eric-kamm

The System That We Live Under: Jord Samolesky Of Propagandhi, Part 2

By Eric Kamm Published on June 26, 2010

To read part 1 of this series click here.

Kamm Can you start with an introduction to your group and discuss how you guys became involved in politics?

Samolesky Well, I guess as a band, we formed up here in Winnipeg [Canada]. In the very, very early 90’s we were getting together, becoming a band, learning our instruments, were inspired through music, and were just starting to go to some punk and underground metal shows. I think that was the music we were really taken by at the time, and really into and inspired by, and that’s probably the reason why we started picking up guitars and drums. And then I think just slowly over time, from our late teens into our early twenties, we actually started playing…in 1991.

I think by that point a political contribution was as much of an influence as a [musical] sound was. There was one band, MDC, in particular, and DOA here in Canada, that totally blew us away and that shifted our intentions of forming a band, into forming a political band. It was a real conscious decision to set it up like a political band for the get-go.

Kamm Were you and Chris [Hannah, Propagandhi’s primary lead vocalist and lead guitarist] politically active before that?

Samolesky I would say we were becoming politically conscious through musical avenues that we were interested in. We weren’t interested in political music exclusively. We listened to a lot of different kind of music, and stuff like that on top of it. But it was definitely how we wanted to represent ourselves if we were going to make our own band—just sort of join into that sort of scene and become active that way.

And so from 1993 to the present we’ve done four records with the label Fat Wreck Chords in the United States, and I guess over the years we’ve just seen the popularization of punk music through mainstream channels. Big sample bands would be like Green Day and Nirvana, and that kind of stuff, the integration of heavy music into mainstream life. And we’ve just seen that shell taken and manipulated by large companies. And, you know I think when the world’s youth movements were gaining a lot of consciousness and were acting, like with the whole Seattle thing, and all the Anti- G-7 and G-8 protests going around the world, anti-globalization movements were solidifying. And so you have all these companies clamoring for credibility with young people as young people are largely seeing this system that we live under as complete bullshit, and one that’s taken us on a highway to hell in all certainty.

And, I don’t know, we just kind of witnessed a lot of co-optation with music as a sound that was previously taboo in the mainstream, and you couldn’t sell fucking candy bars, and sweatshop-made clothing, fucking with that sort of sound attached to it.

Then all of a sudden it was like “we need something to be cool again to kids.” This cyclical co-optation of new forms of cultural discontent has been going on for years, I think with jazz music and rock n’ roll, and now hip hop and punk, and it’s just like…it’s a hard one to deal with on the inside as you’re part of this music machine. And you know some channels are independent, and others aren’t, and as a band we always strove to be as independent as we could of all that stuff, and criticize it. I think that’s an identifying factor in terms of what we try to do in the band.

Kamm So with the commercialization of all these aspects of the music industry, how have things become more difficult tour-wise, while trying to keep things independent?

Samolesky Well, we did a bunch of shows in the [United] States, and one of the prerequisites with our booking agents was planning not to play places that were sort of House Of Blues or Clear Channel-operated. That’s something we don’t want to do at all. And, we ended up playing lower-key indie clubs which is fine by us. I don’t think it’s difficult in keeping tours low key. You can always choose to go out on the road by yourself, or with a band or two that you know.

But I think, speaking in terms of festivals, a lot of festivals are complete… I don’t know. I find it so strange that a group of large bands who are drawing power, who are so large that they could pull these events off themselves somehow, by working it themselves or with people they know, or…to just open the door and allow companies like Van’s, who I think have pretty poor labor standards, to just tag their name along with this style of music and sell off their fucking crap, all these video game companies… I mean, if you take the time to look at the sponsor page on the Van’s Warped Tour, it’s like, you’d be surprised by the amount of corporate involvement, like Mastercard or Dodge trucks. It like, who invited these fucking fuckers along?

Kamm The U.S. Army too. The Army is going to set up a booth at this years Warped Tour.

Samolesky I’ve heard that they’ve done recruitment tables before at some shows, and then they were sort of pressured out. But…I believe you , that could be very true. And there must be some sort of division within their organizing as to who can stay and who can go. But, I heard at one point that people sort of, I don’t know, raised a big enough stink, that they kind of put the kibosh on it after a few times. But if they’re letting them back in again… I mean, who is making those decisions, and why? I mean, that’s just purely fucked in my opinion.

