Published on March 12th, 2014 | by Oliver Pelling
A LIFE ON THE ROAD: CHUCK RAGAN
Chuck Ragan is a modern folk hero. Having fronted seminal punk band, Hot Water Music, for the best part of two decades, he’s primed to release his fourth solo record ‘pon the world this month.
Chuck lives in the stunning foothills of Lake Tahoe, Northern California and his been on the road since his first overseas tour with HWM back in 1997. Because he’s such a well-travelled guy, we thought we’d give him a call a couple of weeks before his North American Till Midnight tour to talk travel.
Chuck, what are your first memories of travelling?
“I was touring with my mother, who’s an entertainer and performer, from as early on as I can remember. My brother and I toured with her practically before we could walk. It’s been non-stop. Travelling’s where we came from, and where we are.”
What exactly did your mother do?
“She’s got a very interesting occupation – she’s a ventriloquist, a singer and a comedian. She travels in the field of evangelism, so she goes to a lot of churches, prisons, missions – and it’s all she’s ever done. She started when she was 14-years-old, she she’s still working right now. She’s on the road right now.”
How do you think that kind of exposure affected you?
“It wasn’t until I was growing older and I was kind of looking at my mum and started thinking, ‘Y’know what? I’m doing exactly what she’s doing, just in a different field.’ A lot of what I’ve learned about travel, work ethic and how to treat people around you, came from her.”
Do you recall the first time you went overseas?
“My first experience of going overseas with my friends, not with my parents, was in the late ‘90s with Hot Water Music. The show was in this tiny little east-German town, called Rosemount. It was a very cool and hospitable, but kind of a dive, youth centre. And it was unbelievable.”
What is it about travel, or the act of moving, that makes it such an inspiring undertaking?
“It’s the stimulation. It’s the foreign inspiration. It’s easy for all of us to get used to our surroundings and fall into repetitive schedules. Humans love the extremes – we love to be comfortable and have things at our fingertips, or we love to be constantly surprised. We like to be scared, shocked or stimulated.’
“When travelling, that stuff’s around you constantly. Travelling is simply sensory overload. There’s so much going on, there are so many possibilities. You never know what’s going to drive you, or inspire you, or make you angry – you never know. It’s that constant simulation jump-starts our brain and keeps it moving at the same time.”
Do you have any idea how many countries you’ve visited?
Compared to the world as we know it, I’ve only seen a fraction of it. In the touring circuit, there are only specific regions where most artists or bands frequent. That’s North America, Europe, Scandinavia, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Asia and South America every once in a while. For me, normally, it’s usually Canada, America, Europe and Australia.
When you’re not touring as a musician, how do you relax?
“Paradise, to me, may just drive other people mad. I don’t mind being in the rain or the ice, or the snow, as long as I have the right gear. I wake up most mornings at 4.30, feed the dogs, and we’re off doing something. To me, it’s hugely important to disconnect and to be honest, I don’t do it often enough.”
What prevents you from disconnecting?
“I’ve kinda fallen prey to this whole new age of Instagram and Twitter – where you’re more or less selling yourself in some weird way. I’ve gone back and I’ve battled with it many times.”
How do you think we can get away from that?
“I think it’s important to slow down and disconnect, and to not always have that phone in your pocket if you can stand it. I’ve caught myself out on the lake, out on my boat, where I’m looking at the most gorgeous sunset I’ve ever seen and I reach for my phone to take a photo of it. I catch myself and I’m like, ‘What are you doing man?!’. Not everything is meant to be broadcast around the world. It’s OK to keep things to yourself sometimes.”