Published Nov 22, 20091. Propagandhi
3. Pissed Jeans
4. Teenage Bottlerocket
6. North Lincoln
7. Brand New
8. Lullabye Arkestra
9. Polar Bear Club
1. Propagandhi Supporting Caste (G7/Smallman)
It's been a banner year for Propagandhi, one that highlighted the best of the band and then threw them into a musical climate that was never intended for the radical-minded success they have forged. Since forming in the '80s, Propagandhi have built a worldwide fan-base and issued five celebrated full-length records, becoming national punk rock heroes whose albums are greeted like sacred edicts delivered from a group of politicized prairie hockey hooligans. And they've done it with the barest semblance of organizational skills, touring, and promotion. That is, until this year's release, Supporting Caste, easily the band's most acclaimed and supported work to date.
Logistically speaking, we're crippled by our inability to organize ourselves," says vocalist and guitarist Chris Hannah. "These days, putting out a record is such a roll of the dice. We were really excited about this particular record so we wanted to give it a fair shake, which we hadn't really done with our records in the past. We just put them out, and if people heard 'em, they heard 'em, and if they didn't, they didn't." While 2005's Potemkin City Limits hinted at a powerful fusion of the classic skate-punk leanings of Less Talk, More Rock (1996) and newfound thrash worship unleashed on Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes (2001), Supporting Caste was shaping up to be a monument to the band's passion and influences. And they wanted people to hear it. "These days, if you don't get out there at all, no one's gonna hear it," says Hannah. "We had invested too much of ourselves in this record to not try."
The band's long-standing aversion to touring was the first obstacle to getting the word out, and it took the arrival of a new member David "The Beaver" Guillas to ignite the band's interest in playing live, adding to the bass and drum heroics of Todd Kowalski and Jord Samolesky. "When we were touring Potemkin City Limits, it just wasn't working," says Hannah. "We were feeling like something was missing, but no one could put their finger on it. Just as our morale was at its lowest, I asked Beave if he felt like jamming with us. He came over, and we were like, 'Holy shit, we should have been doing this years ago.' Not just any guitar player, but Beave specifically."
Finishing out the (extremely limited) touring cycle for Potemkin, the band hunkered down in the basement to begin fleshing out the material that would comprise Supporting Caste. Tracked at the band's home studio in Winnipeg and the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado with Bill Stevenson (Descendents, ALL) and Jason Livermore, the album would prove to be the massive-sounding rock spectacle they were hoping to create, barbed with the sharp, socio-political lyricism that has been the band's trademark since day one. Then it was time to hit the road. A lot.
"We started the year playing some shows with Bad Brains, which was unbelievable," says Hannah. "Then we played the same festival as the Cro-Mags. Then we played with MDC. And last Saturday we played a show with Sacrifice, a band we've been listening to since we were in our early teens. It was a pretty monumental year. It's kind of surreal." Hitting the ground running meant making some hard decisions for a band comprised of four staunch left-wing radicals raised in Winnipeg's dynamic activist culture. The band has maintained a long-standing refusal to advertise in or conduct interviews with media outlets with business practices they deem unsavory.
We've always made compromises. They stand out for us because we don't make as many and we're pretty vocal about not making them," says Hannah, when asked about the band's sometimes-uncomfortable mainstream existence. "Media have become so ubiquitous that if you don't engage in it, you don't exist to a large portion of the population. We don't live in a cave. We live in the same society everyone else does. We try to maintain our principals to some sane degree, and I don't think people are wrong to criticize us for using corporate media, just as I don't think it's wrong for people to criticize us for producing CDs that end up in a landfill eventually. It's not just bickering, it's a valuable debate."
While Propagandhi have gone upwards of five years between albums, it looks like that debate won't be taking its regular hiatus; with a renewed internal enthusiasm for touring and writing, the band have already started hammering away at their next batch of thinking man's bangers. "Todd and Beave claim that they have between six and 12 songs that are halfway done. I've heard some parts of them and it's all pretty exiting," says Hannah. "For us, though, halfway done means we might as well have not started yet. We have to be right near the finish line before we can talk about having new songs, really. There's lot of material that we have bouncing around, but for us, it's such a fucking struggle to collate it and get it all together into things that resemble songs."
With a new collection of socially conscious progressive thrash on the horizon, it's not the politics or the stage that keeps the band coming back. It's the simple act of playing together. "The most exciting thing is the prospect of still making more music with guys I've been friends with since I was a kid, and still enjoying it, and still getting the same feeling I got when my mom brought home a tape recorder in 1976, pressed record, told me to talk, and played it back so I could hear my voice," says Hannah. "I get that same excitement when I hear our songs coming through the speakers."