This year, unbelievably influential Gainesville punk/posthardcore/rockandrollaswenowknowit quartet Hot Water Music celebrates two decades of making music. The group’s eighth album, Exister, is by far its most successful in terms of mainstream chart notice, and is being called its best so far. Additionally, Hot Water Music is one of a small handful of bands that directly influenced the post-pop-punk direction of aggressive fringe rock, and is regularly cited as one of the best live acts on the planet.
Not too shabby for a combo that, by this writer and fan’s count, has broken up at least three times.
Guitarists and vocalists Chris Wollard and Chuck Ragan, bassist Jason Black and drummer George Rebelo have never seemed to do things the regular or easy way. Sure, they wrote their tunes, got in the van and took their sound to the world like any other DIY unit. But their story to date has been an iconoclastic one, full of elements that seemed idiosyncratic at the time, but now form a fairly standard operating procedure for acts that just like to do things their own way, as the paths of their lives dictate.
Hot Water Music was among the first American underground acts of what could be called “the modern rock era” to release music on multiple labels, often nearly simultaneously. Wollard, Ragan, Black and Rebelo were among the first “punk” (for lack of a better term, really) musicians to embrace side projects while their primary band was still active — and not in a distracted, tossed-off way, but rather with the passion and enthusiasm they injected into Hot Water. These guys have never been shy about walking away from Hot Water Music for as long as it took to get things figured out, nor about saying publicly that a next record might not happen at all. And while musical experimentation has been the hallmark of many iconic artists over the years, the members of Hot Water Music energettically explored sonic departures while thriving amid a scene in which finding a simple sound and sticking to it until the bitter end once seemed pretty much like dogma.
All of these things — releasing music on different imprints, experimenting with style, going on hiatus whenever and for however long, putting stuff out in multiple ongoing side projects — are now commonplace in indie music. Which isn’t to say they didn’t occur before Hot Water Music came along, or that Hot Water Music single-handedly caused a sea change in the modus operandi of do-it-yourself music at large.
In terms of style, standards and dedication to making their art conform to their lives rather than the other way around, however, this beloved Florida punk-scene institution has always been ahead of the curve. Hot Water Music has also unarguably been a touchstone influence on a generation of independent musicians for whom the right way to do it is simply and truly however it gets done right.
Details: Hot Water Music with The Menzingers, La Dispute, Wed., Jan. 16, 7 p.m. doors, Orpheum, Ybor City, $20.