Todd Kowalski is the bassist and singer for Canadian punk band Propagandhi. Kowalski has been heavily involved in the punk scene since 1986 when he started his first band, I Spy. He joined Propagandhi in 1997 and speaks out against various issues such as animal cruelty and inequality. NEW KICKS caught up with Todd to find out what's going on in the world of Propagandhi.
What is going on with Propagandhi at the moment?
Well we just finished playing Riot Fest in Chicago which was cool because we got to see the original C.O.C. line up! They were great. We have a split 7" coming our with Canada's thrash gods SACRIFICe, who've been a favourite of ours since we were kids. The songs on the record are killer so we're stoked! For the last year we've been working pretty hard on new songs. They're going really well. We're in a pretty good state right now with tons of music on the go. Now's time for the hard part-the lyrics.
How does it feel to have been making music for over 20 years?
Good. Actually we're happier than ever because we can play better and we're having a good time practising every day of the week. We still have visions that need to come to fruition so we carry on happily.
Your song ‘Ladies’ Nite In Loserville’ really had a huge impact on me as a teenager. How does it feel when you hear that your music has encouraged people into things like feminism?
That's cool, Antonia. I'm glad you got something out of that tune. I'm really happy to hear that some people are turned on to new or different ideas because of one or a few of our songs. I really appreciate it because that's what happened for me as well. I learned a lot from some older bands.
On your latest album Supporting Caste, the song ‘Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz)’ apparently led to Katz claiming that you’d threatened him. Can you explain a little about the ideas behind the song?
I think Sandor was getting a little defensive because his full of holes position was being questioned. I'm sure he never took the song as any threat, no rational human being would. The song is clearly a satirical parallel of one of chapter of his book. We just used his rational of "humane" killing and made him the fictional recipient of the treatment to show how inhumane it really is. If humane killing was really OK with him he'd have had no reaction whatsoever. I do like Sandor Katz much more than I like Winnipeg’s mayor Sam Katz. Now that's a total jerk off!
Your music is always very politically driven but also very tongue-in-cheek at times. Do you think it’s important to deliver a message to people in a way that makes them laugh but also makes them listen? Do you often find that people interpret your songs in a different way than you meant them?
I guess some people feel the need to laugh while they're listening to songs. I don't necessarily feel it's important to make people laugh but we have more than one aspect to our personalities and they filter their way into our songs. Sometimes you wake up feeling mad, sometimes, sad, sometimes you don't know what to do but laugh things off. Perhaps the humour adds some levity for people, or maybe they can get more of where we're coming from when they see that we're not just dark tormented weirdos. The songs are very often misinterpreted and misunderstood or the lyrics completely ignored. However people want to take a song is fine. We just do our thing and if someone listens or takes something from it then that's good because we believe that we're coming from an angle that respects other people and nature. There's so many forces going in the opposite direction right now.
You’ve been together for more than two decades. In that time you’ve written about racism, feminism, animal rights and a lot of other social injustices. Over the years what have been the most positive changes you’ve seen in society?
Sadly, I think the world’s getting worse and worse so I'm not sure how to answer that. I guess the most positive thing would be that there's many, many people are trying to help educate or empower others to do things to help themselves. Whether it's better farming practices, or building schools for kids, or helping people get access to information.
Proceeds from the pre-release downloads of Supporting Caste went towards some organisations that you, as a band, support. Which organisations would you encourage people to look into?
Well, I'll list three good ones here that I hope people will check out: Doctors Without Borders, Women For Women, Dignitas International.
How long have you been vegan and what inspired you to look into it in the first place?
I've been vegan since about 1993 or so, I think.. maybe longer? I was vegetarian in January 1992 so that's 18 years. I love animals and I don't like to harm anyone or anything unnecessarily. In 1991 I lived with a guy from India who was vegetarian. It looked really easy and I liked the idea so I just did what he did. He thought I wouldn't last more than a week. Ha ha. But it was really, really simple. I've never ever missed meat. In fact I'd rather eat shit.
Animal testing is still a major practice in the cosmetics industry. What are your views on this and do you think people turn a blind eye out of ignorance or laziness?
People will do anything so they don't have to change themselves and they will turn a bind eye to anything that infringes on their convenience. I'm losing faith in people. Most people are definitely lazy and self centred. People will let other people die for them. They won't even change tiny simple things about themselves to save the lives of others. It's really pathetic and sad if you really think about it. I find it strange that you'd accept that an animal should die so you can have rosy cheeks.
What preliminary steps do you think people can take in order to live cruelty free lives?