I would say that that would be the polar opposite way of how I would ever want to go on the road. More than being A-political, and just sort of music for the sake of having fun and leaving it at that. I have a bit of beef with that kind of idea.

But whatever…I can respect that, if that’s what people want to do. But this is crossing huge fucking lines, where, in my perspective, you’re entering enemy territory. You’re aligning yourself with the US government. Bands should be boycotting it, and saying Van’s Warped Tour has lost all credibility, and its time for it to fucking end.

Kamm As a band, do you view yourself more focused on a political message, or more on the music? You mentioned making music for the sake of making music, but also talked about the corporate interests involved in the scene now. I know that your label [G-7 Welcoming Committee] puts out a lot of political literature as well. What would you say your focus is these days?

Samolesky Yeah, I don’t really buy into any sort of band identity. I think we consider ourselves to be three fucking guys who’ve had our heads up, half-way up our asses for parts of our lives, that are trying to struggle with coming through a white middle class male upbringing, and trying to do something good towards the planet now that we know how fucked up it is. But we’re just sort of mildly incompetent, fucking kind of freaky prairie metal kids…and now we’re in our mid-thirties and our hair is falling out and turning grey, and [laughing] you know, a lot of that stuff just doesn’t matter to us, I guess. But in terms of what we do with our lives outside of the band, was that your question?

Kamm I guess I was asking if you are more focused on politics these days than music?

Samolesky Leading up to the last couple years we quit touring and put a lot of focus on the record. And that situation just dragged and dragged for a variety of different reasons. But in the meantime, in making our albums both aspects are really important to us. A political or social commentary is a prerequisite for us. Nonetheless, we do care a lot about the music make, and trying to give it our best shot is our mode of operation.

Since the last couple years we’ve been spending a lot of time here in Winnipeg, Chris does the G-7 Welcoming Committee label on the side, which is a political sort of operation in itself. I was part of that for a number of years, and I kind of got out of it a couple years ago; I didn’t like the office side of things, and I got tired of the year to year direction of that industry, and all the frustrations involved.

Continued in part 3

Talking With Jord Samolesky of Propagandhi

By Eric Kamm Published June 23, 2010

Around September of 2005 I began my three-year stint at DRUM! Magazine. On my first day of work I sat down at my space, about thirty feet from Editor-In-Chief Andy Doerschuck’s office, and began preparing old printed DRUM! Magazine articles for this website. At that time the individual cubicles were partitioned by six-foot dividers. The walls were brick and when everyone started talking, things were loud. Now Andy had a boom box that he pumped all the new promo records through, and the entire office got to listen. It was great because you got to hear to new music all day long!

I remember sitting at my desk and hearing this beautiful guitar line, accompanied by some very fusion-ish drumming on a ride cymbal, ride bell, China cymbal, and a side-stick on a snare drum. All of a sudden this huge distorted guitar hit these power chords accompanied by deep crash hits and a mean bass tone. The band halted for a few seconds, then the drummer started a very creative take on the standard punk beat. I could hardly sit still the music was so good.

About a minute into the tune the vocalist entered “A new Iron Curtain drawn across the 49th Parallel.” Politics. I can put two and two together—amazing metal influenced punk (thrash) mixed with social commentary usually equals Propagandhi. I drew up the courage and knocked on the side of my new boss’ door (which he always kept open) to ask about the band. “This is Propagandhi,” he said cheerfully. It was a promo copy of Potemkin City Limits, and he had been playing the opening track, “A Speculative Fiction.”

Shortly after this incident I caught the band performing at Slim’s in San Francisco. Before the group went on, they had a political activist come on stage and talk for a while about many of the incidents leading up to the 2006 Haitian election. Now remember, this was in 2005, years before their massive earthquake, and a time when nobody was paying any attention to the Haiti and their then recent political upheaval.

So…after the activist’s interesting talk, Propagandhi hit the stage and put on an amazing performance. Jord Samolesky, the drummer, had shaved just the top of his head and looked like a clown. He was playing an old red Pearl Export Series drum set, and it sounded amazing. It just goes to show you--it’s not what you play, it’s how you play it. The lead guitarist/primary vocalist, Chris Hannah chose to perform in a giant fluffy French fry costume and sunglasses. The show was so good that I mentioned it for weeks at work--political speeches, costumes, and all.

