Monday, February 2, 2009


Originally published in: Flex Your Head

Album: Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes 
(Fat Wreck Chords/G7 Welcoming Committee)

Random thoughts: Flex Your Head was a great hardcore website to post longer Q&As from interviews I did for print mags. They have since changed to a simple playlist blog for the radio show of the same name. In the case of this interview, I specifically bent Chris Hannah from Propagandhi's ear for an extra half hour about metal, just because it was awesome to talk to another skid about old thrash, and because I knew Hannah would be more than willing.


By Jason Schreurs

When I recently got asked to write about Propagandhi for a metal magazine, I decided to use the opportunity to chat with singer/guitarist Chris Hannah about growing up on metal and the ‘80s thrash that helped shape our formative years. Hannah and I both spent our ‘80s youth huddled around the stereo, decked out in hilarious looking metal t-shirts, listening to Slayer, D.R.I., Venom, and the likes. Unfortunately, metal has taken a turn for the worse since then, especially in the past few years when everything classic has become trendy. The result? To be cool these days you have to pay $30 for a retro Iron Maiden t-shirt and play in some shitty metalcore band that’s a mess of classic thrash, hardcore, straight edge, and whatever else you can find to throw in the blender. Luckily, some of us older metal fans are happy with keeping things simple, and, as Propagandhi prepare for a new album, we can expect them to deliver something that should be the anti-thesis of my most hated genre, the aforementioned blender-core.

I spoke with Hannah by phone in late June, 2004 from his home in Winnipeg.

When did you first get into metal and how did it affect your teenage years?
I lived in a very small community outside of a small town in Manitoba. At the time, it was like 1982, everybody was into Def Leppard and Priest and stuff, so I was aware and kind of interested in that, but I didn’t really like the people who liked it because they were a bunch of fucking bullies. Then I went to a record store and I looked at this one record, it was Venom’s Welcome to Hell and I couldn’t believe the song titles. There was a quote on the back about “we spit on your God” and I was like, “How can they sell this? Is it legal?” I picked it up, paid for it, took it home, hid it, then listened to it later. I couldn’t believe the recording and I thought there was something wrong with the record. But then I was like, “This is unbelievable. This is what I’ve been waiting for all my short life.” That’s how it started. At the time I would shop for anything black with a pentagram on it, that’s how I would shop for records. So it was like Slayer, Bathory, and that kind of stuff.

You might have even ended up with Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil by mistake.
Luckily every kid had that before I did. I liked a couple of songs on it but, I dunno, it wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t evil enough for me.

To me, metal seemed so untainted back then. There’s a line in one of your songs [“Back to the Motor League”] off the last album about “riding a 10-speed with feathered hair” or something. Everybody was so nerdy when they were into metal and it was so fun. But now metal is just another trend for the cool kids.
For me, Venom and Slayer and the two Metallica records were super underground. Not everybody liked Metallica back in 1984.

Nobody liked Metallica back then. You got beat up for liking them.
Ya, and it was super exciting. Then there was the sub-level of metal that I discovered through Metallion Magazine. They had an address for a band from Windsor, ON called Wicked Angel and I was like, “You can write to a band and they’ll answer you and give you a tape?!” So I discovered tape-trading and started writing to bands overseas like Necrodeath and Tankard and they’d write me back and I couldn’t believe it. And, like you were saying, it just felt pure and like it was real people making the craziest music they could.

I’ve always seen a lot of parallels between the D.I.Y. punk/hardcore scene and that metal tape-trading scene and I try to explain to people that they are very close. That metal and punk/hardcore are from the same kind of mindset. But it’s hard, especially for the more politically correct people, to convince them of that.
Absolutely. And I think there are lessons to be drawn about the trajectory that both the scenes followed. In the late ‘80s, metal started getting popular and all the majors started swooping in, buying it up, and putting out crappy records. And the same with the punk scene; it was vibrant, political, and underground, and then in the ‘90s along came the majors and bought it up and watered it down. It was all gone and the good stuff was underground again.

Propagandhi have always been high purveyors of metal and trying to turn punk kids on to the good metal bands like Venom and whatnot. In today’s scene, metal is very trendy. You’ve got pretty much every pop-punk that band has gone and changed into a metalcore or Iron Maiden influenced band. What do you think of that, and do you want to sort of shy away from metal because of it?
I don’t know… I know exactly what you are talking about. To me all of this cheap, digital shit that’s coming out doesn’t even sound like bands making real music. It’s like parts of music kind of taped together. Old metal seemed like it came straight from the heart. When you listened to Gary Holt in Exodus playing a riff, he was trying to figure out the most crazy riff that would make him go fucking wild. Now it just seems like it’s the paint-by-numbers approach. Now it’s more about getting a sound than getting a feeling. But there’s exceptions to that and I’d even include the last couple of Tragedy records in that. They have an excellent metal feel but it’s a total hardcore band. But it seems like it’s real. To me, Tragedy is more of a good metal band than a lot of this processed California metalcore stuff.

