Interview: Hot Water Music

interview by brian greenaway

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How does an indie rock band from in the swamps of Florida turn enough heads to wind up on Epitaph Records, arguably the most well known punk label on the planet? How does this same band make enough noise to find itself on The Warped Tour, without question the most happening event under the Summer sun? After speaking with Jason Black, bassist for Gainesville’s own Hot Water Music, the answer becomes quite clear. Just as their unique brand of emo-punk has been lauded for its honesty and assertiveness, so too is Black. A refreshingly verbose and thoughtful individual, Black was kind enough to share his thoughts on everything from The Rolling Stones and AC/DC to insane Canadian interviewers with us at Modern Fix.

Brian Greenway: You watching any of The World Cup?
Jason Black: No. It just comes on too late out here.

And where are you right now?
I’m in Gainesville right now. Just packing my stuff up. We leave for the Warped Tour tomorrow.

For real? You gonna make it out to California?
Yeah, we’ll be on all the stops.

I’ll come and catch you down in Ventura then.

How would you compare Gainesville, Florida with Southern California?
Wow. Not too similar. Gainesville’s a smaller college town and if you kind of get out of the college part you just end up in sort of an old Southern Florida town. So it’s like the real South, as opposed to Southern California.

What’s the worst question you’ve ever been asked during an interview?
Wow. I haven’t gotten a really terrible one that’s stuck out in my mind.

Just wait ‘til I’m done.
Right. I think Chuck (Vocals, Guitar) was doing an interview with some woman from Canada who asked him what one of the most important things about the band was and he responded by saying, ‘I don’t know, just being honest’ or something like that and she goes, ‘Well, don’t you ever tell white lies? How can your band be honest if you tell white lies?’ She just ripped into him on that and it all came out in the interview. We’re sitting there reading it and just going, ‘Wow, what’s the point of that?’

Boyfriend issues, obviously. OK, time for some real questions. You guys have put out a bunch of material on a lot of different labels. Do you feel a little stability being on Epitaph right now?
Yeah, it’s getting there for sure, now that we’re on the second record. Working with the same people twice in a row is never a bad thing…as long as it works out the first time around. I don’t see why we would leave there at all at this point in time. We’re getting to be really good friends with everyone and we’ve all learned a lot about getting things done as professionally as possible and maximizing our efforts.

How big of a role does the producer play in your studio sessions?
Well, when we first started off we were just working with engineers. At first we really only had ourselves to bounce ideas off of. Brian (McTiernan) has done the last two records and he’s become a very good friend of the band and he helped us a lot in pre-production this time around. He’s our same age and he comes from the same place we do so it’s kind of easy for us to trust him as to his opinion of the songs. Plus he does great work, so we’ve kind of lightened up and let go of the reigns a little bit as far as trying different things here and there. It’s definitely helped us grow as a band and it’s nice to get an outside perspective on our songs because it’s so easy to get attached to them after having worked on them for so long. It’s easy to musically box yourself into a corner and not think of new ways to change things around.

Can you walk us through the song writing process? Does everyone contribute equally?
It’s pretty random. On our past records we’d pretty much develop a vocal part and a song part independently of each other. Usually we’d just work from the ground up like that. Working with Brian and maturing as songwriters has shown us that it’s beneficial to have at least an idea of what the vocals are going to be doing from the get go.

Why’s that?
It’s the first thing that grabs most people. It’s easier to shape the song into something that compliments the vocals rather than steps all over them. Overall, the music writing process is very democratic and everybody always contributes something to the record.

What’s your favorite song to play, both on the new record and from your entire library?
Off the new record, I’d say ‘Remedy’, which is actually going to be the first single. At least it’s supposed to be. It’s kind of hard to pick one since I’m still really excited about all of the songs we just recorded. The record is called “Caution” and it’s set to be out on October 8th. Aside from that I like playing ‘Alachua’ quite a bit. That’s always a good time. It comes and goes depending on how often we’ve been playing certain songs and how well we’ve been playing them, I guess.

I noticed ‘Paper Thin’ is at the top of Audio Galaxy’s download list for Hot Water Music.
Yeah, that’s a fun one. I enjoy it. Good crowd response from that one.

