Propagandhi unleashed their new album ‘Failed States‘ a few weeks back now via Epitaph Records, and after a bit of a pressing delay the vinyl edition of the album will be available this week [Here]. Recently Niam Hegarty got on the blower to have a chat with Todd “The Rod” Kowalski from the band about the new release and current happenings in camp Propagandhi. Expand this post to check out the chat. Pick up the album if you are yet to do so, it is a cracker.
Is there anything you wanted to achieve with the sound of this record compared to previous albums?
I think we are just trying to get better all the time, working on our singing, working on our playing and spending a lot of time working on lyrics.
When writing the album how many songs did you record? Were there any that did not make the cut?
I think we had around 18 songs on the go but we narrowed it down to around 12, so there are actually 6 left over now. It wasn’t that the other songs were not good enough; they will be used for other things. We actually had one full song that we actually recorded and we thought that we will save it for next time.
Were there any particular issues that you were reading about or observing when you were writing these songs that inspired you?
I guess for me a constant bad inspiration, but inspiration nonetheless was walking to the jam space every day down the street seeing young girls that gangs put out on the street as prostitutes you know? And some woman from the neighbourhood and young girls who are out there, there was actually a serial killer out there killing these women but even with that amount of danger they are still going out.
Yeah that is really terrible.
I will add that the serial killer was targeting anyone, and the fact that they have to be forced to be out there is pretty crazy.
I find it interesting, what drives someone to be serial killer, it is pretty bizarre?
Yeah you think that at some point your common sense would override your need to thrill yourself.
On a lighter note, what is the process of song writing in Propagandhi?
Ah, me and Chris write all the lyrics, but I guess the music is through all of us, me, Chris or Beaver will all come with riffs and generally we have riffs with some kind of vocals in mind. We will keep coming home and working on them, like, Jord will spend a lot of time at home working on his drum parts and bring them back. Under Chris’ songs I have kind of written a couple of times like complete different songs on bass under his songs.
Do you guys have home studios you do demos in?
We jam five days a week so we are always in there bringing stuff, it is kind of at home and jamming you know, there is no real difference. We will wake up and practice our stuff at home and then later that day take it to jam out.
Right, so is Propagandhi a full time job for all you guys or do you have to worry about other jobs?
Jord has a little job being a bartender but the rest of us we are kind of scraping by although we are pretty much out of money right now (laughs). We are right on the cusp if you know what I mean, because you pay like $12,000 to record your record. So I just kind of plan for it to be an up and down situation you know.
Do you think the decline in the music industry has affected your livelihoods? Are you worse off now after all this has happened?
Oh yeah, for record sales it is completely different like you pay to record your record and you barely recoup your money but I guess shows are probably better because more people hear of your band right? But then again more people hear of every band. I don’t know but I try not to worry about it just let things go the way they are going, just play music and have fun.
Yeah totally, so you don’t really mind about free downloads then, it is a non-issue?
Well there is no point minding you know? I could sit here and mind but it doesn’t matter right? People will do what they want. I would rather have them buy the record but I can see why especially in some places why people don’t. Whatever, if you like the band and you have the cash then help us out but if not then whatever, we are here to play music.
So you have been in a few other bands, you were in I Spy right?
I had that record, the discography one. Who came up with the artwork for that? It was a great cover.
Jord jumps in.. Ah yeah how did I think of the cover?
Yeah did you come up with the cover?
Oh Yeah, I actually couldn’t think of what to make for a cover you know, and I saw this really right wing Christian group had a logo that said “Perversity is Spreading”.
Todd: So I just came up with “Perversity is Spreading, It’s about time” just for a laugh and then you know just collaged a few ridiculous pictures I had around and painted over them (laughs).
So you have been touring in punk bands since the early 90′’s. Is there anything you miss from the early days or anything you are glad doesn’t exist? How do you see the scene now compared to back then?
I think what is good and what is bad is most people in bands tend to be able to play better but at the same time there is less, but actually I don’t even know, there is not less creativity but people just seem happier to be stuck into little slots you know?
Like their own genres?
So do you think it is less community now after the whole commercialisation of punk? Is there anything different, or is it just the same people and the same kind of vibe?
Well I think for me like, Green Day and all that gang, and then the underground punk that I thought was so rad kind of changed to be worse after that, but I like it better now than what was happening back when all those kind of bands broke big. I like it better now, but I think for the whole 90′s, like the late 90′s, for me is a period of music I like the least. I was kind of thinking maybe I was getting too old or something but then the 2000′s rolled around and it kind of came back or something.
I know it can be hard to keep bands together with different personalities etc., has there ever been a moment when you thought the band may be over or when you kind of questioned everything?
We had a really hard time recording ‘Potemkin City Limits’, and it got all expensive and we didn’t even know how to finish it so I think that was kind of our low point. After that we were on tour and the sound didn’t sound as full as we wanted. So we kind of got Beaver in and he gave us some new life with the new guitar, a new personality and some enthusiasm and then we were rocking again.
Oh right cool, so with your new record coming out on Epitaph how, did that come about, what stuck out about them that made you decide to work with them? Did you approach them?
I think Chris just sent a bunch of emails around to see who was interested and I think Epitaph obviously gave us the best deal to do this and we knew a bunch of people from Shai Hulud and John K Samson and all those guys; our last label Smallman, kind of bailed on us about a year after our last record being out, they kind of quit so we had to do something else.
