Gainesville, Florida is full of underground Renaissance men, and no one fits the DIY multitasker bill like Chris Wollard. He made punk history as one of the lead throats and guitarists in post hardcore legends Hot Water Music, kicked back in the rocking chair for their country-flavored side project Rumbleseat, collaborated with an ethereal rhythm section for the atmospheric Blacktop Cadence, co-wrote some tunes with Bad Religion, spearheaded The Draft, found himself reunited with Hot Water, and most recently, made a guest appearance on The Gaslight Anthems second album.
But these days, Wollard mans the torpedoes for his crack band The Ship Thieves, whose excellent debut record, Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves is as diverse as his career itself. Chock full of dusty garage rock grit as well as its fair share of introspective backwoods weepers, the album has more than a little something for everybody while remaining astoundingly cohesive.
Wollard was gracious enough to chat with us on the phone not once, but twice over two days after a malfunction with the recording equipment from the initial interview, delving into the genesis of the album, the future of the band, and what makes the best cover songs.
CoS: Is this your first time being interviewed twice by the same person?
CW: (laughs) Probably not. I can think of a lot of technical mishaps in the past.
CoS: Once again, congrats on the new album. Where did you guys come up with the name The Ship Thieves? Is there anything behind that or did you just like the way it sounded?
CW: Well, its a book. Theres a book called The Ship Thieves. I probably bought the book because I liked the way it sounded. But after I read it, you know, it just kind of…I dont know, I had a few different names for this band or whatever you call it through the years, but that one just kind of jumped out at me Anyway its this book about these convicts down in Australia. They just keep busting out of jail and keep getting caught. Then they put them in a chain gang and they get caught again. Then they get two sets of chains and then they get busted out and then get caught again. Eventually they steal one of the ships. They sail the ship to South America, like across the globe, and they get caught there. But it was that feeling…like I cant relate to what really happened to these guys because it was all a true story, but the band was all about just taking advantage of the freedom that we had with the way we were working. It just kind of fit together and that ended up being the name.
CoS: You mentioned yesterday how the recording of the album was more of an organic process in how you guys would just get together and play. Are most of the takes on the album separate tracks or did you just do the whole band recording right off the bat?
CW: Oh no, theyre all kind of different things. We played in just about every kind of format possible. Some of the songs, there were only a couple of people working on them in the first place. So obviously with those, we had to build them one instrument at a time – kind of start with a loose chord arrangement for the guitar and the vocal line. Then you figure out what you think the drumbeat should be. If you dont have a good drummer there, you kind of figure it out any way that you can, you know? You just kind of build it up as it goes. Usually Ill have some sort of counter-melodies in mind. Well try those out on different instruments and kind of just make it up. Like, one of these songs we did in my kitchen here.
CoS: Really? Which one was that?
CW: In The Middle Of The Sea.
CoS: Oh yeah.
CW: It was just me and Addison [Burns] in my kitchen. Thats where I have my grandmas organ set up and some of my practice amps. We just pounded it out in one night. I was like, Addison, think you can come over here and record this song? And hes like Yeah. And I was like Good, cause I dont know if well ever record it if we dont do it today. So we worked on it for a couple hours, then went out to a bar, had a little hour break, came back, worked on it some more, went back out, and just kind of made it happen. The drums are just us stomping our feet on my floor…
CW: …and like pulling pots and pans literally down from the shelves and tapping on them and just kind of making things sound as close as we could imagine to how we wanted it. That was definitely the most primal kind of recording we did. On the flip side, there were also days where we had George (Rebelo of Hot Water Music) in there…you know, closer to a full band. It really was just all across the board…making things work however you can figure it out. Its really fun.
CoS: Yeah, that song has this great kind of rough and tumble feel to it. Theres this one part in the beginning with the lyric (sings) baby dont leave me where you have this low voice underneath it. Was that you or was that Addison?
CW: Oh yeah, thats me.
CoS: Thats a really cool effect.
