PROPAGANDHI interview with vocalist/ guitarist Chris backstage at Manchester Hop & Grape after a truly storming show.
Propagandhireleased their debut album ‘How To Clean Everything’, the second full-length release on the then fledgling Fat Wreck Chords. As a band emerging from the most backward reaches of the Canadian Prairies with raging melodic punk and strong political views in place of died-hair and plastic smiles the band burst onto the scene bringing forth a powerful combination of humour, harmonies and high-energy political hardcore. This was a band who’d been chewing on the fierce political concepts of the mid-80s hardcore bands before them and consequently spat out a venomous onslaught of anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-government –hey- anti-everything rants, supported by high-energy hardcore. Maybe one of the reasons why Propagandhi are so vocal about informing the public about the kinda stuff the government & the media would rather bury under a large cloud of lies & deceit is because at one point they were average American patriots too, with complete faith in their government and no need to think too much about what goes on behind closed doors nor, indeed, the rest of the world.
Says Chris: “I kinda grew up a military-led person with terrible things like that. I actually tried to join the military one time and they rejected me for some psychological profile. But half-way through my life thus far I discovered bands like the Dead Kennedys, NVC, COC, the Dayglo Abortions and that kind of stuff. They had a perspective and lyrics that I’d never had a chance to hear before in my life. That was a big turning point -I turned tail on my pro-nuclear stance & made some changes.”
And so, a few years later, Propagandhi is formed. The band were committed to playing anywhere and to anyone who needed to know, including homeless people in Car-parks! “It doesn’t really happen now”, Chris smiles. “Because at the time, we toured on our own, without any organisation to it really. We played basements & stuff and a lot of people started coming out. Because we wanted to play to people who wanted to see us & support us, those sort of options began to disappear, but yeah, it is true!”
After three years of preaching their radical views with long talks in-between songs and giving out controversial & challenging material at shows the band started work on 96’s ‘Less Talk, More Rock’ album. This acclaimed follow-up acted as a politically polemic punk rock pedestal for which to promote their stronger-than-ever beliefs which railed against political, social & sexual authority of every form. But, not content with just using a band & inlay sleeves for which to present their views in well-written & thought-provoking essays the band set up the worker owned and operated label, the G7 Welcoming Committee. It’s vision was to see the expansion of resistance culture through music, print and written word, the first release having been a spoken word release by Ward Churchill, a man who speaks on indigenous issues in North America. Unfortunately, due to the workload that inevitably ensued, they began to spend more time with this project and less time with the band. Five years later they eventually found time to record the fantastic ‘Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes’ record. However, having realised how much they were, at times, almost forcing their views on the listener on their previous releases and at shows this record is much tamer in presenting ideas, leaving much more room for discussion. Whereas previous lyrics included the lines “Fuck Religion!” and “Consider someone else – stop consuming animals!” Propagandhi have chosen to explain their beliefs more and put them into context. Have they ever been worried about presenting their opinions as fact, or have they always been open for discussion?
“They’re open for discussion yeah, but I think people have to understand, I guess, that people who write lyrics, or whatever, have various tools such as provocation & exaggeration in order to put people into the ideas. In terms of religion I’m sure it seems apparent, or you might assume that we’re absolutely intolerant of religious beliefs and I would say the three of us do think that, fundamentally, there’s no place for us for belief in supernatural as some sort of tool in terms of formulating social policy. But at the same time I know lots of people who have spiritual beliefs & they’re good people and some of them try to interpret their idea, of Christianity especially, as some sort of revolutionary spirituality which is, to me… like, I can sit down with somebody all night and argue about it. I respect people and their beliefs but personally I’m atheist.”
As you’ve probably guessed by now, Propagandhi, although respectful of other people’s views and beliefs, have very strong opinions on pretty much anything. But as far as political propaganda and the truth goes Propagandhi have a very keen interest. It may be worth noting out at this point, then, that this interview was conducted about a month after the atrocities of September 11th and a week after the first US air strikes in Afghanistan. Although he’s probably been bombarded by questions regarding these events throughout their European tour I felt it necessary to ask Chris his views on the whole situation. After all, my impression, in England, of people in America is that the majority are not very clued up on what’s going on in the rest of the world anyway. A friend of mine (who incidentally was in New York at the time of the attacks) had to buy The Economist just to find out what was going on in Europe & the Middle East. Do you think that’s a fair judgement?
“Well, I think that North America’s even worse for people who don’t have, I think, close to a proper context for understanding the situation which lead up to those people taking such terrible extreme measures as some sort of symbolic or inflammatory action against, I guess, the country that is perceived as the greatest evil on the planet, or at least in their region. So, context & information is replaced by flag-waving. Even in Canada people are buying American flags & flying them all over the place.”
Do you think people are too willing to believe what CNN and the media tell them?
“Maybe. It’s comfortable in North America to believe the mainstream view because it makes things a lot simpler in believe that but if people actually had a number of perspectives to digest instead of CNN then I think the average person would hear a more humanitarian view of it, a more holistic view of the situation instead of just waving around flags. Because you know most people, even dorks, deep down, are generally good people and they don’t want other people to get hurt. People generally have some sense of fairness outside of raging capitalists. And I think if the average person had more exposure to history, not just history written by empire but by people who’ve been on the receiving end of imperialism I think most people would tend to move away from the blind patriotism & probably force their governments to change their policies.”
