Last Thursday, as some readers may know, the three of us behind CHTM went to check out seminal hardcore band Propagandhi in The Village. I was granted an oppurtunity to have a few words with guitarist/ vocalist Chris Hannah. And I nice guy he was too, though not a Dub, he has family in “Cork County.”
Chris Hannah, Propagandhi
It’s good to have you guys back in Dublin, you’ve been here three times in the last nine years and a lot has changed in that time, not least your music; In my opinion you’ve evolved and matured from your early days and I would say that’s definitely for the better- what would you say?
I would say thank you, and obviously we would too and I think all bands should evolve and mature really, otherwise somethings wrong.
But it’s always good to hear the old stuff?
Yeah, of course, and it’s easier to play too!
You guys added another guitarist in Beaver a couple of years back, has that made a big difference to the band?
Well, yes. As a three piece, we struggled to reproduce the songs live as they were on record; it was always mildly disappointing to hear it live- all our records have two guitars, and sound more layered. So this has helped us to get something more accurate when we play live- When Beaver plays, it gives things a better sense of atmosphere.
You obviously knew him since his I-Spy days – Was there any other Canadian bands that had an influence on you guys?
Well, older bands like SNFU, Guilt Parade, Voivod, NoMeansNo, Sacrifice, Razor – Mainly bands that had their heyday in the 80s. Some of them, like Voivod and SNFU are still playing, and are staging a revival having made some of their most compelling music in the last five years, and that’s really inspiring for us, we’re getting fucking old now, two of us are hitting forty and we’re starting to feel it!
So as you get older then, are there any bands from Canada/ North America you see as taking the torch from you guys?
Well, Protest the Hero are really young guys, when they started, they told us that they had been really into our records, and that’s cool. Since then, they’ve obviously evolved so much and become such amazing musicians. Hardcore is only really being heard in small basement shows in Canada now, it’s hard to find anything that’s above the radar!
Punk rock bands can be two a penny these days – What keeps driving you guys to play the music you do?
Well, being able to play with friends is a huge thing, playing with guys I’ve been friends with for many years. I always had this sense of wonder – I remember being six or seven and my mom bought home this tape recorder, pressed record and played it back; I remember listening back to my voice with this sense of wonder, and that’s something that has stayed with me, I have it when I listen to our songs back through the speakers, and I guess when that dies…
I’m sure it must be an amazing feeling when you hear something you’ve put so much into back?
For us, because each of us, separately don’t have much going for us, together we’re able to cobble together songs that remind us of bands that we really like so we’re always impressed!
I wouldn’t say that- For me, you guys are probably one of the more technically proficient Hardcore bands out there!
Well, thanks for saying so!
Todays Empires in probably still my favourite Propagandi album; so what’s yours?
Well, the new one, but I’ve got a soft spot for Potempkin because it sort of disappeared from the radar, nobody knew much about it!
Would you say that it disappeared off the radar because you guys left almost five years between Todays Empires and Potempkin?
Partly that and partly because at the time, we didn’t really do any promotion, we didn’t tour and let it sit there; the record company knew that and just didn’t bother telling anybody about the record and I think also at that time we were a three piece and something was missing, and something it took us almost a year to work it out, so when we realized, we were like… get Beaver over here!
So would you say you are as political as you always have been? The new record comes across more personally reflective than overtly political…
More-so than ever I would say. There’s individual members who are more politically engaged back home, whether that’s in progressive community initiatives or supporting international solidarity movements, the only thing that’s changed for us is the sense of the scope and the scale of what’s wrong – We haven’t felt as if we’ve mellowed at all… As for the new record, well it’s just a different writing style.
How do the songs come about? Is it words or ideas or music first?
It’s just a big mish-mash really; sometimes it’s easier when you’re playing with friends… sometimes. But again, Beaver is the only guy with any training or musical background so it’s sometimes hard to communicate ideas.
You guys were a driving force behind G7, but you seem to have pulled back from that a bit now. Are there any other projects you guys are involved in back home?
Well, the reason I pulled back from the G7 thing was to do the band full time, and that’s taken up all of 2009, and actually most of 2008 too, so that’ll probably be it until next year. When we’re home, Jord does a lot of organising with the Canadian Haiti Action Network, he does a lot of stuff in the Refugee Centre down town, Beaver is working on a music programme in a poor area of the city. Also OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty,) they’re a kick ass organisation.
Your music has always been political in its lyrics and has stayed pretty true to its punk and thrash origins. Punks aren’t necessarily political as we all know – Do you guys ever get stick from crowds for your political beliefs?
Not really; not much anymore. It seems like a lot of those people have been weeded out over the years and they don’t come to shows any more, like back in the nineties, a lot of people were quite aggressive to the things we were saying but thankfully, that died down towards the end of the nineties…
I don’t want to dwell too much on the past and talk about the Fat Wreck days but do you think there were some bands who hung around that scene who have, effectively, sold out on the political aspect of their music in order to make a quick penny?
The idea of “selling out” is hard because there is a spectrum of compromises you have to make within the framework of a capitalist society, and ones that we have to make sometimes, although we might not like them, but some people have a different zone, where that changes from necessary compromise to a “Sell-Out.” Not everyone agrees with this, but take a band like Rage Against the Machine, they did something worthwhile with what they did with a major label; I don’t think it’s impossible to use ubiquitous media to a large degree and come out with a positive experience. But it’s not for us, none of us has the facility to engage with mass media- We’re just these guys, we’re not well spoken, we play songs that aren’t particularly well received by the general public. Even the things we talk about has the capacity to offend more peoples core values explicitly than say, Rage, so there’d be no point in moving to a bigger label, it’d just be the same people listening to us anyways!
Even moving to Small-Man Records after a very well received album, staying true to your political beliefs and still managing to get to places like Dublin, I have to say, is enheartening! So what’s the next step for Propagandhi?
Go home, get our heads together and start, as far as the band goes, putting together new material to record next year, politically, Jord has his work with the community stuff he’s doing, Beaver has the music programme, and I’ll try and help out somewhere!
So will it be another three years before the next album?
No, I’d hope in perhaps a year and a half…
Yeah, here too!
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