Interview with … Christian Hansen

Christian Hansen is a man who plays in a band with his wife Molly Flood. Christian Hansen is also a band that features the man and his wife as its sole permanent members. It’s pretty confusing and not confusing at all. Formerly Christian Hansen and the Autistics, this new incarnation is more about celebration than responding to backlash about the name itself. I asked Hansen if it was a hint to a future of solo music making.

“The name change”, responded Hansen, “was because we needed to signify a change. The Autistics were dead, and I wanted to ensure the name was something that could go on without the Autistics. I plan on making music for a long time.”

Full disclosure: I have been friends with Christian and Molly for almost a decade. In fact, Molly was my first friend in University and we even went to this weird leadership conference together when we were in first or second year.

There was a fabled Warped Tour stop in Calgary where the lead singer of Coheed and Cambria was too drunk to play and got booed off the stage—Christian and I were there for that. We booed. Later we ate granola bars in my car as we waited out a massive hailstorm.

Our friendship has been and punctuated by music. One of my favourite moments of intersection was late one night when my friend Chelsea and I were doing some work on a theatrical set and Christian stopped by the theatre late at night with guitar and beer (and maybe pizza) in hand and played us a number of songs that would eventually end up on his lovely and understated record, The Super Awkward Album.

C’Mon Arizona represents a bit of a return to form for the band—or rather a return to Christian’s rock and roll roots. Far less overtly dance-y than it’s gloriously gaudy predecessor Power Leopard and the transitional EP (a favourite of mine) Swans, C’Mon Arizona is more glam than punk rock but still lives deep in a west-coast pop punk kid’s heart.

The band has gone through some seriously transitional stuff and much of that has contributed to the evolution of C’Mon Arizona. First, the band relocated to Canada’s indie-pop mecca, Toronto, and underwent a major lineup change.

Says Christian of the move, “Toronto is great. It is the mecca, as you put it. I won’t lie, it’s been great, but it’s also been a bit of a struggle. We knew it would be this way though. We’re basically starting from scratch. In doing so, we’re trying to use it as an opportunity for change.” And that change is evident on C’Mon Arizona. Gone is the one note, aggressive bombast of Power Leopard, replaced with a more balanced and dynamic sound. It’s proof that Hansen has evolved as a songwriter and perhaps embraced some of the variety of Toronto’s rock scene. What hasn’t changed is the element that makes Christian’s writing unique among Canadian songwriters. “Since the [Super Awkward Album] I’ve come along way. I like to think my songwriting has become more essential and that my voice, performance and live presence have become stronger. I have so much more experience and that’s a good thing.

“However, with that experience you also lose something: your joyful ignorance. The place where all great creative spark comes from. It’s a daily fight to find that; to maintain the unquestioning voice and to ignore the multitudes of voices, both inside and out, that try and tell you what you need to be.”

And that spark and commitment to his own voice means that Hansen never balks at a terrifying subject and never waivers at discussing culturally sensitive themes. Instead of shying away, he beautifully juxtaposes dark subject matter against a bright pop backdrop. On Power Leopard it was sexual assault by priests and paying for sex on vacation. On C’Mon Arizona, Hansen dives back into the mirth and mire and focuses on: cults, ‘Spirit Guide’; the crassness of Facebook memorial pages for dead loved ones, ‘Hurry Up and Die’; and the hilarious, tounge-in-cheek world of pill popping socialites ‘Pill Popper’. For Hansen, “[t]he draw to incorporate pop melodies with dark subjects just comes from my interests. I love pop music, and I love dark, weird subjects, so it’s natural that they would come together. It’s a natural process for me that just happens.”

While Hansen does stray into darker territory, the songs that resonate the most are the ones that feel the most personal. ‘I Hate Punk Rock’ and ‘The Middle of the Night’ are the album’s two strongest tracks because they feel most closely connected to Hansen. Both conjure the sadness of disappointment and loss and whether rooted in actual truth or not, both are deeply moving and effective songs. Added to that, ‘I Hate Punk Rock’ is easily the catchiest song on the album and I find myself singing it at the oddest times of the day: in the elevator, in the shower or as I brush my hair. And I guess that’s the testament to a good pop song. The weakest link on the album is ‘New York, New York’, a rather sentimental love ballad that seems there as a place-holder rather than the polished pop gem fans have come to expect and that populate the rest of the album.

Christian Hansen and the Autistics have always had a particularly rabid fan base in Edmonton and with three sold out CD release parties earlier in the fall it seems like the name change hasn’t slowed them down. I was once asked what a Christian Hansen live show was like and I said, or Christian said, or someone said, “It was sort of Fucked Up meets Adam Ant minus all the blood. Oh, and Christian can do a hilarious Tim Armstrong impression!”

And Hansen speculates that could be part of the reason for the draw. “I really have no idea what created the super fandom. I think it’s because the music was something different to [Edmonton’s] Sonic 102.9 demographic and also that ‘Cocaine Trade’ was a catchy track. Those two things combined was the magic. Also, Sonic really got behind the single and we really saw the power that a massive media exposure has. We were also from Edmonton, which went along way with Edmontonians, who are fiercely independent and have a love-hate relationship with their own city. All this combined with our outlandish live show that sealed the deal of sent people running.”

And then there was the “theatre kid thing”—as actors and musicians Hansen and Flood have always towed an odd line in the Edmonton music community. Theatre kids loved them and hipsters in cool, less popular bands loved to blog hate them.

“The ‘theatre band’ thing was an obvious point. We ARE theatre kids, and at the height of the Autistics, we were bringing all that training and awareness to the stage, which in Edmonton at the time, was something only we were offering,” acknowledges Hansen. “In a world where most bands don’t know what they’re trying to say, we knew exactly what we were trying to say, and this is what both garnered so many fans and earned us a select group of hating fuck boys. Ha!”

Given the quality and skill ever present on C’Mon Arizona, due in large part to crack Edmonton-based producer Doug Organ and sometimes member Doug Hoyer, it is likely that the future for Christian Hansen, the band, is bright. Currently the band itself is only he and Molly but they are looking for members who have that “perfect jive”. I asked Molly how her roll in the band had changed given that now she and Christian are the only official members: “With this album, I feel more ownership. I have a better idea of what I want to sound like in the songs and how I can compliment and contribute to the music. In the past year I’ve realized how much I love playing in the band. We don’t take anything for granted out here—every show has been so different. It’s been a chance to learn, fail and try again.”

And the reinvention isn’t over. Far from it: “In terms of inspiration, now it is reinvention. I’m trying to build something new, and I’m going down many different roads to do it. We’ll see what sticks. Bass-drums-guitar? Drum machine? Spoken word nude punk rock? Or a job as a butcher? It could be anything.”

I left our interview with a little dare for Christian: Play tour creator—what is your dream tour? Who would you play with? What would that tour look like?
“Dream Tour: opening slot for Metric on a cross-Canada tour. Doug Organ and Doug Hoyer would be are backing band. Every night would be different. We’d hear cool stories from other musicians. Done deal.”

And that’s it: done deal. A beautifully simple vision of a dream that makes a lot of deeply practical sense and C’Mon Arizona should be a wonderful touch stone to put that dream in motion.