There are few people more stoked or with a greater appreciation for life than Chuck Ragan. Riding high on the release of his new record, Till Midnight, Ragan talks about the joys of making the album, touring and his infectious love and appreciation for living.
Known to be a road veteran (he even put together a book on the topic, The Road Most Traveled), Ragan is changing up his tour show again with the addition of the Camaraderie, Till Midnight’s band. Through the coincidental crossing of paths, reunion of old friends and Ragan’s tour with Social Distortion, a band was organically born.
When asked about the choice to tour with the full band instead of his recent stint as a trio, Ragan explains, “I wanted to bring a more powerful and diverse show to the people, to create more of a roller-coaster throughout the set.” As a naturally gifted frontman, the presence of a full band only amplifies his already energetic live shows.
Till Midnight’s writing process included flying the band to Ragan’s home, where they hung out for a week, fishing, eating and playing music by the fire. The songs had been cut from 40 down to around 15 and it was time to get the band’s opinion on how the record was taking shape. “I wanted [the band] to feel connected and I wanted them to feel completely invested in it,” says Ragan. He asked for everyone to bring their ideas to the table and “every idea [was] valid.” This openness and mutual respect for the collective musicianship of the group lead to moving a few chords around, but, for the most part, everyone was excited about the songs as they were.
It’s rare to hear of such a smooth and seamless writing process. I’m going to venture to guess that the record went off without a hitch for three reasons: first, Chuck Ragan is the nicest guy on the planet. Second, Ragan and the band teamed up with longtime friend and producer, Christopher Thorn, to create what Ragan explains as a “great combination of instruments, people and good friends.” Ragan might miss the third ingredient because it’s the part that comes most easily to him: incredible song writing.
The songs are varied in tempos and arrangements, but all share a common thread with a relatable and honest message. “Something May Catch Fire” opens the record with a kick in the teeth. Ragan’s infectious enthusiasm is present in every aspect of the track, right down to the string melodies. The kick drum feels like a heart beat fighting to live harder than the norm.
The thunder keeps going through the album’s first single, “Non Typical,” with a great sing-along chorus and the perfect musical canvas to showcase Ragan’s unvarnished yet endearing vocals.
The band really gets to shine on songs like “Bedroll Lullaby” and “Wake With You” by letting the strings and pedal steel step to the forefront and lead the melodies into new territory on the record.
The album’s closer, “For All We Care” has one of those iconic melody lines that breaks into the chorus with the lyrics, “For all we’ve got is moments of grace we savour more than not. And all we care is to drown out the sanctified stench of stale air.” The air escaping Ragan’s lungs is anything but stale. Accompanied by strings and simplistic yet enormous keys, “For All We Care” is shiver-inducing and I for one can’t wait to see that song close the set when Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie finally get to Canada. In the meantime, pick up Till Midnight and savour every syllable of an incredible album.
Till Midnight was released on Dine Alone Records on March 25.
By Sean Hamilton
Photo: Lisa Johnson