DRUM! used to have a section called Outspoken, in which a drummer could talk about any subject except the drums. Several months after Propagandhi’s performance at Slims, Andy asked me to interview drummer Jord Samolesky about Haiti. On Tuesday, January 17th, 2006 Jord spent an hour speaking to me on the subject, in addition to humoring me by answering all the other questions I had about his band and music.

After I wrapped up the interview and prepared it for the magazine, the Outspoken section of the magazine was removed entirely from the publication before Jord’s interview could be published. Luckily, several months later DRUM! ran one of their Special Warped Tour Issues, and several of Jord’s comments presented an interesting alternative take on the festival. So, while the article completely missed the point of the interview, at least Jord’s words didn’t go entirely to waste. In addition, Andy generously granted me permission to try to and submit a re-worked version of the article to Punk Planet as a freelance piece. Punk Planet told me to send the article along so they could have a look at it, and shortly thereafter their magazine went out of business. This just wasn’t meant to be.

Now fast-forward three years later. In 2009 Propagandhi released, hands down, the best full-length punk (or thrash) record of the year entitled Supporting Caste. The record is extremely progressive, poly-rhythmic, political, and by far their most melodic effort. Jord Samolesky is one of the most rhythmically intelligent drummers playing today, and he’s managed to capture an organic drum sound in a genre where it’s nearly impossible to play with feeling. You can listen to the entire record here (http://www.myspace.com/propagandhi/music/albums/supporting-caste-10998190). If you are not familiar with the group, I would recommend starting here, and working backwards through their studio records—all are great and unique in their own way.

Recently the band released The Recovered E.P. which features 3 “recovered” tracks from several of their earlier records. The tunes have been re-mastered and are available on iTunes, where all proceeds are being donated to Haiti. I thought this was also a wonderful opportunity to finally publish this great interview from early 2006. Although it’s long, I highly suggest reading through the entire thing, which I will be releasing in several installments. Jord has a lot of interesting things to say about world politics, drumming, and the music industry. This first installment will be an introduction to his band.

Interview continued in Part 2.

Derek Grant's Addiction

By Eric Kamm
Published April 5, 2010

It’s been difficult for me to write a review of the deluxe addition of Alkaline Trio’s new record, This Addiction (which includes 6 bonus tracks and a live performance DVD), because what I really want to do is try and convince you that Derek Grant is one of the best rock drummers to emerge since…well, probably since Tré Cool of Green Day made pop punk commercially accessible to Generation X. I’ll attempt to do both.

For starters, let me throw out a few facts about Grant:

1) When The Vandals are going on tour and Josh Freese and Brooks Wackerman are busy, then Derek Grant gets the next call.

2) The owner of the drum company Grant endorses told me that the drummer sells way more kits for him than any of his other endorsers (and this company has multi-platinum selling artists on their roster).

3) The Alkaline Trio had a few technically proficient drummers prior to Derek joining the band—presently, when you see the Trio perform live, Grant plays many of these previous drummers’ difficult drum parts one-handed. It’s ridiculous.

Now about the new album...it’s good. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, here’s what you can expect from an Alkaline Trio record—a bunch of drug and suicide metaphors about relationships, extremely catchy but simple guitar riffs, the same vocal hooks used over and over again on every record (we’ll call this “style”), and there’s always some great drumming. Now here’s what I like about the new Alkaline Trio record—there’s a bunch of drug and suicide metaphors about relationships, there’s some extremely catchy but simple pop punk guitar riffs, I keep hearing the same vocal hooks used over and over again on every new record they put out (I don’t know, maybe we’ll call this “style”), and there’s some great drumming (which you can always expect from Grant).

With their new album the band returned to their former recording engineer, Matt Allison. They took a step away from their mega-production major label sound back towards the sonic qualities of a high-end independent recording. This Addiction’s production is much closer to the earlier Alkaline Trio records (before Grant joined the group) and suits the band much better. The trio is great at writing simple songs that sound best when recorded quickly. A great example of this was their compilation Remains, a collection of b-sides they piled onto one record a couple years ago. The personalities of the band members, characterized by black comedy and melancholy, are what carry this group—not technical song writing or arena rock production. The cathartic reasons this band plays music is really their appeal.

