Well-loved Winnipeg act Propagandhi talks new member and coming tour

By Sarah Mac
Propagandhi are going with the flow while thinking of the future. Photo: Greg Gallinger

Propagandhi are going with the flow while thinking of the future.
Photo: Greg Gallinger

CALGARY — Canadian punk rockers Propagandhi are hitting the road again and this time Western Canada are the lucky ones to revel in the glory.

Although many are quite familiar with Propagandhi, for the stragglers, here’s a quick history lesson.

Propagandhi are veterans of the punk rock scene, forming in 1986 and based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. They’ve released six studio albums and a handful of singles and live albums. They are best known for their quick-witted, progressive political punk, accompanied by fast tempos and a heavy sound. But it’s their devotion to activism that has put them above and beyond. Not only are the majority of their songs screaming demands for human and animal rights, they also have contributed much of their earnings to many deserving charities for both these worthy causes.

Since the release of their first album, How to Clean Everything (1993), Propagandhi’s sound has matured: what started out as smart-alecky, power punk has grown into a heavier, thrashier style. This style was mastered on their last album, Failed States, which was released in 2012 and immediately became a new favourite among fans.

Recently, there were some changes with the band, and with their growing tour schedule and no real talk of a new album in the works, BeatRoute chatted with long-time bassist Todd Kowalski to discuss all things Propagandhi and get the story straight.

In 2015 Propagandhi went through a lineup change—something that hasn’t happened since 2006, when David “Beaver” Guillas joined the band—adding not only a fourth member for the first time, but a rhythmic guitar section as well. Then sadly, last June, the Beaver decided to move on to other things and rather than continue as a three-piece as they had for decades before, the remaining members decided to replace him.

“I think we just enjoyed being a four-piece band more. It’s fuller and we had more options on guitar. We can add more layers and textures to the songs. Also, just having someone else in the band brings more ideas to the table, as well as a different personality. And you [the fan] also have more to focus on,” Kowalski explains.

Propagandhi decided on an old-school approach to finding their new guitarist, they placed a want ad-style application on their website and potential candidates submitted videos showing off their skills. Although this sounds like a lengthy process, they were determined to find their Beaver replacement. In a matter of days they received hundreds of audition videos from people across the world. With one video standing out from the rest, Propagandhi made the official announcement in September, welcoming Sulynn Hago, Floridian and badass axe-shredder, as the newest member of Propagandhi.

“She seemed really cool, she handed in her audition video really quick and it was done really well. Also, what she wrote in her bio, she seemed pretty awesome. We wanted someone with a lot of go-get-em spirit, you know. And her video showed us a lot of that. It showed a lot of effort and hard work right off the bat. She’s good at improvising on the guitar, and she’s just into music 100 per cent. That really came across in her video. She just eats and breathes guitar. But, the fact that she lives in Florida is a little tricky,” Kowalski reflects.

“Even though we didn’t really have one thing in particular we were looking for, every little thing helped. Especially for us, we have a lot of certain ideas, and we wanted someone who meshed with us. Hago has listened to us for a long time and is kind of on the same page,” he continues.

“It does help that she’s vegan, it goes with the spirit,” he chuckles.

With the change in lineup, and their irregular touring, Propagandhi fans wondered if there would finally be a new album in the works, and if so, who would be performing on it.

“We have a bunch of songs we’re working on, not recorded… The goal is to be recording by the end of the year, I hope,” he says.

“But in the end, we would rather have a good record than one that’s out by a certain time. We jam every week, five to six times. We have lots of music on the go that we’re really excited about it. And we know we gotta get back out there, but for some reason it takes us awhile to get all our gears going. I don’t know why. It happens every single time,” Kowalski continues.

Rumours spread that possibly Hago will just tour with the band, and wouldn’t be involved in any of the recordings. But Kowalski thinks it’s safe to say that that’s not the case.

“We’re opening up our doors to Hago a bit more. We had to get to know her first and see what’s up. But we’re going to get her up here [Winnipeg] and record some songs. At the same time, we haven’t closed the door on Beaver either. We’re just going with the flow, making tunes and having fun. But yes, we want Hago in the mix too and you know, we’ll see what happens.”

Many of the Propagandhi shows on this tour are somewhat smaller in size and most of them have sold out quite quickly. The disappointment of the sold out shows was brightened by second dates in some cities, while others will sadly have to wait for the next tour.

“We’ve added shows to B.C. and here in Winnipeg. But unfortunately, we can’t add second dates for Calgary and Edmonton because we have to be back in Winnipeg for a show. For the Calgary show, it really sucks, because it sold out so fast,” he reveals apologetically.

“When you are in a band, you really don’t want to overshoot with a big place, and so we figured we’d just go out and play these small- to medium-sized venues and see what happens. Cause you know, you really don’t know what to expect.”

This is not so comforting for those that are ticketless, but don’t give up hope yet.

“When we have the new record out, we’ll come back and play the bigger shows. Promise.”

Well, at least there is a light at the end of this very long show and album-less tunnel. Let’s just hope Propagandhi gets those gears going sooner rather than later.

As of press time, tickets were still on sale for Propgandhi’s Vancouver show at the Rickshaw on February 6th, in Victoria at Sugar on the 7th, in Banff at Wild Bill’s on February 10th and in Winnipeg at the Garrick Centre on February 13th. Edmonton and Calgary stops are sold out.

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