Hot Water Music

If you ask the members of Hot Water Music what it's like to be back, the musicians will tell you that it doesn't feel like they've gone anywhere. And it's understandable why: The rock foursome, which formed in 1993 in Gainesville, FL, has been a staple of the music scene for years. The band's new album, Exister, is their eighth in nearly two decades, yet another addition to an already impressive career.

But it's also understandable why fans see this album as a sudden return: The group, singer/guitarist Chris Wollard, bassist Jason Black, drummer George Rebelo and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Ragan, pressed pause in 2006, electing to pursue individual projects and live their lives for a while. In the long run, that break worked—two years later the four members reconvened to perform live, a few shows evolving into many.

The band's desire to pen a new album to succeed 2004's The New What Next rose directly from those live shows. "The more shows we did, the more we felt like a band," Chris says. "And what do bands do? They write songs. So it was only a matter of time before we started talking about it. The more we talked about it the more we got excited about the idea. A lot of the writing was based around what we wanted to play onstage. It was a natural progression from enjoying playing these shows to making another record."

Instead of plunging into writing an album, the four musicians first wrote and recorded a new seven-inch called "The Fire, The Steel, The Tread," which the band released on its own in August of 2011. Working on the two tracks that appear on that disc opened the floodgates and suddenly the members of Hot Water Music were writing together again, quite prolifically. It was around this time that the band signed with Rise Records, a label Chris says was "an obvious right choice for us."

This meant that a new album was definitely and finally happening, and the musicians, who now live in different parts of the country, wrote whenever they were together during the second half of 2011, testing out new material backstage and during soundchecks at shows. Jason and George spent time in Florida writing with Chris and later flew to California to write with Chuck. These sessions and the passing back and forth of demos was a new method for the band, but it was one that was ultimately to their benefit.

"It was a different approach for us," Jason notes. "But I think it worked out better in the long run. I think everyone got to write more and got more of their own voice. Once we started writing it just started going. And we probably could have kept going and going and going."

Instead Hot Water Music headed to Ft. Collins, CO in late January to record with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room, a decision that was enthusiastically unanimous. Hot Water Music spent 21 days in the studio, armed with 20 tracks that they pared down to the 13 that appear on the final album. The focus was on capturing their live energy in a recording, as well as crafting tracks they'd want to perform live. This resulted in Hot Water Music numbers that are, as Jason puts it, "faster, more direct and more aggressive." The process was void of conflict or hardship, the songs coming out in a surprisingly facile and streamlined manner.

"It was really a perfect experience," Chris says. "Having taken such a long break from our last record we didn't really know what we were walking into. But for everybody to come back together and have it go so smoothly without a hitch is really awesome. We needed somebody that understand how we were coming from a lot of different places and who could handle that. Bill did that and it really worked. Everyone was working for a common goal and heading toward a common vision."

The result of that vision both reflects back on Hot Water Music's extensive career and embraces a desire to move forward. The tracks on the disc are invigorated and propulsive, driven by a renewed sense of excitement and energy. The lead focus track "State of Grace" is what Jason describes as "three chords and the truth," showcasing the band's ability to successfully balance their formative punk-rock grit with an engagingly catchy melody. "Drag My Body," an early release from the album, reveals a similar sensibility, centered around an undeniable rock chorus ("There's a complexity in the nature of the music but it doesn't get in the way of the song," Jason notes of the track). The album is not so much a comeback as it is a new chapter, the next step for a quintessential rock band as their songwriting expands to encircle a broader audience.

"There was a certain kind of confidence when making it," Chris says. "The band wasn't second guessing anything. We weren't worrying about how it was going to be perceived. We just let it be and helped it be as good as it could be."

"I think George nailed it during the recording process when he said that it felt like making our first record again," Jason adds. "It's been so long. I don't think any of us cared what anyone thought about the record. When you're in the middle of being a band and you're making a new record it's really easy to get caught up in that idea of whether people are going to like it. We just didn't worry about it this time because it felt like we had a clean slate. And it came out really well because of that."