There's no one "single" on the record, but check out “Dead On The Floor” and “Draculina,” and “Eating Me Alive” (which includes a keyboard riff probably taken directly out of a Richard Simmons workout video from the 80s). The tunes push and pull at the right points and sound fluid, like they “just happened,”—not like a producer brooded over a particular arrangement for weeks in a studio.

Now, Back To Grant

About five years ago when the entire punk scene started locking every bassist's right hand with the drummer's right foot on the kick drum, Grant was one of the first drummers to fill space with more playing instead of restraining himself. For example, around this time the Alkaline Trio released a track called “Warbrain,” where you can hear Grant and bassist Dan Adriano just going for it musically—both aware of a pocket between the two of them, but dancing in and out of it. And why not, that’s the fun of a trio setting, isn’t it? There’s plenty of space to stretch out a bit.

Grant’s approach works perfectly beneath guitarist Matt Skiba and bassist Andriano; he creates and implies a musical pocket without making the foundation of the groove too obvious. He moves in and out of the pocket coloring the simple pop punk tunes, but without ever getting in the way of the music or vocals. This is exactly why the Alkaline Trio is so engaging to listen to—you never know when or how Grant will enunciate or set up any individual part of a tune. He’s basically “dropping bombs” in a pop-punk group (dropping bombs is what be-bop drummers used to refer to when a drummer would play sporadic bass drum accents underneath straight time to add excitement to the tune). But, the overall impression of Grant’s drum tracks feels similar to standing in a well-built house--you’re aware the foundation is there, you just don’t see it.

An example of one of these moments can be heard and seen at (2:46) on the Alkaline Trios “Help Me (Street Video)” that was released on their last record Agony and Irony (which you can check out here).

Grant supplies a simple fill/groove enunciation in between a vocal line in the final pre-chorus of the song. The crash/fill beautifully bridges the narrow gap in vocal line, but it’s a musical statement that is played responding to the bigger conversation taking place above the song’s structure.

That clip also highlights Grant’s uncanny ability as a performer. His name can be comfortably placed next to Josh Freese, one of the best entertainers out there (again, there’s that Vandals connection). Grant’s arms are always flailing all over the place, he sings backup harmonies, he’ll drink a beer in the middle of a song while pounding away some crazy drum part with just his left hand (and he’s a right-handed player).

While the bonus tracks on This Addiction were slightly disappointing compared to the extra tunes that accompanied Agony and Irony, one of Grant’s most creative drum parts can be heard in the intro to “Those Lungs.” To the trio’s credit, this reflects their good judgment in the selection of the final tracks that appeared on the record. The bonus DVD that accompanies This Addiction justifies paying the extra 5 bucks for the deluxe edition—you need to see Grant perform live.

Finally, if you ever really want to hear Grant’s most technically impressive playing check out The Suicide Machines’ first record, Destruction By Definition. Grant recorded the album when he was 18, and it still sounds like Stewart Copeland on crack.

Musician In A Haystack

There’s a secret I once happened to overhear at a NAMM show that is supposedly passed between experienced players and industry veterans. At first I thought it was perhaps cheating, and that the piece of knowledge was best left a secret. But then I said to myself, “why not just let the cat out of the bag?” So…apparently there’s a shortcut, or pragmatic method, you can use to identify musicians. Here it is:

"If they can play their instrument then they’re a musician."

About once a year a band emerges that takes music seriously. Every couple years one of these bands writes a tune so good that I stay up till three in the morning with a pair of headphones on while repeatedly hitting the backward arrow on I-Tunes interface over and over again. I can assure that the little bubble on the volume bar is pushed all the way over to the right, where it’s impossible to make the music any louder. I’ve even gone to the "View" option in the pulldown menu, clicked on "show equalizer," and cranked the preamp till it starts sounding like a lowered Camaro with subwoofers driving by my home at 3 A.M. (not that I can hear it because I-Tunes is turned up so loud).

The band that created the tune this time around was A Wilhelm Scream, and they just put out a new self-titled E.P. on Paper and Plastick Records (owned by Vinnie from Less Than Jake). The song is called "Bulletproof Tiger," and I highly suggest that you download it immediately. To give you an idea of what it sounds like--if you took Iron Maiden, Strung Out, Propagandhi, Hot Water Music and some fucking emo band from ten years ago and put them all together, then you would get a taste of about 10 seconds of a Wilhelm tune.

