by Michael Thomas
If there is anyone that can honestly say “I am really big in ______” where the blank is the name of a city, that is certainly Christian Hansen. Though he converts new fans with his over-the-top performances when he performs in his current city of Toronto, Hansen has a fanatical following in Edmonton.
It all started, of all things, because of exposure on a corporate radio station called SONiC 102.9. Thanks to some very forward-thinking staff, Christian Hansen & the Autistics (as they were called at the time) got their big break, and it was big.
“We kind of broke in Edmonton because of this band of the month thing they do, where it’s like ‘Pick a local band, spin the single two or three times a day,’ and then at the end of the month you have this show where hopefully all the local people who have heard your music and are into you come out,” Hansen explains. “So when they played our song, which was ‘Cocaine Trade’ from our first record, it caused the biggest reaction the band of the month had ever had. I have no idea why.”
Hansen was born in Crescent Beach, BC, a community in South Surrey. He grew up in the typical musical household. “My parents were always playing records and stuff like that,” he says. “My first memories of music are my dad playing the guitar while I was in the bathtub as a little kid.” He didn’t take to music right away, though. He was into drawing for years as a kid, but eventually that would change.
“I guess for me, the big change was when Nirvana happened,” Hansen says. “I always cared about music and listened to it, but when I saw… you know the video for ‘Come As You Are’? There’s a scene in it where Kurt Cobain was swinging from a chandelier. I have no idea why I saw that and I was like ‘That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.'”
Nirvana eventually opened the doors for Hansen to older punk rock and bands like Green Day, and he played in bands until he was 20 or 21. When he graduated high school, though he was interested in playing music, he wasn’t interested in studying it. He ended up doing a drama program in BC before moving to Edmonton in 2001 to take part in the University of Alberta’s drama program, at the time one of the top two theatre programs in the country.
It was there that he would find all the original members of his band; his girlfriend (and now wife) Molly Flood, as well as Scott Shpeley and Ava Jane Markus. Surprisingly, before the band’s formation, Hansen had been playing solo acoustic shows, with the accompanying music closer to a folk vein.
“As soon as I got my first MacBook and it had Garage Band on it, it was a big sea change moment for me,” Hansen says. “I saw what was possible with electronic music, and from that point, I don’t know what that was. But for me, the ability to create everything that I heard in my head, right away, on a computer, and make it myself, opened up this whole world to me. ”
The band name, Christian Hansen & the Autistics, isn’t meant to take offense to; in fact, it’s a tribute. Hansen’s full-time job has for many years been in autism services. “It was this sort of inspiring thing and it seemed like a good name at the time,” he says.
Initially, the group was just Hansen, Flood and Shpeley when the band hit it big in Edmonton, selling out their Sonic 102.9 showcase in six minutes. The lineup really solidified when Markus joined the group. Eventually, the lineup would come to include Doug Organ and Doug Hoyer when Shpeley and Markus left the band to pursue acting careers full-time.
Hansen and his band would finally begin to cast off the feeling of being on the fringes once they broke through with “Cocaine Trade.” “We were kind of outsiders in the music scene until [the breakthrough] happened,” Hansen says. “As you know, in most music scenes, especially in this indie thing, it’s all relationships and bands are incestuous and promoters are, and it’s just about getting to know people and relationships. But that kind of busted down the gates for us and we were able to go into the scene and meet people who we were on the periphery of and were looking in.” Some of these people included bands like Shout Out Out Out Out, Cygnets, and a band called Mass Choir, now defunct.
Eventually, Hansen and Flood decided to make the move to Toronto, and the other band members elected to stay in Edmonton. When they first arrived in Toronto, they had a live drummer and bass player, but found that the setup worked much better when it was just Hansen and Flood. Their shows are highly energetic, with neither musician ever standing still for more than a few seconds.
