Advertise with The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover Issue #94
MORE Interviews >>
Subscribe to The Big Takeover


Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs

Follow us on Instagram

Follow The Big Takeover

Interview: Jason Black (Hot Water Music)

9 May 2024

Photo by Jesse Korman

For three decades (minus a few short periods of inactivity due to temporary breakups), Hot Water Music haven’t just endured, they’ve thrived. With ten albums under their belt, they remain a punk rock cornerstone, a band whose influence stretches across generations – something that plays into the band’s newest album, Vows. Members of Turnstile, Thrice, City and Colour, Alexisonfire, The Interrupters and Farside join Chuck Regan (vocals/guitar), Chris Wollard (vocals/guitar), Chris Cresswell (guitar), Jason Black (bass) and George Rebelo (drums) on the album that is a testament to Hot Water Music’s growth, a celebration of a remarkable journey, and a powerful statement that the band isn’t ready to slow down or hang it up.

This recent conversation with Black explores the secrets behind the band’s longevity, a remarkable feat considering their consistent lineup throughout their career. We also discuss how technology has changed the way they record, the reunion with Brian McTernan, the producer who helmed their “classic era” albums, and Hot Water Music’s touring philosophy.

You’ve called Vows the best Hot Water Music album. I’ve never interviewed a band where they’ve said, “This is the second or third best album we’ve done.” That being said, I do think Vows is awesome. What makes it special for you?

JASON: I feel like I’ve probably said that about every record. Well, nobody used to interview us so I probably had six albums where we didn’t have to talk about at all. The thing I keep trying to qualify it with is, in a vacuum, I definitely feel like it’s our best record because you have to remove nostalgia from it because that’s always part of the experience process for the listener. I know that if Caution is someone’s favorite record, it’s pretty unlikely we’re going to kick that out of the number one spot with anything since then because whatever was happening in their life when they heard it, everything just connected at the right time. But, on paper, or in a vacuum, these are the best songs we’ve put together. I’m not a big singer-songwriter guy where I’m super into the craft, I just like interesting music, whatever is interesting to me. I feel like we made an exciting record which is hard to do. Once we got rolling on the tracking, it made me excited to listen to it and it still does. I’m kind of in a little bit of disbelief. It’s like, “Wow, this is really good. We did a really good record.” I feel comfortable saying that and I’m still excited when I put it on. I think the main thing is there isn’t a song that I’m like, “That one’s just not quite as great as the other ones.” I have my favorites, but they’re not due to quality, it’s just due to personal preference. This is definitely the first record I can say that there isn’t at least one song that I could yank.

You’ve had a consistent lineup. You’ve worked with Brian McTernan on a number of records. I imagine there are so many pros to having consistency throughout your career. Can you tell me about some of those pros and also about some of the cons to having that consistency?

JASON: I don’t really feel constrained, but it’s easy to get lazy sometimes with the consistency, or falling into a pattern or a rut. You know what’s going to work and you can just do it. I think the good thing about working with Brian is he’s producing it from a fan’s standpoint. He likes the band outside of us being friends and working together. He likes listening to the band, and so he wants to make a record that he wants to hear, as opposed to making a record that he wants people to know he produced. It feels like an important distinction to me, and I think it probably has some pretty notable effects on how the record turns out. I know that the conversations that he and I have were always like, “We don’t want to hear the same old thing over and over again,” or “there needs to be something different.” Going into this record, his whole thought process was, “These choruses have to be bigger than the last record.” He was like, “I feel like Feel the Void got you guys back on track, that it was a record where everyone was like, ‘They can still make a cool record 28 years in.’” And he’s like, “This one needs to be more interesting, but also bigger.” That was the challenge.

I think there’s a lot of pros as long as everyone’s willing to be self-aware. The cons are it’s also easy to show up and punch the clock a little bit when you’re in such a familiar environment. That’s what we always have to be a little careful of. Luckily, I don’t think we’ve made a record where enough of us have fallen into being a little bit less than fully present when it matters. Everyone’s usually around to pick each other up or check each other on that stuff.

I should probably know this. Do you all still live in Florida?

