DS Interview: Jason Black on The Draft reuniting, what’s up with Hot Water Music and more

If you read Dying Scene regularly, it’s safe to assume that you don’t live in a cave. As such, it’s probably redundant to tell you that The Draft are back. But hell with it…The Draft are back! Comprised of the three less-beardy quarters of the seminal band Hot Water Music, The Draft have plugged Addison Gilbert (The Ship Thieves) into the lineup and are hitting the road for their first tour dates in five years. We caught up with bassist Jason Black amidst a Northeast heat wave for a chat about what prompted the band’s return, what’s going on in the HWM camp, and how the industry has changed for ‘working musicians’ over the last twenty years. Click here to check it out.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone):  First and foremost, I guess, The Draft are back. What prompted the return now? Who got this ball rolling?

Jason Black: I would probably have to give the credit to our booking agent, Phil Battiato, to be totally honest. We hadn’t really thought of anything, and he very loosely was like “hey, I think you guys should go on tour at some point.” And we were like “okay, whatever,” pretty much. The email literally sat in my inbox forever. But there wasn’t much going on with Hot Water this year, and I thought, “I wonder what that would shape up like, if everyone was interested in it.” We just kinda talked about it real loosely and Phil put together a short little routing and we were like “oh, why not. Let’s see how it goes.” Honestly it’s just kinda for fun at this point, between everyone’s schedules and all that sort of stuff.

Why the decision to bring (the tour) up here? I figured that if we saw The Draft again, it would start off in Gainseville or down south somewhere. So it seemed interesting, at least to me, that you’d start in the Northeast and hit DC and Boston and places like that.

Well, we had kicked around doing some southeast stuff, but we’re going to be playing The Fest in October, so we wanted to kind of leave that area alone until then. As far as the northeast, I actually live in New York, so it’s actually kinda easier for me. But the northeast has always, I think for most bands, it’s kinda the best place to go play. The coasts are better than the middle of the country, for sure, and the west coast is a lot farther than the east coast and there’s a lot less places to play out there. So this is sort of, as far as making it fun and easier and better to just “see how it goes,” it was definitely the easiest routing and easiest markets to choose to play.

These’ll be the first shows as The Draft since, what 2008? Have you guys actually rehearsed much yet or will there be much rehearsal involved or are you kinda winging it?

We did rehearse a little bit in April, and then I’m actually going down a few days before we leave for tour, down to Florida, to do a little bit more rehearsing. So we’re not totally walking into it blind, thankfully, because it was a lot harder to relearn these songs than we all thought.

Really?

Yeah, I mean not the actual structures and everything. But when you leave stuff alone for so long, I mean, we didn’t tour the record long enough for the songs to completely take on sort of a post-studio life, where they just kind of exist in this “I’ve been playing this song for ten years, so it kinda goes however we feel it goes tonight” kind of thing. You know, we still haven’t gotten them to that point. So it’s been a lot of homework as far as learning what we did on the record and now trying to take it not to the next level, but to the level where everyone knows the song and if they’re not nailing everything the way that it is on the record, it’s still coming across the same way, or in a different way that’s deliberate. There was a little bit of muscle memory involved, and a whole lot of “what the hell was I playing there” involved, you know? (*both laugh*)

Do you find yourself revisiting things and saying “my god, why did I do it that way?” Like, wanting to reinvent things?

Oh yeah, for sure. And also, like, “why did I do it that way, that’s really hard.” (*both laugh*) But yeah, I think we’ll definitely change some minor, minor, minor things up here and there with the songs. But overall, it’ll be sticking to the way they were recorded. But anytime you make a record and go back to revisit it even a couple years later, or a year later, at least in my experience, you’re kinda like “What the hell was I thinking??” But you kinda have to get that out of your mindset as early as possible if you’re going to make records, because they’re permanent, and you can second-guess them to death. So at some point, you just sorta have to be, like “there’s no more time in the studio, that’s how that song sounds now.” (*both laugh*)

(The Draft’s) Facebook page has you guys listed as a three-piece now. Does that mean no Todd this time out, and as a follow up, I’ve heard rumors from what I consider to be a likely source that Addison Burns of the Ship Thieves will be taking his place. Either of those true?

Those are both true. That is what’s happening. We’re really stoked to have Addison out for this. I’ve never actually gotten the chance to play with him before. He’s been working for Hot Water pretty regularly for the past couple years when we’ve toured and he and Chris have done the Ship thieves stuff. So it’s exciting to have. The dude’s an awesome guitar player and an awesome singer, so I’m stoked to have him out for these shows.

Which is cool for me, because I think the only time that I actually saw him he was out with The Revival Tour this past year and he played drums, so I’ve never really seen him sing or play guitar.

