Shari Black Velvet: Propagandhi have a great sense of humour and sarcasm at the same time as a high level of serious moral respect for all living beings – and use the humour in the songs while at the same time trying to get over an important message. In the song ‘Human(e) Meat’ off latest album ‘Supporting Caste’, for example, the song includes a howling Sandor Katz (who has written about torturing and killing animals) being cannibalised. It gives across a humorous picture while at the same time showing your disapproval for his actions. Did you achieve what you wanted to achieve with that song? Did people ‘get it’?
Chris Hannah: Well, as always, some people did and some people didn't. Amongst those who didn't was Sandor Katz himself who decided to tell the world that the song constituted an actual threat on his life. Wow.
Todd Kowalski: I think anyone with a brain can understand that that is satire and is meant to illustrate a point. Sandor is included simply because his article was the catalyst for the idea of the song. I think the song achieved its objective.
SBV: And with your other songs, do you think you get across the messages you want to present while being tongue-in-cheek on occasion? Which songs of yours, in general, would you say have most inspired others or made some headway?
CH: To be honest I think the most effective thing we've had on our records - as far as something that really jarred listeners into thinking seriously about how humans treat animals -- was something we didn't create; it was the audio of a farm-worker kicking and beating a downed, defenceless pig that we put before the song ‘The Purina Hall Of Fame’. Many people have mentioned that that really affected them. More so than any of our songs, that's for sure.
TK: I think we get the message across for the most part, although, one day I was on some lyrics meanings website looking at what people thought the songs were about and almost all of them were wrong. Haha. I'm not sure which ones have been the most inspiring to people. Maybe ‘Purina Hall Of Fame’ or some of the animal rights songs because it's something people can easily feel and instantly do something about. But I think each song would mean something different to each person. Who knows what someone could get out of a tune.
SBV: Can you tell me about the actual song meaning of ‘Purina Hall Of Fame’ and did Purina hear that song and if so what was their reaction?
CH: When an animal saves a human life (like a dog saving a drowning baby for example), Purina adds them to their Hall of Fame. When a human saves an animal life (like a member of the ALF freeing a beagle from a vivisector) they are thrown in prison for the rest of their lives. It's a interesting difference. I doubt the animal exploitation industry cares that a band wrote a song about it.
TK: Purina is a company that feed animal parts to other animals. But they have an award for heroic animals that save humans. I'm not sure if people at Purina heard it or not. I'm sure the money they make off their company eclipses any humane thoughts that might occasionally flitter through their minds.
SBV: What were your thoughts going into the writing of that song – knowing that you were going to use a company name for the title?
CH: I don't think it really crossed my mind! Should it have?
SBV: ‘Potemkin City Limits’ is about a pig called Francis who escaped from a slaughterhouse in Alberta and was ‘on the run’ for months before eventually ending up at a farm. Why did you want to write about Francis?
CH: To illustrate the blatant, blaring cognitive dissonance of an entire society using their own words and concepts rather than mine.
SBV: During your whole career you’ve been writing about social and political injustices and trying to inform and educate the world in one form or another. Have you observed any positive changes over the years and also what is still frustrating you now that has continued to frustrate you throughout your career, or from the early days?
CH: I've seen a lot of positive and inspiring things over the years all over the planet, things that make me hopeful about humans. Unfortunately, I think the assholes of the planet have correspondingly gotten more belligerent, more violent, more greedy and more powerful.
TK: Almost everything that we wrote about since the old days is still happening. Look around, there's still war, racism, factory farms, other forms of animal cruelty, sexism, homophobia, genocide, the West Bank and Gaza strip are still occupied, the world’s still being devastated by corporations, people still believe everything they hear, people still hate everyone they see, people are still greedy and don't give a shit about anyone else, the world is sliding to a catastrophic state, the wars in DR Congo and Iraq still rage on, pretty much everything is still going on. Any positive impact I see from people trying to make the world any better always seems far exceeded by a wave of opposite action that is astounding to me. People seem to need people to step on to raise themselves up the human pecking order. Everything that I thought was fucked about the world when I was a teenager is far worse now.
SBV: Proceeds from the pre-release downloads of ‘Supporting Caste’ went to PETA2, Sea Shepherd Society and Partners in Health. How did you originally discover each of those organisations and do you think your proceeds did much to help them?
CH: PETA I've known about since my early introduction the animal liberation movement. I had known of the Sea Shepherds for about as long but didn't pay enough attention until I saw Captain Paul Watson speak here in Winnipeg around the turn of the Millenium. And Jord is involved with human rights work in Haiti and through that discovered Partners in Health. All the organizations appreciated the financial aspect of the proceeds I think.
TK: We raised quite a lot of money for those organizations especially Partners In Health so I think they got at least a little bit of help from that. I don't know what their yearly expenses are. We found those groups looking around and keeping our eyes open for people trying to do good things in the world.
SBV: There are a lot of causes you support. You link to others on the ‘Resources’ page of your official website. Was it hard picking just three organisations to give the proceeds to? Do you donate to charities and organisations outside of the actual music scene, just on your own, off your own back?
