The Draft consists of three-fourths of the band Hot Water Music, who broke up last year after nearly a decade of consistent touring, recording, and record releasing. The Draft's music is catchy and driving; their music sounds great driving down the highway, and it's probably just as exciting and fun to experience live. We spoke with bassist Jason Black the day before they took off on their fall tour. It was an interesting conversation about the breakup of his seminal band and the hope and excitement that he feels with his new direction. What better way to start our new change of direction, than by talking to a band that embodies the same form of change?
Let's start with Hot Water Music going on hiatus. Was this an unseen thing, or did it really come as a surprise?
It had kind of been coming on. Chuck (Ragan, lead singer) had discussed how he didn't want to tour anymore for a while, and you can never tell how much of it is someone saying that who is frustrated at the moment, or how much of it they actually mean, because everyone feels that way at some point in time. We were treading lightly about the subject as much as we could, until it became apparent to us what would happen before he even really said, "I don't want to tour any more." And we knew; we could tell that it was what he was going to say. So we weren't totally unprepared for it. When it does happen, it's never going to happen at an opportune time. We sort of had agreed to do a little more touring, and then we had our discussions about things and decided, "Well, could we at least go ahead with this game plan, and then after that we'll reevaluate where we're at?" But we didn't quite make it through that. So that was probably the only real sour moment of the whole thing, but overall, he didn't want to tour. We wanted to do this hiatus, he wanted to do this hiatus, and that didn't make any sense after a while, because we were all doing different shit, so why should we keep saying that we were going to keep the band on hiatus? There's nothing going to happen in the future, and if it does, it's far enough down the road that it made more sense for us to address what we are going to do now, without that looming over our heads. It would be easier to take things back later rather than keep living through them.
Plus, with Hot Water Music being a consistent touring and recoding machine for nearly a decade, it was time for you all to take a rest.
Yeah! Like I said, none of it can ever happen at a good time, especially because we were all depending on—the band was how we paid our bills—so that was just a whole other element that you don’t want to have to think about when it comes to that sort of stuff. But that's the reality of it. Aside from the actual lifestyle changes, as far as that goes, it was something that needed to happen anyway.
So, on the day that Hot Water Music's break is decided, was forming the Draft a no-brainer for the three of you?
Yeah, pretty much. We definitely had talked about it a little bit, just sort of brought it up to each other when we were together, and we asked ourselves, "Do we want to keep going? Everybody, retreat to your corner and think about it, because it's going to be a total reinvestment of the same type of program we'd been through, though we're not going to be starting out at the same level we're at right now, it's going to be even harder than it is right now, so is everybody ready for that?" I think on a lot of levels, it was a no-brainer. I think on some levels we've been waiting to see how things will be when the record comes out. So overall, everything's gone great, and everybody's really starting to get excited about the album and having it out to tour for.
Does it really feel any different?
Yeah, it actually feels totally different, and it's great! (Enthusiastically) Especially compared to the end of Hot Water Music, just because it was so…I don't want to say "negative" at the end, I don't want to make it sound like it was a terrible thing at all, because it wasn't. It was more like…we could tell when everyone in the band was having fun and when everyone in the band was not having fun. It's nice for all of us to be having fun out on the road once again. We really love playing, and to not have it feel like such a chore, you know, it's wonderful. When you do something over and over and over and over again, your attitude towards it can become, "meh!" Especially if one person isn't excited about it as the rest of the band, it's not really an easy thing to make it feel good or do well at.
Compared to your mindset from writing for Hot Water Music, how would you compare the experience of writing for The Draft?
Hmm, good question. (Thoughtfully) Actually, I'd say it took a lot longer, because I think we started it a lot earlier than we normally would have had we been writing in the Hot Water style, but then, we kind of could. After all, nobody's expecting a record by a band they've never heard before, you know? (Laughs) It wasn't like we were saying, "Oh, shit, it's time to put out another record!" We were afforded a lot of relief from that sort of pressure. At the same time, we were thinking about, "well, not only are people expecting something out of the people who were in Hot Water Music, we're also decidedly not Hot Water Music." So it's going to be kind of tricky to see how everyone reacts. Overall, though, I think the writing process was easier, because we weren't dealing with one of our members moving off to Los Angeles, so that's helpful! (Laughing) Most of all, it was better because we could treat it exactly as it is—a new band. We wouldn't really have anything to live up to as far as actual musical history for this band, which is really great, and is a nice to have that kind of experience.
