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Propagandhi’s Sulynn Hago: my first six months with one of Canada’s most famous punk bands

Andrea Warner

Last year, Propagandhi, one of Canada’s oldest and most celebrated punk bands put out an open call for a new guitarist. After a three-month long search last summer, Florida’s Sulynn Hago was announced as the band’s newest member via a blog post that read: “BEWARE ALL POSERS. We have a new friend. Her name is Sulynn. She plays an SG and she’s ready to crack some f--kin skulls with it onstage with us. What the f--k else do you need to know?!?”

Over its 30 years, Propagandhi had very few lineup shifts, but one thing remained consistent: the members were all male and the band was ready to make a change. “The kind of music we play is so oversaturated with men, and we’ve always just liked female metal singers and metal bands,” bassist Todd Kowalski told the Regina Leader-Post last December. “We just really wanted to have a woman shredding away.”

CBC Music caught up with Hago in Vancouver before the band’s two sold-out shows to talk about her first six months with Propagandhi, being a fan first, and how she’s always been the only woman in every band.

How were the first shows with the band?
They were great. I think after the first one, I let out a sigh. It felt very southern of me to say, “Frig!”  For the first one, I said “Finally it happened!” Because of the anticipation, the build up from reading the ad to the many, many hours of practising these songs, it felt awesome. It was great to get such a positive reaction from people in their hometown. Of course, that's ideal, instead of, “Get out of here!”

With pitch forks.
It felt really fast and chaotic because we’re finally playing these songs and it's kind of crazy and there’s a group of people going nuts and it's loud — adrenaline and stuff. On the other hand, it also felt long. This is a lot to deal with. I've been used to playing in punk bands or I played more DIY punk bands in Florida, and it's 20 minutes. Of course, it was awesome and exciting. I mean some of it still feels surreal.

Especially if it's a band that you have enjoyed since you were a kid. It's a weird thing to transition from being a fan to being a member.
Yeah. It's definitely a weird thing. I tell people back home in Florida when they ask how it's going, I tell them it's good. When I'm back home, it does feel a bit still like a dream because I don't see them that often. I see them for a chunk of time. We work together for two and a half weeks all together for a bunch and then I'm back home and doing my own thing again.

What has been the most surreal moment so far?
I think that first week of the last audition was surreal. On one hand, I'm just playing music and I'm with my guitar. It's like my ultimate enjoyment, so I get in the mode where I'm just playing music with the band. Then I lift my head up and I see what band it is, who I'm with in that room, and what song we're playing. I really like the song 'Dear Coaches Corner' and there are moments when I'm playing that, I'm like, ‘Holy Shit! This is actually something that's happening right now.’ They're really nice, real people so at the same time it doesn't feel like too much like being a fan.

I was looking at the initial announcements around it and the statements from the band. On some level, I really enjoyed the aspect that they themselves wanted to shake up their little boys club. They used language that was embracing you and playing with the idea of this being shocking – just a different thing.
The bands has been like that, too, for as long as they've been a band. Like musically, they always wanted to take this extra step of challenging or growing and bringing on new things. So you're not the same band you were 10 years ago. I guess in this case, that was the kind  of — it just makes things exciting. To switch them up.

As thrilling as it is, can it sometimes be exhausting to always be the face of change? You've done this before. You've played a lot with being the one woman in the band.
I've never played with another woman in a band. My experience in bands – it kind of depends. It depends on who you're talking to. There are people who are going to highlight it as this extremely rare kind of occurrence because that's what they truly believe. That it is bizarre. Then there are other people, if they're part of a scene that has more women, it's not. So, I guess it depends on the scenario and who I'm talking to. I kind of don't focus on that. What it all comes down to is that I'm here to play and that's ultimately what I care about. It's a way to meet people. So, I don't think too much about those things. When they come up, there might be a little sting. That's just the person's misconception. I'm not sure if I'm fully elaborating on my thoughts. It's like a different topic in itself – being a woman in a group.

I've had things from people being condescending, but that was when I was younger. I remember setting up my amp and my mic and someone asking me if I knew how to do it. Yup. Things like that. I remember putting up flyers in some place and the owner of the record store asking which one was my boyfriend's band. You get those and it's almost like I've had to explain these narratives as a way to get my point clear, where it stings but it's kind of my drive to be like, “I want to kick more ass at the show!”

There's a galvanizing aspect to such stupidity.
I don't play to prove anything, but in those scenarios when it's like you're approached or seen in that light, there's a drive or extra /added purpose to your playing. I play because it's empowering and it's a nice thing to do. Hopefully I can empower some of the other people.

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

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