Most people who know me well within the music community know I’m a pretty huge fanboy for Propagandhi. Since the first time I listened, mouth agape, to Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, no other band has been more instrumental in shaping my idea of what punk music COULD be. As a songwriter, I began to mostly write lyrics focusing on my desire to enact change and dialogue through music. I pushed my voice, my musicianship and my vocabulary to try and even come close to matching the ferocity and intelligence of their records. The song “Potemkin City Limits” practically clinched my decision to become a vegetarian. Failed States made the #1 spot on my Year End list for 2012.
So, to say I was super excited to have the opportunity to chat with vocalist and shredder Chris Hannah is an understatement. I was nervous, hoping I could come up with interesting questions without just geeking out. Luckily, he came back with some great answers about Propagandhi’s songwriting process, his practice regimen, and his advice for his younger self now that How to Clean Everything has reached it’s 20th anniversary.
(Ross Hostage) – You seem like a band that constantly pushes themselves in songwriting and musicianship. What’s your practice regimen like? What do people need to do if they hope to even have a chance at playing through the Propagandhi songbook?
(Chris Hannah) – We practice frequently as a band, but usually when I play by myself, I’ve rarely ever done exercises or anything like that. I’ve usually only picked up the guitar to immediately start making riffs. I’ve been thinking of trying to do some serious practicing recently — maybe clear up some mechanical issues that have plagued me from the start and see what happens. See if you can teach a shitty old dog some new tricks kinda thing. But I think if you’re just persistent, you will eventually find our songbooks relatively easy compared to the vast majority of guitar-oriented heavy music.
Why do you feel it’s important to keep writing “socio-political” lyrics? Why not write a feel-good party album or a bunch of love songs? Who was it that made you think that music could actually enact change?
Haha, well we don’t have much of a choice as far as what kind of things we find urgent or interesting enough to write about, you know what I mean? I think we have songs in our catalog that aren’t necessarily that simple to pigeon-hole, but yeah, we are known as a “political” band. I would credit bands like MDC, Dead Kennedys, Corrosion of Conformity and DRI for initially getting us engaged in the real world as far as lyrics go.
I don’t want to be a total downer, but what are your thoughts on the situation in Syria? What seems to be the reaction in Canada right now? With the British officially not getting involved and Obama announcing plans to seek military action, how far down the rabbit hole do you think we’ll go with this one? (Update: as of posting, US Senate has approved bombing in Syria)
I really don’t know. All I know is that kids and moms are going to get maimed and killed and the “defense” industries are going to make a lot of money off of it as usual. All in the name of a bunch of assholes’ “strategic” geopolitical interests.
Ok, back to music stuff. I often think of your music in terms of “Chris” songs and “Todd” songs but they always come together so well as a whole on the albums while retaining a lot of individuality. How do you find balances with all the different writing styles within the band? Do you guys write lyrics for each other to sing? What part of writing together still excites or surprises you?
It’s not too difficult to find balance. I don’t even know if you need to. I’m the world’s biggest fan of Todd’s songs, so the more he makes, the better for me. No, we don’t tend to write lyrics for each other. For some reason, that doesn’t usually work. We have very different “voices” (I don’t mean singing voices), so if we don’t use our own words, I think it sounds weird. I get excited every time a song comes together, probably more so now than back when we started. I’m constantly amazed that we are able to create things that we like! haha.
In another interview, you referred to the recent re-issue of “How to Clean Everything” and said that “not everybody wants to hear their fucking high school poetry or the first band they were ever in and their very first recording.” If you could go back and give yourself advice about that record, what would you say?
I would say “Chris, come over here. How you doin’ bud? OK, so when they hit record, just sing in your normal voice, alright? Drop the weird semi-British accent nasally sneering thing and just give ‘er with your real voice OK? Trust me on this. It’ll be fine. You’ll thank me. OK?”
Any thoughts on the new performance fees in Canada for international artists? It seems they’re charging $275 per person, including tour staff, just to play in the country. Will this affect you as touring musicians? Have you heard of this causing any problems, as of yet? (citing this article from AltPress)
It won’t affect us, no. But it will affect bands coming into Canada and a lot of venues that have helped international bands make a go of it over here. It will effectively make it impossible for an indie band to afford to play at many legendary venues in Canada.
You guys have been in Europe a lot lately. Any chance you’ll be back in the US, specifically the Western half, any time soon? What does the rest of 2013 hold for Propagandhi?
No concrete plans yet, but the western states are definitely on our radar! Stay tuned!
Anything else you’d like to say to the loyal For the Love of Punk readers?
Check out the new guitar/ bass tab book for How To Clean Everything available HERE
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. As a long time fan, I really appreciate it. Keep making killer tunes!
Cheers, Ross! Thanks for the support!
Fat Wreck Chords released a deluxe 20th Anniversary edition of How to Clean Everything August 20th, 2013. Pick up your copy using the link below.