Most bands are excited about reissuing their old material but not Chris Hannah. A little background: Fat Wreck Chords recently re-released a 20th anniversary edition of the band's 1993 debut, How To Clean Everything, that's remastered and features extra songs as well as the original demo for the album. Oh, Hannah also transcribed all the bass and guitar parts into a book which is available as well.
So why the hard feelings? Well, think about the first album you made as a teenager and you'd probably also think it's sloppy, goofy and largely unlistenable. The reality is that so many people outside of the band (including us) still cherish this incredibly groundbreaking melodic punk album and ultimately its imperfections are part of its inherent charm. Hey, by the end of this interview even Hannah almost agreed with us.
PureVolume: What was it like listening back to your first album 20 years after it was released? Did you have to spend a lot of time with it?
I did listen to it quite a bit because I wanted to see if from a technical perspective there was any reason to remaster it, and it turned out there was after multiple listens and the first few remasterings that came in. Also, I was transcribing a guitar tab book because we've been venturing into guitar tabs recently. So I spent way too much time listening to the record leading up to the release and fuck, man, it's so brutal.
In what sense?
It's brutal in the sense of hearing specifically the vocals. The music, whatever, it's fast and loose and ridiculous but seeing how I never really sang before in combination with some of the goofy lyrics is like having your most embarrassing moments on YouTube or something as a modern equivalent.
I have to admit when I heard about this reissue the first thing that popped into mind was, "I thought these guys wanted to disown songs like 'Ska Sucks.'"
That's true. [Laughs] A song like "Ska Sucks" was never supposed to be played outside of Winnipeg. We had written the song just to piss off local skinheads who for some reason identified heavily with ska music in the early ‘90s. We didn't really want to record it but [label owner/NOFX's] Fat Mike wanted it so we thought, "Well, the guy is paying for it and no one is ever going to buy this thing, so who gives a shit?" Now it's the proverbial albatross around our necks for the rest of our lives.
So where did the idea to reissue How To Clean Everything come from?
I had an idea to actually do the guitar tab book I was talking about and in the course of that I thought, "it's been 20 years" and I sent an email to the people at Fat Wreck Chords and asked if they were going to do anything about this and they were like, "Well, we weren't going to but now that you mentioned it maybe we could." And that's when the idea of remastering the record came about. So I guess it's my fault.
This album is goofy but there are hints of the politics that would come to define Propagandhi later in your career. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, we were definitely on the cusp on becoming very engaged people politically so that came across but a majority of those songs were written when we were teenagers so they're automatically going to be goofy whether you want them to be or not. We were just drinking beers and playing songs to make each other laugh so the goofiness was unavoidable.
What was the transcription process like for you?
Well, there are some riffs I like but the thing that stuck out to me the most was that there's specific little rhythm patterns that appeared to the point of absurdity throughout every song. I think anyone who plays guitar would quickly notice, "This guy does this thing constantly," but at the time I had only played guitar for a few years. At least over the years we tried to break out of the same guitar gimmicks, whereas a lot of the contemporaries of that scene kept rehashing the same old shit to the point where it made you want to barf.
What's the story regarding the songs that were cut from the original release that are included in this version?
Fat Mike wanted both of [former bassist/vocalist] John [K. Samson's] songs off the record because he didn't like the way John's voice mixed with skate punk music. I thought it definitely had its charm and it reminded me of the Smoking Popes but Mike didn't. Then the other two, I don't know. I guess he wanted to use one for a seven-inch or something? We had a big list [of songs] when we got down [to the studio] but maybe we didn't finish it in time because the record got made so quickly. The whole thing was mixed in part of a day.
How did the title and art relate to the rest of the album? I could never figure that out.
Yeah, good question. [Laughs] The title was from this book that was sitting at mom's house called How to Clean Everything and I don't know why that stuck with me but I just wanted to call it that. Maybe because it sounded different? I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. Then we never submitted any artwork. Mike kept asking us and we were like, "Yeah, whatever" for some reason not taking it all seriously and eventually he was like, "Fuck it, we'll make some art." We met him and he showed up with a finished record form the pressing plant with artwork we had never seen before and I remember breaking into a cold sweat looking at it thinking, "Holy fuck, it's The Flintstones." I mean it's our own fault, we didn't hand in any artwork so we get The Flintstones instead.
You obviously went more hardcore both musically and lyrically later but can you hear those seeds planted here?
Oh, for sure, I think even before How to Clean Everything we were already making failed attempts at being a little more metallic and heavy and very little of that shows up on this album, the more obvious seeds show up on the next record, Less Talk, More Rock. But we play some songs from How to Clean Everything live in the midst of our new songs and give or take a few things they sound fairly seamless; it's not like they're just this completely foreign entity that doesn't make any sense. [Drummer] Jord [Samolesky's] drumming is still very similar and the way I play guitar isn't too far off either side from the progressions itself. I think it all works.