CW: Yeah, thats the way the song was written, in that lower voice. Most of the stuff was…you know, written in kind of a lower voice. Thats just the way Ive kind of gotten used to writing. So yeah. Ive had a couple people point out that little low voice thing.
CoS: Yeah, I love that. It sounds really cool.
CW: I like it, you know? Its a little weird and kind of gave it that cool, different tone. I don’t know man, I like a lot of that kind of old stuff. You hear that real low voice in there. Youre building your harmonies like out of a lot of different…I don’t know what you would call it. It was fun for us to just kind of sit there and be like okay, well lets try and figure out a three part harmony here. Weve got the middle one. Whats the low one going to be? And you dont have three singers in the room. Its just you guys, you know? Its like Well, i cant really find the right note here. Lets figure it out. Its just kind of challenging and fun and not the kind of thing Ive had a lot of experience doing.
CoS: You mentioned yesterday that although the band on the album was whoever you had around, youre slowly developing a sort of more solidified line up for the road, right?
CoS: And who is in that lineup again?
CW: George [Rebelo] is on the skins, Addison’s on guitar, Ben Lovett is…we kind of call him the floater. He can play just about anything. Different songs need different things. But mostly on the piano. Hes got a lot of little toys though. I’m doing guitar and vocals obviously. The new guy Chad Darbys playing bass, just a really super cool dude. Ive seen his band play before, Averkiou, and I just really liked his style. He really knows what hes doing. He had played with Addison in a band before. Right now hes working on a record with George and Gared [ODonnell] from Planes Mistaken For Stars for Gareds project called Hawks And Doves. So some of the guys have played with him, and me and him had always talked about doing some loose jamming or whatever youd call it. Once that got going, the band just really solidified.
Once we had all of us in the room together, it was like aw, man, this is awesome – kind of looking back at the songs on the record and being like how are we going to play these songs with these guys? Cause everyone has a different style. George what are you going to do to this song? Chad, what are you going to do? Kind of keeping everything open to interpretation even though the records already done, you know? It just got us really cooking and lately weve just been writing a lot of new stuff; working on the next record, working on the split with Ninja Gun, working on the EP. We wrote a couple songs with Mike Hale, kind of a collaboration thing there, just writing a lot, really focusing in on this band and kind of finding who we are. Its been awesome, man. After so much time working on all this, and now theres a band and it feels so good. Its been a long strange trip.
CoS: One of the things that you mentioned about everyone in the band is that they all have other projects theyre working on. But would you say that your main focus right now is The Ship Thieves?
CW: Yeah, I mean definitely at this point in time. But just last year we toured all around with Hot Water, and that was the main focus. There wasnt a whole lot of time to think of other stuff. But yeah, right now, man, especially in a creative sense, this is where were putting our energy. But George and Chad are working on Gareds record and George also went out and helped Chuck (Ragen of Hot Water Music) on his new record. Addison is playing in The Enablers. He plays drums in that band. Ben Lovett…weve all been helping him with his solo record. Ben usually does a lot of indie movie scores, you know?
CW: Not songs, but more of the score type of stuff
CoS: There have been a few indie films shot in Gainesville in the past few years. Has he worked on any of those?
CW: No, he hasnt worked on any of them here.The last movie he worked one was this one called The Signal. It got bought for sure. It got a limited release in theaters. I got it on Netflix (laughs).
CoS: Ill have to order it.
CW: Its out there. I dont know how much it really got pushed or anything like that. Hes working on a couple projects coming up. Right now, hes working on some other friends records and blah blah blah. But hes also got like an album album of songs; more traditional rock. Most of the guys in The Ship Thieves have been helping him and working on stuff pretty similar to how we attack Ship Thieves records. Were all just kind of helping each other and just doing kind of everything, kind of breaking out of the regular way you would think of a band – just have it be more of a great creative outlet and a good group of people you can rely on to do a lot of different things. So its been really, really wild. Everybody’s got so much going on. Luckily, weve been able to make time. The Ship Thieves is coming along pretty damn fast.
CoS: Is your primary base still Gainesville? Obviously, you tour a lot.
