Hot Water Music’s Jason Black
The bassist on ill-fated frat parties, paying off Mexican police, and the future of the band
More Gotta Start Somewhere
No matter how successful entertainers become, they’ll inevitably always remember the first gig—whether it was disastrous, wonderful, or absurdly strange. Gotta Start Somewhere embraces these nostalgic moments by asking established entertainers to retell the first time they ever graced a stage. In this edition, The A.V. Club caught up with bassist Jason Black of the seminal Gainesville, Florida band Hot Water Music. The on-again, off-again post-hardcore group will perform a rare show Sunday, May 22 at Turner Hall.
Jason Black: My first musical experience was terrifying. And it’s even more terrifying now, having grown up and gotten perspective on it, but it’s endearing and heartwarming at the same time. When I was young enough to not have a say in whether or not I was going to church, my mom convinced me to sing a song with her. I had to have been about four years old, so the fact that I remember it means it had to have been absolutely horrifying. I don’t even think I got through the whole thing.
The A.V. Club: Do you remember the song?
JB: I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”
AVC: What about the first time you had to perform outside of church?
JB: It would have been in middle school, performing with the orchestra. It wasn’t as terrifying, because it was in a large group instead of just me and my mom. The high school that [HWM drummer] George [Rebelo] and I both went to had a performing arts program, and we had to do a solo performance. Each quarter, we would have to come up with a whole routine. We’d have to perform that in front of the class, and if you did well, you’d have to go to an organized event that all the parents could come to. And that was pretty nerve-racking—just standing up there, playing music that’s focused on your own instrument as opposed to a big wall of noise that you can hide behind.
AVC: What were the first Hot Water shows like?
JB: The first show we ever did was actually a frat party at a local bar in Gainesville. We played it because my friend worked at the frat, and offered us $150 with which we could use to record our first demo. I want to say we got through about four or five songs before they said, “That’s enough. Sorry. No one’s really having a good time.”
AVC: I can’t quite picture you guys playing a frat party.
JB: We would play anywhere. [HWM guitarist and singer] Chris [Wollard], George, and I were in a band before we started doing Hot Water that played so many Gainesville house parties. We did countless 3 a.m. keg parties. We played one party that had a whip-it tent. They set up the tent with a nitrous tank in their front yard, and people were just going to town. The formative days were sketchy at best. [Laughs.]
AVC: What about early tours? Those can sometimes be complete disasters.
JB: I think we lucked out in that we thought they were going really well, but in hindsight they were going horribly. The first time we went to the West Coast, we stayed at our friend’s house in San Diego. We had a day off, so we decided to go to Tijuana. We were probably 19 or 20 at the time. We walked in instead of driving in. Someone with us suggested that that would be the easier way to go, and we wouldn’t have to worry about the safety of our van. So when we were walking back, George and our friend got arrested for public urination by Mexican police under an overpass. We had to sprint across the border and empty out our ATMs—which probably contained all of $40 at the time—and pay off the Mexican police to release them.
AVC: I imagine touring these days isn’t quite as crazy, but before I get to that, I have to ask: What’s the status of the band right now?
JB: We’re starting to do more things again. We’re really trying to get a new record together. It’s difficult with everyone’s schedules, but I feel like we might have finally cracked it. We’ve started demoing some stuff, and we’re just playing it by ear. It’s really hard. As much as we’d love to come up with a solid game plan and say, “Hey, we’re going to put out a record this month, and then go on tour,” we’re just trying to keep everybody happy, and allow everybody to do their other projects, and still give Hot Water its due.
I would say we’re as close to fully functioning as we have been in a long time. Everyone gets along really well, and the songwriting has been going well. It’s just a matter of figuring out everyone’s lives. We’re all so old now. There’s so much more on the table: “Well, I can go on tour, but I have this wedding to go to.” The hardest thing now is putting the real-life stuff into play. But yeah, we’re working towards actually announcing more than two shows at a time. [Laughs.]
AVC: How do you see HWM fitting in the current musical landscape?
JB: It’s weird. Since we’ve started playing again over the last three or four years, the shows have been consistently better than they were before. It’s a little hard to keep that in perspective, though, because the first few shows we did were vastly better. And that’s just not maintainable for us—we’re just not that size of a band. The first shows we did were a few thousand people per show. We were never that big, and I don’t think we are now. But I do think we’re finally coming to the point where everything has flipped around again in the scene, and there are a lot of bands doing the same things we did—and still do. I feel like we have a pretty good opportunity to slide right back in and have a place where we’ll fit.
AVC: Do you think you guys ever really got your due?
JB: We had a lot of good stuff happen. There are bands that have gotten bigger than us—then and now—doing the same sort of thing. But sitting around and thinking about that is a real poisonous way to go about things. It doesn’t help anything. It’s not like I don’t want other people to succeed, but hopefully we can take what’s coming to us in the next few years. [Laughs.]