How to win fans and influence people

The socially conscious punks in Propagandhi don’t have an agenda — they just write about what they know

The members of Propagandhi pose for a picture shortly after raiding Bill Cosby’s closet. Mandy Malazdrewich

Remember when punk-rock was challenging? When kids would cram into dark, sweaty basements to hear bands scream about real issues and radical ideas? Winnipeg legends Propagandhi do, and they’ve returned to make the rest of us take our medicine.

For the past 15 years the band has had front row seats in society’s peanut-gallery, criticizing and challenging everything from right-wing conservatives to non-vegans with pointed cynicism and razor sharp wit. The band’s latest record, Supporting Caste, sees the band continuing to evolve in their sound whilst maintaining their unavoidable socio-political stance.

Over a couple veggie burgers at Cousin’s, singer-guitarist Chris Hannah and drummer Jord Samolesky reflected on the inspiration for their lyrics and their degree of influence over their fans.

“I don’t think we’re ever conceiving of things, rubbing our hands together thinking about our influence over the kids or anything…I think that the stuff that we’re doing with the band is very real and we’re not throwing it out there just to be part of some political scene,” Samolesky said. “It is coming from the heart for all of us.”

…we’re not throwing [our music] out there just to be part of some political scene. It is coming from the heart for all of us.

Jord Samolesky, Propagandhi

In many ways a Propagandhi record is like a beginner’s guide to social activism and leftist perspectives. All of their albums feature suggested readings and links to organizations such as Democracy Now! and, as well as essays about veganism, racism and class struggle. The inclusion of this material, said Hannah, was inspired by ‘80s hardcore bands like M.D.C. and Corrosion of Conformity.

“We want to repay that debt by passing on the same experience to other people who may not have had an opportunity to see the world in different ways at all. I imagine kids living in Portage la Prairie or on military bases who never get to hear different perspectives until some weird band comes along,” Hannah said.

Samolesky agrees.

“In terms of listing books and films and that kind of stuff, I think [we’re] also acknowledging people who spend their lives working on stuff that means a lot to them and isn’t culturally palatable…that information and the topics that these people are working on is vital to break through the reams of illusion that are misleading us and expose the truth and certain opinions to people that are otherwise not really going to hear alternative voices.”

Despite the amount of influence Hannah, Samolesky, bassist Todd Kowalski and guitarist David “The Beaver” Guillas have on their audience, they remain surprisingly humble and honest. While their music has the power to encourage music fans young and old to doubt society’s prevailing orders, Hannah said that Propagandhi is a fairly small voice when compared to mainstream media and that the lyrics are first-and-foremost satisfying to the band.

“The lyrics don’t come from an agenda the band has where it’s like, ‘We must address these issues,’ they evolve from conversations amongst ourselves, really,” he said.

“It’s pretty honest. It’s what we’d be doing if no one listened to the band, if we just played in the basement.”

Supporting Caste is out Mar. 10 on G7 Welcoming Committee/Smallman Records. Propagandhi plays two CD release shows Mar. 20 and 21 at The Garrick.

Published in Volume 63, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 5, 2009)

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