Ya, or a band like From Ashes Rise, or bands like that who sound like they are coming from the heart and they’re not just trying to throw as many things together as possible. What really bugs me is the blender-core where everything is thrown in and there’s all these bits and pieces but it just doesn’t make any sense. There’s no songs, there’s no verse or chorus… I’ve gotten to the point now where if I see these young SoCal bands wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts I just want to choke them.
Ya, like they went to the boutique and fuckin’ picked out their outfits and it’s the same philosophy for their music. It’s music from a boutique instead of from their heart.

I actually saw a picture of this metalcore band called The Procedure, who I know nothing about, and the guy was wearing a Blasphemy t-shirt and I thought, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” If you’re going to wear a metal shirt in your band photo, it might as well be a Blasphemy t-shirt, you know?

So what’s your prized t-shirt that’s sitting in your closet all ratty from your childhood? Do you have any left?
I’ve found pictures of shirts that my mom had thrown out over the years. I had a hilarious white Death sweater at one time. It was the most ridiculous sweater I’ve ever seen.

Like a sweatshirt or…?
Ya, like a sweatshirt your mom would wear. It had a Death logo on it and the spelling was wrong on the back and stuff.

That and I had a very sweet Venom metal shirt when I was a kid. My mom threw that out when I wasn’t looking.

Ever go back through the old high school annuals and look for the bangers wearing the metal shirts? There’s actually a guy wearing a Venom shirt in my Grade 8 annual.
That’s pretty wicked. In my school pictures my mom wouldn’t let me wear metal shirts, but all the ones at home are just me sitting there in a fuckin’ Razor shirt when I’m 14 and my fuckin’ tiny, skinny legs are sticking out from the bottom of the shirt.

[Chuckles] So you guys had a run-in with Paul Baloff [ex-singer of Exodus – R.I.P.] a few years back, eh? Was it you and [bassist] Todd?
Ya, we got to meet him. Actually, we were in San Francisco and there was a Warped Tour, that horrible, horrible, horrible event that occurs every summer and travels around the earth destroying music, and we knew one of the bands playing and they let us come in and check it out. The band, uh… Papa Roach was playing and we were backstage, like, “Who are these guys?” Then I look and there’s this little guy standing in front of me in an Exodus jacket and I’m, like, “Fuck, that guy looks like Baloff!” And I said, “Todd, this is Paul Baloff, man. I’m pretty sure,” and he says, “No, it’s not… no, it’s not.” Then our friend walks by who lives in San Francisco and he’s a metal fan and he says, “You know who that is? That’s Baloff.” And I’m like, “I knew it!” We went up and talked to him and he was super stoked when we were telling him where we were from and that we listened to him when we were kids. It was pretty neat. And then he died like a year after that.

It must have been quite a thrill to meet someone like that. I don’t think I’ve met any of the big metal icons from my youth. I met Danzig once [nervous laugh] but that wasn’t too much to talk about.
Ya, Baloff was cool. We got to meet Joe Rico from Sacrifice. He actually came to one of our shows and we were over the fucking top on that one because that was our favorite band growing up.

Ya, they were one of my faves too… still are, you know? You can still put on Forward to Termination or Soldiers of Misfortune and it’s just great. So that must have been pretty cool, meeting him.
Ya, that was the best. I’d emailed the Sacrifice website or something and he actually emailed me back and I couldn’t believe it. I told him we were playing and after the show he came up and I was like, “No way!” And now I’m waiting for the Sacrifice reunion show.

Me too. I’ve heard you say a couple of times that you couldn’t believe when they emailed you back or that you saw them. Why do think it is in the metal scene that we’ve always got this icon vision of these guys, even though we’ve talked about the fact that they are just regular guys. We could tape trade with them, they write us letters, but there’s always that higher kind of vision of them, whereas with punk, especially with DIY bands, they are more approachable. Is that a necessary part of metal, do you think?
I guess it depends on the band and where you’re from. Probably for people who lived in Toronto it wasn’t such a big deal to see Joe Rico or Rob Urbinati from Sacrifice hanging out at a show. But when you’re from Winnipeg and it was one of the bands you didn’t even dare write because you loved them so much, and in so many years the guy just became this mythical figure in our minds, when he actually emailed back it seemed like the circle is complete. A part of my life has come to fruition. I don’t know, I’m making a bigger deal out of it than I should.

And you realize there’s kids out there that say the same thing about you guys. If you were to write a letter back to some kid that was a Propagandhi nut it would be the same kind of thing, right? How does that make you feel?
That would make me feel weird, I guess.