What’s your take on the whole mp3, free music thing?
I think it’s good to the extent to where it’s the same thing as copying a tape. It’s kind of weird because for artists like ourselves it’s definitely more helpful than harmful because we don’t necessarily make a lot of royalties anyway and the little bit that we would make from people buying stuff rather than downloading it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Like, Metallica for example, who have such a big problem with it—they have so much money I don’t even understand why they care really.

It’’s kind of weird.
I mean they have a valid point because the record industry is not really geared toward the band making a dime, no matter what label you’re on. At the same time, for us at this stage it’s more important to have the exposure. I definitely understand both sides of the argument—both sides have valid points. I think it’s funny that the people who choose to not care about the free downloads are the poorer bands and the ones that makes a big deal about it are usually the rich bands.

Is there anything that really bothers you about the record industry right now?
Nothing more than usual. I think the main thing is there has become sort of a downfall of quality bands. It’s been going around for a while. Definitely since the ‘90s with the whole boy-band, pop-invasion thing. And it went on in the ‘80s too. The industry is not really geared towards artists and their career anymore, it’s geared towards hits and singles. That’s why there’s so many one hit wonders and flashes in the pans these days. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s—well, take a Led Zeppelin or a Jimi Hendrix or something like that. No one ever expected their first records to blow up. If it sold 50,000 copies record companies would have been like, ‘Wow, that’s better than none.’ Now, by major label standards, that’s a complete failure.

Oh, you’re getting dropped if something like that happens.
Yeah, totally. So I think if labels were more willing to help an artist develop from the ground up, rather than just blow them out of the water and then drop them on their face, I think a lot more bands that are worthwhile wouldn’t fall through the cracks. I can’t think of a band out there whose first record was their best one.

Well, sure. There are some bands whose first records were really good but probably not the best as far as song writing and development of the band and what they’re capable of doing.

How’s the evolution of Hot Water Music been? How would you describe your band’s change of the years?
It’s been good. The last record (“A Flight and a Crash”) was a bit of a growing pains record for us as far as trying to do some new stuff and working with some new people and I don’t think they came off as well as they could have at that point in time. Now we’re at a point when we’re really comfortable with everything that we put on this new record. I know people always say stuff like that, but it’s the truth. I mean, I’m kind of amazed that we made this record sometimes. This is a legitimate kind of rock ‘n roll album that I’d like no matter who put it out.

If I had twenty dollars in my pocket and I walk into a record store, why should I choose your record over Band XYZ? What makes you guys special?
Well, I think it’s kind of weird to give yourself props but for me I feel there’s an immediacy and a directness to what we do that’s not in a lot of bands. We don’t have a marketing plan or an image or anything like that. A lot of bands don’t, but at the same time there are a lot of bands out there that at some point and time in their existence are like, ‘We wanna be a band that’s kind of like this.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of my favorite bands probably did that. We’ve never thought that. We just do what comes out and I think that’s definitely something that’s common these days.

I agree. I think a lot of bands come out there with the idea of ‘we’re gonna sell 100,000 units by catering to this sub-set of the population.’
Absolutely. I mean, the more we learn about the business and the more we learn about the way things work we always do try to get ourselves out there as much as possible and make our audience grow as much as possible. At the same time we’ve never really written a song thinking ‘Oh, we should change this to make it sound more like this.’

Getting back to the immediacy issue you brought up earlier; are you influenced by current political or social events?
Yes and no. I mean, we’re definitely not a political band. The semi-political topics we’ll touch on every once and a while are pretty broad, things like racism, bigotry, and social injustices as far as class structure. I wouldn’t even consider those issues super political because they’re pretty much everywhere and I think most people would agree that they’re all bad things. For us, personal experiences are a much more important topic. We in the band are all pretty lucky that a lot of the stuff going on right now hasn’t really directly impacted our everyday lives. A big part of that is probably because we live in a small town in Florida.

Still, everyone’s going to be affected in some way by what’s going on and it seems like the more degrees of separation you have between yourself and a bunch of hairy shit, the better.
Yeah, that’s how I feel. I don’t want to brush anything under the rug or ignore it by any stretch of the imagination but as far as being influenced by it; it’s just not something that rubs on us every single day like a bunch of other things do.

Do you ever hear a song that you wish you’’d written?
Oh, man. There’s a bunch. Just let me think of a minute. Damn, it shouldn’t be this hard for me because I have a lot of favorite songs. Probably ‘Wild Horses’ by The Rolling Stones. That’s a great one. ‘Fascination Street’ by The Cure.

Is that the kind of music you listened to growing up?
Yeah, a lot of it. I’ve been getting back into The Stones a lot lately. And The Cure are one of my favorite bands. I was way into them in middle school. Along with like Dead Kennedys and whatever else people were listening to on the bus.

Did you have that funny new-wave haircut?
Oh, yeah. I had the Tony Hawk.

I had that one, too.
With the hair all puffy and over one eye.

Yep, guilty. Speaking of Tony Hawk, do you ever make it over to the Tampa Pro Skateboard Contest?
Yeah, we actually just played the anniversary show in January.

Are you guys into skating then?
Chris and Chuck and I used to skate a lot. Chuck still skates all the time. He’s actually pretty good. I kind of dropped it halfway through high school. I wasn’t very good at it.

I still do it all the time and I’m still not good at it. If you weren’t the bass player in a punk band, what would you be doing?
Probably teaching school. That’s what I kind of figured I’d be doing when I graduated college but I decided to give the band a couple of years and lucky for me, I’m not teaching right now.

Have you ever been on the verge of quitting?
Yeah. Not so much anymore. I think now everything’s pretty comfortable and we’re on cruise control to some extent. We know most of the problems that are going to happen both with the band on a business level and on a personal level between each other and I think it would take a lot for someone to quit at this point and time.

What should people expect from a live show?
Oh, I’d say that’s my favorite part of being in a band. I feel we’ve always had a really great live show. We might not always sound the best but at least the energy’s always there. Everybody has some off nights, you know? Playing live is the best because that’s the time when you really get to connect with your audience.

Are you excited to be touring with Thrice?
Yeah, absolutely. Great guys. Great live band, too, speaking of live bands. We’re huge fans of those guys.

Yeah, I saw them with Face to Face in Ventura a couple of weeks ago and I was blown away.
Yeah, they’ve gotten it together. They’re some pretty sick players for such a bunch of young guys.

What bands would you pay to see right now?
AC/DC for sure, cause I’ve never seen them. Off the top of my head that’s about all I can think of.

When do you think you’ll feel like you’’ve made it? Do you ever think there will come a time when you’ll be like, ‘Wow, thank God I didn’’t become a teacher’?
I think we’re pretty much there when we can take ourselves out of the work mode and just look at everything that we’ve accomplished. We play in a band for a living. How great is that? Maybe a few years from now it would be great to not have to tour quite as much so we could have a little more of a personal life—that wouldn’t be terrible. But right now I don’t want to settle down by any stretch of the imagination.

Do you guys have girlfriends and stuff waiting for you at home?
No, we’re actually all single right now, pretty much because of the disruptive nature of just being gone all the time.

If you’’re not practicing or playing music, what are you doing?
Probably planning on when the next time we’re going to be practicing or playing.

So it pretty much dominates your whole life then?
Yeah, it pretty much does. Especially lately because we’re only home for about a week at a time.

Any stories from the road you want to share with us?
You know, people always ask that and I can never think of any good answers. We’re pretty tame most of the time. We’re down to go grab a few beers, for sure, but it’s pretty rare that something crazy happens.

If you’re on the Survivor Island and you’re there representing punk rock and there’s a bunch of other people there representing every other genre of music, who would you try to vote out at Tribal Counsel?
I pretty much enjoy all times of music. I guess country is my least favorite, honestly.

Even Johnny Cash?
Oh, I love Johnny Cash. It’s that newer stuff that I can’t stand at all.

When I called Epitaph the other day I swear to God they were playing Merle Haggard when I was on hold.
Yeah, they’ve got Merle Haggard on Anti.

Are you kidding me?
No, his last two records came out on Epitaph.

Where the hell have I been?
Yeah, that’s one of the things that really got me about Epitaph. When we were talking to them it was cool because they put out all kinds of music. They do well with all different types of bands. We weren’t trapped into feeling like, ‘Well, they’ve done well with Pennywise, which we sound nothing like,’ you know what I mean?

Anything else you’d like to add?
No, just look for us on The Warped Tour. And the new record comes out in October. It’s great.

One more question… —how’’d you get stuck being the mouthpiece for this interview?
I think because I’m the only one who answers the phone. I have no idea what everybody else is doing right now. Probably just sitting around their houses packing.

Does that make you the responsible one?
Most of the time.

That’s too bad.
Yeah, it is.