All Photos By Mandy Malazdrewich
This month, Winnipeg hardcore punk band Propagandhi announced they’re looking for a new guitarist to replace David “The Beaver” Guillas, who has been with the band since 2006. “He’s getting a job as a teacher starting in September,” says bassist Todd Kowalski. “That just leaves us three other sad sacks.” Since posting the ad, the band has received over 400 applications, mostly from dudes. “It’d be really nice to find a woman to play. By chance it’s all been guys in the band this far, but obviously, like, there are awesome women out there playing guitar.” Propagandhi has gone through many transitions since 1986. How to Clean Everything, released by Fat Wreck Chords in 1993, was followed by Less Talk, More Rock in 1996. These definitive records established their tone: fuck organized religion, fuck corporate profit, fuck global conflict for profit, fuck meat eaters, fuck sexism, fuck homophobia. You name it, they've told you to fuck it. They became notorious for political rants. “Less talk, more rock was like an actual thing,” says Paul Lawton of [The Ketamines] who caught early shows in Winnipeg. “They’d play a song and then lecture at everyone for 20 minutes. I loved it. It used to build this insane tension in the room.”
After the first two, John K. Samson hit the tar to form The Weakerthans, so the band grabbed Kowalski, the lead of radical-left punk band, I Spy, and roommate of frontman Chris Hannah. Over the next 20 years, Propagandhi would add and drop members and move from ska-punk influence to hardcore metal like on Failed States in 2012. But they’ve never given up on their principles. “We were vegan way before it was even cool,” says Kowalski, “Now there are cookbooks and stuff but back then, like the ‘80s, if you wanted to make, like, hamburgers, you’d get powdered grains in a bag and mix it with water. I think it’s kinda cool that we did that.” Currently on an Eastern tour, Propagandhi will expand into even more territories for the fall along with “12 songs mulling around” for an upcoming album. “It should come out in 2015. Or 2014? No wait. What year is it?” Kowalksi asks, “It’s 2015 now? Okay so it’ll be out in 2016.” As the band gets older and as the political climate of Canada gets more conservative, we wanted to ask Kowalski about the impact of a band like Propagandhi, and if he’s jaded yet.
Noisey: The strong idealism of the first two Propaghandi records, and on subsequent records with different effect, has come to define the band’s overall persona. At this point, do you feel defeated knowing that Canada has become even more conservative in the last decade?
Todd Kowalski: Yes, in a way, I feel defeated. No one cares at all about anything anymore. Like, bands get their shirts made by little children in Haiti. No one cares about all the endless giant corporations involved; bands just go from festival to festival. I was disappointed back in 1991 when Green Day went all out. Canada now is nothing new, I was already disappointed.
Why was Green Day the defining moment for you?
That’s when everything kinda changed for me. In the 80s, I thought every punk band was awesome. Even before that, I was disappointed by metal bands. They all turned into ultra-commercial glam bands, like Judas Priest and KISS, and I was so disappointed I switched over to faster metal, like thrash, then they turned into posers. By 1991, everyone was a poser. I remember being devastated. Because I truly believed in the politics, you know, it was like, "we are the metal kids and we don’t believe in society," and then, wait a minute? Then it just became about seeking like-minded bands I respected. You just keep trying even if no one else cares.
Winnipeg has a unique history of punk that I think ties into a lot of the social history.
Yeah, punk carried back to the 70s and 80s, maybe because Rush and KISS was playing here, a lot of rock shows were happening. I think that laid the foundation. Our grandparents had lived through the ‘dirty 30s’ too and those people had to fight for everything they had so I think that got handed off to us somehow. When I moved to Winnipeg, I wasn’t all that smart. I was just some kid from Regina talking stupid every day of my life, and then I moved to Winnipeg and I was inspired by seeing bands like Propagandhi that actually had something to say. I was like, "these people are thinking the way I wish I was thinking," and they were just people like me, these prairie nerds. And I found that really inspiring. And I hope people start thinking smarter.
What are you most concerned about right now in Canadian politics?
Bill C-51, obviously. And the tar sands and residential schools and all that. I think Bill C-24, with the two-tiers of Canadian citizens and who can be deported for crimes and stuff. That seems very huge to me, especially the pipelines and who is going to be watched and considered a terrorist for like, protesting pipelines, you know? Those are massive issues that are almost being ignored. There should be a lot more focus on the importance of them. I can’t believe Bill C-51 got passed even though it’s so crazy. Politicians are literally trying to destroy education, so there’s less questioning and less history and they can do what they want on a clean slate with stupider people. But in the end, how is a really uneducated society going to succeed? What’s 20 years going to look like? Why have kids if you don’t want to leave them anything worthwhile?
How effective is music in affecting or inciting change, then?
Music and art is one thing, but it’s not enough. At some point you have to do more.
Adria Young is a writer based in Halifax. Follow her on Twitter - @adriayoung