If you wanted to illustrate the diversity of North America in terms of climate and culture, you'd be hard pressed to pick two better examples than Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Tampa, Florida. Apart from being located on the same continent, the Cigar City and “Slurpee Capital of the World” have very little in common.
The two cities, however, have both been homes to thriving punk communities. Winnipeg’s scene produced bands like Swallowing Shit, I Spy, The Weakerthans (RIP), and, of course, the legendary Propagandhi. Tampa, while not having as many recognizable names outside, has gained a reputation for being an essential spot for bands coming through Florida, from the now-defunct Hold Tight House to Pre-Fest, the annual two-day festival originally started by Tampa punks that leads up to the big one in Gainesville ever year.
On Wednesday, the two cities gained one more thing in common: Propagandhi, who announced back in June that guitarist David “The Beaver” Guillas was taking a job as a teacher, added a new member. Sulynn Hago, a Tampa-based musician and guitar teacher who's previously played in many of Tampa’s best bands over the past few years, such as New Bruises, Feral Babies, Ink & Sweat, and Career. “I’ve been hit up nonstop since it’s been posted,” Hago told me the morning after the news was posted. “Like, everyone I’ve ever known since I started playing in bands. It’s the sweetest thing ever.”
(Full disclosure: Ink & Sweat did a split with my old band, and I’ve been friends with Sulynn for three years.)
Propagandhi introduced her on Facebook thusly: “BEWARE ALL POSERS. We have a new friend. Her name is Sulynn. She plays an SG and she’s ready to crack some fuckin skulls with it onstage with us. What the fuck else do you need to know?!?” Good question. Let’s find out…
Noisey: So, the obvious first question is: How the hell did this happen?
Sulynn Hago: Well, a friend from high school posted the ad on another friend's page and tagged me in it. I think he meant it jokingly, but I got the most excited that I’d gotten over something in a while. It was totally physical, like an adrenaline rush, and my heart was beating really rapidly. I felt deep down like I could get it from the moment I read it.
I was on my way to a yoga class, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. When I got home, I sent an email to them explaining who I was, my playing and touring experience, and my ability to tour.
When did you hear back from them, and how did they approach you about it?
I heard back from Chris [Hannah] a few days later as he was plowing through the pile that was over 400 in replies to the ad, and what was rad is that he said mine was among the most intriguing he'd read so far.
Ink & Sweat set
So, let’s backtrack a little bit. When did you start listening to Propagandhi?
I think I was around 13 years old. So like 2000 or 2001?
Jesus. And knowing how you play, it seems like they were a really big influence on you. Did you ever imagine that you would be doing this?
No, not at all. I mean, I think when you play an instrument and you watch a band you really like and they fit your taste, you joke around and imagine playing with them. I think I've done that as a kid for a bunch of bands. What's funny is that Propagandhi was the first show I went to this year, and I kinda had that thought… like, man, I’d love to play music with dudes like them.
Did you have to send them clips of you playing the songs or something?
Yeah, I sent them three videos of me playing Night Letters, Status Update, and Note to Self. Pretty hard songs to learn in a small amount of time.
At that stage it seemed overwhelming to them and they were surprised at the response, so he said, “We're not sure how this is going to go down and we might just go with someone nearby because it's convenient, but at the same time, to break away from the status quo, if you're willing to try, send a couple videos of you playing two of the songs listed on the second ad.” It was a pretty start and stop process as you can imagine. I mean, they received so many inquiries, it seemed like a lot to keep up with.
So after I sent those initial videos, they contacted me saying I was among the players they were interested in, and they shot over the next stage of the video audition which was to send a video of me standing while playing and doing back up vocals.
When did you find out that you had been the one selected? Was there a Winnipeg’s Got Talent type-thing where you had to go to Canada to try out?
In the beginning of August, I received an email from them saying that they were definitely interested in me taking on the guitar gig. I flipped out, man. I was at my sister's place in New York and was like, “Holy shit, holy shit!” The way it went down was that they asked me if I minded if they sent a bunch of questions for me in the next few days or if I had any other suggestions on how to do it. So, I suggested a Skype call, and we ended up doing that the next day or so.
It was Todd and Chris on the other side, and just talking to each other kind of in person was a little awkward, honestly. Chris and I had been in touch about my videos and a little bit about my experience playing, but here we were meeting each other for the first time. Like, this isn't what any of us are used to when starting or joining bands, so it was definitely a new experience for everyone. I think it just felt awkward because from both sides, none of us had ever done anything like this before. Like, this isn't what any of us are used to when starting or joining bands, so it was definitely a new experience for everyone.
Have you met them in person yet?
The last stage of the audition was to fly me out for a week to see if we were all a good fit for each other. Around mid-September, I flew up there and we played together. It sounded fucking rad, man. We just worked out any parts that needed tweaking and some vocal harmony stuff, but honestly dude, it felt totally natural. I love those songs. I know those songs. The first day we just plugged in and would call out the song to play. And it all fucking sounded great and loud and righteous.
I would honestly forget what was happening at the moment. Like, I would lift my head and scan the room and remember, “Oh shit, I’m practicing with Propagandhi! It felt right and the chemistry was instant. It felt like the way I feel when I play with the dudes in Career [Hago’s other band]. Just plug in and go, and not even think about too much. Pretty fucking wild, right?
Part of what’s so wild about this whole thing, aside from it being you, is that they selected a guitarist who grew up in such a different environment than them, down to the fact that you both live in different countries.
There were moments while I was busting ass to learn their songs and I'd think, there's no way they're gonna pick me. I’m basically from another planet, but then I honestly felt a crazy musical connection just from instinct that told me to fucking just try. Honestly, even though we're from different countries and totally different climates—the cold is gonna kill me—there's definitely parallels in terms of love of music and way of living. They're laid back guys who love the hell out of playing music and writing songs and playing shows. That similarity in itself makes these rad things happen, you know?
And of course, Propagandhi in all their glory. Long live The Beav.
That's awesome. Are you going to be recording with them as well as touring?
I don't know at the moment. There's definitely new songs in the works, but that hasn't been part of the discussion yet. I think step one is just playing out together and we'll see where it goes from there. We have no official dates for tour, but we're hoping to get some shows before the end of the year!
Have they ever been to Tampa? What did they think?
They have been to Tampa, but it was a while ago. You’ll have to ask them that question though… there's a funny story there.
Paul Blest wants to know the funny story. Follow him on Twitter @pblest