Oh, right on.

What does he bring…well, first off, I guess, why did Todd not come this time out? Was it just the length of time since when you guys actually did it the first time so he’s on to other things?

Yeah, I mean, none of us really keep in touch with him that much anymore. Or at least I know I don’t. and Addison’s around all the time. As far as what he brings to the table, he’s probably a better musician than any of the rest of us, honestly. He brings a lot to the table. Like I said, he’s a great guitar player, he has a killer voice. It’ll be cool to hear a lot of the harmonies that are on the record that we were never able to do live, or that I managed to butcher for a couple years.

Is this ten or eleven day run or whatever it is, plus The Fest in late October, is this sort of dipping your toe in the water to see what the response is or are there already plans to Draft stuff going forward?

There’s no real plans after this. It’s definitely a little bit of dipping the toe, but not in the context where “if this goes off, then we’re going to pull the trigger on twelve other things we have lined up.” There’s nothing else lined up after this. I think if it goes really well, I would imagine we’ll consider doing some other stuff at some point. I have no idea when, everyone’s real busy.

That’s sort of what I was going to ask next. Obviously Hot Water’s been increasingly more active, maybe not this year but certainly over the last couple years. But also, everybody’s got side projects. Is there a comfort level now in going forward that way, juggling both of them?

Um…that’s a real loaded question.

(*both laugh*)

I don’t mean for it to be…

No, I know man, and it’s a totally reasonable question too. That changes a lot. I mean, at this point, if you were going to ask me the next thing Hot Water was gonna do besides the three shows we have booked in Brazil, I would have absolutely no way to answer it. It changes like crazy. So, as far as all the side projects go or the other projects going on, that’s definitely where everyone’s focus is right now. Chris is working, I think, on a new Ship Thieves record. I have a new band up here in New York that I’m super focused on right now. And I don’t really know if I can…George has some things going on but I don’t want to be the one to say them out loud yet. But there’s some pretty rad stuff coming up for George too, hopefully. Everyone’s kind of off the Hot Water focus at this point.

Do you feel like that’s sort of natural? Like it’ll be a sort of cyclical thing going forward…and I know, I’m trying not to make it like a “what’s up with Hot Water Music” thing…

No, it’s fine, man. I really don’t know, because to be totally honest, everyone’s outlook and interest level changes a ton. It’s just kind of like, we were talking about doing a record this year, but that’s kind of gone away. And it’s actually gone away, like three or four times now. (*both laugh*) It’s kinda like that, like “We’re gonna do this, now we’re not gonna do this” and I don’t really see that changing in the foreseeable future. So it would be hard to say that it’s going to be a cyclical thing like, okay, this year Chuck will do a solo record and Chris will do a Ship Thieves record, so on and so forth. Just because it hasn’t gotten to the point where everyone’s come to a point in time down the road where we’ve agreed to regroup at all. So, I really didn’t answer your question because I don’t have an answer. (*laughs*)

Well, you and Chris and George were together doing stuff even before Hot Water first got together, right?

Yeah, yup!

Does doing The Draft project seem sort of like a return to those days? Or is it something different?

It’s definitely different. I mean, on some level it’s sort of the same, in my mind anyway. I feel that with The Draft everything is a little catchier than with Hot Water, for lack of a better sort of way to phrase that or to classify it. I kinda feel the same way about some of the stuff that Chris and George and I had worked on beforehand. That’s one of the things that’s cool about playing with Addison is, like Chris and I grew up on a lot of Cruz Records and ALL and Descendents and that kind of stuff, and so did Addison. And his old band sort of brings that kind of vibe to the table in their own respect. Anyhow, I feel like with Hot Water there’s a little more of the, like, hairy chest, beardy vibe, you know, than Chris and I naturally gravitate towards when we’re writing (*both laugh*). And George as well. So I guess we have a little bit less testosterone with The Draft, which we did with previous projects as well. So that’s kind of fun for us.

What was the goal when you guys went forward with The Draft originally after Hot Water disbanded the first time? Was the goal for it to be a full-time thing or just to kind of see what happened?

I mean, I think…we were talking about this the other day, we kinda went at it wrong the first time around, because we kind of dove right in to operating the same way that Hot Water operated. Which you can’t really do with a brand new band. So, regardless of our affiliation with that, it doesn’t work out too well. So, initially we were like, “cool, we’re gonna do this now.” And I think in hindsight, we really just sort of, I don’t know if we bit off too much but we definitely wore ourselves down pretty quickly with a lot of touring. And I also think that right around that time was when a lot of stuff started changing in the “punk scene” or whatever scene we’re part of or most easily identified with. That was kind of when it really switched over to a lot of the more metalcore stuff and all that.

