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There is something very un-punk about the members of Propagandhi. They don't write optimistic anthems about radical social change, or dress down in the all-black anarchist uniform, or have any illusions about having to make certain compromises in a capitalist society. Yet the Canadian outfit is one of the most aggressively active political bands to come out in the past decade, known for being staunch supporters of animal rights and the vegan lifestyle and for an almost hostile stance against homophobia and America's encroaching imperialism. We recently spoke with bassist/vocalist Todd Kowalski about the unraveling of Against Me!, the unrelenting business of music journalism and how un-revolutionary it is to be a punk.
Westword: Despite being known as activist punks, you guys actually seem pretty far removed from the punk scene itself — at least in the sense that you're not these gung-ho musicians trying to "make it" in the industry.
Todd Kowalski: I like to think that we're way more — way, way more — involved in our real community than in the scene. Like, our shows are always, always benefits here in the city. We're out of the scene and more into reality, I think. And that's how those things come up — like, does punk matter? Does punk make a difference? If you're actually doing something worthwhile, you don't even have to ask, you know? If you're asking just to try to justify what you're doing, there's your answer. To me, too, in a way, all these compromises for all these political bands to make it — it doesn't lead them anywhere good. Their message doesn't really stay strong.
That's an interesting point to make, especially considering your former Fat Wreck Chords labelmates Against Me! and their turnover from being this anarchist band to a major-label act playing big arena-type shows.
I don't know if it's my age or the amount of bands I've seen come and go, but for me, Against Me!, right off the bat, there seemed to be something a little off about it. I never really had this feeling that I was watching something totally sincere, like a lot of other people thought they were. If we started trying to do all the stuff that those bands do, our interests would be killed, just squashed out. Having to deal with all those businesspeople, those big types of shows and all those companies and sponsors, and endless interviews with people from magazines that revolt us — it just sucks.
When you do stuff as a band — or as an adult, even — you do want to do things that reflect on the other things that interest you in life. For me, I have a real strong interest in the benefits that we play. We don't just play benefits and give people money and don't know who they are. And we don't play benefits just so we can have a tax break — bands actually do that. We play in the band as a way of saying to the world: These are the things that we're learning day to day.
The hard battle is to put those ideas into actual music in a way that's not cheesy and dumb. People, I think, have a built-in reaction to certain political words in songs, and I even do, too. You have to weed through so much just to put the idea you have into a song that is actually going to resonate with someone. It's tough.