Who’d have thought eighteen years ago, when Chris Hannah and Jord Samolesky first decided to inject a little critical consciousness into a then-politically-stagnant Winnipeg music scene, that they’d still be striving to bring responsible politics to the masses nearly two decades later? Of course, Propagandhi has seen its share of change along the way. For starters, bassist John K. Samson was replaced in 1996 by Todd ‘the Rod’ Kowalski, and recently, Dave ‘the Beav’ Guillas was added as a second guitarist.
“I think he picked that name up ’cause when he was a kid he looked a bit like a beaver,” says Kowalski. “He’s been a friend of ours for a while now. We liked the way that he makes songs, and we liked his guitar playing, and now with another person on stage we have a fuller sound.”
Propagandhi’s sound has also evolved over the years. The brand of anarcho-skate-punk which put them on the map with 1993’s How to Clean Everything has been revamped into the heavier, thrash rock sound found on their 2005 release, Potemkin City Limits.
“We don’t set out to try and play metal,” says Kowalski. “We just all grew up listening to thrash, and if you’re going to try and play interesting riffs that are punchy and powerful like that, it’s going to sound metal-flavoured. It’s not like we’re ever gonna just lay down a bunch of stock metal riffs and call that an album.”
Despite having undergone such changes to their lineup and musical tone, the band’s purpose remains the same. The idea is to spread counter-cultural awareness through music they enjoy playing, with a particular focus on encouraging critical thinking about contemporary politics and present global concerns.
“There’s so much attention-grabbing apolitical music being created to fill the gaps in our culture,” says Jord Samolesky, drummer and founding member. “I feel there’s an overload, and to tell you the truth I’m not really interested in any of it.”
In Propagandhi’s view, the changing musical landscape has sent mixed messages to fans of the punk rock acts which now saturate the mainstream. “Punk rock” is a term which used to be synonymous with rebellion, and now largely represents a group of artists still singing the same battle hymns, yet failing to act on the messages they send.
“It’s really weird seeing bands like Sum 41 saying that if it wasn’t for Vans Warped Tour they wouldn’t exist,” says Samolesky. “That’s where they first got exposed to this sort of music. To me, that’s like a nail in the coffin.”
He points out that a quick perusal of the Warped Tour sponsors’ list reveals such big business enterprises as Dodge and Mastercard. Propagandhi has always kept its distance from the yearly fiasco, citing distaste for it on account of blatant hypocrisy.
“It’s just a bunch of shitty bands playing a shitty atmosphere for a bunch of lame sponsors,” says Kowalski. “It seems uninteresting, and the exact opposite of anything that sounds fun or good.”
The band maintains that for many acts on the Warped Tour, the priority of business interests has superceded the creativity and integrity of the music. The heavy entrepreneurial emphasis exhibited by Fat Wreck Chords is another example Jord provides of this trend, dismissing proactive political initiatives by label founder Fat Mike as being simply not enough.
“It seems like all of the energy around things like punkvoter.com is focused on it all being about this one moment in time where you cast this vote between these two bought-out parties,” says Samolesky. “Then when you don’t get the results you want, it’s all, ‘Oh we lost. Well we tried, back to having fun and playing shows.’ The vote is one day of the year–with all of the grassroots organizations available to join and help campaign for change, what do you do with the rest of those four years?”
As for what Propagandhi is up to with the rest of their time, a large chunk of it is spent grinding out new material for a release in the hopefully not-too-distant future. The band plans on taking the summer to work on some new ideas, hoping to have a more tangible idea by September about a release date.
“We have a history of creating abstract deadlines and then failing miserably at them,” says Samolesky. “So I wouldn’t want to put a timeline on it. But hopefully it won’t be an ‘every five years’ sort of deal.”