JASON: Three of us are here. George, [Chris] Wollard and I are here. Chuck’s in California and then [Chris] Cresswell’s in Toronto. The three of us in Florida do get together to work on stuff prior to recording. We’re doing a little bit of the organic process. But, we’ve gotten really good at utilizing technology as much as we can to keep everyone involved and to keep things moving.

Does having that technology available feel like an advantage or do you prefer to do it like the old days and get everybody into a room, close the door, bang stuff out?

JASON: Kind of both. The one thing that we all adhere to is getting in the room and working everything out. Especially for George and I, we tend to get better rhythm section things together that way because we play off of each other so much. We all play off of each other to an extent so we’re gonna create things when we’re all in a room that we wouldn’t necessarily create trading tapes or trading songs over emails.

That said, I feel like there’s a pretty short half-life on how long we can all stay in a room playing loud music trying to create something because it’s mentally taxing and there’s an auditory tax, a physical tax. It makes you really tired, which is funny because you’re just standing there but by the end of a long day of writing, everyone’s pretty exhausted. It’s cool to be able to do that in short bursts and then immediately have a way to review it and make changes. “Here’s what we did. Everyone go sit on it for two or three weeks.” And then someone can literally record a new part to it and send it to everyone and be like, “What do you think?” The investment in that is pretty minimal. It’s nice to be able to finalize, or add to, and keep working on things remotely. George, Chris and I live in town, five minutes from each other and I’ll still send George an email and be like, “Here’s an idea I had.” You can listen to it whenever you want. No one’s on the spot. It also takes away the immediate reaction of “I like this” or “I don’t like this.” People can digest things a little more so it’s definitely an awesome tool to have.

You can probably give me a list of 40 bass players that you would say shine almost like a lead guitar player. I’m sure you’ve read your own press. Your contribution to Hot Water Music’s music is not buried in the background. I think that’s what sets you apart. I can hear your stuff and it’s really creative and inventive. Do you approach playing like a lead guitar player? Have you always played like that? Do the rest of the guys give you that space rather than being like, “Hey, can you tone it down a little bit?”?

JASON: All of the above, I guess. That’s how I’ve always played. When I really started playing in bands, all of the players I gravitated towards were more out front because of exactly what you said. When I originally started playing in middle school, I was still fairly heavy metal leaning, some punk stuff. Cliff Burton Metallica was a big influence because he’s pretty out front, especially for metal bands back then. But outside of that, there weren’t so many. Then I started getting into the typical bands like Rush, the Chili Peppers, Primus, Fishbone. I think being the age that I am, I was playing a lot through the punk/metal explosion thing where there was a lot of bass players out front so I ended up writing that way. I learned how to play mostly by playing jazz. I was learning the supportive role but it’s all improvised or less constrained than other stuff. And I was also being taught to take solos so it was part of my vocabulary the whole time. That’s one thing we actually focused on on this record and the last record too, Brian’s like, “The secret weapon you guys have is you and George don’t play like other bass players and drummers in the world that you guys exist in. Lean on it a little more,” which is something we tried to do. I don’t have a problem playing standard supportive lines but if I had to do it for a whole set, I would hope that I was playing in some gigantic band that made it okay. I do love playing more involved things, it’s more fun for me.

I saw Hot Water Music play the More Than Music Fest in1997 in Columbus, Ohio. There were some emo bands at that festival, some punk bands, some hardcore bands. I went to see the emo bands and my memory of Hot Water Music is some of you guys had beards, Chuck had a gravelly voice. It was not like what I was listening to at the time and, to be honest, it took a few years to come around to what you were doing.

JASON: Your reaction wasn’t that dissimilar than a lot of people’s back then and rightfully so. We were a little wild at that point in our lives. It definitely stood apart, for sure, to our benefit and detriment probably.

What’s amazing is that whole performance is on YouTube.

JASON: The stuff that comes up now if I look is crazy. I love it because I don’t remember so many things. I’m not actively paying attention because there’s so much going on, it’s a little bit of sensory overload. I do love being able to go back and scroll through and see what shows we played and who we played with.

