by Sheldon Birnie
Original review of How to Clean Everything by assistant editor Elizabeth Bridge, from Stylus, vol 5. no. 1, September 1993. The issue also included reviews of Malefaction’s Bruised, Grand Theft Canoe’s Bolivia + Argentina = Paraguay, and NomeansNo’s Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? as well as features on Eric’s Trip, Pond, and the Ramones.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of How To Clean Everything, Fat Wreck Chords is reissuing the “seminal” punk LP from Winnipeg’s Propagandhi on August 20th. The reissue includes all the original tracks, remastered, as well as three tracks cut from the album by Fat Mike, and a “long lost” four song demo. Also available, as a bundle or on its own, is a complete guitar and bass tablature book, compiled by Propagandhi’s Chris Hannah himself. As pre-orders of the reissue are (ostensibly) rolling off the shelves, Stylus sat down with Hannah over local beverages at Cousin’s on a hot July day to discuss the ins and outs of reissuing a piece of work you’d rather forget existed, and what’s up on the Propagandhi front moving forward.
Stylus: You’ve been very critical of this album over the years. When did it start to become a reality that this would be remastered and reissued?
Chris Hannah: I don’t know. I guess just when it became more real that it’d been 20 years, and where have those 20 years fuckin’ gone? It kind of dawns on you. A segment of our listenership have been persistent over the years that there’s really something about that record for them. That something really hit home with them at the time [they first heard it]. Probably because they were fuckin’ 13, and that’s about the intellectual level of that record. I can relate to that. There are records from bands that I like, where everybody always points to the band’s “earlier material” as being their most potent. I know bands don’t like some of these records, when you tell them, compared to their more recent work. But, I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, but the impact something has at a certain time. For some people there was just a convergence of their age, their musical experience, and the absurdity of that record that just merge together to make that time memorable for them, so they actually lose the ability to see that the record we made in 2012 [Failed States] is vastly superior to it. It’s objectively better, but subjectively…
Stylus: Derek Hogue mentioned on one of your Escape Velocity Radio podcast that, for him, HTCE was the first time he’d heard a lot of the “radical” ideas before. Do you find that often? That this was an introduction to a lot of listeners to “radical” ideas and ways of looking at the world?
CH: I guess so. I feel two ways about that. On one hand, I think, “Oh great!” As long as who they are now and what they’re doing now is solid, that’s cool. But knowing that, in retrospect, that we didn’t take that more seriously. And this is the problem with anybody who has ever done anything as a teenager, and looked back to reflect on it, they certainly wouldn’t want that to be their final word to the world. And those songs were written when we were teenagers. Even though, at its essence, there are no values on there that I am diametrically opposed to. They’re just insufficient to describe how I feel about things now. Some songs, like that “Stick the Flag Up Your Ass” song, I still get a kick out of, because I don’t really feel any differently. But most of the other ones are so meandering and incomplete.
Stylus: What was it like for you guys, at that time, going down to record this and put it out? You said you didn’t really take it seriously…
CH: No. It was a total gong show. We were just, we couldn’t believe we were going to Los Angeles! The most exciting part of the trip for us is that we saw Gretzky at the airport. I think that’s what everybody remembers the most. We were three little kids from Winnipeg who were just thinking that we were going to go down there and make this thing and that nothing was going to come of it. I don’t know what we were thinking. But we were way out of our league, unprepared. Even as musicians, we were completely unprepared to be in a studio. As songwriters, we were completely unprepared. And we had no work ethic, at the time. We thought you practice one, or twice every two weeks and you drink a bunch of beers and there you go. That’s all you have to do. We thought that a studio would somehow make us better. But of course it didn’t. It highlights how brutal you are.
Stylus: The bonus material on the rerelease, are those songs that have been collected on the Recovered EP or the How To Clean a Couple of Things 7″? Or are they all “new” material?
CH: Let me see… I think the actual studio tracks have been on something obscure, like a 7″ or a comp or something. This is the first time they’re all together. But the demos, I thought those were all lost. They were demos that were made for that record. When the guy from Fat Wreck Chords told me he had them, I was like, “What? You have what?” So, hearing those… that was tough to listen to. I was hoping they were gonna sound better, like the vocals wouldn’t be so stupid. But they were just as stupid.
Stylus: What about this tab book. There have been a few Propagandhi tab books released in the past few years. Was this just to keep that ball rolling, or how did it come about?
CH: Keeping that rolling was a bit of it. I eventually thought that if we were gonna tab out the albums, there are a lot of people who would like the tabs [for HTCE]. As simplistic as that record is, there are people who want to have the actual tab there to play along. And I wanted to learn how to write tab. I’ve never known any notation at all. I thought maybe I could do this one, since it’s a relatively simple record. And it just worked out to do it in conjunction with this [reissue], to see if someone will actually fuckin’ buy the thing. So please, go and fuckin’ buy this. Please.
Stylus: Do you have anything planned, show wise, for here in Winnipeg related to this reissue?
CH: Related to How To Clean Everything? No. Not at all. I mean, just playing a gig [in Winnipeg] could happen. Right now, we’re all pretty busy… For the immediate future there’s a lot going on, so we’re just taking it all day by day right now.
Stylus: Will there be a reissue of [1995’s] Less Talk, More Rock in a couple years?
CH: I guess if there’s interest. There are unreleased music from that record that could be dredged up. I don’t know. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, you could see it a bit as a cash grab for record labels. On the other hand, I do see a bit of a point to it as a commemoration. I like Sacrifice records that commemorate the time that has passed, and somebody writes a thing about the record on the inside. In the case of those records, they bring them up sonically to a modern standard. We’ll see.
Stylus: What’s up next for you guys?
CH: Well, I’m hoping, once all the smoke clears from what’s going on in our personal lives, behind the scenes, I’m hoping we’ll make another record. There’s tons of stuff, tons of material we’re working on. We just have to make sure everyone’s fit and interested.
Propagandhi’s debut LP How To Clean Everything will be reissued by Fat Wreck Chords as a 20th Anniversary special on August 20th.