Interview with Hàn Gắn
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
[Matt] Like most suburban kids, MTV heavily influenced me. There were two moments that switched me onto the idea that I could play music. The first was the explosion of Silverchair in the mid-nineties. I remember how young they were and it blew my mind. They were only a few years older than I was. Could I write and perform music like that? Seeing them perform on top of Radio City Music Hall in 1995 on television was transformative for me.
The other was the film That Thing You Do! Although it had no impact on the kind of music I played, the progression of The Wonders career in the film gave me hope that I could potentially do something with the instrument I was starting to play. I knew at that point I would do whatever it took to play live, whether it be in a garage or at a club. And to date, I think Brian and I have played plenty of garages and basements throughout our musical careers.
I didn’t pick up the bass until I was in seventh grade, but it forever changed me. I would use my allowance money each month to buy Guitar World magazine and learn every bass tab in the magazine. That was my introduction to learning music, long before I could write music for myself.
[Brian] For me it was the punk and hardcore scene of the early nineties, as I was transitioning from my preteens to a full-blown teenager. I found a group of like-minded young people who were thinking through some pretty monumental ideas about how American culture and society operated and how it affected all of us.
Punk and hardcore music instilled in me the belief that you could do it yourself, and that you didn’t need to wait for anyone. You could just pick up an instrument or a microphone without lessons or training, and you could just pluck and strum or yell and make noise. No matter how bad at it you were at first, you didn’t need to feel discouraged. You were free to experiment without judgement, and from that experimentation you got better, and the right people for you supported you on that journey of discovery.
In that way, the punk and hardcore scene was beautiful. It wasn’t perfect - nothing is - but it gave me space to learn and experiment. Without that freedom, I am not sure I would have thought to try to play music and progress with it over the years that followed.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
[Matt] I enjoy reading, writing, and playing video games. My favorite stress relief activity is actually yard work, which ironically helps clear my head when I am outside. I’ve come up with a few ideas for Hàn Gắn songs while mowing my lawn.
[Brian] I tinker a lot with our amps and equipment and with our rehearsal and recording space, doing a lot of tone hunting and changing and rearranging things. Sometimes it’s just to put things back to where I found them.
I also absorb a lot of current events, searching out in-depth writing and analysis from historical perspectives to better understand the present.
I also enjoy working out, lately it’s running and rowing. Most recently, I have been focused on a regular meditative practice. My musical and lyrical contributions to Hàn Gắn most often come when I stop thinking and experience stillness.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
[Brian] Matt and I both grew up in the same town, Virginia Beach, Virginia, which was, and still is a national hub for the American Christian conservative movement, as well as the U.S. Navy.
The headquarters for the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is based there, and it is still under the direction of a former Southern Baptist minister, now in his nineties, named Pat Robinson.
The punk and hardcore acts that would play our hometown when we were young, mainly at dive bars, pop-up warehouses, basements, and houses, were our first exposure to music and ideas outside of the confines of the conservative culture of our town.
Matt and I both had this shared experience in our hometown, but we came together to play music after meeting in Washington D.C., where we had both moved to pursue careers.
Washington, D.C produced some of the music that inspired and influenced both of us when we were young. A major early influence were Fugazi, comprised of members of other very influential early hardcore-punk and emotive-hardcore punk bands (i.e. Minor Threat, Embrace, and Rites of Spring).
As Hàn Gắn, the D.C. area holds that past for us, but we experience D.C. as it is in the present and as we live it now; we merge and collaborate on what we know and have experienced during our time here and all the music we have gained along the way. After many years living here, we both call it home.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
[Matt] That’s a tough one. For me, I think my ideal lineup would be Lifetime, Jets to Brazil (I like them more than Jawbreaker - sorry), and Big Black. Big Black for sure. They broke the mold of the no-drummer punk rock band model, which I guess we are taking into the 21st century. We know now a four-band lineup is a cursed thing, but we will just go with it.
[Brian] Any band that played CBGB’s in the mid-seventies; Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Ramones, to name a few, outside of that, The Clash. The Clash are one of the bands that changed my perspective at a very young age, but I was much too young to see them live.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
[Matt] Don’t take yourself so seriously. Music is to be played and enjoyed. It’s more about the journey and how you feel about the music than what others think. Music is an art form. Do the art. The rest will come.
[Brian] I couldn’t say it better than Matt just did.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
[Matt] The Cusp, one of the last songs of Tragically Optimistic. The lyrics are an open commentary to my mental state during COVID. I was struggling a bit with myself at that time - too much time to listen to my inner monologue. The words came in one stream. I’d say it took about ten minutes to write the bass line to that song, but the words came first.
[Brian] They all mean a lot to me, but I think the most current energy for me is with New Terms. It really came from a place of being fed up, and asking what do you have to say about it that is constructive, but that gets the point across that this status quo can no longer stand.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
[Brian] The first thing we do is observe. We write about the things we see happening around us, whether in our national and community politics, our neighborhoods, or in our digital spaces, and our observations often lead to questions. We question everything, and we invite listeners to do the same. There are also intentions to our songs. One intention is to invite listeners to question with us, and another intention is to align with listeners and to bring them to what they know and feel intuitively.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
[Both] More writing, another EP in the summer, and some live shows on the East Coast.