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Singer-Songwriter Chuck Ragan and His Many Oddball Side Projects 

Wednesday, Jul 27 2016
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Chuck Ragan has a "serious soft spot" for San Francisco.

In fact, in 2001, the singer-songwriter and his future wife, Jill, had their first date in the city. After playing a show at Slim's with his former Gainesville, Fla., punk band, Hot Water Music, Ragan met up with Jill, whom he had previously met at a concert in Santa Barbara. The two had plans to catch Saves The Day's show at Bottom of the Hill, but that never happened.

Instead, the pair spent the night skateboarding throughout San Francisco — both Ragan and Jill are avid skateboarders who each brought their own boards to the show — and the rest, as they say, is history.

"It changed my life forever," Ragan says, adding that the evening was — up until the birth of the couple's baby boy — "probably the greatest thing" to happen in his life.

Since his days as Hot Water Music's singer and guitarist — the group broke up in 2005 — Ragan has embarked on a solo career, penning folky songs about love, the wilderness, and the road, and focusing on the strums of his acoustic guitar (with the occasional harmonica). In the past nine years, the 41-year-old has released five solo albums, and now often tours and records with The Camaraderie, a four-person group that includes drums, bass, fiddle, pedal steel, and guitar.

In 2008, Ragan created the Revival Tour, an annual acoustic event that has taken place across North America, Britain, Europe, Australia, and Scandinavia, with the goal of bringing together artists from myriad bands, including Flogging Molly, The Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner, and Rise Against.

Over the last few years, Ragan has also explored other avenues besides music. He did voiceover work for a mini-documentary about a mountain resort in British Columbia, and in 2012, he released The Road Most Traveled, a book of tour stories he compiled from various bands. He has channeled his inner entrepreneur in the form of a line of beard oils created in collaboration with Iron Heritage, a Chicago-based men's grooming company, and in 2014, he formed the hot sauce company South Mouth Sauce with his brother and two other partners.

"[Making hot sauce] was something that my brother and I wanted to do for years," Ragan said. "We both grew up cooking and we both grew up making sauce, and this has been a long, long idea in the making."

Ragan's most recent non-musical endeavor was creating the soundtrack for the video game The Flame in the Flood. Asked to do so by one of the game's main artists, Scott Sinclair, who also created the artwork for many of Hot Water Music's albums, Ragan was initially skeptical.

"I don't play video games, he says. "And I wasn't really sure how I would connect with it."

But when Ragan learned more about the game — its premise is surviving in the wilderness and journeying by raft and foot through a river — he realized he was more qualified than he thought. For years, Ragan has been an avid fly fisherman, with a penchant for boating and — coincidentally enough — exploring rivers.

"I just completely fell in love with the project," he says. "It just felt like it was right up my alley in terms of what they were getting across."

To compose the soundtrack, which is highly reminiscent of his own solo albums, Ragan headed off into the wilderness, penning songs by campsides and bodies of water before returning to his home in Grass Valley to record in a studio he built in a backyard shed.

"I wasn't sure how it worked being right at home and having all those distractions, but to me, it was so enjoyable and relaxing," he says of the shed turned recording studio. "I was able to stay focused and be right where I needed to be."

Though the video game was released in February, Ragan still finds use for the studio, which he describes as a "really inspiring little box." In addition to new solo material, he's working on a record for his recently reformed former band, Hot Water Music.

"Right now, we're just having a great time putting together new songs," he says. "Just kind of stockpiling some songs here and there."

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Willie Clark

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