I think the best and easiest step is to stop eating meat. It's totally 100% simple, easy and direct. The idea is clear and the means of accomplishing the task are satisfying and liberating. I felt instantly happier when I stopped eating that crap, the only downside is that if you recognize how easy it is you start to feel a bit of sadness that others don't follow that path as well. So many animals are being raised, abused, and killed for no good reason. I think about it a lot.
Did you start the band in order to get your messages out there or was the band originally about making music?
I think we all have ideas that we need to say. Even when I was a kid I was writing lyrics about the things that bothered me whether it be other kids or how society sucked. Ha ha. Some people feel a need to write love songs, some of us feel a desperate need to write the types of songs we write. It's who we are and what we think about.
In the beginning Propagandhi and I Spy toured together. Was it a natural progression for your members to join forces?
I suppose. It's cool to have a band with a couple song writers. It's fun to see what the other people will come up with. I really like Chris's songs so I'm happy to play them and see if I can add things to them here and there. As long as a song is ripping, creative and moves us in some way then we're all in to it!
What do you do when you’re not writing, touring or recording?
I like to draw and do a lot of art, I volunteer with refugee kids in an after school program. That used to be my job but touring got in the way with that. I've got a couple other things in the works that will help make the world a little better for some people. I'm hesitant to blab about it right now in case it doesn't work out. I try to get some exercise when I can. Ha ha.
What prompted you to start the G7 Welcoming Committee label? And what happened with Fat Wreck?
Chris and Jord started G7 to promote bands they liked and thought were worthwhile for people to check out. They wanted to do a different kind of record label that was actually about music and art. Of course that's pretty tough in an "industry" that is such a joke. We just outgrew Fat or something. We weren't really into what was happening there and we just wanted to go our own way. It paid off because we are much better on our own.
You’ve been around for years now. What do you think of the punk scene at the moment and the newer bands?
There's a lot of good bands in the underground scene. The more mainstream bands are really, really terrible, and these Warped Tour type commercial shows are horrible. I'm not so much into the way music is gobbled up these days with ring tones and downloading. That's just not my thing. It's really boring. I'd rather get the records and see what the band was really up to. I can't say I'm really feeling a lot of the punk scene because so many bands are absolutely meaningless and have no sonic appeal for me. I'm just not interested. I don't like retro bands and I don't like kids with beards pretending they’re truckers or rednecks. Haha. So that's pretty much every band out the door right there.
Off the top of my head there are only a handful of punk bands I can think of that use their music to comment on social issues. What is your opinion on this? Do you think a lot of bands waste their voice?
That's pathetic for a punk scene. It shows how all those bands in the early nineties going to major labels and watering punk down to nothing really did kill it. It's very hard for me to relate now. when I think of music and bands and music history I feel like I'm not in step with what other people are seeing or valuing. I'm not saying that to try to sound special or cool. It all just truly confuses me. As a music lover I find it sort of depressing. I do search for new bands all the time and I'm not stuck in the past but there's a lot of discouraging things out there. I don't think the bands are wasting their voice because they clearly have nothing to say or they'd say it. Their voice is their meaninglessness, I guess. It screams loud and clear to my ear.
In the UK at the moment we have a coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government. What do you think of our country’s political situation?
Oh jeez. It's pathetic everywhere. Maybe I'm answering this on a bad day or something but I'm starting to feel a bit bummed out by it all. Politicians and media outlets trying to steer people down crazy paths and blame all the wrong people for the problems. Britain, Canada, and the U.S. are plunging so far in the hole mentally. I don't know what's ever going to bring us out of it. People just want convenience, comfort and low taxes, they don't care what the expense is. The parties are all similar and are completely infiltrated and used by large corporations. It's a truly unbelievable situation that would surprise and terrify George Orwell if he was alive today.
Do you enjoy touring and do you have any plans to come back to the UK?
We enjoy touring in little spurts so we can do our best at every show. I think at the end of last year we were burning out a bit. We came back to the fray recently with a new plan and way of attacking our shows that seemed to really pay off for us enjoyment wise. So we're eager to hit the stage again. I guess there's bound to be ups and downs when you play for so many years. These days, at least while we're playing and practising there's more ups than downs. We'll bring the new and improved show back to the UK when we have a new record out. Until then we're sort of grounded here in Winnipeg.
What can we expect from G7 Welcoming Committee in the near future?
Probably just the next Propagandhi record for the next little while. We're all really busy doing our thing and rocking as hard as we can.
Thanks so much for talking to us. It’s much appreciated.
Thank you, Antonia.
This interview was first published in Lights Go Out issue 11 which is available to buy here.