Touring ain’t the party it used to be for Hot Water Music, the seminal late-’90s/early-aughts punk-hardcore band from Gainesville, Fla. And for bass player Jason Black, that’s just fine.
“Being in our early 40s definitely takes the edge off of things. And that’s a good thing! I think the dynamic on the road is better than it’s been in a long, long time,” he tells SF Weekly. “The most that’ll happen is someone will drink too much, eat three ham sandwiches, and get shit for it the next day.”
Black, along with drummer George Rebelo and lead guitarists and vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard, has certainly earned the luxury of mellowing out (and probably a few ham sandwiches, too). The band came blasting onto the scene in 1994 with the debut full-length album, Finding the Rhythms dropping in 1995. This was followed by a breakneck cycle of rehearsing, recording, and touring. Hot Water Music broke up in ’97, got back together in ’98, then broke up again in 2006 — after, per Black’s assessment, their hardest-partying tour — only to get back together again in 2007. (“Holy shit, we drank a lot!” he recalls of those days.)
Through it all, Hot Water Music’s distinctive sound — a pulsing, punishing brand of punk rock lit with surprising licks of Southern guitar twang and early emo vibes — earned them a devoted following, committed to showing up in mosh pit force no matter how old the band, or the fans, have gotten.
The pit is back this year, as Hot Water Music, named for a Charles Bukowski short-story collection, hits the road for a mini-tour in celebration of their 25th anniversary. They’re honoring a hardcore quarter-century by playing two of their full albums, one a night, around the U.S.: 2002’s Caution and 1999’s No Division. Each was chosen by a highly scientific process: “a dumb Twitter poll.”
“We posted asking, ‘If we were ever going to play records live, what would you want to hear?’ ” Black says. “These were the two that won — so like, all right, close enough.”
He was expecting Caution to come out on top — “It’s kind of become The Record for us at this point”— but he was pleasantly surprised at the selection of No Division.
“I thought, ‘Oh good! I like most of the songs on that record. This won’t be too much of a drag,’ ” he says.
Through rehearsals, it also became clear that No Division had aged well, having been written and recorded during the lead up to the 2000 Bush-Gore election.
“I remember watching all of that on TV thinking, ‘How did he win?!’ And here we are again. It’s made the baseline content of those songs pretty relevant.”
It’s also been interesting rehearsing, and relearning songs that the band often doesn’t play live, and reconnecting with their early work.
“When we started, we didn’t really fit anywhere,” Black says.
They were too slow for the Southern California punk scene, and “too wimpy” for the New York hardcore scene. Their distinctiveness, and a melting pot of musical influences, drove their songwriting process, which was and is entirely democratic (if occasionally contentious).
“Our ‘sound’ started through the four of us literally just fighting over parts,” he says. “Everyone’s always listened to so many different things that it all just sort of got jammed into a blender and came out a certain way.”
The process is decidedly more streamlined than in the past — they write over email, with each band member using his own set up to record and share ideas. This is in part due to geography — Black lives about an hour and a half from Wollard and Rebelo in Florida, while Ragan lives in Grass Valley. They all have day jobs, of a sort — Black has a “boring office job,” Rebelo plays with the Bouncing Souls, and Ragan leads guided fly-fishing excursions. Logistics aside, it’s an adjustment that’s also allowed them to continue working together in relative harmony.
“Standing in a room trying to figure out a song with four people talking over each other and playing over each other is pretty hard,” Black explains. “Twenty-five years later, your patience for that process is a lot shorter than it used to be.”
Still, while everyone has full veto power, it’s rare that an idea is completely shot down from the start. After all, when almost everything is open for discussion, something cooler than the original idea may well emerge.
“There’s nothing to say we couldn’t end up doing a reggae album in three years. It could happen. I mean … it definitely won’t. But we’d at least try! I think we’d just realize we’re terrible at playing it and stop.”
Pending a Hot Water Reggae Music release, fans can expect some good old fashioned punk rock at their March 23-24 shows at Slim’s (No Division and Caution, respectively). Black’s especially excited about the full bill, which includes West Oakland’s American Steel, and L.A. newcomers Spanish Love Songs.
“Punk got so big, with Green Day and My Chemical Romance, all the way through Coheed [and Cambria] and Thursday,” he says. “It took awhile for it to come back down. So it’s cool to see where we’ve ended up. People are making these really awesome bands again. It reminds me a little of when we were starting out.”
The musical vibes may be circling back somewhat, but that doesn’t mean Black’s looking to get back to the party days of their earlier tours.
“Touring is such a weird Peter Pan thing — it’s super easy to get stuck in this unhealthy loop that’s not grounded in reality,” he says. “A lot of us, and our friends we’ve played with over the years, seemed to wise up to that. Like, ‘Oh, moderation is key.’ ”
Moderation on the road? Now that’s fucking punk rock.
Hot Water Music, Saturday and Sunday, March 23-24, at Slim’s, 333 11th St. $35-$60, slimspresents.com