by Sheldon Birnie

On September 4th, Epitaph Records will release Propagandhi’s sixth studio album, giving heavy hitting music fans a few months to enjoy headbanging along with it before constricting economic and geo-political realities propel our society into its final phase or, alternately, “Nibiru comes flying out of the Oort cloud and annihilates Earth in late December.” Over a couple beers on a blistering hot July afternoon, Chris Hannah sat down with Stylus to chat about rec hockey, the state of the world, and the new record.
“After the last record [2009’s Supporting Caste] we did a year and a half, almost two years of touring,” Hannah explained. “As soon as we got home, we just started, we really hunkered down. I think the songs got written in a year. We recorded in a month and a few weeks. It’s the fastest we’ve ever done it. Probably because we don’t usually bear down and do it. We usually do it piecemeal, lazy fashion. But this time we were like, let’s just fucking do it.”
Fucking do it they did, judging by the title track, which was released online in mid-July. A rager in the tradition of classic Propagandhi ragers, the tune clocks in at just under two minutes long. While of course nodding the hat to failed nation-states, Hannah explained that “Failed States” is focused closer to home.
“There’s the state of consciousness, and a failed state of consciousness.”
“There are a few more abstract thoughts about us as people and human nature on the record,” he continued. “I guess some of that might be inspired by reading some stuff like Chris Hedges, where some of his work talks about how we need to accept that we are imperfect, and that darkness exists in everybody. There’s no need to seek perfection. When you do, it turns into a nightmare. You see it over and over. When we build institutions to perfect technology or humanity or whatever, it always ends in disaster. So the institutions that we build should be there to bring out the best in us, and to discourage the worst in us.”
Hoping to get some more insight into the as-yet-unheard tunes, Stylus wonders if maybe the album as a whole can fit into that theme, one where geo-political states have not only failed us as citizens, but the world as a whole? Hannah reassures us the whole album isn’t doom and gloom.
“There’s a song on there called ‘Things I Like,’ which is literally an itemized list of things I like,” he says with a smile. “The song turned out really cool. I guess that’s sort of off the beaten path for us. Although the last word in the song is ‘doom’ still, now that I’m thinking about it.”
It’s hard to keep doom off of one’s mind in times like ours, where our federal government is busy dismantling social and environmental infrastructure that has been at the forefront of developed nations for years (see Old Age Security and the Experimental Lakes Area for two examples among countless others). As the father of a young child, Hannah has seen intellectual truths his band has been singing about for years transformed into concerns that are far more pressing than he’d previously imagined.
“I don’t understand how those guys,” he says, shaking his head, “how Stephen Harper himself doesn’t worry for his children. I mean, if he thinks putting his family in a gated community is going to save them from what’s coming… Which could be within our lifetimes, a total disintegration of social order as we know it, from ecological catastrophe.”
“But I don’t know what to do about it,” he admits. “I don’t know what to tell my son when he’s older, and he goes, ‘So your response to ecological insanity, war, patriarchy, rape culture, animal exploitation, was to start a band?’”
Starting a band that has been going strong for over 20 years, engaging fans across the world in an ongoing dialogue about those issues, though, is a far cry from sitting on one’s hands and ignoring the world’s problems altogether. While Hannah might not feel that he is as engaged as he should be, through Propagandhi’s six albums the band has helped to radicalize and engage thousands of bewildered and unwashed youth over the years.
With the release of Failed States on Epitaph, the band’s doom-laden, but ultimately hopeful message may have a chance at reaching its largest audience yet. However, Hannah admits he and his bandmates may have been skeptical at first about signing with such a relatively large American label.
“As a band, we’re pretty gun-shy of big American indie labels,” he said. “But then I talked to John Samson from the Weakerthans and he gave this totally honest, very positive report. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’ I talked to Kurt Ballou from Converge, and he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s awesome.’”
To date, Hannah says the working relationship with Epitaph has been purely positive. “There’s been no false advertising,” he says. “They’re very artist friendly, very respectful, and they did a good job.”
Following the September 4th release of Failed States, Propagandhi are hitting the road hard with fellow Winnipeggers Comeback Kid for a month of dates along the East Coast of the US and Canada. Stylus asked Hannah, a rec hockey fanatic and third-line grinder for ASHL’s Caress of Steel, how the tour will affect his season.
“I’m bracing myself for missing up to eight games of the 32 game season with Caress of Steel, which is huge. That’s a huge amount to miss,” he says. “I’ll make it work. I’ll probably take my gear on the road and book ice time. There’s some guys who do that in bands. We’ve never done that before, but fuck, it sounds amazing to me. Beave’ll probably bring his. One of our road crew guys plays hockey. We’ll make it work.”
Pick up Propagandhi’s Failed States September 4, 2012 at your favourite independent music retailer in Winnipeg.