“We’re really hitting our stride” — Hot Water Music’s Chris Wollard talks about his new band Ship Thieves

Ship Thieves
photo: Jesse Scanlon

There’s a reason that when Hot Water Music guitarist/vocalist Chris Wollard released his first solo album, it had the name Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves attached to it: It was a solo album. And there’s a reason that No Anchor, the third Ship Thieves album, is billed as an album by Ship Thieves: This has become a band, and that band chemistry—and the accompanying excitement—is all over the disc. So are songs that are decidedly more punk rock and high-energy than what Wollard delivered with earlier Ship Thieves material; many of the tunes here will hit that sweet melodic punk spot that fans of Hot Water Music or the Draft crave. Substream tracked down Wollard to talk about the changing band dynamics and the harder sounds found on No Anchor.

I was surprised with the album. It was way more punk rock and hard-hitting than what I was expecting.
CHRIS WOLLARD: Um… yeah? [Laughs.] I mean, yeah, I can definitely see that. But I’ve been playing in punk bands my whole life, so it doesn’t seem that different looking from where I’m standing. But this band has become more of a band, and the way I think about it, the first record wasn’t a band. It just wasn’t a fucking band. It was the farthest thing from a band. And I think you can hear that. You can tell it was a lot more front-porch stuff. But now every Monday we go to band practice, and you know there’s going to be an awesome band there, and you get used to each other, you start anticipating what people are going to do, and you start finding your comfortable pocket. It’s more fun for me, more fun for them, and the closer we got, the more we trusted each other and the more it sort of organically turned into a band. Now that we hit that stride, we turned in the album to No Idea [Records] and we already had new stuff we were working on. Just because the album’s done doesn’t mean we should stop. We’re really hitting our stride. It’s just a blast. It’s a super-exciting time to be in this band.

I loved the song “Born Into This.” It really reminded me of the stuff with Hot Water Music that you’ve written that I’ve really connected with. As soon as I heard it, I was like, “Fuck yeah,” fist pumping in the air, running down the road…
I think “Born Into This” was the last song we did for the album. It was definitely in the last session, we might have done another one along with that. We recorded the album, and we tried to make it not super-obvious, but it was all these different sessions. So that song, I think that’s when I really got excited and said, “Okay, the album’s done, let’s start writing the next one.” That’s the one that told me, “Don’t take a break right now; keep going.” And then the first song, “Middle Man,” that was in the first batch, that might have been the first song we did, so when I think of that one, I think that’s the one that told me, “We are making a record.”

How does the writing process differ from with Hot Water Music?
When we’re writing with Hot Water, it’s a lot more complicated. George [Rebelo, drummer] lives right down the road from me, and we jam probably once a week, and that’s awesome. But our bass player’s in New York, and [guitarist/vocalist] Chuck [Ragan]’s in California. When we’re working on ideas, it’s a lot of emailing ideas, and me and George work on them, and it’s not the same thing as it used to be, where it was more like, “Hey, let’s meet at the warehouse.” It’s a lot harder. It’s a labor of love; it’s tough, man. It makes things go a lot slower. If I throw a riff at the band and we’re all sitting there, we’re all going to know in five minutes if it’s working. But when you’re listening to email files, it’s a little harder.

What do you get out of Ship Thieves that you don’t get out of your other musical outlets?
It’s all the same. To me, it’s always a similar feeling, whether you’re writing an acoustic tune or a super-fast punk tune. It’s all the same process, just that feeling of immersing yourself into it, and the outside world kinda slows down and everybody’s focused on this one thing. You get this awesome feeling of satisfaction, and that’s what I’m always shooting for. It’s always the same kinda thing you’re chasing. With this band, we show up and everybody is looking forward to practice. It’s just old school, what we’re doing, and our approach. It’s really nice, and I need that. That constant practice, constant work, constant chipping at stuff. And you always kinda think, “Shit, I’m 40 years old. When is somebody going to sit me down and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” you know what I mean? It’s like, “So I can do another one? Killer!” [Laughs.] S

A version of this story was originally published in Substream #50.