This kind of anti-government stance does not favour well with those in power, who’d prefer their embarrassing mistakes kept well under wraps. It’s been known for government agents to contact action groups and bands such as Propagandhi to stop producing certain literature or information that may be derogatory against the state. Luckily, Propagandhi have been left alone.
“As participants in anti-globalisation protests we’ve been illegally detained but that’s our only contact with the state, as protesters, but as a band, not that we know of.”
Do you think that in a twisted way the unity of the American people during this time actually suppresses the value of democracy in that there’s no scope for criticism or alternate opinion to George Bush’s view?
“Yeah, I agree. I think it’s good to see people in times of crisis come together & help each other, which doesn’t usually happen in North America. Outside of crisis situations it’s really every person for themselves. But on the other hand unity is becoming… well, policy-makers are using it as a veil to suppress criticism of Bush or to erase his history of bullshit that he’s performed in other countries even in the short time he’s been president. So yeah, in that sense democracy has been completely thrown out the door. You even have people actually saying things like, “I’m willing to give up my civil liberties right now for an increased surveillance state & to protect Americans.” Even people on the left, progressives, are in some cases doing these flip-flops in how they feel because the chickens have come home to roost. The terror is here and people don’t like it, or rather it’s been over here for years and people have just ignored it & didn’t think about it until it affected them.”
At this point some of you may be wondering why this interview’s veering heavily towards the current war situation and not about the band. Others will have realised that this is no ordinary band but one that takes a serious interest in current issues and politics, or rather the mismanagement of politics. Therefore probing the band on such issues would in fact be talking about the band’s views and it’s propagandist role. But it is a difficult one. During much of our conversation much reference is made towards the US’ tyrannical reaction over the situation and the fact that many innocent civilians are being killed at the hand of America’s ruthless military dictatorship. When American bombs go astray and accidentally kill innocent Afghans there is uproar all over the Moslem world. But, however, when Saddam Hussein gassed a village of 5,000 moslem men, women, & children in Halabja, how many world-wide Moslem demonstrations took place against this grotesque crime? None. (If anything, Saddam – like Bin Laden – is something of a hero in the Arab street).
While you are obviously against the bombing in Afghanistan, you have to agree that there’re still terrorist training camps there as well as laboratories where they’re breeding diseases such as anthrax which need to be stopped.
“Yeah, I agree. The Al-Queda network, as I understand it so far, is a criminal network & I think they should be brought to some international criminal court & prosecuted. As far as bombing the network I think it’s a short-term resolution to a problem because in actual fact it’s going to intensify their will to perform these acts. It’s going to actually bring more people over there into their circle. I don’t know that, I think that because I think that’s how a lot of things work. Bin Laden allegedly organised this act & he’s made a few statements saying why it’s happened -because of American aggressions & interventions in their part of the world so America responding by intervening & performing more military actions in that part of the world just proves his point.”
But he did say in a video made before the bombing started that Americans would never experience security again, so surely that would inflame the US government to act as it has done.
“Absolutely. But, then again - these are my opinions by-the-way – you can bomb these people and try and destroy these networks or you can think about… I mean, I think Bin Laden’s an extreme idiot and a fucking freak & a criminal but he’s made three good points in that same video we’re talking about. He wants the sanctions ended against Iraq, he wants US support of Israeli suppression against Palestinians to stop & he wants military forces out of Saudi Arabia who are, in essence, defending a brutal monarchy, an anti-democratic monarchy in Saudi Arabia. But I still think the guy’s a piece of shit & he’s going about it the wrong way and I despise religious fundamentalists but those three things should be addressed by Western policy-makers. They’re claiming to be dropping humanitarian cargo on Afghanistanies because they feel so terrible. And they feel so terrible because there’s people starving, but for 10 years people have been starving because of US sanctions.”
The one thing that struck me when I came home from work at 2pm that day & turned on the telly was that the emphasis was on retaliation, like how will the government respond rather than taking a minute to understand why it happened, what’s going on in that part of the world & why they feel so much hatred for America. Am I right in thinking that most Americans cannot understand why anyone would dislike them?
“Yeah, I think that’s exactly what’s happening. The context is being ignored & retaliation is the favoured action by policy-makers & their accomplices in the media and that’s just going to make this worse. There’s gonna be more militancy among fundamentalists in that region & basically all that bombing does really is hurt civilians who’re on the ground. And it provides money for defence contractors who love war, because they make money out of selling weapons & that keeps them happy and pours more money into the next defence campaign for Bush. I think it’s just a vicious circle of hypocrisy & bullshit.”
If you wanna read Chris’s official statement, written just after the attacks you can find it on the Propagandhi site: www.g7welcomingcommittee.com/propgandhi, along with masses of information regarding government propaganda, worldwide protests and all kinds of Propagandhi-related activism.