Do you run into that sort of attitude from fans?
Uh, I think there’s so much exposure to punk bands these days and the bands tour so much, and the bands generally aren’t acting like rock stars, that people are more acclimatized to meeting people in bands. I think, I don’t know. We don’t really come across like that.

But then again, neither do a lot of the metal bands either. We’ve just built them up as being these mythical creatures, but you talk to the guys in Razor and I’m sure they’re just as down to earth as the guys in Propagandhi.

You guys do a little take on Priest in the “Cointelpro” song. Did you hear anything back about that from their people at all?
Oh no, never. I don’t know if a lot of people really noticed it. You were talking earlier about lots of pop punk bands doing metal and after we finished the song we were like, “Fuck, are we just lumping ourselves in with this retro punk movement, or whatever the fuck, this kitsch stuff,” but…

Ya, I guess it’s whether you want to do it because it feels right or are you worried about what the reaction might be. As a fellow guy who grew up on metal, it just brought a smile to my face.
Ya, it felt right to us. But, no, Rob Halford never came over or anything.

That reminds me, when Halford came out of the closet a few years back I kind of assumed metal people were going to be homophobic and really brutal about it. But the reaction he got was really good, and I was wondering if maybe metal dudes aren’t as stupid as people make them out to be. There’s a lot of intelligent people out there.
Ya sure, there was always the thinking contingent of the metal scene. But every scene’s got the goons and I think the general imagery that metal was giving off was more of a macho, warrior imagery, and it’s not rocket science to connect the dots that it might be a little less open to new ideas. It was predictable that Halford would keep it in the closet. I think it would have damaged him, especially in the ‘80s metal scene, where in my mind as a 15-year-old I would have said, “What! He’s gay!”

Ya, times were different back then. It wasn’t the time for it. But at the same time, you say metal is really macho but it’s also very homoerotic. A band like MANOWAR, I mean, that’s some pretty sexy stuff if you’re into guys.
They would kill you for saying that.

Ya, MANOWAR are pretty hardcore, for sure. Have you seen any of their videos.
Ya, their fucking DVDs.

Oh man, those are bad. I couldn’t even watch them, they’re just too intense. Okay, Christian metal and Satanic metal. Are they same thing or the polar opposite?
Well, it depends. The black metal of the early ‘80s was brilliant and it changed my world view just that people could have such a radically unacceptable opinion and still survive and do things they love. That was an epiphany for me. At the same time, the early ‘80s black metal was largely Van Halen-esque, you know. It was just, “This is fun. We’re acting as crazy as possible.” Compared to some of the stuff that was coming out in the ‘90s that was more ideologically motivated, and I’m not saying it was bad music or anything, it just lost the sense of wildness and sense of humor that I really loved about the black metal of the ‘80s.

And bands like Venom and Slayer weren’t really Satanic. They were just doing it to get a rise out of people, which is great. Then bands like the Scandinavian church-burning bands obviously were a bit more serious about their Satanism.
My personal experience was what Venom was doing with the Satanic imagery was very liberating for me at an important time in my life, and I can imagine the same for young people who were introduced to the black metal of the ‘90s. But maybe the ‘90s stuff didn’t resonate with me so much because it was so serious and ideologically motivated. It seemed more rigid.

Plus, we were older too. It’s not like when you’re young and you think, “Satan is cool!” You’re a bit past that. To me, Christian metal is so safe and so mainstream and status quo that it’s the polar opposite to the Satanic stuff. Especially when you compare a band like Venom with a band like Stryper, it was the opposite end of the spectrum.
For sure, and even back then I had the impression that the Christian culture finds out what is cool and tries to inject Christianity into it. They adopt the trappings of a subculture and try to create converts that way and I find it super cheap. It’s not for the love of the culture, it’s for the love of Christ.

You’ve done some covers over the years. You’ve done Venom, you’ve done Cro-Mags… Have you done any others or do you plan on doing any more?
I don’t know if we would ever record them or play them, but sometimes by ourselves we’ve been doing “Sprit of Radio” by Rush. It’s fucking fun to play. Um, Raw Power’s “You Are the Victim” from Screams from the Gutter. It’s just fun to rip those out once in a while. “Technocracy,” [by C.O.C.], of course, which is one our favorites to play. We play that one live sometimes. We were actually going to compile a record of covers and then Jord was like, “Fuck, this is a stupid idea, man. All these bands that do covers records, it’s fucking disgusting.” And I was, like, “Ya, I guess you’re right.”

It is pretty lame. Obviously, if Propagandhi did one, I’d be stoked because I like the band, but I’ve gotten some that have just been horrible.
Just that cheap kind of… I don’t know, there’s something almost insidious about cover records now, so Jord put the kibosh on that idea and in retrospective I thank him for it.