Miami has earned its fair share of notoriety over the last 30 years, but most of it has been nothing to brag about: The Liberty City Riots, the Mariel Boatlift, and the Cocaine Wars of the early 1980s recast the formerly sleepy beach town/retirement colony as a lawless urban hellscape crowded with pimps, powder queens and cutthroats, where liquor-store shootouts, revenge bombings and police corruption threatened to drown the tourist trade in an ocean of blood, booze, and yayo. But now the peace-loving citizens of Miami finally have something they can hoist high as an enduring emblem of cultural and civic pride (besides KC & the Sunshine Band, Gloria Estefan and 2 Live Crew, obviously) …

Enter Torche, the four-pronged Floridian Riff Colossus that has steamrolled its way across the international underground. Led by vocalist/guitarist Steve Brooks (formerly of doom dropouts Floor) and featuring the myriad talents of drummer Rick Smith, bassist Jonathan Nuñez and guitarist Juan Montoya, Torche unfurled their self-titled debut in 2005 via Richmond, Virginia's Robotic Empire. The glorious half-hour of blissed-out power-grooves, triumphant vocal harmonies and cosmic resonance within was variously hailed as "stoner pop," "thunder rock," and "doom pop," but a consensus was quickly reached within the Fourth Estate: Both the underground and mainstream press had their hands halfway down their pants just thinking about listening to Torche. The band was immediately lauded as giants among men, leaders among sheep, and powerbrokers of a deadly new sonic idiom founded upon Brooks' signature "bomb-string" detonation-detune. As Decibel magazine so righteously pointed out in May of 2005, Torche "carries on in the dizzying Sabbathian tradition of Floor, only potentially more bottomless and epic." Seven months later, the same publication would declare Torche as the # 7 album of the year in its annual top 40.

"Never let it be said that bong-rock types hate hooks," Spin magazine announced. "Torche set their guitars on 'dirge,' work their vocal harmonies, and say amen to Foo Fighters' riff-o-matic preaching."

"At long last, we know what life would be like in a parallel universe where the Melvins became a pop sensation instead of Nirvana," Revolver magazine added.

With the verdicts in, Torche swiftly set out to slay, punish & conquer. Stateside tours with Scottish post-rock marvels Mogwai and hypno-metal heroes Isis ensued, as did a European invasion with Savannah sludge captains Baroness. "[Torche's] debut jaunt to the UK will undoubtedly leave a monumental impression on the audiences they have played for as they mix the pop-tinged catchiness of tracks such as 'In Return' and 'Erase' with the likes of 'Iron Girl' and boil it down to a cocktail of raw and powerful sludge-filled beauty," Terrorizer magazine gushed after witnessing the band's show at the Manchester Attic. Rock Sound issued similar proclamations after the London Underworld show: "Louder than a really loud thing, Torche hit the stage with all the grace and subtlety of a misfired nuclear warhead. Sounding far fiercer than on record, the Florida outfit's 'bomb-string' assault is truly a thing to behold."

So: Citizens of Miami, rejoice. Music fans, exult. Torche are about to rule your stereo and your face all over again.

There is an abiding circle: one where romance and tragedy exist together and hope coincides with desperation as a coil in nature as much as the unseen. In this understanding lies the dark themes and bruising medium of O'Brother. Carrying the weight of the luminance and spacey textures from their 2009 EP, The Death of Day, the Atlanta, GA five some have grown into sounds of scorching heaviness and punctuated melodic interruptions that act as puzzles in-between the groaning feedback of Garden Window, the band's debut full length.

"The more we played the more we turned our amps up and the lower we tuned," O'Brother's lead singer/guitarist Tanner Merritt defined the soundscapes of Garden Window. "The loud songs we wanted louder and heavier, but the quiet songs we wanted to get better at too."
Garden Window displays more density, as the songs themselves bask in longer time frames, a dynamic intensity had to be obtained to create interest from listeners the whole way out. "We wanted curve balls," Merritt explained as the root behind the softer interludes found midway through the atmospheric explorations.

The voice of Garden Window grew from the nourishment of the road, a relentless schedule that brought them to share stages with the likes of Thrice, Circa Survive, Cage The Elephant, and Manchester Orchestra. "Touring is your biggest influence. The way you play, the way the band plays, the whole world shifts to the view from the road, even when home."
Though Garden Window is not a concept album, reoccurring themes mark their presence throughout each song as a metaphysical question runs through the album's veins, one of life and what it is perceived to be. "If something is real how could you become so disconnected from it?"
As writing began for Garden Window the band decided to let fans into the process of making an album, giving them live streaming video to the demo, tracking, and mixing of the album -- a process that when viewed through a lens can be strikingly tedious as bands have to stare into screens as much as the faithful. New material was teased and brought out only at keen times, leaving even the most silent attendee guessing where Garden Window was headed.

Close friends Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra stepped in as producers, creating not only an environment of comfort for O'Brother to stumble on discovery, but the two also served to help the band develop a more conscience presentation as Garden Window stepped into slow unfurling shades.
Always a band that makes albums rather than songs or thunderous quick timed anthems, O'Brother's Garden Window stands as a complex, yet elegant and elegiac, dance that can be felt beneath the skin. Even when O'Brother are at their most ethereal the reality of the ground stays in sight.

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Hot Water Music with Torche, O'Brother

Wednesday, December 11 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Rams Head Live