CW: Absolutely. Ive got a thirteen year old boy down two and half hours south of me here. So Florida’s definitely my home. Me and George bought houses here in Gainesville, so thats a pretty good sign that were not going anywhere. Addison lives here. Hes been up here six years, but hes from down south, like the Miami area. Chad lives here and works at No Idea and his band is here. Hes from down south too. Ben is the only one that doesnt live here. Hes from Georgia, but most of the time when we were working on this record, he was out in L.A. for about five years. So he just moved back to the east coast. That was kind of what prompted getting more of a traditional group together. It was when I knew we were all going to be semi-close to each other where we could at least drive and play. But when he was still out west, you couldnt even think about doing that.
CoS: Your son that you mentioned…you wrote Its Hard To Know for him back with Hot Water.
CoS: And as you mentioned yesterday, you wrote Hey B off the new record for your girlfriend. Do you find that most of your songwriting comes from real life events or people, or is it a mixture of fictional scenarios as well?
CW: (laughs) Yeah, a very large…definitely the majority of what Ive ever done has been directly to somebody. A lot of the kind of love songs really are, you know, about your relationships with your women. Those are directly straight at em or straight for em. Most of what I do, I try and keep it this is the way I’m living, these are my stories, these are the moments I ended up thinking about, these are the things on my mind. I kind of try and keep it nice and simple like that. I’m not going to tell you how to be and I’m not going to yell at you about my beliefs but if you want to read about it, its all in these stories. I dont know, I try and keep it like that…like maybe these are just little chapters. You piece them all together and youll find me in there somewhere. Something like that.
CoS: You mentioned yesterday that you covered Bruce Springsteens No Surrender with Hot Water on Till The Wheels Fall Off. You guys have also covered True Believers by The Bouncing Souls. Whats your favorite cover youve done in the past but have never gotten on record?
CW: Well True Believers has never gotten recorded.
CoS: (laughs) Yeah, thats definitely a good one.
CW: Weve done a couple Naked Raygun songs that have never gotten recorded. We did Wonder Beer and Soldiers Requiem from them. We did a Pegboy song. So thats three songs from just those guys. We did Field Of Darkness for The Draft but we never recorded it. Theres a song called Swann Street by an old band called Three, that was pretty much a band called Grey Matter except for they changed drummers for one album. The drummer from Minor Threat plays on that record. We used to monkey around with that song but I dont even think we played it live. But Jason’s (Black of Hot Water Music) old band Unitas played it once. Thats one of my favorite fucking songs. That songs so rad.
I dont know, man, we monkey around all the time. Wednesday night we were practicing…we played a couple Thin Lizzy songs. Me and Addison were jamming out to some blues songs before the guys got there, some Otis Rush stuff. What else were we playing? Just, you know, whatever pops up. You learn a lot. You learn a fucking lot by playing cover songs, even if youre never going to play them live. Even in a million years, if youre never going to play it live, you learn a lot. You learn about how other people arrange songs. You learn how theyre stacking up their harmonies, you learn how they go in and out of solos. Imagine learning two different peoples versions of the same song. You learn a lot of different things about the people.
Usually when you get on stage, you go we have forty-five minutes, or an hour or however long we have. You have a fixed amount of time, and youre like I want to play our stuff. All these covers would be fun but if we only have a certain amount of time, I want to play all the stuff that we wrote. So you know, for covers, everybody has to agree and you say lets play this one live, but its just a fun way to practice and keep yourself loose, thinking of new ideas.
CoS: Anything you want to say about the band or the future of The Ship Thieves?
CW: Besides the fact that everybody should go out and get the record?
CoS: (laughs) Yeah.
CW: Pay attention when we come into town.
CoS: Oh yeah, you mentioned an upcoming tour the other day. Any solidified dates for the near future?
CW: Nothing really solid. All these kind of proposed schedules are rubbing up against each other. So weve got a little bit of work to do. Definitely in early summer, were going to be playing around Florida, playing around the south, and its just kinda going to grow from there; some east coast stuff, up to Chicago, New York. Keep it kind of simple, you know? Were just really getting into the swing of it.