Propagandhi have always been socially conscious, but there are particular times when their lyrical and philosophical perspective really dovetails with the headlines. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Propagandhi have always drawn lyrical inspiration from the world around them, and a lot of the time, that entails things like social injustices, abuses of power and the restriction of freedom. So, uh, the current political climate feels built for their particular brand of commentary. However, “I think there’s never anything conscious about our songwriting process,” frontman Chris Hannah says of new album, Victory Lap. “We don’t aim to specifically cover certain topics or current events. We’re literally just a band making observations of the world around us, and those observations are seen through the lens of the world around us. But the current trajectory of the planet helps lend itself to maybe making this record seem a little more current-event-ish.”
Aside from the changing political climate, this album was also written and recorded amidst a pretty substantial lineup change – guitarist David Guillas recently left the band after a decade. “He became a teacher,” Hannah says. “He got smart and started following a practical career path, and he had a child – so we were looking for someone to replace him. Over the course of a few months and probably 500 submissions from different players, we found Sulynn Hago. She’s from Florida and she just really fit in from the get-go.
“I was playing a Gibson SG with a Bare Knuckle Nailbomb in the bridge, and we managed to borrow a friend’s Friedman BE-100 amp. I intentionally tried to stay away from my usual Boogie Rectifier cabinet with V30s, and instead try a bouncier Marshall sound with Greenbacks. That was a different sound to what we usually work with, but I think it really worked on the record.
“You know what’s crazy? I’ve been playing for so long and I’d never even considered the speakers. In all the years of playing in a professional band, I never knew what speaker I was plugging into. I would just plug in and think, ‘How come I don’t sound as good as Gary Holt from Exodus?’ And then about ten years ago, someone told me I was plugging into V30s and I was like ‘Okay, I like those.’ And it was actually the advent of the Axe-Fx, where I was going through all the settings and trying different speakers with different mics. I kept going from the V30s to the Greenbacks and back, and I wondered: if I like it so much on here, will I like it that much in real life? They’ve done such an amazing job of impulse-responsing those cabinets that it’s a great way of auditioning cabinets you’d never be able to take to your practise space otherwise.”
Hago is also an SG player – or, at least in Propagandhi. “She’s very much into effects and creating depth and dimension, which is good because I have no natural instinct for that kind of stuff,” Hannah says. “I love it but I don’t know how to set a reverb pedal! At home Sulynn plays a number of different guitars, like a Jazzmaster and a Stratocaster. She’s a guitar teacher and she has a number of weapons in her arsenal, but I steered her to playing an SG with us just for that extra thump.”
For the first 20 years of the band, Hannah was the sole guitarist, bringing in Guillas in 2006 to try to lighten the load. “When our previous guitar player joined the band, it was a revelation,” he says. “Like, ‘Why hadn’t we done this before?’ With what we were trying to do as a three-piece, it added so much more dimension and depth to have a guitar player who didn’t have to be concerned about singing. The one surprise was that it didn’t actually make the playing easier for me! It sounded better, but it wasn’t easier because I had to play better to stay in lockstep with the other guitar player! So that was kind of depressing, to realise I had to work even harder!”