida, which was a population of 320 people. At the time, Gainesville was too big for me. And that was like a couple hundred thousand people. But I moved to Los Angeles from Micanopy and fell in love with a California girl and moved out here. It blew my mind. And at the time L.A. was my least-favorite city in the world. It was, like, the last place I ever wanted to be. After moving there, my wife—my girlfriend at the time—was like, “There are some cool little niches and corners and little spots around here you need to see.” And she showed me a side of a big city that I never ever knew it could have. I feel like I really grew, as a person, in a lot of ways, because it really changed my mind about my own way of thinking. But it’s all in your perspective. There are good people everywhere and good energy everywhere. So, now, I think, “Yeah, I probably could.” I don’t know how long….

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
That’s often a thought I have in mind, whether I’m repeating myself a lot. I write a lot. And a lot of the times I’ll write about whatever’s moving me at that moment. In doing so, I write very plainly, matter-of-factly. And I’ve often wondered if I constantly repeat myself. And I’m sure I do. For me writing’s always been more of a therapy than anything else. I do enjoy storytelling. And I enjoy writing about different things I’ve seen or done, but there’s always been this underlying theme with all of my music. It’s normally just looking at the bright side, or overcoming obstacles. And that just ties in with the fact that, a long time ago, I learned to use music more as a tool to overcome obstacles and face whatever we’re battling at the moment, and use that to move forward. But sometimes, for me, it could easily be the same solution to a different problem. [Laughs]

You mentioned obstacles. So I’m wondering then, do you feel like you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better if it’s actually happened to you or could it just be straight-up fiction?
I think it could totally be fiction because I do my best to learn from other people’s mistakes. But it seems like for the most part I’m trying to learn from my own mistakes. Lord knows I make plenty of ’em. I definitely believe in tapping the moment in the sense of what you’re talking about. If you’re writing a love song, writing when you’re just completely enthralled and overwhelmed with that love or that passion for someone. And at the same time, if you’re writing something dark, just getting to it when you’re really down in that place. And I’ve done both for years. I’ve written in a lot of different capacities when different subjects like that have affected me, and it’s come out immediately. And then other times I’ve suppressed ’em, avoided feeling that pain or hurt or resentment, and just kind of pushed it aside until one day you just look back on it. Like situations that I was in—or barely got out of. But at the same time, I love writing music to other people’s stories.

It’s 4 a.m. and last call has come and gone. What’s your next move?
Sounds like pizza time to me. —R. Zizmor