Drummer Nick Angelini, while technically proficient on his instrument, always plays for the song. In fact, one of the nicest parts of this band is the fact that all the musicians are aware of what their band members are doing—they’re always playing together. And the bassist in this band…my God, wait till you hear Bri Robinson on the track “Skid Rock.” After you download the new E.P. you should then go pick up their most recent full length Career Suicide, immediately followed by visiting Youtube and typing the words “The Horse Wilhelm Scream” into the search engine.

Warped Tour Part Five: End Of The Day Barbecue

By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009

Take The Picture, Dummy

On yet another comical side note, while interviewing the drummers I noticed patterns in social skills that directly correlated to the popularity of a drummer’s group. Musicians from unknown groups were always incredibly grateful and humble, and were very fun to be around. Drummers from huge groups had absolutely nothing to prove, were the nicest people you’ve ever met, and were incredibly well spoken. About half the groups that were in between those two categories, who were in bands that were just breaking, had the biggest attitudes you’ve ever met in your life. When I asked one drummer how he warmed up, he responded “like all the greats,” and proceeded to place his name amongst Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

As the sun was setting and Whitney (the guitarist in Setoff and my cameraman for the trip) and I walked back to meet the others, we bumped into Kevin Lyman, the owner of the Warped Tour, and his very personable assistant. As I thanked him and told him how much we appreciated him letting us be there, he agreed to try and do a video interview later. Over the next two years, I can honestly say that throughout any day on the tour you’ll see Kevin Lyman walking around, talking to everyone. He’s incredibly personable, and never is in a hurry—it’s about the furthest thing you would expect from the owner of the festival. On this particular evening after he agreed to the interview, I was so amped that I bumped right into the aforementioned attractive assistant, where she consequently spilled wine on her dress. She tells me not to worry about it, and instead of tearing me a new one, invited me on stage to get some up close drumming footage of Pennywise. Now this was an amazing opportunity, since security and publicity had made it explicitly clear that my life would be extinguished if I even thought about such an act. She gets us backstage, Pennywise hits it hard, Brian Baker of Minor Threat and Bad Religion is standing directly in front of me, thousands of fans go nut, Byron is drumming his ass off, my heart is racing, adrenaline is pumping, and…the camera shuts off as the battery dies.

After the sun has gone down while the last bands were wrapping up their sets, thousands of people start to leave. That’s was our band’s cue to that we needed to start trying to sell records in order to make gas money. The trick was, you have to break down that wall between you and the person walking by, which meant going right up to them with a few copies of the record and forcing them to listen to an MP3 player with your music blaring. No one, I repeat, no one, will come to your booth if you’re an unknown band. This activity is great fun, and you meet a ton of awesome people. One person decided to help us sell by letting anybody sign his chest who purchased a Setoff record. We ended up selling around a hundred records that first day, and made more than enough money to get us to Portland.

There is a huge barbeque after each day of the tour, and each band takes turns cooking food for everyone else. On this particular evening there were two barbeques going. Felony Ron (aforementioned Road Pirate) was friends with the members of Pennywise and let us tag along to their shindig. A few of the members of Bad Religion were hanging out, and I got to speak to the legendary guitarist Brian Baker (who was also the former bassist of Minor Threat). As I asked him about what it was like working with The Draft (a band with three members of Hot Water Music), he told me that he could of, in fact, been a member of the band, but had unfortunately declined the invitation because he thought Bad Religion had a full calendar at the time. I got the opportunity to talk to Brooks Wackerman again for a little while, as I badgered him about the possible Wackerman Brothers tour, in addition to discussing his favorite Tony Williams record.

Toward the end of the barbeque Ron asked me to take a digital photo of him in between Randy Bradbury (the bassist of Pennywise) and Jay Bentley (the bassist of Bad Religion). I’ve never owned a digital camera, and I keep hitting the picture button, just like Felony Ron told me to do. I look at them confused, and mention “the camera keeps flashing the letters AF?!?” Jay Bentley, bassist of Bad Religion (one of my all time favorite groups of all time) looks at me with complete disgust. “AUTO FOCUS!!!!” An hour later I was asleep on the floor of the van.

We arrived in Portland at 4 A.M. that particular evening. At 7 A.M. sharp the alarm woke us up and we were back in the van.

Eric Kamm is a former DRUM! staffer and drummer for the band Setoff. You can reach him here.