When I talked to Sergie from Samiam, he said that while Samiam still plays festivals like The Fest with tons of other bands that are all in the punk-adjacent world, that’s not really the type of music he listens to these days. He said he likes seeing old friends but he’s not actively seeking out new punk music. Are you still a fan of that type of music or do you treat festivals like summer camp reunions where you get to see your old friends?

JASON: It’s more like summer camp and going back to seeing old friends. It depends on the lineup too. We didn’t play The Fest last year, but I was there because it’s here in Florida. I was super excited to see the guys in Dillinger Four, but also super excited to see them play because I just never see them play. They don’t play very often anymore. But, more often than not, I’m like, “I want to go see everyone and I’ll catch a couple songs of everyone’s set just to be like, ‘Okay, cool. They sounded great’” and then go on with my thing. More often than not, when friends are coming to town on tour, it’s much more skewed towards “What time are you guys going to be done with soundcheck? Let’s go get some dinner and then I’m going to go home.” I’m old. If I’m at a show actually watching, it’s usually someone I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t listen to stuff like that anymore, it’s that I just don’t listen to it as much.

Are you going to see punk and hardcore bands?

JASON: Not many. There’s not really a lot that comes to Gainesville. That’s part of it. The last two shows I went to were The Cure in Tampa and then I flew to Atlanta to see Run the Jewels. At this point, my wife and I are both so busy that it’s an event to go to a show. It has to be that I’m going to a concert, not a show at this point. But, I’ll always go if there’s something that comes to town that I really want to go see.

Speaking of touring, you’ve got a lot of dates coming up. Are you in that idea of “it’s now or never”? Do you have to set aside personal commitments or are you all 100% in and like, “This is what we’ll be doing for the rest of the year and beyond”?

JASON: I didn’t have to adjust anything for this tour. I was downsized at a day job I had been at for 10 years last month. I had carved out a mental plan to get out of there anyway, by the middle of this year, because it had run its course for me and everyone involved. The last few years have been me holding us back from doing more shows than just weekend stuff because of my job. We had devised a long weekend program that worked really well until post-pandemic because hotels, flights, everything just skyrocketed so much that touring became an unsustainable model. We’re like, “Oh shit, we have to actually do a little bit longer run of shows to have it financially make sense.” The plan that’s in place that was already there, it’s just less stressful for me now. And we kind of leaned into it because it’s our 30th anniversary. We were like, “Let’s do it. Let’s go back to all the places that we haven’t gone in a while.” We’re gonna go play smaller markets where our shows aren’t gonna be as great because we’re not that big of a band to where we go play all these places and they’re all great shows. At the same time, you can’t expect everyone to keep driving or flying to see you all the time so we really wanted to get out and get to as many people as we could while we have a good window to do it this year.

Is it going to be tough starting the tour a week before the new album comes out? How do you balance out playing songs from the new album with playing songs from your deep catalog?

JASON: In the UK, we were doing three new songs. I would say here, it’s going to be four or five new songs by the time we get on tour. Luckily, we’re pretty good with doing like 23-ish songs in a set. It’s still tricky if we’ve got 15 songs figured out because we still have to put songs from the other nine albums into the set. It’s not easy. When we were doing those last eight shows, I was like, “I’m leaving things out that I know need to be in here.” At the same time, it can become a problem if you’re just putting all this stuff that people wanna hear in there. The set sometimes doesn’t flow very well and feels kind of jumbled or disjointed. We’re working through a couple different ideas on how to marry the two and get it to where we think, “This is a really cool set and we’re hitting everything that everyone wants to hear, and it still flows.” I still think of sets as like long albums – there has to be a flow to it for it to be cool for us and everyone else.

Because you’ve been around for 30 years, are you finding that the audience age is keeping up with you guys or are you finding younger crowds filling the venues?

JASON: It’s mostly keeping up with us. There are some kids but I feel like they’re people’s children, which makes sense. The audience seems to be a little bit of people in their 20s and early 30s, but mostly 35 to 55. In the last four or five years we’ve definitely noticed it’s like “The show’s full and no one’s moving because they’re all gonna get hurt. Okay. Got it.” It’s kind of a funny realization. We’re all older and after we play, just like our audience, our backs hurt too.

