For 30 years, Winnipeg’s leading squad of punk firebrands, Propagandhi, has been sounding off on social change as loudly as it can. From the band’s 1993 rallying cry, How to Clean Everything, which includes such controversial jams as “Haillie Sellasse, Up Your Ass”, to its later years spent fundraising for human-rights nonprofits, the band has stuck to its militantly political guns.
Last September, Propagandhi recruited second guitarist Sulynn Hago for its current tour, and even this was a conscious move toward the punks’ progressive ideals.
“We’ve played four shows with Sulynn so far, and it’s been going great,” says Todd Kowalski. Propa-gandhi’s bassist and one of its key songwriters for almost 20 years is talking to the Straight on the phone from home. “She rocks so hard that crowds have been responding extremely favourably. We knew that if we thought she was awesome, then everyone else would too. She has so much life to the way that she plays.”
Speaking of the “Guitarist: Wanted” job listing that Propagandhi posted on its website last June, which stated that women were strongly encouraged to apply, Kowalski explains: “One reason that we used the Internet was ’cause we had a better chance of taking on a female guitarist that way. Women still face so much sexism, so we wanted to give women a fair shot. We didn’t want our unit to be this travelling boys’ club. We went through all 400 responses, and we’re lucky that it kind of went perfectly.”
It’s obvious why Propagandhi, whose ranks include frontman Chris Hannah, drummer Jord Samolesky, and lead guitarist David Guillas, received so many applicants. Who wouldn’t want to join their favourite band and travel the country melting faces, while spreading messages of peace and anticorruption across
Propagandhi’s legacy is vast, but the group’s road to Canadian punk prestige was, of course, not easy.
“In Winnipeg back in the day, every now and then you got cornered by Christian hardcore kids, and suddenly you’d find yourself in these harebrained conversations, wondering how you can slip out the door,” says the bassist, whose lyrics, along with Hannah’s, have tackled political and social injustice of all kinds, from religious hypocrisy to homophobia to the meat industry’s animal-rights abuses. As a result, Propagandhi has faced its fair share of opposition over the years.
“These days, some band will try to be ‘edgy’ by attempting to offend us, and you have to say, come on, you’re not one-millionth as fucking edgy as my dad. You think I haven’t heard this every day for 40 years, you dumb piece of shit? Oh wow, you really eat bacon. McDonald’s and Burger King are so rebellious!” Kowalski just laughs it off and adds, “The world inspires us in good and bad ways.”
Denouncing cookie-cutter clichés and lack of integrity, the veteran criticizes figures like Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen as privileged rock stars who rake in profits while claiming to represent the working class.
“It’s all so corny and irritating,” he says. “We’re on this reoccurring path of the world going crazy and us trying to understand it. I just can’t understand how people don’t care enough about animals to stop eating them, or how people can see droves of mothers and children who’ve just had their world bombed and react negatively towards them. I don’t understand a world where people cannot see through Donald Trump or where Canada sells arms to Saudi Arabia.”
Channelling this frustration into more passionate punk anthems, the five-piece is currently working on the follow-up to its sixth record, Failed States. Released in 2012, that album showed Propagandhi’s growing lyrical maturity and increasingly intricate musicianship. This time around, with Hago joining the creative process, the band is hoping that its long-anticipated seventh record will be ready for liftoff by October.
“A song doesn’t exist until your brain sitting there in thin air makes it happen,” Kowalski says. “Every human on Earth is sitting with a blank page in front of them, and it’s always a challenge to get your mind to navigate from nothingness into something-ness. But from doing it for 30 years, we know that somehow it is still possible. And right now, I feel like we’re in the best place we’ve ever been.”
Propagandhi plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday and Saturday (February 5 and 6).