Propagandhi: “Civilization itself is the elephant in the room and we’re all finished anyway.”

A socio-political interview with front-man Chris Hannah

Propagandhi: “Civilization itself is the elephant in the room and we’re all finished anyway.”

By Ashwin Bhandari

Sep 25, 2017 19:14

The five-year gap between the Canadian punk outfit's last record 'Failed States' and 2017's 'Victory Lap' was loaded with highs and lows. Chris Hannah was blessed with a second child; long-standing guitarist David Guillas left to become a teacher, and was replaced with Sulynn Hago; and both drummer Jord Samolesky and bassist Todd Kowalski had to deal with family losses. Meanwhile, Donald Trump was elected president in the US in 2016, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain significant traction in the media, whilst white supremacists are being given platforms to voice their hate speech. In the run-up to the release of 'Victory Lap' this month, Hannah spoke to us about the social issues that Propagandhi have been so vocal about in their 31 years as a band.

With song titles such as ‘The Only Good Fascist Is A Very Dead Fascist’ in Propagandhi’s discography, you would assume that Hannah would support violent responses towards neo-nazis, however in 2017, this viewpoint has somewhat changed. Whilst hardcore bands like Stray From The Path have been upfront with their stance on punching Nazis, Hannah believes that each threat should be dealt with on a case by case basis.

“When the far right talk about free speech they don’t actually mean free speech, their platform is there to make it actively harder for immigrants, people of colour and LGBT communities. I don’t think the response should just purely be ‘punching Nazis.’ It’s a cathartic way of looking at it and I get that, but there has to be something more. Some of the criticisms I’ve seen of Antifa, for example, is that they are not focused enough on building progressive left institutions that in the long term serve our values and attract more people to what we want in society.

The media loves to focus on the ‘Nazi getting punched’, and enjoys the spectacle of the left arguing amongst itself. But I think any reasonable person would to look at the context of each conflict. If Nazis are showing up and threatening a large congregation of black people, as was the case in Charlottesville, then there is a legitimate reason to have a physical response to that threat.

Outside of that, we should keep building institutions that enlarge the left. We can’t just rely on street violence with fascist groups and we can’t just rely on letting them organize to combat them.”

In the past, Hannah has felt as if labouring over lyrics hasn’t been a fruitful way of songwriting. This time around, he decided to write in a much more open way. The final track on the new album ‘Adventures In Zoochosis’ was almost scrapped, until he had the idea of inserting sociopathic statements made by Donald Trump to the press, contrasting with the sounds of his children playing outside. “Suddenly when you put those two things together it makes way more sense,” he says.

On their brief visit to the UK, Propagandhi chose Martha and Petrol Girls to support them at their exclusive London show at The Garage, two DIY bands that aren’t afraid to express their left-wing views onstage. “We’d heard of them and it just seemed like it would be a cool show as they’re different from each other but they’re both on the same wavelength as us. They feel like new versions of bands we enjoyed when we were their age. It’s important for us old fuckers to keep our ears out for bands like that.”

Out of all the Fat Wreck Chords alumni, Propagandhi have always been the most outspoken about animal rights and veganism throughout their career. With a far greater sense of awareness and a cultural shift towards cruelty-free lifestyles, Hannah feels as if it’s much easier for bands to be vegan on the road than ever before. “Logistically the problem of ‘what am I going to fucking eat today?’ when you’re 15 and you don’t know any other vegans in 1993 is far less of a problem. I was in Athens, Greece, recently and there was even a vegan place downtown. As far as that goes it’s not too difficult, I think young people still face the same social challenges when it comes to families and tradition. I can only imagine that trying to tell your parents, grandparents and other family circles about being vegan, being around people that consume animal flesh and how you fit into that can still be a struggle.

At the same time, I also think that Animal Liberation as a concept has some work to do in moving itself forward from being simply a lifestyle and a consumer based movement. If the movement thinks it’s going to buy its way out of industrial slaughter by pushing vegan doughnuts and toothpaste, we’re finished. Nothing’s going to change. I’m very wary of the consumer culture.”

With veganism being seen in the mainstream as predominantly a dietary choice rather than for the welfare of animals, there is concern that the original intention to be plant-based may get lost along the way. “It’s annoying to go online and see someone misrepresent your deeply held values about veganism by only focusing on one issue. For example, they won’t connect Animal Liberation issues with any other issues, therefore they might say something online which you’ll find totally embarrassing.

It makes vegans seem laughable but as long as people stay vocal about retaining their core values that inspires us in the first place, I think it will be okay. Having said that, civilization itself is the elephant in the room and we’re all finished anyway. That’s my unpopular opinion.”

When it comes to punk music, there’s still a stigma about selling out by signing to a label or having management. Given how long Propaghandi have been around and the drastic changes in their lives outside of music, Hannah feels as if it’s appropriate to get all the help they can.

“We are not in a position in our lives to put out a record on our own accord anymore. I have two young kids that I take care of and we manage the band ourselves with so very few resources; we’re overextending ourselves as it is. We still think there’s value in having someone to help you if you want people to hear our records. I’m not one of these people that demands that everyone in the world hears us, but I think fans of our previous material should know that it exists and Epitaph are great at making that happen. For a young band I don’t really see the point of being on a record label but if you don’t have the time and energy to do all of that stuff yourself then I can see that as being a viable option.”

Given how bands with members who are seen as marginalized in society are gaining significant traction in various punk circles than ever before, Hannah acknowledges that he’d rather see these groups be bigger rather than expand on Propagandhi’s legacy. “People are tired of hearing a white man spout off about politics and social issues. I’m tired of it too. There are far more interesting perspectives come from those involved in organizations such as Black Lives Matter and The Indigenous Resistance Movement. Whilst they might not be organizations in the traditional sense, they are important forms of social justice. They can channel our efforts of how we might be able to salvage what we call civilization.

I specifically think of the Indigenous Resistance Movement and the treatment of nature, how it’s exploited and showing the world a different philosophy about the dangers of milking it for profit. I think if we pay attention to cultures that were there before Europeans came and decimated everything, maybe we can learn something.”

Photo by Greg Gallinger.

‘Victory Lap’ will be released on September 27 via Epitaph Records.