Let’s talk about Propagandhi for a bit. You’re working on a new album?
We’re working on about 10 songs now, so it’s coming along. Apparently it will be out the first Tuesday or second Tuesday in February. It will be on G7 [Welcoming Committee Records] in Canada and Fat [Wreck Chords] will do it everywhere else.

But you’re not in the recording stage yet, right?
No, we gotta figure out how the fuck that’s gonna unfold. There’s a guy in Vancouver you probably know, Blair Calibaba, who we’ve been talking about doing it, but we’ve gotta pin down a time and a place, so…

You can’t do it yourself? Because I know you’ve been really involved with all the records you put out.
I’d be into trying that, but I don’t think Jord and Todd would have as much confidence in that yet. I haven’t really proven myself to them, and I guess it would be nice just to have somebody doing it for us who was confident and we’d just worry about playing the tunes.

Will there be some hints at metal on the new one at all? With the last record, some of the songs reminded me of old Megadeth or something, like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, especially that last song on the last record.
How sweet of you to say Megadeth.

Was that a conscious thing?
No, they were just tunes and riffs. We’re a little better at our instruments than when we first started, you know. The first record was literally the first songs we ever wrote and it was around the time we discovered Bad Religion and stuff. Things are getting more towards the goal we always hoped to get towards. We want to put out a record in the spirit of Motorhead where they don’t consider themselves a metal band, they’re not a punk band, they’re just a rock band. We just want to put out a record that you can’t really stick into those categories but it’s fuckin’ heavy and fast. Sort of in the spirit of the Zeke records where it’s not necessarily hardcore or metal, but it’s fuckin’ raunchy. I don’t want to paint it to be this speedfest, I mean, most of my songs are, but the depth and dimension of Todd’s songs is gonna give the record a good feel. He’s got some different stuff going on this time, so…

I love his stuff. “Natural Disasters” is one of my favorite songs.
Ya, me too. I love that one.

You mentioned Bad Religion. When you guys first started out, and even now, a lot of your songs were very poppy. People could still say they are pop-punk or whatever. So did that come from listening to Bad Religion and NOFX and all the SoCal bands back in the day, or...?
It was mostly Bad Religion and maybe a bit of NOFX. When me and Jord started we wanted to sound like Sacrifice, C.O.C., and Kreator mixed together, and a bit of D.R.I., and then I heard a Bad Religion record and was like, “Holy shit, this is cool.” So we did what we thought was an approximation of that.

Do you feel now that you are realizing that sort of sound, or is it just Propagandhi and warped into its own thing?
I’d like to think it’s just more of its own thing. Melodic elements still really appeal to me, but I think the pop-punk scene is dead. No one should listen to that. No one should encourage that music to continue to be made anymore because it’s been done and overdone. I’m not really aware of too much originality in that department anymore. Maybe there is, I just don’t have my ear to the ground, but it’s very painful for me to hear most of the stuff that came out after the big pop-punk explosion of the early ‘90s. It just doesn’t have the same feel for me anymore.

The same could be said for all the metal that’s coming out these days. All the metalcore and the cheesy “Swedish” stuff. I think what you’re looking for is the spirit of coming from the heart and being aware of what got you where you are, but creating something new too.
That’s the bottom line. Any music is good if it’s from the heart. If it’s not from the heart, it’s going to be apparent to people at some point or another.

What’s the secret to playing from the heart?
It’s a process of self-realization. Reflecting on why you’re in the band and what you really want to do. Is this really how you want to express yourself? People are in bands for so many different reasons and it’s not up to me, of course, to tell people not to make music because they have different motivations than I do. I just think better music is made when people do it with integrity and do it for very pure reasons.

You guys only do an album every few years, so I guess you’re feeling the pressure that Metallica felt back in the day after Justice or whatever. Do you feel that pressure?
No, not really. We’ve really never understood or bought into the idea that you’re supposed to put out records every year or two years. Music isn’t the only thing in our lives, there’s lots of other things going on. We never really think about it too much. After four years, we usually have a bunch of songs together and there we go. If after four years, no one is interested anymore, so be it. I read an interview with Rob Urbinati from Sacrifice the other day and the guy was asking him, “What happened after your last album? Why did you guys kinda just disappear?” And he was like, “Well, I guess our music just wasn’t in time or in tune with what people wanted to hear. People wanted to hear death metal and we didn’t want to change to death metal.” He was so matter-of-fact about it, and that’s how I feel. So be it. If people don’t like what you’re doing, or don’t like the time-frame that you put records out, fuck, what can you do? If you do anything else, you’re not being honest.

For more info on Propagandhi and G7 Welcoming Committee Records, the record label they help run, check out

1 comment:

  1. Am I the first one to leave a comment here? SUCCESS!!!

    Good luck with your blog, man.