There’s no bullshit when it comes to Canadian punk band Propagandhi.
In its 24 years, the band has challenged the underground music community through its musical progression and ideological intensity. Thanks to a recent resurgence in activity, starting with 2005’s Potemkin City Limits, Propagandhi has been touring and recording with an urgency not seen since its recorded debut in the early ’90s. Despite the band’s hectic schedule, founding vocalist/guitarist Chris Hannah and bassist/vocalist Todd “The Rod” Kowalski were able to take a moment to discuss their history, progression and future plans when they dropped by Chicago for this year’s Riot Fest.
What made you come to Riot Fest this year?
Chris Hannah: Well, I guess, the guy who is putting on tonight’s show is Toby [Jeg, owner of the label Red Scare Industries] and he’s getting married so it’s a special occasion for him. He asked us to come and play at his wedding show and we were like, “Ah, fuck Toby! What a fucking jackass!” Then, we saw the line-up for the festival and were like, “Okay let’s go!”
It’s been a year since you two were last here, on the Tar Sands Resistance Tour, how important is it for you to align yourselves with a certain cause when you go on a headlining tour?
CH: It’s pretty important. It provides context for people who are wondering at all about our message. If we’re saying stuff on stage, or if someone comes up and speaks before we play, we try to have a book table with us which provides a little more fleshed out context to help understand the issues so that it’s more than just guys talking and stumbling over their words on stage.
Does putting reading lists and contact information for organizations in the liner notes of your albums something that alleviates that?
CH: Yeah, like some people check it out and some people are hostile to it. I know there was a time in my life where I was like “Fuck that bullshit!” I remember the first time I heard MDC [Millions of Dead Cops] I loved the music but I thought the politics were insane.
Todd Kowalski: I think when I heard MDC I loved the whole fucking shit! These guys were somehow speaking to me even though I was so fucking dumb.
Do you still find fans misinterpreting your message?
TK: Yeah, a little bit. Sometimes it could be a problem with the delivery too. You can’t make everybody understand.
Aside from the political message, was there a negative reaction from fans as you became more of a thrash band?
CH: I think the people who really liked “How to Clean Everything” and didn’t really like anything after that have kind of all disappeared. From the day we put out “Less Talk, More Rock” people were like “Ah fuck this! You suck now!” And the next record the same thing and the next record the same thing. I think new people get into it as well. We’re not really a metal band; we’re not really a punk band. Lots of people just kind of like loud, heavy music and aren’t worried necessarily about what category we fit into, which is good for us.
Was there ever any pressure from Fat Wreck Chords as you guys got heavier and moved away from the sound of the other bands on the label to return to your older style?
CH: No, there was never any pressure. I think some people at the label really liked what we were doing, but you know, Mike thought we were “metal”, as he knows it. And he just became a little less interested in us and I think we became a little less interested in him as the years went on. It wasn’t really his fault. We just grew apart.
Have you guys found a new American label yet?
Are you looking for something that’s going to give you the same distribution you had with Fat, but also lines up with you on an ideological level?
CH: That would be the ideal, but we have an internal debate about what the role of a label even is. It almost seems like we’ve stopped talking about it as if we are going to do it ourselves somehow.
Do you think by going digital you’ll lose the capability of having detailed liner notes and the presentation of an overall album, or for the ability to do things like the split 7” with Sacrifice you have coming out?
CH: I think that no matter how far the digital market goes I think there will always be a niche market for vinyl, for people who like the artwork and have it being on a record player. Even as far as digital goes I think creative, resourceful people will take advantage of it in some way we haven’t thought of yet and make it more than just a download.
You guys have gone on some lengthy breaks in the past between records and have been quite active as of late. Was there ever a time where you thought about breaking up?
CH: Well, there was a time where it just felt like something was wrong. When we went on tour after Potemkin [City Limits] that was the only time where I was like “What the fucks going on? What’s wrong?” And then it was like “Oh yeah, all the records have two guitars on them” so that was the solution and we were back in the saddle.
TK: When my throat was hurt last year I was just sitting there not being able to talk to people. I never thought of quitting, I was just like “Fuck!” and I was just like, “How am I ever going to be able to do what I used to do? Am I just stuck here?” It was frustrating. But after having some time to recover it was alright.
Has your throat healed enough for you to start singing again?
TK: I’m back. Or at least I think I am. [laughs]
Is there anything you have written that you are embarrassed of, or that you don’t play because you feel your opinion on that issue has shifted?
CH: Well, there’s “Ska Sucks” which is kind of a novelty song we wrote for a specific situation in Winnipeg when we were just starting out. Which, I don’t even really regret, it kind of cracks me up when I hear it now.
TK: I still believe it!
CH: [laughs] Well, yeah, I still kind of believe it because most of it does. But politically, there’s nothing I’m frightened of beyond corny lyrics. But I’m actually often surprised when I look back at the first record, which is kind of cartoonish, but some of the sentiments on it, I think “Wow! I actually got something right 20 years ago.”
Is it sad to know that those songs you wrote over a decade ago are still relevant to today’s world?
TK: Yeah, it’s definitely a bummer. I think that’s why music is what it is. I think Chris and I have a tendency to make songs that are “Smad”, which is a mixture of sad and mad. Like, we’re playing all the time, but when the riff comes we’re like “Fuck, that’s something that sounds Smad.” And when it comes time to write lyrics, it’s when you’re in your fucking darkest zone scratching with your rock on your cave wall, you know? Just like “FUCK!”
Are there any plans for the rest of the year?
CH: Just writing and recording, hopefully nothing else besides that. A very projected time line would be a record next fall.