Interview with Chris Hannah of Propagandhi pt.2

continued from pt 1, we talk politics and when to expect Propagandhi’s return to the Vans Warped Tour. If you have yet to run out and get your copy of “Failed States”, read this and then head to your local mom and pop record shop.

propagandhi press photo

Mr.Fakie: Are there any campaigns that you guys as a band are working on right now?

Chris Hannah:  Well Jord always works on and is a member of the Canada Haiti Action Network. Which is a pro-democracy anti-imperialist solidarity group acting out of Canada in solidarity with people in Haiti who don’t want the US, France and Canada interfering with their democratic process. So that will always be something that is present at our shows during the on-stage banter or leafleting at a table. Often there will be an animal rights group that will show up and do a table.  That’s also a common scene at our shows, too.

Mr.F: I wanted to ask you about what’s going on in Quebec right now and in the last few months. Maybe give us a Canadian perspective of that. In the US you had the anti-globalization movement which has sort of died off, or depending who you ask turned into the Occupy Movement which is fading from view.  In Quebec it seems to be this radicalism that hasn’t gone away. It’s still confronting the power. Maybe that’s a skewed American perspective. Are other cities like that around Canada?

CH: I’d say Quebec generally has a stronger modern tradition of that sort of thing. Not entirely sure why but I definitely appreciate it and wish it would spread more across the country. I know specifically some of the fuel is running out on that right now and concessions are being made because people don’t want to be out of school for ever.  It’s a student strike essentially and the leadership is trying to come to terms with provincial government.  I thought it was inspiring once Jean Shere, the Premiere, had passed the law to stop people gathering in the streets, more people showed up. Citizens of Montreal showed up en masse and said, “Fuck you, this isn’t a police state!”  Or it is, “We acknowledge this is, and fuck this police state!”  I saw that as very inspiring, but how do you keep that going over a year, how do you spin that into something that has more longevity.  As you say, these things go in cycles, the anti-globalization movement, Occupy, student strikes. They all sort of come and go and never seem to build.  And we in the progressive movement never seem to build lasting institutions.  So ah, what am I trying to say? I don’t know what I’m trying to say. (laughs)

Mr.F: Well let’s talk about the band a bit. Since Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes the lyrics have become more imminent on societal collapse, do you feel it’s really coming, is it just venting?

CH:  A bit of both. Some of it is speculative. Some of it I see already. What’s not speculative anymore as a planet we are facing potential ecological catastrophe. As that goes down there is going to be a disintegration of civil order. How we behave during that and what were going to do after that is clearly very important.  For me the stakes are higher because now I have a three-year-old son who I’ve got to hand the keys of the place over to.  So it’s not just a matter of me being like, “fuck this place I’m out of here” and then I die without caring about anybody else. Intellectually, I understand that the future matters to almost everybody but now that I have a son, and this little guy depends on me every day, the stakes just seem so much higher now.  The doom and the gloom in the lyrics are not there for the sake of being doom and gloomy.  I think something is coming and we better be prepared for it.  And I guess it’s just a bunch of different meditations on what that means, and what could have been done.

I was talking to this guy from Sea Shepard the other night and he was saying that 30-40 years ago when the environmental movement was taking shape instead of non-violent protest they would have gone the way more of the Earth Liberation Front, then we may not be at this very dangerous point in human society right now.   What’s been done has obviously been insufficient in terms of stopping the insanity.

Mr.F: So that brings up the point, especially because you have a son now, does that change how you might want it to play out? As the person from Sea Shepard mentions, the tactics can change the outcome of the fight significantly.

CH: There are a string of paradoxes to it all anyways. If years ago people had done more so maybe these laws that are now coming in effect where if you doing anything to interfere with the prevailing order then you’re regarded as a terrorist, then maybe those laws would have been applied 40 years ago. So that’s a paradox. As soon as you step up the game, they’re going to step up the game. In the past 20 years certainly because of the actions of the ALF and the ELF, the federal government in the US has been passing insane legislation that labels animal rights activists as a bigger threat to American society then Al Qaida.  I was reading this in Will Potter’s book, Green is the New Red, two days after Sept 11th that John Ashcroft identifies Earth and Animal Rights activists as the biggest threat to the US. It’s just crazy.  So then we have a paradox for wants any sort of social change these days, because if we all did what we all felt should be done, then we would all go to jail.   So we engage in this permuted civil disobedience and nothing changes.  We write letters and nothing changes, and as soon as someone does something that can actually change something and directly confronts and interferes with the enterprise of exploring the environment, they throw you in jail for 25 years.  So that’s another paradox with me and this 3-year-old kid. I want there to be a world for him. If I do what I think should be done so there will be a world for him, I’ll end up in jail for 25 years and won’t see him.

