We discussed the importance of Pennsylvania punk band Anti-Flag last week, and the fact their albums will hold up for decades. As they’re supporting documents for what has happened politically over the course of their existence. We stand by that — history will prove that Anti-Flag have been one of the most important punk rock bands during this period. But clearly, they’re not the only band doing this stuff and doing it well. Enter Propagandhi.
Formed in 1986 in Portage la Prairie (Manitoba province, Canada) by vocalist and guitarist Chris Hannah and drummer Jord Samolesky, some sources will tell you that the band started off with a skater punk sound and gradually shifted in a more heavy metal direction. There’s some superficial truth in that but closer inspection reveals that the musicians involved simply became more proficient with their instruments as the years passed. That led to more intricate musicianship which, where heavier music is concerned, inevitably leads to comparisons to the various metal sub genres.
It’s all semantics anyway, particularly in the case of a band like Propagandhi. Because when it comes to these Canadians, what’s ultimately important is the lyrical content. The band came off the blocks firing on all cylinders. The How to Clean Everything album, released in 1993, on the surface is a little snotty and kooky when listening through today’s ears but it certainly hasn’t dated badly. Vitally, the sentiments that we’ve come to adore the band for are all present and correct. Song titles include “Middle Finger Response”, “Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddam Ass, You Sonofabitch”, and the opening “Anti-Manifesto”.
“Cause if this country is so goddamn free
Then I can burn your fucking flag
Wherever I damn well please
And then I’m gonna stick it up your fucking ass!
I carried their anthem, convinced it was mine
Rhyme-less, unreasoned conjecture kept me in line
But then I stood back and wondered
What the fuck had they done to me?
Made accomplice to all that I’d promised
I would never fucking be
–Propagandhi – “Stick the Fucking Flag
Up Your Goddam Ass, You Sonofabitch”
Incidentally, in 2013 Fat Wreck Chords reissued the album with a couple of
bonus tracks, the best of which is “Homophobes Are Just Pissed ’Cause They Can’t Get Laid”.
“I hope I live to see the day
when your sexually repressed hatred is finally washed away.
It seems that you’re trying to prove it to yourself–build up those defences,
you’re just like everybody else.
You wave your fist like you wave your fucking flag
and you’ll prove it to me now: you’re no f*g.
But that’s fucking weak?”
–Propagandhi – “Homophobes Are Just Pissed
’Cause They Can’t Get Laid”
In ’96, they returned with the snarkily titled Less Talk, More Rock. This is an album title that resonates particularly hard today under the Trump administration when musicians and actors who dare speak out against the president are told to “shut up and dance” by his supporters. With this album, Propagandhi were attempting to do away with the “jocks” (their word) that were making their way into their fanbase. This is a brave move — some bands would be happy to take jock money and play anyway. Not these guys, who didn’t feel any sort of kinship with what they perceived as a bro-centric skater and surfer crowd, preferring a more thoughtful, intellectual group at their shows.
In 2012, Chris Hannah talked about it to Exclaim Magazine:
“When How to Clean came out, we had no idea anyone would like it, then we went and played some shows and all of a sudden, oh, who are all these fucking jocks and skaters and surfers here? Fuck them. Let’s draw a line in the sand, let’s make sure we’re not misunderstood. We have these values, let’s make sure nobody misunderstands them, even if it separates the wheat from the chaff and we’re the chaff and it’s just us. Let’s lay it out on the table.”
And they did. Anybody unaware of where the band stood after the first album (hard to believe) would be left in no doubt after the second. Song titles included “Apparently I’m a PC fascist (Because I Care About Both Human and Non-Human Animals)”, “Resisting Tyrannical Government”, “A People’s History of the World” and “The Only Good Facist is a Very Dead Fascist”.
By Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes in 2001, the band had fully found their groove. The lyrics remained sharp and incisive, the humor a little drier. They were taking their shit seriously and the music benefited massively as a response. They were smack bang in the W. Bush era, but they were calling out everybody with
songs such as “Ordinary People Do Fucked Up Things When Fucked Up Things Become Ordinary.”
In September 2017, nearly a year into the Trump era, Propagandhi put out their seventh studio album, Victory Lap. One might think that circumstances would dictate that they’d be at their best regarding a message. But Hannah had an interesting viewpoint when he spoke to Noisey that year:
“I think back in the Less Talk era, it was more like, ‘Give me the fuckin’ bullhorn and let me talk about me.’ But I’ve modified that position somewhat. People say they’re tired of hearing white, male voices, and so am I. I’m fuckin’ tired of hearing my fuckin’ self.”
Fair enough — white, male voices in general do need to take a backseat, and it’s to be admired that Hannah recognized this. But damn, he’s one of the good ones, one of the voices that stands up for the people who aren’t allowed to have one.
Regardless, Victory Lap is an excellent album that is still incisive and informative. There are few better commentaries on today than “When All Your Fears Collide”.
Long may they continue.