“I’ve always thought it would be easier to write a novel than a song.”
Propagandhi put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into their music (although they might not admit to the tears part), and that’s why we’re thrilled to see they’re still alive and kicking. After four years, the band have returned with the follow-up to 2005’s excellent Potempkin City Limits with the equally amazing Supporting Caste, which features a quartet version of the group due to the addition of guitarist David Guillas (or, "The Beaver"). I caught up with the bassist Todd Kowalski on the Propagandhi story up to now.
First off, just wanted to say that you guys are one of the best bands out there not only in the field of punk rock but in the field of music. Your last three albums are just so damn solid. So, since there’s no fat to be trimmed, does that mean you guys just have all sorts of B-sides laying around?
Thanks, I appreciate that compliment. I'm not so sure that that's true but we'll take it. [Laughs.] We have no b-sides laying around at all. We have a few cover tunes and a couple songs waiting for next time. We usually edit out any riffs we don't like before we even get to band practice. If they are edited out they just hit the garbage can.
Switching to you as bassist has got to be the best move any band has made, ever. Are you what made the band start to sound so, so pissed off? Is Todd just an incredibly pissed guy?
Thanks again! These compliments are a nice way to spend my 3:00 am headache chaos after barfing and lying on my floor for 2 days straight. I'd say Todd’s pissed off sometimes, but other times he’s just having a good time. Right now he has a massive headache and feels beyond terrible.
What bands most influence you guys now, as opposed to back in the day?
Right now the bands I'm listening to are Cynic, Krisiun, Necrophagist, and the new Sacrifice songs that were sent to me over email. I still love all the bands I've ever loved too: SNFU, Death, Los Crudos, Merciful Fate, old C.O.C… Anything that’s fast and seems sincere, I'm into.
And all of that is reflected in the music. Well, Propagandhi’s lyrics tend to take the form of paragraphs that you jam into the frames of the songs. How long does it take you guys to write lyrics? What about fitting them into the melodies?
It takes me forever to write lyrics; I might get one line a week. It's really, really frustrating. I have so much to say, but have a hard time saying it in a way that is satisfying to me. Lyrics are by far the hardest part. If you want to know why Todd is pissed off it's because of lyric writing! It's very hard to fit lyrics into melodies as well. You have these lyrics that finally say what you want but then they don't [work with] the song because there's one too many syllables. That's enough to make you tear your hair out. I've always thought it would be easier to write a novel than a song.
So then which comes first – the music or the words?
It goes back and forth all the time. I have notebooks full of lyrics and tapes full of riffs. As soon as I get a chance to put them together in any way I take it.
Obviously a lot of what you write comes from the political and social world around you. What do you do to stay so educated on current events?
I read books, talk to people in my city that come from interesting places, and watch or read the news. Traveling around helps [the band] learn a little more about different places as well.
You guys have referred to yourselves as “progressive thrash” a number of times. Can you define “progressive thrash” and tell me who actually falls into that category? What, Nevermore? Were you guys intending to sound like Nevermore?
[Laughs]. I actually like Nevermore. They blew me away at a bar here in Winnipeg! I would say we're not trying to sound like them though. Who falls into that category? I have no idea. It doesn't really mean anything. I guess I'd say Dead Brain Cells, and Voivod.
Propagandhi played a show with Fugazi. That very well might be my dream concert. Were you there?
I wasn't in the band at that point but I heard they liked it. I saw the same tour in Regina, minus Propagandhi. I was sort of into it but at that point I was pretty young and wanted to hear Minor Threat songs. I remember the crowd really getting on Ian Mackaye’s nerves.
Out of all the bands you guys have played with, who have you been most excited to share the stage with? I'd say [underground Spanish hardcore band] Los Crudos back in the 90's. I loved them so much.
Now that your style has shifted a bit, what do you guys think of How to Clean Everything nowadays? When I saw you guys live in 2007, I don’t think you played a single song from it.
I still like that record. We’re more interested in moving forward, but there's certainly good songs on that record. I still love the old demos too, actually. We pulled out a few songs from those to play live about a year ago.
Every single one of your albums has a 4/5 star rating on AllMusicGuide.com (except Supporting Caste, which hasn’t been rated yet, but probably will be the same.) Many punk bands aren’t received so well. Do you feel like critics have generally understood you guys, or have they been a pain in the ass?
I don't know if I feel like they totally understand, but their interpretations are close enough that it’s fine. Sometimes it seems like they're not even listening to the same record that I thought we made. [Plus] there are always people who just want to tear you down because they disagree with the general message.
Time for you to be the critic. Does ska suck? What trend do you hate right now?
I am not a fan of ska, that's for sure. But if someone likes it, that's obviously fine and dandy. I'm not sure I know what trend is which at the moment. I haven't read a music magazine or watched any videos for a couple years.
Good. Well what do you think about A Wilhelm Scream, who clearly worship you? Have you heard them? I don't think I have heard them. If they like us then we like them! I'll check them out!
Who is Glenn Lambert?[Editor’s Note: Glenn Lambert was most likely a pseudonym for founding vocalist/guitarist Chris Hanna, although the band have never given a clear response as to why exactly.] Glen Lambert took over on vocals and guitar for the Potemkin record. He had an attitude problem though. His mental state was very strange. He also smelled like vitamins. I can't stand that.
When can we expect to see another album from you guys? Are you going to make us wait four years again?
Yeah, we'll for sure have another record. We've already got 4 songs on the go and a lot more ideas swimming around in our rotting heads. As soon as we're ready we'll record. Hopefully earlier than 4 years, but who knows… One step at a time.