Mr.F: So what keeps you going?

CH: I think all the people we’ve encountered over the years. Even with all this crazy doom and gloom talk, now is a time where I have never seen so many people doing some much good and effective work as I have now. People are way smarter and way more holistic in the way they are attacking things.  Speaking specifically about things like the tar sands. Giving the poultry resources these activist groups have and the stink they are creating for companies like Embridge, etc. and Northern Gateway Pipeline. It’s amazing that they are so effective with such little resources.  I’m inspired by that. Despite the fact that we are living in an increasingly repressive police state (and I don’t feel like its being to dramatic to say that) that small groups of citizens are still able to fuck up the corporations if they’re smart about it.  I take great inspiration from that and I just respect those people unbelievably.

Mr.F: Propagandhi has always seemed willing to be self-critical or self-deprecating and that’s kind of rare with bands that portray such a dire and serious political message.  Does it bum you out that people in political bands aren’t more introspective or at least have a sense of humor?

CH: I don’t know.  I think everyone is different. I think that bands should do whatever they feel is right and effective for them. I think sometimes it can seem cartoonish when bands seem so apparently up-tight but we seem cartoonish and don’t take ourselves so seriously. But there’s no way to not appear cartoonish in this world and people should embrace it, but fuck I don’t know. I think I’m at a point in my life where I don’t begrudge anyone for doing what ever they want in their band.

Mr.F: Are you ever surprised by the works that people have spun off of Propagandhi? Chicago Punk Rock Karaoke has Nail Descartes to the Wall and …Nation States on their song list. Jenn Fiorentino, who is doing acoustic covers of your best songs on youtube. There is even a comic series called GodKiller and the creator said the last one, “…tomorrows ashes” was a reference to your album.

CH: Oh really? That’s weird. Jenn Fiorentino is actually going to play at our show in Toronto coming up. Yeah, she is spectacular. Great guitar player, great singer. I’m totally surprised if anyone in town plays our music and puts up a youtube video I’m like, ” Whoa, really? Wow!”  It’s an investment to try and learn a song and then learn the lyrics and then play it. You know it’s an investment of your time, and your dedication and your energy. I know that as a music fan who very frequently has learned other people’s songs. So I’m kinda blown away when other people do that.

Mr.F:  What do you think of the NHL lockouts?

CH: Well I’m trying to think, as Alex Kubala once said when asked about a different play off series, “I play hockey, I don’t watch hockey.” I really like that answer. And that’s how I’m going to regard the lockout. I don’t have time to watch the NHL, I got Beer League to play.

Mr.F: Well maybe we can make some money for the NHL and all the skateboard punks can go out and buy an official jersey. Who is your favorite hockey team?

CH: Oh the Leafs, Toronto Maple Leafs. Greatest Hockey Team ever.

Mr.F: Cage match. Sandor Katz vs. Don Cherry

CH: Well Don Cherry would kick his ass even at 80 years old. Though I’d probably root for Sandor.

Mr.F: For anybody traveling in the Great White North, what are your favorite vegan establishments?

CH: Here in Winnipeg we have Mondragon. It’s a cafe book store, all Vegan. We also have Affinity Vegetarian.  It’s an all vegan restaurant. There are some great Ethiopian places in Winnipeg too and everyone has a vegan platter. In Toronto they have everything.  It’s fucking crazy. It’s like Vegan heaven when you go there.  There’s a place called Fresh in Toronto that I really like. Boon Burger will be controversial, because people hate the ownership and the business conduct of this place. Its all vegan and very delicious but they have some labor relation issues and issues with surrounding businesses. So offer that one with a caveat.

Mr.F: How many strikes do you have with the Vegan Police before you lose your (Vegan)Powers?

CH: I have many strikes with the Vegan Police. I’m still not out though.

Mr.F: What are your favorite (current) political bands right now?

CH: Hmm, that’s a good question. I don’t know. A band recently sent me a record from Baltimore called War on Women. Its kind of this radical feminist hardcore and it kind of reminds me of what was going on in the early 90’s underground.  I’ve been back on a Steve Earle kick recently. I mean Steve Earle is a highly political artist. I consider Rush to be a very political band and they have a new album out called Clockwork Angles which I think is awesome.  Those are three that come to mind.

Mr.F: Less Talk, More Rock included a manifesto that probably altered a significant amount of lives. Will we ever see something like that again with you guys?