The concern you're talking about was echoed in your press kit, but now that you've played out and the fans have heard the record or downloaded it, how has the reaction been to The Draft from the hardcore Hot Water Music fans?
I haven't actually seen any negative response from any fans as of yet. Well, I've read one negative review, but it was from a guy who hated Hot Water Music, so I was like, "Okay, great, I'm glad he got to review it!" (Laughs) But overall, people have been real supportive. I think that the fans that are gonna come along, who were fans of Hot Water, will be fans of The Draft. Hopefully, they're not going to think, "Man, I wish this were Hot Water," and they'll realize that this is a new thing and treat it that way. Hopefully if that's the way people look at it, then it should go pretty smooth. There really haven't been any negative reactions to us so far, no.
How has Chuck reacted to it?
I haven't really asked him if he's heard the record yet. I haven't actually sat down and had a real heart-to-heart with him about it yet; on the surface, he's been totally fine with us and really supportive. I also think he realizes that this was going to happen, and, really, you can't say too much if you're the one who stopped things from rolling in the first place. I think he did everyone a favor by doing that, and he seems so much happier, and we are, too. He came to our LA show and was really into it, and that's the only response that I've gotten from him. I don't know if George or Chris have spoken to him more about it recently, though.
I notice that there have been great pains made to state that Hot Water Music has not broken up, but is just 'on hiatus.' Would you say your first devotion is to Hot Water Music?
No, we actually broke Hot Water Music up.
(Shocked) Oh, you broke up? I haven't really seen anything official…
Yeah, it's been kind of quiet, the news quietly snuck out that we had split. I think people know for the most part, but yet I'm not sure that they do. But yeah, we went ahead and made it official. A hiatus didn't make sense after a while.
Well, that kills my next two questions! (Laughs)
(Laughing) Well, you can go ahead with 'em!
I know that there have been bands that go on hiatus for one reason or another, but the members are still friendly with each other, and a few of them form another band, then the one that decided to go on hiatus suddenly decides that he or she wants to do something with the original band again, and it conflicts with the other band, and it causes splits and problems. I was going to ask where the priorities were with you guys, if such a scenario were to happen/
Definitely The Draft, and if anything like that were to come up, I think we'd have a pretty hard time…I would, anyway, have a problem with, "Oh, (sigh), forget all of this that I've been working on for a while, we'll go ahead and do the old shit we've worked on for ten years," you know what I mean? For me, right now, if I were to play with Hot Water again, (emphatically) it would absolutely be for a paycheck. I could be totally different in a year from now. I hate saying stuff like that, because people change their minds, but as of right now I have no interest in doing it. I don't think anyone else does, either—and not in a negative way, just because of what we're doing now.
You had a good run with Hot Water Music, why become a punk-rock oldies act?
Yeah, totally, why beat that dead horse?
So are you going to spend the next six months straight on tour?
Hopefully not straight! (Laughs) We've got stuff lined up full for the next few months, and we always take a break around the holidays. But yeah, we definitely want to get out and hit the road and do this record justice, but at the same time none of us want to kill ourselves out on the road, either. I think there's definitely a line that you can cross by being on the road way too much, and we really don't want to get anywhere near it, if we can avoid it.
Is that one of the lessons you learned the first time around?
I know you guys were extremely prolific in Hot Water Music, but does The Draft have any new recordings or releases coming soon?
Yeah, we've got a whole bunch of stuff that didn't make it on the record. Chris is constantly writing, so I'm sure we'll be releasing an EP some time after the record's dropped for a little while. I think it's how it happens for us, so I'm sure that will be somewhat similar.
Anyway, I'm sure you've got a ton of things to do to get ready for tour today, but thank you for taking a few minutes to chat with me this afternoon.
Oh, sure man! No problem!
The Draft's debut album, In a Million Pieces, is available now via Epitaph Records