Jersey Beat Music Fanzine


The Saga of Hot Water Music, The Draft, And How Not To End A Long & Influential Career

by Johnny Puke

HOT WATER MUSIC – Till The Wheels Falls Off (Double LP/CD) (No Idea)
THE DRAFT – In A Million Pieces (Epitaph)

I have a long history with Hot Water Music that makes this a tough review for me, writing from a point of view that is privy to lots of inside info the band wouldn’t want shared, and tons of personal opinions I’ve gleaned from my four friends in HWM that I don’t even share among themselves.

Let’s begin with The Draft, a release that editor Jim sent me before it was released in the Fall of 2005. One of the reasons I was never able to write about it in these pages was because of my personal connections to all of those involved in the then-fresh breakup of Hot Water Music. While I have always revered my relationship with Chuck Ragan, my first close friend in the band from 1996, I understand the plight of my three Gainesville pals who had all bought homes after over a decade of hard work with HWM only to see Chuck (who is and was so crazy in love and living in California) want to pull back on the band’s bread-and-butter touring. Faced with big bills and an uncertain future, George Rebelo, Jason Black, and my close confidante Chris Wollard (he loves me so much, he broke two of my ribs in 2004 just giving me a birthday hug) created their own act with former Discount guitarist Todd Rockhill. That was the birth of the Draft. Todd was a natural fit, being a competent guitarist with touring experience as well as the brother of longtime HWM road manager (and Bill Stevenson lookalike) Jason Rockhill.

The Draft were a decidedly poppier act than Hot Water Music, allowing Wollard to make songs that should and could have transcended HWM’s “we’re at the top of our game, we’ll never sell out, but we’ll never make Fugazi-type money either” conundrum.

On a personal note, the Draft played their first real gig at my 2005 birthday party show, a benefit for 1-800-SUICIDE, a cause close to the band’s heart since HWM did the Plea For Peace tour benefiting the same charity in 2001.) I remember having to nag the guys about deciding on a band name as late as June 2005, because they had committed to playing the gig in Charleston , SC long before they had a set, any recorded material, or – apparently last on their priority list – a band name!

When Jim sent me their Epitaph debut to review, I put it off for three years because as a club booker and a friend, I had constant dealings with The Draft, from their second official gig a week after my birthday show (opening for Jimmy Eat World) at a sold-out House of Blues show, to their tours with Bouncing Souls, Riverboat Gamblers, Paint It Black, and more. All the while, I kept in touch and revered my relationship with isolated Chuck Ragan, who was happily married and working in California, and who began a fierce solo career with three full-lengths in two years during the period when The Draft were waning.

In A Million Pieces by The Draft is a brilliant fucking album, completely overlooked by fickle oversaturated music fans who can’t be bothered by something that is three-quarters Hot Water Music, a little poppier and possessing the optimistic integrity (that hindered them from the start) to be a “new” band that wouldn’t let promoters label them as “Ex-Hot Water Music” for at least the first year of their existence. While the 400 people attending the band’s debut at my birthday show in 2005 all knew what was up, a week later at the sold-out House of Blues, me and my friends heard many in the crowd, at the bar, and the bathrooms calling The Draft a HWM ripoff, clearly not recognizing three out of four members.

Frankly, I didn’t submit a review to Jersey Beat for In A Million Pieces because (a) I am thanked in the liner notes, which makes any reviewer suspect; and (b), I would have had to add my personal comments to the obviously anti-Chuck songs like “New Eyes Open,” “Impossible,” “Not What I Wanna Do,” and “Out of Tune.”

Loving all four guys, I just couldn’t further aggravate the exposed nerves of Hot Water Music as all four members were recording, and I didn’t want to be the journalist who revealed anything during that sensitive time when the most influential band I have had the privilege to call brothers since 1994 had been driven apart.

Flashback to 2005, where the September issue of Alternative Press lists a Hot Water Music release called Till The Wheels Fall Off as coming out in 2005. Backstage at The Fest in Gainesville in late October, Hot Water Music singer/guitarist Chris Wollard poses the question to me, “How about the title ‘Till The Wheels Fall Off’ for our compilation?” It was then that I informed him that the title had already been announced in AP a month before, completely to his surprise.

While the folks at No Idea in Gainesville have releases scores of influential albums, they are notorious in the underground for being mega-slackers on release dates, the kiss of death to newer bands and the bane of existence for older bands who agree to do releases with them.

Till The Wheels Fall Off is a compilation of Hot Water Music’s rarities, culled from compilations, split EP’s, and full-length outtakes, which takes off where Never Ended, the band’s previous compilation, ends. While there are few fans who hadn’t given up on ever hearing this release long ago, it is certainly worth seeking out now that it’s finally been released. Among the tracks are the Leatherface and Alkaline Trio splits, the out-of-print “Moonpies For The Misfts” EP, five outtakes from the band’s three overlooked Epitaph releases, and covers from tribute compilations to bands like the Circle Jerks, Turbonegro, Midnight Oil, and even Springsteen.

Add to the package a nice booklet with lyrics, photos, and the trademark HWM art by Gainesville-turned-Boston artist Scott “Sinc” Sinclair, and this is certainly a worthwhile retrospective. But it all seems a little too late.

Not only did No Idea drag their feet on releasing this for close to half a decade, but the CD finally came out during a period when Hot Water Music were doing reunion shows. Whether inspired by mortgage payments or just a desire to be on tour again (depending on which members you ask,) the band briefly united in early 2008 for some high-profile U.S. dates and the perfunctory European festivals. While MySpace and message boards burned up with the question of whether the band would keep touring or even write and release new music together, alas today it looks like the members of this profoundly influential act prefer to follow their own roads, even if it means less money, smaller crowds, and critical disdain.

A friend in Gainesville recently told me that he was attending a local show that amounted to a Draft farewell. Bassist Jason Black, the member with the neatest and cleanest Gainesville house I have ever crashed at, has joined the “We’re Big, For Now” act Senses Fail. Singer/guitarist Chris Wollard is preparing to release his Westerberg-influenced solo album, and Rockhill has returned to a reunited Discount. Meanwhile, Chuck Ragan is setting out to tour on a solo acoustic extravaganza tour with Lucero frontman Ben Nichols and Avail singer Tim Berry.

So back to Till The Wheels Fall Off: Should Hot Water Music fans buy this release? The answer is absolutely Yes. Did No Idea drop the ball with this one? Absolutely, not only for their typical time lag on promised release dates, but also from the perspective that as this will almost certainly be the band’s epitaph, it should have included more in the way of extras, particularly a DVD element (ala’ Alkaline Trio’s excellent Goddamit Redux or Remains.) The fans deserved more than a superfluous collection of songs without any video content, especially from a band legendary for its fourteen years of touring. Now one must wonder if fans will evere get to see any of the great performances that cemented the band’s cult-like following (or even the MTV videos the band made during its Epitaph years.)

So now, in my own personal way, I have honestly reviewed The Draft’s only record, and Hot Water Music’s new yet old, unfitting suicide note. It is hard for me to write objectively about friends’ bands, and in my two decades writing for Jersey Beat, I have met and known legends from Merle Haggard to Nirvana. It is with no reservations that I say that when I die, out of all the bands I have known or met, time will say that my very, very close friends in Hot Water Music, whom I admire and love dearly, will be the most influential and important band I have ever had the privilege to call my brothers.

That said, as a fan who knows the real end is here, I needed a lot more from a compilation so anticipated, yet so lacking.

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