That’s a shame.
Ok, so just some kind of broader questions now. What do you think is the best way for a mass audience to be exposed to alternative media? I know the internet is around but it seems maybe it is becoming more censored all the time.
I don’t know what the best way is. I think it is important for people to check out new things. It is important to check out as much stuff as you can, not just get stuck on one website that you follow everyday with just one opinion. I think people should check out as much as they can and if you are interested in news from a certain place try and find news from that place rather than just people’s opinions about that place, you know?
Good point, so you guys are headlining the Fest in Florida this year, is that something you have been interested in doing for a while or were you approached to play?
I don’t know, we were just checking it out I guess. We have nothing we are ever dying to play really. I mean we are just doing our thing we will play festivals if there are not all kinds of corporate sponsors, so we just thought we would get down there and play it, have fun and it seems kind of cool so…
Right, I was going to ask as well are there ever festivals you deny due to pure lameness or corporate sponsorship or anything like that?
Oh yeah we deny things almost daily like tons of festivals.
So you have been asked to play the Warped Tour I’d imagine?
I don’t think they have ever offered but we have never looked into it either. I mean they probably think we suck and we think they suck so, ‘ya know.
Do you have favourite songs to play live at the moment and do you play any material from the earlier albums before you joined?
We play songs off the old stuff. Today we were trying to figure out what it will be, we are not sure yet but we will go back tomorrow and figure it out. We kind of know how to play all the songs except for a few so we kind of add it in really quickly before we go on tour. For me it is kind of fun to play the newest songs.
Is there any reason for the large gaps between albums that you guys tend to have, with three or four years a pretty standard time to wait for a new Propagandhi album?
Ah, we just want to have a good record with good songs. I think if we did it faster we wouldn’t quite be ready. Usually we go record like, we set the date and we miss the date so we set another date 6 months after and then we are ready you know. Yeah we need a date to be really rocking and then we miss it (laughs).
Ok I see, in the political realm with the US Presidential election coming up, do you think it is a valid way to affect change through the ballot box or is it completely irrelevant?
Ah, well, like, little things will change but I don’t think going back and forth between two parties for hundreds of years is going to do anything. Obviously there are still war crimes committed all over the place; there are still millions of people dying in wars and so on and these same things go on and on. The same banks and the same rich people make the money so there is no real way to change doing that.
In terms of your own political enlightenment was there a band or an event that helped politically enlighten you? Was there a band that you heard and you were like “wow what is this, what are they signing about?” Did you have that moment at all?
I think so, I think probably the most it was MDC the old band Millions of Dead Cops. One record (laughs) they had a big poster in with just hundreds and hundreds of fax clippings about politics, you know? I used to have it beside my bed just as a poster and I would read it every night, and I used to do my book reports off of it and stuff. Yeah that was helpful.
I remember reading the booklet that came with Less Talk, More Rock when I was like 15 and thinking “what is this, wow what are these ideas?” Do you think that Punk music still has the ability to change people’s lives in 2012? You know, how the genre has become commercialised in some ways and music is really disposable with the internet. Do you think it is still a valid thing?
I think so, I think it does. You know like, we are older so the people who to listen to our band now tend to be a little older too, but the feedback we get is always that it is meaningful in some way, whether it is changing their life or not, I don’t know, but people are feeling something from it. Maybe that question is better off for some band who appeals to younger people you know.
Yeah true. Following on from that do you ever get email or hate mail from right wing groups as well as the positive feedback?
Well kind of both, you know what I mean, but some stuff is immature. Some of it is just dumb. You just say “screw it all” and whatever, there is nothing you can do you just put out what you do and people will react to it the way they will, whether it is idiotic, childish or who knows, you know?
Back to the music now, are there any bands you are rating at the moment that you reckon people should check out?
I have really been digging this band Burning Ghats from Vancouver yeah [Band Link]. They are just killer and they came here with this band Violent Restitution also from Vancouver and I thought they were just both awesome and then there is Rehashed and GFA from Saskatoon, Canada I am really digging them. I guess as far as bigger bands, the guys from Fates Warning Jim Matheos started a band called Arch/Matheos that I think is amazing.
Right thanks for those recommendations. This is a totally different question about drugs and alcohol. Do you think drugs should be legalised? Do you condone the use of substances or do you think they are counter productive?
I would say I think it should be legalised. Like, I have no understanding why all the stuff in the pharmacies is legal but pot and stuff is not. It makes no sense to me. But as far as condoning I don’t, like, I don’t smoke or drink or anything you know. I don’t feel the need to stop anybody but at the same time I have seen a lot of people waste their potential and waste their lives doing that, you know? I would be more inclined to have facilities to offer help to people who need it.
Absolutely, so you guys have toured in South America. Did you notice anything different in the culture down there in the punk scene? And also just in general, I mean, do you think there is a big sense of community in those places?
Ah yeah I guess there is definitely different cultural things. There is different art, different food. There are obviously different ways of thinking and that, but people at heart are similar all over you know.
Ok great I think our time is up, nice talking to you man thanks for taking the time to do this, will you guys be coming to Australia or New Zealand anytime on this tour?
Oh I hope so, it won’t be for a little while but I hope we will get there again.
Good luck, have fun on tour and hopefully see ya soon.
Thank you, catch ya later.