CH: Well that record came out pre-website for us. So this was our opportunity to jam it all in there and not be misunderstood one iota. We just jammed text in there until the graphic designer was fucking going mental. On the next record, Today’s Empires we tried to use the emerging technology of CD-ROMs to kinda be that. We packed it with different content and videos. People stopped doing that because of websites, the bandwidth was bigger and you could do all that on your website. These days on this record and I think the last one we put lyrics on the record and some half-assed commentary and then we concentrate our efforts on the website, or perhaps social networking media.  I kinda miss the vibe of records like that with “Less Talk, More Rock,” where that was the only opportunity you had to hear from the band so it was all packed into this one container of reading material. If you’re trying to save some money rather then having some big elaborate package then you can just put it on the website.

Mr.F. Speaking of Social Media, You’re big on twitter. (@Jesus_H_Chris)

CH: You know I don’t mind that compared to Facebook. I find on Facebook there is so much grandstanding. I found that I would get really disappointed in people that I otherwise like in my daily life. Its almost it tells you too much about them. I found myself feeling that I didn’t like people that I liked previously, so I got off of that. And then Twitter it’s very limiting and I find I get way more valuable links in terms of interesting articles.  I think that Twitter is a much more effective clearing house for that. Facebook just seems like just one big fucking drama party.  Plus on Facebook I would get weird correspondence from people I didn’t really know.  Twitter’s kinda fun, it’s more immediate and quick. As far as corporate garbage social media goes.

Mr.F: I didn’t even know you had a twitter account until some of my comedian friends retweeted you.

CH: Oh really. I hope its stuff I meant to be funny.

Mr.F: So the new album (Failed States) is out on Epitaph and it comes out when?

CH: The album comes out on Sept. 4th and the vinyl is going to be delayed a few weeks because of a problem with the masters.

Mr.F: So What made you go with Epitaph?

CH: Well after Fat Wreck Chords, we went to a local label in Winnipeg called Small Man Records and we thought when we agreed to do Supporting Caste that this is where we could exist for the rest of the existence of the band. Fifteen minutes after we put the record out they announced they’re going to stop putting out records.  That was a pretty devastating blow for us. We were sort of at a crossroads like we discussed, “Do we just want to do this as a hobby and release lo-fi recordings and put them up on the website for people for free, or do we want to sustain what we’ve built here for a little while longer and start researching, and going back into the realm of record labels.  Fat Wreck Chords did an amazing job for us but we were a little gun-shy about going back to an American, or Californian kind of record label.  And In our research on labels, I talked to John Samson from the Weakerthens and Kurt from Converge and they just said really positive things about how Epitaph treated them and left them alone and got their permission on very small items to make sure they weren’t doing anything weird or in conflict of the bands interest. It seemed like the most important thing to get that word of mouth, that a label is artist friendly. So we called them up and said ” Can you do a record for us?” and they said very generously said, “We can do a record for you.” And it was good news because we decided we wanted a label that could do as good of a job as Fat and Small Man records had done for us in the past. Both of those labels set the bar really high for us, in terms of how we wanted our music treated.

Mr.F: So we should expect Propagandhi on The Warped Tour 2013 or 2014?

CH: Yeah, that will be a cold, cold day in Hell.

Mr.F: Well Epitaph has always been a big cornerstone for Warped, and at least it used to be that you would get a lot of good stuff from those things, “Anti-Racist Action” and all the different Animal Rights organizations that would table at them for example.  Do you think they are self-defeating in their mission?

CH: I think those festivals are a business model. It’s just a different way to be introduced to music. Like I understand there are so many people that say Warped Tour was my first show and they have very nostalgic feelings about the thing and I’m not going to get up in some kid’s grill about going to fucking Warped Tour and having that be his or her gateway to better music or politics or something. It’s just so damn different from the way we in the band were introduced to music or politics. I think it’s lamentable that people are herded into these traveling mall shows. Literally herded to walk by t-shirt stands and such.  This is an old man talking, but when we first started to go to shows, like, it was in a fucking warehouse space on the third floor of some derelict downtown building.  You’d go up some dark stairs, with people passed out in the stairwell, people fighting, someone getting stabbed. And through it all you would discover some crazy band playing up in the corner, and some crazy new music, and It seems so different then the festival, and certainly the Warped Tour experience, with their corporate sponsorships. Its partly just a lament for people not being in a time or place like we were at. Also if you look at things objectively there is too much of a business model for that stuff for it to be tasteful in my opinion. I find it just a little too soul destroying to really appreciate it almost at all. I really don’t enjoy those festival kind of vibes.

Mr.F: Cool, anything else you want to say?

CH: No I think it was a really late night playing hockey, and I hope I was concise.

This entry was posted in Interview. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply