Chuck Ragan Interview Post-Cafe Du Nord 7/9/09

Back in July, I saw Chuck Ragan at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. I asked him at the show if he would be willing to answer some questions over email that I would post at Punkbands.com, a site I write for. I’m guessing he was feeling generous because he agreed and a couple days later, I sent him a set of questions and the next day they came back.

Now the problem lately has been that Punkbands.com is in overhaul mode so the interview couldn’t get published. So, instead of waiting, I’m publishing it here.

My apologizes to Chuck Ragan for the lateness of this interview.

I had the chance to see Chuck Ragan at Café Du Nord on July 9, 2009 in San Francisco. Having missed him or Hot Water Music when I was living in Florida, I saw this as my chance to see music from Feast Or Famine and Los Feliz live.

Before the show, I had a chance to talk a little bit with him about Florida, music, and fishing. Shamelessly, I asked if he would be interested in an interview for Punkbands.com and he happily agreed. I emailed him questions and here is what he had to say.

Gold Country incorporates more instruments than Feast or Famine; was that a conscious decision before recording the album or was it influenced from your live shows and the Revival Tour? Are there any new themes in the album?

A little bit of both I’d say. I’ve really been enjoying playing and collaborating with my friends and I really wanted to try and translate that through a recording. We had a great time doing it and came up with a lot on the spot. Even though I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted on the songs, once you get into the motion of the studio and surround yourself with a lot of instruments, time and talented friends, there’s no telling what you’ll come up with until you’ve done it.

Ten-Four Records is a label run by Jill and you. Is the plan only to release vinyl versions of your music or do you plan to branch out into releasing other bands?

Originally we had planned to keep it down home and not let it completely take over our lives, but also stay free to release vinyl, CDs, and digital music. It’s a lot of work and can be a completely full time job with a lot of unpaid overtime! But that’s what it takes.

We have done splits with friends, but our goal with the label is to just have that option and to do our best and do it ourselves to become a little more self sufficient and independent. Then again, we can’t ever say never. We may end up putting out other bands and artists works. We damn sure know a lot of them who aren’t getting the credit they deserve and need to be heard. That’s the tough part…

Vinyl is becoming more popular each year, in some ways replacing CDs as the physical form of album ownership. With some labels releasing vinyl with digital downloads, do you think this is the way to go as a business model? Combining old, proven technology with new media?

I do. It amazes me to see so many young people coming up to the table and buying vinyl when they don’t have a player yet. It’s great and it’s exciting to us to turn them on to that. For me, it’s a common thing and if I’m at a show 8-9 times out of 10 I’ll buy the vinyl over any CD.

I prefer something a lot more tangible like a 180 gram 12” record in a gatefold! I do love the fact that though that nowadays you’re able to include downloads with vinyl releases. I do think CDs are slowly becoming obsolete. At least in my world. But to answer your question, yes. I think this is a brilliant business model.

The exploding trend for musicians is to have a Myspace page and/or Facebook Fan Page, Twitter, Last.fm, and others. Before, sharing and discovering music was a much more personal experience through friends and/or searching; and now finding new as opposed to good music is only a two-minute Google search. What are your thoughts about that?

I think that’s a very valid and true statement as far as today’s music industry and standard goes. I think that it’s a double-edged sword. The wonderful thing about it is that music can be heard immediately. Life is short and why not write, play, record and post your works immediately and move on to the next? I think that’s amazing. Unheard of to us back when we were fiddling with an old 4 track cassette recorder covered in duct tape with sticky buttons from spilled stale beer.

At the same time, since it’s so easy, cheap, and just plain convenient. The quality is always more apt to suffer. That may not be the case, but the chances are greater. In the old days before pro tools and even higher grade reel to reels, there were very little or no overdubs.

The band or the artist rehearsed, sang, and played till they were blue in the face and when it felt right, they cut it. Once. If that didn’t feel right, they cut it again. Once. That style of recording. Live recording is amongst a dying breed. The sounds are different. The energy is different and I believe you pick something up that you’re not able to get piecing it together. Granted it’s all based around time and money and nowadays it’s actually more expensive to do it the old school way. But times have and are a changing, my friend.

What is your advice to upcoming bands that have grown up saturated with the internet and mass media advertising about a musician’s life?

Be careful not to become jaded or softened or gullible to the hype that everyone in bands blows up or “makes it” as some people say. Some sites or bands or people may make seem like it’s an easy street, but don’t believe the hype. Nothing’s easy and everything has to be worked for, sweat and bled dry for if you want to make your own choices. Especially in this business.

This is a business that you have got to make many and sometimes extreme sacrifices to survive in. I know this may seem vague to some people as an answer to your question, but all I’m saying is that road life, being a musician and playing for a living is far from the glamorous world that a lot of magazines, websites and labels put it up to be.

My best advice is to always have a back-up plan. Always. Learn a trade. Find an angle in the business other than “just playing.” Write your own songs!!!!! But walk carefully if you’re planning on doing this for “the rest of your life.” That is unless it’s just for now and you just want to hang out and have fun and joke around with your friends and play music. Then do that and have the best time you can possibly have!!!! These are the great years!!! Enjoy them.

What are some bands that deserve more recognition?

Frank Turner, The Wheel, Possessed By Paul James, Josh Hanson and Yellow Red Sparks, The Anderson Family Bluegrass Band, The Nothingtons and Luke Janella just to name a few!

When looking at the music from 2000-2009, can you pick the best album released for each year in your opinion? Sort of like a number 1 for each year.

HA! Wow. That’s a tough one on the spot. Especially when the years and releases blend together! I wouldn’t even know where to start at the moment.

I read in an earlier interview that you were working towards your carpenter’s license. Did you ever get one?

I didn’t and felt bad about it for a while until the economy and the building market flipped. I was 2-3 weeks away from taking my exam for my California General B Contractors License. I was fired up and ready. I’d been working countless hours and jobs but at the same time writing songs at home. I signed to Side One Dummy right before taking the test and went straight into working on Feast Or Famine as well as getting Los Feliz out.

It wasn’t a big deal then because I figured I would just re-schedule. Time went on and music became more and more full time in between the jobs I had to work to get by. Finally, I lost my window. I felt real bad about it for a while because I was so close and ready and fresh on my studies but looking back on it now, I’m thankful we made the choices we did. Not only because I’ve enjoyed the music and making records, but also because we would have had a fairly tough time the past few years if I had depended on my trade alone.

I’m a true believer that if I’m hungry enough I’ll always find work. I feel confident with my abilities to get out there and hack it if I need to but if I’m able to write and record, do a tour here and there, and do my woodwork on the side when I please and get by doing it, my family and I will be just fine! That is until I figure out how to become a professional fisherman!!

You have been creating music for a long time; do you see any end to it? Even if you decide not to record/release new music publicly, will music still be an essential part of your life?

I don’t think it could ever NOT be an essential part of my life. Publicly or not, I wish to write and record records for the rest of my natural born life or until I physically and mentally cannot do it any longer. Plain and simple.

What do you think about Rock Band and Guitar Hero basically bastardizing actually playing music? I play drums and I can’t stand playing those games because they feel wrong. The consensus is that those games are only meant for people who can’t play instruments.

I can see where you’re coming from for sure, but at the same time I know they make a lot of kids smile. I personally don’t care much for video games. I like Galaga, but I’d much rather be out in a boat or in the woods. I think it’s different for a lot of people though. Some people aren’t looking at it at all in terms of playing an instrument, but more so just a game.

My advice would be lighten up a bit and let em be. Pound your drums like there’s no tomorrow and let the kids have their fun. Just don’t let em blame anyone when an asteroid hits the earth and the only population left has to depend on people who know how to farm, fish, hunt and build a fire.

What’s the biggest fish you ever caught in Florida?

About a 200+ lb nurse shark. So far……

I have to thank Chuck Ragan for taking the time out to answer these questions, with his record label, getting prepared for the release of Gold Country, and planning the Revival Tour; I was sure he would be too busy to answer the questions so soon. But I actually got the answers the day after I sent them.

Be sure to check him out if he’s playing live, it is an awesome experience. Gold Country releases September 1, 2009 and be sure to head to the Revival Tour 2009. Head to Chuckraganmusic.com for updates too.

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