An interview with Winnipeg's finest

After a more than six-year hiatus from shocking the inner core of fans’ ear drums and minds, Propagandhi—Canada’s foremost political-thrash, metal-punk band—played at the Rickshaw Theatre on East Hastings on Oct. 27. Discorder sat down with drummer Jordan Samolesky to catch up with the Prairie-born musicians and activists.

Why was Supporting Caste not on Fat Wreck Chords?

We went through a lengthy process of clearing the slate and figuring out who might be best to release the record. It wasn’t like we were done with them, but we were keeping our options open. We never had a contract with them. Aside from them treating us very honestly and generously for a number of years … over the years we felt that politically we were sort of compromising a little more than we were willing to do. So we threw it out there to some other labels and at a certain point we thought we were going to work something out with Fat Wreck again but it kind of fell through in the last minute.

Propagandhi has made a number of connections with NGO’s. Tell us about your involvement.

I do solidarity work. We work with the Canada Haiti Action network. I guess that’s kind of my specialty. We don’t do corporate sponsorships at all so in place of that we try to promote these groups. We all kind of have our own things. People approach us and if no one’s against it and we back it, we’ll throw it up.

We have someone traveling with us from the Rainforest Action Network on tour. They’re involved in indigenous sovereignty and environmental issues, specifically the tar sands and the Royal Bank’s investment in them. It’s gradually becoming known as the most devastating environmental project in the entire world.

I cling to the hope that Canadians like to think we’re doing the right thing with the environment and our foreign policy and treatment of indigenous nations at home, but I don’t think the public’s information and the truth matches the mythology, and I guess that’s what we’re trying to establish—deconstructing some of the myths. That’s why we have speakers, and book tables.

Of the NGO’s you link to on your website, one is Pivot Legal Society. Why?

I think that’s one thing that our cities are lacking, [with] the commodification of the justice system, if you need help you’re shit out of luck. You have to spend so much money and how are you going to come up with that? So if you have a team with the skills who are willing to do it for a cause then it’s a tremendously valuable thing and it has to be sustained and supported.

To represent yourself properly you need access to this [sort of] educated class. I know people who were active in a number of solidarity groups who got arrested at a Critical Mass protest four years ago that are still dealing with that ordeal. Them being caught in the courts so long has negated their ability to participate in other forums where they were extremely valuable contributors—so yeah, they were just bullshit charges.

Many of your fans look to you as academics of sorts. Have any of you guys thought of going back to university?

Beav [a.k.a. Space Beaver a.k.a. David Guillas] and Todd [Kowalski], I think, are actually just one or two courses away from a history fine arts degree. Chris [Hannah] went for a year or two. I did a degree in sociology … I don’t know. I don’t really believe in university, so to speak. It’s kind of like a functionary of the corporate world. The university I went to is just a fucking experimental lab for Monsanto. I couldn’t see myself going back under the framework: paying for your education, literally mortgaging your future to pay it off without a whole lot of support for critical thinking in the political disciplines. I had a really good experience for half my university career. I value a lot of it but I don’t think it’s something I’d pursue at this point in my life. But then again I am 39.

Indeed, and now that you are 39 is touring draining on you? Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?

It is kind of exhausting. There’s a couple of us who don’t sleep very well on the road and when you’re trying to play a good show and at the end of two weeks and four or five hours of sleep at night it doesn’t translate so well on stage—or interviews for that matter.

Supporting Caste doesn’t mention once the word America or empire. A lot of songs seem more like personal stories. Did that come naturally?

Not being a primary lyric writer, I don’t want to speak for the other guys but I don’t think we have a motive to be overtly political. I think we’ve established that already. The politics are (still) there. And I think we’ve left it to people. Instead of arguing a certain line I’m more comfortable recommending someone a book on the subject, and instead of taking it from me, people have to do a bit of digging themselves and beyond that get inspired to be active.

Why don’t you write lyrics?

I’m just not very good at that kind of communication. Chris has that knack. I think 98 per cent we’re all on the same page. We’re essentially a guitar band so things flow from the guitar melodies first.

Is it better to be angry at mainstream culture or to support other things in a more positive way?

I think trying to keep a positive spin on things is crucial. As far as the first-world, white, middle class goes I think we’re privileged to say that there’s no hope, and whatever, and cash in your chips it’s all going downhill.

Meanwhile there are people subject to our governmental and corporate behavior fighting for their lives. To see middle class apathy it really burns me. It drags me down but I refuse to cave in. I’m vocal that we can straighten this mess out to some degree and we can get on with a more sustainable future. Most Canadians want to do the right thing but there’s an information gap. If people knew [about] the things going on (tar sands pollution, corporatization in Afghanistan as opposed to democratization) they would be outraged.

I see you brought back t-shirts. Why?

I don’t think we ever got rid of them in principle but we took some time off (and stopped printing them) and went on hiatus for a period. We try to get union made, made in Canada, ethical clothing.

Are you aware of the anti-Olympics movement in Vancouver?

A little bit. I know that No One Is Illegal Vancouver is very active in promoting issues around that and that’s why we asked them out tonight to put up a table on that issue. As a band I don’t think we view the Olympics as a venue for peace through amateur sport. It’s a corporate machine that essentially marginalizes people wherever it goes.

That said are you a hockey fan?

Yeah, you know, we all kind of grew up on that kind of thing on the Prairies because we played hockey.

So you’ll watch the gold medal game if Canada makes it?

I probably will but I don’t care as much as I used to when I was a kid … I think sporting culture is essentially a tool for corporate, militaristic interests. Basketball, baseball, football, Nascar—the whole gambit is just a big rotten piece of shit as far as I’m concerned. To tell the truth, with the Winnipeg Jets being outside of the city, part of me feels something is missing in our town. But for them to potentially come back we’d have to sacrifice hospitals to pay for this team—which is what it comes down to, quality of life versus having a bunch of millionaires leaving with money from the municipality—it’s something I don’t support.