For two guys living in the United States, Greg Soden and Keith Gough have spent a lot of time in Winnipeg over the last 12 months.
They are the hosts of Unscripted Moments: A Podcast About Propagandhi — although, calling their wide-ranging oral history project about the Winnipeg-based punk-metal band a "podcast" feels somewhat insufficient.
Soden and Gough, both 37, have released more than 50 lengthy episodes (and multiple bonus episodes) about the music of Propagandhi since June 2020. While neither have visited our mid-sized Prairie city, it’s become a recurring character in their weekly interviews with local musicians, writers, academics and fans.
"What’s been so interesting about this whole process is the essentialness of Winnipeg to the story of the podcast," says Soden via Zoom from his home in Buffalo, N.Y. "We talk about your city so often."
Soden completed a master’s degree in Saskatoon, but Gough, who lives outside Chicago in the northwestern corner of Indiana, has never ventured north of the 49th parallel.
"This has been a learning experience," he says of the show. "Obviously about the band, but also about things that as an outsider we wouldn’t have learned in school or our media wouldn’t pick up on."
The pair were little more than Twitter acquaintances when they decided to start a long-distance pandemic passion project together.
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Both are teachers and regularly bumped into each other in online education circles. The relationship progressed beyond likes and comments when Soden noticed that Gough’s profile photo was the cover art for 2012’s Failed States, Propagandhi’s sixth album.
"The idea for this song-by-song Propagandhi podcast began to gestate in my mind," says Soden, who was already producing his own podcast about religion at the time. "I was like, ‘Oh, wonder if this random guy from Indiana would be a good person to do a show like this with?’"
The format for Unscripted Moments was inspired by a podcast called As You Were, which dissects the discography of American rock band Alkaline Trio one song at a time. Nobody had attempted the same with Propagandhi; Soden was eager to give it a shot. His prospective co-host, however, needed some convincing — six months of convincing, to be exact.
"I’ve never been someone to create something and put it out into the world," Gough says.
"I felt very insecure about the idea of recording my thoughts, my voice and then having strangers on the internet just pummel me for things I said or didn’t say."
Last March, when the coronavirus began making waves in North America, his school closed for four weeks, then for the rest of the year. He needed a social outlet. A standing weekly conversation about his favourite band with a new friend from two states away started gaining appeal.
Gough discovered Propagandhi through online music message boards in the early 2000s. He fell hard and relished the chance to talk about their music whenever he spotted someone wearing a band shirt. The social, political and historical ideas in the lyrics changed his worldview and have influenced the way he teaches American history in the classroom.
"We like to see the past as severed from events today. (I try) helping the students draw a thread between then and now," Gough says. "Questions about power, access to resources, who has influence over the media, what is in textbooks and what’s left out."
Soden heard a Propagandhi record for the first time during a jam session in high school. Whether he stole his bandmate’s copy of the then-trio’s 1993 debut, How to Clean Everything, or borrowed and never returned it is a detail lost to history. Regardless, he was hooked by the band’s tendency to push the envelope, musically and ideologically — something that also factors into his teaching.
"As an English, speech and debate teacher, the main thing I want my students to feel comfortable doing is researching and expressing views on things that they find interesting or troubling," Soden says. "That’s what Propagandhi has done for their entire career."
Recording Unscripted Moments has been a way to channel their fandom and talk about the broader context of the group’s music. Most episodes clock in at two hours long and include a song discussion, musical performances and interviews with subject experts and people associated with the band. They’ve also chatted with past and present band members Chris Hannah, Jord Samolesky, Todd Kowalski, Sulynn Hago and David Guillas.
Once they’ve analyzed every Propagandhi song, of which there are more than 100, the podcast will be over — that is, until the band’s next release.
The desire to do justice to music packed with so much meaning has turned the hobby into a part-time job (albeit an unpaid one). The hosts spend upwards of 16 hours per show on research, recording, editing and publishing — all while parenting, teaching and trying to maintain some semblance of work-life balance.
"That’s what this band inspires from me," Soden says of the self-imposed workload. "This has hands-down been my favourite creative project I’ve ever been a part of."
Listeners have been receptive to the concept. The show sees about 10,000 downloads every month from people across the world. If Gough was hesitant about feedback before, it’s become one of his favourite parts of the podcast, "For it to be well received and to get emails and (direct messages) and care packages and mail from people encouraging us… those things are pretty amazing," he says.
"For it to be well received and to get emails and (direct messages) and care packages and mail from people encouraging us… those things are pretty amazing." – Keith Gough
The show doesn’t follow any set chronology, but focuses on whichever song the hosts feel like talking about that week. The work has kept them sane during the pandemic, but the heavy subject matter often takes a toll.
"We’ll research cops killing First Nations men in Saskatoon and read about that for a whole entire week," Soden says of the song Bringer of Greater Things, about the police department’s tradition of "starlight tours," which led to the freezing deaths of three Indigenous men in 2000. "There are some songs that really wreck us to talk about."
After nearly a year of recording Unscripted Moments over Zoom, Soden and Gough met in-person for the first time in April. The weirdest part was seeing how tall the other was.
"He got out of his car and he just kept standing up," Gough says with a laugh.
They’d like to meet up in real life again and haven’t ruled out a trip up to Winnipeg once the border opens up — perhaps for a live show or just to see the city they’ve spent so much time talking about.
"I’m comin’," says Soden. "It is a guarantee that people are going to see me wandering the streets of Winnipeg looking for murals on West Broadway."
Listen to Unscripted Moments at unscriptedmoments.libsyn.com or on any podcast platform.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.