[R-G] Propagandhi machine
fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Mar 19 11:49:32 MDT 2009
METAL MUSIC: INTERVIEW
Two decades after exploding onto the scene, Canada's pre-eminent
progressive thrash band is still making hard-driving music - and
trouble wherever it can, Robert Everett-Green writes
March 19, 2009
Chris Hannah was a typical air-force brat with a world view as
straight as the runways on the base near Portage la Prairie, Man.,
where his father flew fighter jets. Then Hannah heard a few punk bands
during the so-called second wave that arose in opposition to the neo-
con revolution of the eighties.
"I had a pretty infantile, extremist view of the world; hyper-
patriotic, very pro-military and jingoistic," he recalled on the phone
from Winnipeg. "I remember being pro-Reagan. I can't exactly remember
why, and hope not to remember."
A few barrages from such bands as Corrosion of Conformity, the Dead
Kennedys and MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) put an end to Hannah's Reagan
sympathies, and gave him an urgent need to arm himself with a guitar.
He and his drummer friend Jord Samolesky moved to Winnipeg, advertised
on a music-store bulletin board for a bass player to join their
"progressive thrash band," and Propagandhi was born.
Nearly 20 years later, Propagandhi is one of the few political bands
from that era to survive with disillusions intact. Supporting Caste,
their latest album, is a hard-driving survey of much that's wrong with
the world, including imperialist domination, history as written by the
victors, the killing and eating of animals, and the rantings of Don
The title track imagines mainstream history as a film that "exalts
only the pornography of force ... as we, the two-bits, are ushered on
and swiftly off the stage." The song's terse rhetoric resonates with
the cover reproduction of The Triumph of Mischief, a huge canvas by
Cree artist Kent Monkman that burlesques both the standard history of
Canadian settlement and the pictorial codes of 19th-century frontier
The satire Human(e) Meat proposes a compassionate form of cannibalism
modelled on the way we treat animals raised for slaughter. And Dear
Coach's Corner appeals to Ron MacLean to agree that our national game
shouldn't be used to promote conformity and organized violence.
"That song comes from the experience of going to the world women's ice
hockey final with my niece," says Hannah, a lifelong hockey fan.
"Canada beat the U.S., and a bunch of soldiers came on the ice, and
others started rappelling down from the rafters, and my niece said,
'Why do they have guns?' "
Propagandhi's music runs at these topics in a tight formation based on
Samolesky's fast-tripping drum beats, Todd Kowalski's nimble bass, and
the fleet, metal-minded roar of Hannah's guitar. The band added second
guitarist Dave (Beav) Guillas in 2006, to give more heft to the
group's sound, and especially to its live performances.
The band members are directly involved with organizations that act to
fix some of the ills identified in their songs, including Sage House,
a Winnipeg outreach centre for sex-trade workers; PETA2, the youth
wing of the animal-rights group; and the Canada-Haiti Action Network,
which has accused the Canadian government of systematic hypocrisy in
its relations with the Caribbean country. Last month, the band offered
advance downloads of two tracks from the new album in exchange for
donations to three activist groups: the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society, Partners in Health and PETA2.
Hannah and Samolesky have never been keen on the music industry as
embodied by big corporations, and again put thought into action by co-
founding the G7 Welcoming Committee, a trouble-making progressive
label that in the past 12 years has released more than 50 albums by
the likes of International Noise Conspiracy and Warsawpack. The label
went into hibernation this year while the band wrote and recorded its
new songs, and prepared to tour Australia, Europe and North America.
Supporting Caste came out last week on Smallman Records, another
Propagandhi has mostly operated outside the mainstream, so it was a
surprise to many when the band's song A Speculative Fiction won the
first $5,000 Echo Songwriting Prize, awarded by the Society of
Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, in 2006, beating
tunes by indie favourites Final Fantasy and Wolf Parade. The band's
head was not turned. "Awards are like hemorrhoids; eventually every
asshole gets one," says a note on its website.
"A lot of heavy, loud music doesn't get taken as seriously as a guy
strumming on a guitar in a coffee shop," Hannah says. "But there's
some crazy, adventurous stuff going on in heavy music," including the
recent revival of Sacrifice, the venerable Toronto thrash metal band
from the eighties.
"For me, the most enjoyable moments with anyone else's art have been
when I've been challenged to make any kind of change, small or large,
in my view of the world," he says.
"If we have a goal, it would be to offer the modern 15-year-old kid in
rural Manitoba a chance to see the world through different eyes."
Propagandhi plays the Garrick Theatre in Winnipeg on Friday and
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