Sulynn Hago of Propagandhi on Joining Her Favorite Band

Most people aren’t lucky enough to meet their favorite band, let alone become a part of it. But those are two things that Sulynn Hago, the newest addition to progressive thrash band Propagandhi, is able to hang her hat on.

Sulynn was captivated by the guitar for as long as she could remember, moving from Puerto Rico to Florida at just nine years old. She began playing in punk and experimental bands in high school — some of which she’s still a member of — before answering Propagandhi’s Facebook ad for a new guitarist.

A Canadian band known as a genre-blurring powerhouse, Propagandhi’s songs and riffs go from melodic and catchy to heavy and shred-worthy at the drop of a hat. With so many miles between Tampa-based Sulynn and the Winnipeg-based Propagandhi, we just had to know more about how Sulynn joined the group and the recording process for their latest release, Victory Lap.

For more information about Propagandhi and to check out their latest album and tour dates, head to their website.

When you joined the band, they were already toward the end of the touring cycle for the last record, Failed States. Now that Victory Lap is out, a lot of Propagandhi fans are going to be seeing you and hearing what you bring to the table for the first time. That being said, I think a lot of fans want to know a little bit about you. What inspired you to pick up the guitar?

I was always attracted to the instrument from watching MTV as a kid. Some of my earliest memories — probably from four years old — are of the guitar.

I was born in Puerto Rico and lived there until I was nine. There was a neighborhood kid who was a little older than me, and he had a really banged up acoustic guitar, and that was the first guitar I remember seeing. It didn’t even have all of the strings on it. We had no pick. I remember using a Lego shape — like a 2x3 — just basically trying to emulate what I was seeing on TV. I knew that it sounded like shit, but it still felt really cool.

At some point — and I lose track of what age — he actually got an electric guitar for Christmas or something, and that was the first time we actually had a legit guitar. I still remember the day his mom pulled it out of the trunk. It was like, “Holy shit!" you know, because it wasn’t like you had access to a lot of music stores in Puerto Rico. I don’t even think there was a single music store. The only way to get a guitar was through JC Penney or Sears catalogs. My mom would get the new issue for the month, and it’s not like the guitar changed, but I’d pretend it did so it felt new. I’d always flip to that page and be like “Holy shit!"

Did you study guitar?

On my own, but I didn’t go to school for it. I do have the degree knowledge, though, because I would seek out different people around the area — basically college professors — and take private lessons and then kind of teach myself stuff by ear.

That’s kinda my motto — learn what you like so you can understand it."

I still do that. If I know of someone’s style and playing I really like, I’ll chime in on a few lessons and then learn a ton of music on my own, just learn a ton of music all the time. That’s kinda my motto — learn what you like so you can understand it.

Were you in any local bands before Propagandhi?

Yeah, I started playing in bands in high school. I played with friends or anyone I knew who liked punk and such right up until I joined Propagandhi. I learned how to jump in and book tours myself, just by reaching out to people. The worst that could happen is that they wouldn’t respond, but they usually did. And next thing you know, you’d have a show.

The first DIY tour I booked was three weeks — 20 shows in 21 days — and it’s still one of my favorite tours I’ve ever done. That was with a band called Career (which I’m still in), but back then, we were called Ink and Sweat.

How long have you been with Propagandhi?

I think I joined right around two years ago. I can’t believe it’s already been that long. They were one of my favorite bands guitar-wise and lyrically, and I saw the ad they posted on their website and Facebook and thought I could really do it.

They basically just asked people to send videos of themselves playing their five hardest songs, and I believe I sent three videos: “Status Update," “Night Letters," and “Failed States."

You joined right after Dave Guillas (Beaver), who added a lot more texture and layers to the songs. I remember they were asking that their new guitar player bring ambience. Was that something that you were already comfortable with or did you have to sit down and figure it out at the time?

When I read that, it kind of excited me because I feel like being in my other band, Career, had helped me get to know who I wanted to be as a guitar player, and that style is a big part of it. If you see my pedalboard for that band, it’s pretty absurd. I stopped singing in that band precisely so I could focus on my noise and ambiance.

I like a lot of experimental music and players like Nels Cline and Marc Ribot. I already felt like I had that, so I was excited. On the last day of recording, they sent me the songs and said “Hey, if you think of anything ambient you can add, just let us know." I sat there listening and writing parts. I did some tracks the next day, and a lot of it actually made it onto the record, which is pretty cool.

On the flip side, was there anything that you felt you really needed to work on after first jamming with the band?

From the beginning, it was the stamina. So many of Propagandhi songs are fast throughout the whole thing, so it’s being able to stay in the pocket and stay energized with it. At this point, I feel pretty good about it.

I remember looking at the setlist during the first show and thinking, “Holy fuck! We still have half the set left."

It’s not the tempo of the songs but the performance. I remember looking at the setlist during the first show and thinking, “Holy fuck! We still have half the set left." I was used to playing 25 minutes or so with bands, and now I was playing an hour and 15 minutes. So that’s what I mean by stamina.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the new album, Victory Lap. Since you live in Florida and the rest of the band lives in Winnipeg, how did you go back and forth with ideas?

It had already been a few years since Failed States when I joined the band. The writing process for the new record had already started, so for a while, we didn’t even know if I was going to be on it at all. The way they were advertising the guitarist position was as a touring player, so that’s what I expected. But as we played shows and it got closer to recording, I added to it.

I flew to Winnipeg toward the end of the sessions and did a lot of backup vocals, ambient stuff, and then did full guitars on a couple of songs. David (Beaver) was there for part of the recording too. So, it’s just like an interesting record to me, it was kind of a transitional point you know.

What did you end up recording with when you went up there? What was your setup?

It was a JCM800 with the SG I play live. It was basically the live setup I had, and then as far as pedals, I didn’t use the Fractal, which I’m using live now. I used an actual pedalboard.

What were some of your go tos?

I used the Maxon Overdrive and then just a mixture. I used a Boss chorus and the Strymon TimeLine if I’m not mistaken. I think there was also a phaser.

I even added slide guitar to one of the songs — a track called “Tartuffe" — so if there’s something that feels very like, “What the fuck is that?" you have me to blame for that slide guitar. When I did it, I was like “This is awesome, I can’t believe I’m adding slide guitar to a Propagandhi record or song."

You mentioned an SG. Has that always been your go-to guitar?

The SG is probably the one I play most in punk bands, and I used it in Propagandhi because I think it fits the sound. I like playing it in different bands because I’ll adapt my setup to the sound.

For Propagandhi, I feel like the Fractal, the SG, and the JCM800 are perfect. But for Career and some of the experimental and ambient stuff I do at home, I play more Fender. I have a Strat, and I just bought the Johnny Marr Jaguar. That thing rules, I love it. Maybe one day I’ll bust it out for Propagandhi, but we’ll see what’s up.

With the new album out now and a few tours already booked, what are you looking forward to the most during this record cycle?

I’m looking forward to playing these new songs and breaking them in, getting them to their peak where it’s like they’re no longer work to play. Also just to have people hear them and hopefully be excited by them as much as I think we are.

It’s all pretty cool and exciting. There are moments where I can’t believe this is something that happened, but then another part of it feels this is normal, and I’m like “Shit, this is my band."


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