“As soon as we did that, we seemed to get more traction. People were into the show,” Hansen says. “People see a lot of bands. People go to shows and see a lot of people kind of doing what they do, which is fine. But I feel like sometimes you gotta do something different to catch people’s attention.”
Still, moving to Toronto took a bit of adjustment after their Edmonton fame, where people would actually stop Hansen in the street or give him free coffee at Starbucks. Though he knew that he shouldn’t let the notoriety go to his head, he admits that it did.
“After losing two of our group members and basically starting from scratch, it was an adjustment. It wasn’t soul-shattering or anything, but it made me realize how much having people drawn towards you and tell you they like your music, it’s what you want as an artist,” he says. “What I really had to do is dig into myself and what were my reasons for making music, performing, and that kind of got us back on track. It definitely was hard.”
He takes issue with the preconceived notion from other places that Toronto is mean. If anything, he says, people are quick to act on their ideas, and he and Flood wanted to be a part of it all. Like any other city, Toronto is about reaching out to venues and people who care about music, just like any other city.
Whenever Hansen returns to Edmonton, he finds that fans haven’t forgotten about him. On March 30, 2012, Hansen played a show in Edmonton’s Dinwoodie Lounge and completely sold out the 620-person venue.
“That show was the highlight of my career thus far,” Hansen says. “One of the reasons this was so special was because this is a venue that so many Canadian bands have played when they’ve toured through Edmonton. You go into the dressing rooms and all the bands have signed the wall. And I’m talking Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle, Matt Good, Hot Hot Heat, all these bands that had their time. Zuckerbaby, Our Lady Peace. The walls are covered. And then we signed our name there as well.
“I just went onto the stage and thought to myself ‘I don’t know if this is gonna happen again, so I gotta document this,’ he continues. “So I was just filming the crowd and they were just crazy stoked to be there. And there were people in the front who knew every single word. It was just ridiculous. When you create your music and art and put it out there, you want it to connect. When it connects, and people bring it back to you with their tattoos or the fact that they know every word, it’s that proof that it mattered. It’s the proof that the song did its job. ”
So far, Christian Hansen has two albums to his name—2009’s Power Leopard and 2012’s C’Mon Arizona, plus an EP, Swans. Though his second album puts some preference on guitar in addition to electronics, one thing is for sure—his music is catchy as hell.
Hansen is all about the hooks. “For me, a song, it has a job to do,” he says. “My attention span is short personally, so I want to get in, tell the story, leave this impression, emotional or sonic that the song gives you, and get out. When I’m writing, I’ll be messing around and if I come up with a hook, it’s like you’re fishing and you get a bite. ”
Catchiness aside, his songs, which often deal with relationships deal with them in a completely outrageous way. “You, Me, Him & Us” has a character who has second thoughts about a threesome. The story of “You Are a Juggalo” should be clear just from the song title. “Churchill Square” is about getting drunk on New Year’s Eve. Hansen describes his lyric writing as composites, in which he draws from several real life events and morphs them into something entirely new. He uses the example of the song “Pill Popper.”
“That’s a composite of something that I went through with a really good friend of mine a few years ago,” Hansen says. “He had this girlfriend who was a complete lunatic. But there were other parts that I put into the song to make it work, and to make it work lyrically in term of the sound of the words, rhyme scheme, and all that. ”
While Hansen is still doing gigs around Toronto and the surrounding area, he is working on new music, though it won’t be under the name Christian Hansen.
“To be totally honest, I’m kind of going through a bit of a musical shift right now,” he says. “I’m pretty huge into hip-hop, so the stuff that I’m working on now is very towards the hip-hop side of things. I’m not rapping, don’t worry.” He describes the new tunes as “weird bluesy R& B, but electronic as well.” What the music will sound like is anybody’s guess, but it’s good to know that Hansen isn’t resting in his laurels.
Catch Christian Hansen at Grayowl Point’s co-presentation with Crosswires on September 29, 2013 at Handlebar. See the Facebook event for more details.