The System That We Live Under: Jord Samolesky Of Propagandhi, Part 2
By Eric Kamm Published on June 26, 2010
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