Just like individuals, bands often grow more conservative with age. When it comes to Canadian punk legends Propagandhi, the opposite is true. The band arrives in Australia this week in support of its sixth LP, 2012’s Failed States, which is as tough and fiercely political as anything in its career.
“The more you play music the more you realise what really pushes you and excites you,” says bassist Todd Kowalski. “For me, just as a listener, I find as I get older I like more and more crazy, chaotic music. Dark, heavy, crazy music – it’s just exciting to me.”
Hailing from Winnipeg in south-central Canada, Propagandhi have been making politically driven and remarkably catchy punk rock since the early ’90s. Their ire grows more pronounced with age, so the foursome faces no dilemma mustering furious energy in performance or in the studio.
“We like to feel the amps blazing and feel the impact,” Kowalski says. “We just go for what we want to hear and try to achieve it. There’s always a fear that we won’t be able to think of any songs. But I don’t think there’s ever a fear of the songs getting accidentally really lame.”
Despite this clarity of purpose, Propagandhi have never rushed to release new music. “It takes us a while to make interesting riffs and collect them,” Kowalski explains. “It just takes us a lot of time and effort to get where we’re headed. By the time we do, we just look at the calendar and a couple of years have gone by.”
A key ingredient that has distinguished Propagandhi since day one is vocalist Chris Hannah’s explicit lyrical address of everything from corporate greed, civil inequality and religious hypocrisy to animal and environmental abuse. The band has never disguised its beliefs, but Kowalski says they don’t expect listeners to agree with everything they express.
“It’s our own thoughts and our own outlook. It’s not really to push anything on anyone. If someone writes a love song – if it’s a true love song – they either write it when they’re completely head over heels or they write it when they got dumped, when they’re sad. Our songs come about when we’re really moved by something in the world and almost have to express it. That’s where good music comes from, just a need to express yourself into the world.”
This essential urgency has earned Propagandhi a significant place in punk rock history. Indeed, the hot anticipation for their forthcoming Australian tour is testament to the band’s enduring impact. Honouring this legacy is another reason for Propagandhi to pace themselves during the creative process.
“If you know not as many people are listening, you can throw in maybe riffs and stuff you’re not so sure about,” says Kowalski. “I play in a grind band sometimes, and I find it easier to go and make a riff and just put it in the band easily – just because there’s not all this pressure and worry about making sure it rips.”
As it stands, each Propagandhi record is a blazing statement of intent. It’s hard to imagine what modern punk and hardcore would look like without the imprint of the Canadians’ D.I.Y. achievements. 2013 marked 20 years since the band’s debut record How To Clean Everything came out, and although Kowalski didn’t join the group until 1997, he was keenly interested from the start.
“I was a fan from the first demos,” he says. “When I think back to just hearing the tapes, for me as a fan that was the most exciting time. When I first heard them I was like, ‘Oh, this band’s so killer.’”