Unfortunately.

That, combined with, as dumb as it sounds, the recession kicking in. it really made, sort of the program that we’ve come up with as working musicians or whatever is that until things change on some level, it’s sort of a touring less-is-more vibe for us. Because it’s not how it used to be where the more you’re on the road, the more you’re gonna get recognized and you kinda have to get out there and earn your keep. But that’s not really how people find out about bands anymore. We went into it with that mindset naturally and that’ll wear you out fast. Because if you go into it sort of expecting the same results, like “okay, we’re gonna play all these shows and play with all these bands and all these people are gonna find out about us.” I feel like these days when people go to a show, they already have their minds made up about if they want to see anyone there or not. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely still plenty of killer house shows and really good underground networks and stuff, but, you know, to cut your teeth that way these days, I feel like there’s a ceiling on it again. For whatever it’s worth, this is what we do for a living, so I wouldn’t be turning around and starting out in that circuit whereas a lot of bands back when we started, like us and Promise Ring and Get Up Kids and Less Than Jake, kinda of turned it into a thing where it was “okay, this is my job now, I’m a musician.”

I feel like that kind of transition, there’s not as much of a platform for that anymore. I feel like bands sort of start out huge and then go away, or start out small and just sort of get a little bit bigger. And hitting that middle ground is real weird. There’s a few bands that have sort of done it lately, I think The Menzingers are kind of on that cusp, and then there’s some newer bands like Title Fight and Balance & Composure and bands like that that’ve built up a real good following from touring, but I feel also like bands kind of come out of the gate with a little bit of a buzz these days just because of the internet. So, you know, right when The Draft started was right when the internet became officially how you find out about bands. And that I won’t fully understand, or have the patience to sit there all day and click a fucking button and see what happens. But yeah, to circle back to your question, that was the program, but I think we kind of burned ourselves out and just sort of hit a really weird set of circumstances that we weren’t prepared for.

Do you think it’s really possible, though, to make a living as, like you said, a ‘working musician’ if you’re not on the road all the time? I mean, I guess, to me, what we keep hearing is that the road is where bands make their money and whatever. Is it possible to make money and not be out playing 200 shows a year or whatever?

Um, yeah, it is. You just have to be super fucking lucky. I think not being on the road 200 days a year is a little bit better because it’s really at the point now, moreso than when I started doing this, that you get diminishing returns the more shows you play. It kinda doesn’t really matter how big your band is. Like, giant bands that we’ve been on tour with end up with diminishing returns by the end of a two-year record cycle. People have limited funds now, and people’s attention spans are shorter, you can go on and on and on about that. But as far as your means of income, there’s nothing better than playing shows that I’ve discovered yet as a musician. I mean, there’s always some new internet thing that says “you could make a ton of money doing this!” and then it always lasts like three months, you know. So unless you want to spend your time really on top of that stuff and capitalize on it and being on the front end of all those waves you could maybe do it.

But, at the same time, if you’re not a giant artist that already has a lot of recognition, when you plug yourself into all of those formats, you’re going to get limited returns anyway. So it’s sort of a Catch-22. I mean the other sources of revenue, like royalties, forget it. if you’re really lucky, somebody plays your song in a commercial. That’s actually how bands get big now, it seems. There aren’t really a ton of other ways to make cash, honestly. You can talk to a lot of people that say that there are, but I always say that most of those people aren’t in bands. Like a lot of the guys that have gone and done the acoustic guitar thing, it’s a lot easier because it’s just you and a guitar. So everything that comes in is yours. But there’s a lot of start-up costs for everything with a band and crew.

That is an interesting segue into what I wanted to talk about last, and that’s that two of these dates on the Draft’s run, in Detroit and then up here in Cambridge, overlap with Tim Barry and Cory Branan. I talked to Tim a little bit about this maybe a month or a month and a half ago, but I’m wondering if you can shed a little more light on how it came about to combine those two shows rather than to look for a different venue or an alternate day.

We kind of had our routing in place and ready to go ahead and move forward with. And Tim had pretty much the same fucking routing (*both laugh*). And he announced his shows maybe like a week or two before we were ready to fully confirm all of ours, so we scooted ourselves around as much as possible. We’ve been friends with Tim for years; Avail was the first band that ever took Hot Water Music on tour. I think one thing all four of us can pretty much agree on is that none of us would be where we’re at if it for those guys. So we were just like, “fuck it, let’s just try to find a way to combine these if we can. We kinda went back and forth with Tim to figure out if it was going to work, and it worked for both promoters. We’re more than happy to play with Tim. And I like Cory too, he’s a real nice dude.


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