Chuck Ragan is Ted Nugent if Ted Nugent wasn’t quite so controversial.
Ragan’s outdoorsy, can rip on the guitar and talks about art as if it were his best friend. His backing band, the Camaraderie, as well as family and friends, come together after recording sessions to cook and reflect on the day’s work.
“For the new record, ‘Till Midnight,’ I really wanted to pull the guys together,” Ragan said. “I wasn’t so much worried about pulling out the kinks in the music; it was about bonding and figuring each other out.”
The musician played in the famous punk outfit Hot Water Music for years, but he has since traded in mosh pits for something a bit less intense.
“Till Midnight” dropped Tuesday, making this album his fourth effort. It’s fueled by roots-y Americana with plenty of nods to Springsteen and the warble of pedal steel guitars.
Though open guitar chords and images of rusting pickups may come to mind, Ragan and the Camaraderie deliver a sonic landscape that sneakily pairs Nashville twang with massive hooks that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Pearl Jam record. There’s also a strong sense of storytelling throughout, something Ragan said has always been part of his writing process.
“I find a lot of clarity in it,” he said. “There isn’t a whole lot to hide behind.”
Songs like “Vagabond” and “Gave My Heart Out” weave narratives from familiar territory: This record is no stranger to relationships, rousing good times and the trials of American life. When Ragan sings about them in his gruff, throaty wail, they feel raw and powerful.
Joe Ginsberg, the Camaraderie’s bassist, said he enjoys exploring Americana because it takes him back to his musical roots.
“There’s a great folk movement within the indie music scene, and a lot of my favorite bands encompass that feel,” he said. “I was stoked when I started playing with Chuck because I got to play upright bass.”
Ginsberg has played with Ragan for almost four years now. The reason he sticks around with this band and style of music is simple — it’s fun.
“If I’ve learned anything through working, it’s how important it is to really love what you do,” he said. “Fun makes an unbelievable difference for an audience.”
Ragan shares his outlook. He said many of his favorite moments on “Till Midnight” were born out of messing around during sessions. Goofing off during downtime would occasionally turn into legitimate moments of songwriting.
“When you record together live and in the same room, you tap into this energy you don’t get when you’re just separately layering tracks,” Ragan said.
This jovial, improvisational feel is clear on the record. With each chorus chanted by the entire band (“Something May Catch Fire”) and every wild strum on Ragan’s guitar strings, the contagious air of levity swells.
Ragan said he realizes his entire career could go away in a second, which is why he tries not to take himself too seriously.
“If I weren’t in the music industry, I’d probably be a carpenter or a fly fishing guy,” he said. “I’d rather be the fly fishing guy.”