I love that this tour includes Quicksand. It’s always nice when there are multiple great bands on a bill. Do you have a history with those guys?

JASON: Well, just with Walter. I don’t know Alan or Sergio at all. Walter produced our album No Division and we kept in touch off and on since then. We’ll run into him once in a while. I lived in Brooklyn for a while and I’d see him around so we’ve been in each other’s extended orbit the whole time. They’re one of our favorite bands too. I can’t believe we actually got this to work and be for a whole tour.

I think it was Chuck who said something like getting to make an album is a luxury and when you’re making one, you never know if it’s going to be your last one. There could be a number of reasons why you wouldn’t get another chance, one of those reasons might be you get too old or you lose the passion. Do you think you’ll know when the time is right to quit or do you plan on doing this until the very end?

JASON: I think we’ll know. Because it’s our 30th anniversary tour, we didn’t need to make a new record which is why we did make one. I don’t necessarily have an aversion to aging because I’m a much better person the older I get but also not surrendering to it. I think leaning into the good parts of that is super beneficial. For us, it’s like, “Let’s not just let this just be our 30th anniversary tour and just be this nostalgia act that plays at State Fairs. Let’s try to make a record.” We didn’t know if we were gonna make a record or an EP. It just kind of happened how it did. There’s the thought process where if we’re always producing new stuff that’s cool, that rejuvenates us and hopefully the fans too. I’m hyper aware of when bands make records that didn’t need to be made. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. When we all started doing this, there was a formula of album, tour, album, tour, album, tour. Some bands that have been around for a minute still lean on that so they put out the album so they can go play shows. But if the album’s no good, I’d rather not put out the album and just go play shows. We try to be pretty self-aware of that kind of thing so I’m hoping that we’ll know when it’s time to hang it up. Also, we’ve broken up so many times. Now everyone’s in a pretty good spot and getting along well and communication is good. I don’t think we would ever break up again, because it sort of seems pointless. I think we would just sort of do less or not do anything. I think that we will definitely know when we should stop doing it and then stop doing it. I hope that’s a decision we make instead of seeing something online. I don’t want to get to the *Vince Neil*-era of our existence.


Hot Water Music will be making the following appearances on its 30th anniversary North American tour.

03 — Cincinnati, OH — Bogart’s $
04 — Columbus, OH — Newport Music Hall $
05 — Detroit, MI — St. Andrews Hall $
07 — Toronto, ON — Danforth Music Hall $
08 — Buffalo, NY — Town Ballroom $
09 — Philadelphia, PA — Underground Arts $ (SOLD OUT)
10 — Boston, MA — Royale $
11 — Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Paramount &
12 — Mechanicsburg, PA – Lovedraft’s Brewing Co. $
13 — Washington, DC — The Howard $
14 — Richmond, VA — The National $
15 — Atlanta, GA — The Masquerade (Heaven) $
17 — Dallas, TX — South Side Music Hall $
18 — San Antonio, TX — Paper Tiger $
19 – Austin, TX – Mohawk $

13 — Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom ^
14 — Cleveland, OH — House of Blues ^
15 — Chicago, IL — Concord Music Hall ^
16 — St. Louis, MO — Delmar Hall ^
17 — Lawrence, KS — Liberty Hall ^
18 — Denver, CO — Ogden Theatre ^
20 — Mesa, AZ — Nile Theater ^
21 — San Diego, CA — House of Blues ^
22 — Santa Ana, CA — Observatory ^
23 — Los Angeles, CA – The Belasco ^
24 — San Francisco, CA — Great American Music Hall ^
25 — Sacramento, CA — Ace of Spades ^
27 — Portland, OR — Revolution Hall ^
28 — Seattle, WA — The Showbox ^
29 — Vancouver, BC — Commodore Ballroom ^


$ with Quicksand, Off With Their Heads
& with Quicksand, Modern Life Is War, The Ergs
^ with Quicksand, Tim Barry


More in interviews