Progressive Canadian political punk rock veterans Propagandhi haven’t toured Australia for 12 years, and for many of their Australian fans this will be their first chance to see the boys in action. I spoke to bassist and vocalist Todd ‘The Rod’ Kowalski who said “I think the only thing keeping us absent from your shore is that it’s the absolute farthest place in the world away from us. I’m glad to be coming back.”
Propagandhi are touring Australia and New Zealand in February to promote their latest release Supporting Caste, due out 10 March 2009. It’s their fifth full-length album and their first in four years as well as their first album not to be released on legendary US label Fat Wreck Chords. Instead the band opted to release on Smallman Records in North America, and their own label G7 Welcoming Committee Records in other countries “We thought we’d do something different. Fat has been going through some changes. It seemed like a good time for us to go with different people around the world and do it ourselves… We’re excited about the change.”
Stylistically Propagandhi has evolved from its punk rock origins, taking on a heavier perhaps more metal influenced sound. Kowalski dismisses any specific vision for the new album, stating “We just play and whatever comes out is what we record. We have no real plan of attack. We’ve always liked punk and metal…we just like it fast and exciting, I suppose.”
“Like I still listen to my old heroes Sacrifice, Razor, Voivod, Death, SNFU etc… and also new bands like Cynic, Krisiun, and Immolation. I also listen to a lot of African music from various countries [such as] Salif Keita etc. I can’t stand pop music and college rock.”
Propagandhi are infamous for their strong stance on a variety of human and animal rights issues ranging from homophobia to corporate imperialism to veganism. “The lyrics on the record are all over the place ‘topic’ wise. We sing about things that move us and ruin our good night sleeps.” This is implicit in their song titles and lyrics which range from the obscure or cryptic (Ego Fum Papa [I Am the Pope]) to the more direct (Bullshit Politicians and Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass, You Skinhead Creep). On their latest album Kowalski lists track one ‘Night Letters’, a song about refugees coming to Winnipeg, as the closest to him. As a volunteer working with children and adult refugees “The issues surrounding refugee life and well being are on my mind everyday, and deep into the night. There are a lot of songs on here that are important to me. Chris [Hannah, guitar and vocals] has a bunch of songs that are great and speak right to me as well. All the lyrics are pulled from the deepest recesses of our lizard brains.”
Propagandhi’s last record, Potemkin City Limits (2005), as well as being heavier than previous releases may come across as lyrically a little darker and bleaker than previous recordings. It’s more serious with less of their typical humour, although the trademark juxtaposition of sarcastic wit and sincerity is even more apparent. “This time around might be a little less bleak. Although strangely enough my mind is feeling very, very bleak these days. I think it’s good for us to try not to get too negative for our own good. We want to inspire someone to do something not just cop out and say ‘The world sucks, I quit.’”
“If an artist can move somebody to think about something new or make something interesting, or inspire someone then that is the role. [Music] can pull people in emotionally. Certainly a book can give you way more information than a song can. Some people don’t like music so much so literature, drawing or painting might speak their language more. I’d say whatever interests you will get a message to you more successfully. I like it all.”
Known for opposing American foreign policy I asked Kowalski what he thought of the recent change of government in the US and was he optimistic about the Obama administration?
“I’d like to be optimistic. I think it will be better than before but the people Barack has surrounded himself with and some comments he’s made leave me to believe he will carry on a slightly softer version of business as usual. Maybe I’ll be surprised and he’ll dismantle some weapons factories, but somehow I doubt it.”
The band has long been advocates of human and animal rights issues. I wanted to know what concerned them with regards to Australia and what would they like to see change?
“Australia is a place that deals with a lot of refugees. I would like to see awareness, fair policies and public understanding of their issues. I also think that Australia, like Canada needs to support and appreciate the aboriginal culture there. There is no where but Australia that that particular culture exists which is amazing to me. It’s a hell of a lot more to be proud of than McDonalds or something.”
Propagandhi are the political punk band: intelligent, talented and still angry decades on from their inception they tower like giants over a genre filled with sonic midgets, bands that could have made a difference but instead sound whiny, lame and embarrassing, regardless of their good intentions (like Anti-flag).
Propagandhi are playing an all-ages gig at the Metro Theatre on 15 February 2009.