Interview: Propagandhi’s Todd Kowalski (Bass/Vocals) talks “Failed States”, politics, and more

We recently cornered Propagandhi bassist/vocalst Todd Kowalski for a quick Q&A about new album “Failed States”, politics, touring plans and more.  Check it out here.

When I first saw the cover of “Failed States,” it reminded me of the cover for Bad Religion album, “Suffer.” Is it homage to that iconic cover, or is it just a coincidence? Is there a specific message behind the cover art for the album?

No,it’s not an intentional homage to the ” Suffer” record cover. I was trying to figure out what to draw and was getting frustrated. I like drawing mountains so I drew a frustrated guy throwing his charred skull off a mountain with his neck also smouldering. It looked too cartoony so I switched it to a more thoughtful character with his head on fire. I hadn’t really thought about that “suffer”record cover but you never know where in your sub-conscience things might be coming from. The idea was to have something that could represent the emotions on the record. Is the person venting on the mountain? Did they go there to escape, or to jump? Who knows?

To me, the overall theme to the new album, “Failed States” seems to be about personal / societal growth. What would you say is the strongest message you’d like to convey on the new album?

I can agree with that. The strongest message is the same as always; Do your best to take care of each other and the planet in general. Question yourself more often than you question others and try to have some hope even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

In the opening track, “Note to Self” some of the lyrics are “No muckraking journalist left to take stock of the wholesale omission of outside perspectives. How does it make you feel to know that you voted for this?” In a world with ever increasing concentration of media ownership and opinion driven journalism, what do you think it will take to get the press and political process back into the hands of people and get us more informed?

I guess people have to keep supporting independent media and journalists. There is a great potential these days to document and spread information but journalists with integrity are being edged out of their professions by corporate media. It’s important for us all to stay vigilantly in demand of proper information and high quality news and to encourage others to branch away from ridiculous and sensationalist news stations. I think people should check out as many news sources as possible for varying opinions.

In the same vein, how do you feel about the various political uprisings like the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements?

Well, obviously the Tea Party is a ‘faux’ people’s uprising because it was bankrolled by people like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brother’s. They do represent a certain element of, in my opinion, totally misinformed and misguided individuals. Occupy is a different story in that it really did rise out of public discontent and frustration. There was a bit of a lack of focus but the final message was clear; that people are here they are paying attention and can only be pushed so far before taking to the streets.

What led you to sign with a major label like Epitaph? Do you think in doing so and sharing the label with some of the more fashion orientated bands clashes with your anti-capitalist ideology?

Epitaph isn’t a ‘major’ label in terms of being a true major like Sony or Warner Brothers. They are a very large major independent label. What led us to sign to Epitaph was the folding of our friends label ‘Smallman Records’ we clearly needed to go with someone who could support us and keep our records in proper circulation. Having had a couple questionable experiences with smaller labels we thought Epitaph would be alright. We weren’t too concerned about the aesthetic of the other bands on Epitaph, we just do our own thing. We were already on Fat and the Fat bands have similar leanings to some Epitaph bands. No problem really, some people say we’re similar to them as well, anyway. I’ve never really been one to like bands based on their record label, I just go by what they have to offer individually. Having said that I never buy records off true majors.

There’s a part of the song “Things I Like” where there’s a Native American speaking. What is he saying and how does it relate to the overall lyrical message of the song?

The spoken word is by my friend Wab Kinew. He’s speaking a language called Anishnaabemowin. He’s basically saying that all the people of North America should remember and appreciate Aborigional people’s contributions and history on the Continent. Then he says to rock and have fun. Wab’s got a great TV show called 8th Fire.

From “Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes” onward there’s a noticeable shift to a more thrash influenced sound. Was this intentional and do you see yourselves going even further in that direction or eventually mellowing out?

No, I wouldn’t say that’s too intentional. We’re just riffing it up and making tunes and that’s what ended up happening. I think we’ll always have a mix of different emotions and musical vibes. We love music and really enjoy the feel of speed but we also love depth and nuance. We never know what a songs going to be like until it passes our ears or imagination in some way.

Lyrically, the song “Status Update” is a about social networking. What do you think are the biggest pros and cons of social networking?

The biggest pro’s are that social media has the ability to bring people together, spread information, organize, and even make new friends. The huge downsides are that it can be a huge waste of time, it can give other people, the government and corporations, too much personal information to use and abuse.

What do you propose as an ideal and ethically sound solution to the current collective bargaining agreement that has put the nhl season on hold?

Haha..hmm. I’m the only one who’s not into hockey in the band. I guess I’d say that it needs to be seen for what it is; big business and not a game that’s played for fun by children. I also think I’d side with the players. Even more than that though, I’d propose that the owners and the players give up some of their pay checks to make the games more affordable for fans. I doubt we’ll ever see that. Ha ha.

What is in store for Propagandhi next in terms of music and touring?

Well, we’re heading to the prairie provinces in Canada for 5 shows in late November, in February we’ll go to the Western U.S. then we’ll head to Europe after that. I’m sure we’ll head to more places after that. From there on in who knows what the future holds?

Thanks a lot, Lauren. We really appreciate the interview! Keep rocking down there.

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