WHEN I CATCH UP with Todd Kowalski, bassist for Canadian punk band Propagandhi, he's in the middle of a daily regimen that involves taking online art classes, writing riffs for a new record, singing lessons, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu practice. Kowalski also volunteers at children's centers in Winnipeg, and he's met and befriended refugees from all over the world who come to Canada for a better way of life.
He's quick to cite the efforts of his friend Moxie—who recently built a school back home in Somalia, despite UN efforts to dissuade him—as evidence of the band's wellspring of optimism, even as Propagandhi's aural tendencies remain aggressive.
"When you see your friend go do something 100 percent, it shows how far people can go outside of just giving their money to Plan Canada," says Kowalski. "Whenever I see people doing nice things for animals, I wonder why it's so uncommon. It's just people that inspire me. Society as a whole and the world in general is maybe depressing and disappointing, but there are definitely kernels of people not giving up."
Beginning with 2005's Potemkin City Limits, Propagandhi have gradually bid adieu to whatever remained of the stigma from their '90s skate-punk past. Fostering a fanatical fanbase of forward-thinking activists and shred-heads alike, with heady, technical compositions that land somewhere between thrash, punk, and progressive metal, Kowalski, drummer Jordy Samolesky, and guitarists Chris Hannah and David Guillas thrive on maintaining the balance between their art and their politics.
That may not sound too different from lots of other artists, until you weigh Propagandhi's propensity for writing songs that refuse to shirk the issues at hand. Song titles are as decidedly unapologetic: "Apparently, I'm a 'PC Fascist' (Because I Care About Both Human and Non-Human Animals)," "I Was a Pre-Teen McCarthyist," and "Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddam Ass, You Sonofabitch."
The band's sixth studio album, Failed States, was released via Epitaph Records back in 2012, so that's not exactly why the band's on tour now. Propagandhi recently launched two podcasts: One, titled Escape Velocity Radio, features Hannah and friend Derek Hogue pontificating about subjects as far reaching as ethical life under capitalism, cultured meat, speculative futures, and alternative economies. The duo even recently landed an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Chris Hedges. The second podcast is a less-focused self-titled effort, helmed by the members of the band themselves; when the band isn't discussing their favorite death-metal records, it features interviews with political refugees living in Winnipeg.
Propagandhi have been utilizing the reach of the podcast in lieu of rampant website and social media updates, allowing listeners an inside scoop on the band's immediate goings-on. Kowalski mentions the opening of the Sochi Olympics during our chat, and the band's dedication of the song "Cognitive Suicide" from Failed States to middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, whose gender identity had been questioned following several widely publicized running races.
"I find it absurd, and it sucks when there's a government like that and it adds to violence and frustration and pain in people's lives for no reason," says Kowalski. "For an average, thoughtful person it makes zero sense. I don't understand how societies and people even think that way. Once you put some thought into it, you can't understand how you can continue thinking like that."