CH: Not that hard really. Obviously we've had and will continue to have many opportunities to do solidarity work with other organizations in the future (we do solidarity work, not charity). And yeah, of course, I believe in some sort of personal tithe as far as that goes, outside of the band.
TK: I don't know about those guys’ personal donations or anything but I give some of my own money. The amounts our band give are pretty substantial and it is mostly money that we could've kept if we didn't make the show a benefit. We also use our personal time to run in races and stuff to try to collect donations. I spend a lot of my time personally volunteering and helping out which I think goes further than just giving a little bit of cash or whatever.
SBV: Your banner announcing the album states ‘support the activists’. Do you think more people need to become involved in activism whether it be just something little like giving out leaflets or tabling a concert, to doing actual protests?
CH: I think people need to become citizens instead of consumers. We cannot buy (or even donate) our way to a better world without some sense of responsible citizenry.
TK: I think people need to become involved in their real communities. There's a ton of things to do that are fun and you learn a lot from. Anything you can do to make someone’s life better is worthwhile whether you're helping your granny out handing out leaflets or protesting. Use your time and do what you enjoy. It's more fun than sitting at home on T.V. or typing on a computer.
SBV: Do you have any favourite quotes by inspirational philosophers – or anyone else – that helps motivate you?
CH: Not unless you consider Jordy Samolesky an inspirational philosopher!
TK: I can't really think of any quotes off hand but everything I read, listen to or see inspires me either positively or negatively. Probably because I listen to a lot of music I get inspiring quotes from there. I suppose today’s quote would be ‘the graveyard is no place for the young’ – SNFU.
SBV: We see undercover footage from organisations like PETA who go into abattoirs. A lot of people don’t want to look and watch videos because they can’t take seeing the cruelty – yet they still eat meat. What would you say to anyone that may be reading who hasn’t watched one of those video and does still eat meat?
CH: Perhaps they should watch the movie ‘Earthlings’.
TK: I think you should know the truth about your decisions in life. If you can't watch it then you know it's wrong. If you know it's wrong why do it? Check out the movie ‘Earthlings’. Watch it all in one sitting and see how you feel after. I would doubt that the majority of people who see it won't feel dismal, stressed and frustrated. That's not a good sign for people watching a movie that is partially based simply on "food" production.
SBV: How long now have you all been vegan?
CH: Since about 1994.
TK: I've been vegetarian since 1991, vegan since 1992 or 93. It's easy. I'd rather fish pieces of shit out of the toilet than eat meat. It repulses, revolts and disgusts me. Cheese is like clotted pus, milk is like teat mucus. I'm serious. I would vomit if I had to eat or drink that crap. There is no need in most people lives to do that. People are selfish and lazy, that's my conclusion.
SBV: How many animal rights related songs have you written in total? How many have made the albums and have you written any that didn’t make an album? ‘Apparently, I'm A "P.C. Facist" (Because I Care About Both Human And Non-Human Animals)’ is another one, as it ‘'Nailing Descartes to the Wall/(Liquid) Meat Is Still Murder', right?
CH: I'm pretty sure that every song we've ever written has made it on the records or has been thrown in trash-can long before it earned the name "song".
TK: ‘Potemkin City Limits’, and ‘Humane Meat’ as well. I'm not sure of any that were written that didn't make an album but there's plenty of thoughts written in my little notebooks that never went anywhere. I'm sure Chris' are full as well. There are a lot of powerful things to think about once you begin to observe the reality of it all.
SBV: It was recently in the paper about a new ‘paralysis’ test they are doing on monkeys in the US where they are putting a microchip in the monkey’s brain and then seeing if he can use his ‘brain power’ to move a robotic arm to get food to him. Did you read about that? What are your thoughts on that and other animal tests?
CH: I think it's totally fine as long as the monkey actually volunteered to be the test-subject! I'm sure he did.
Todd: The scientists, students and scholars should all be lined up ready for their implants. I think that if you think it's worth it for someone or something to suffer for the technology than you should volunteer yourself. If you are too cowardly to do so then you shouldn't expect some other sentient creature to take your place. There are so many tests like this happening all over the world right now the vast majority absolutely useless and pointless.
SBV: Why do you think the government just doesn’t put more money into humane testing and continues supporting animal testing?
CH: Because governments and corporations don't generally care about ethical or moral issues unless citizens raise the social costs of supporting evil. This is why I support ALF direct actions against the animal exploitation industry and why animal liberation activists rate higher than Al Qaeda on the FBI national threat lists.
TK: The pressure isn't there for anyone to change. People don't seem to care. If you do care you are made out to be a foolish bleeding heart. I think it's the people who use others for their own gain that are the real cry-babies. There are a lot of social mechanisms in place to keep the power and money flowing to certain people regardless of what is humane or right.
SBV: In Night Letters you sing ‘I spend sleepless nights as my head swims worrying about you.’ Who and what do you most worry about?
TK: In that particular song my worry is about friends who come to Winnipeg from around the world and have to adjust to life here far from home. Sometimes they don't know the language, there is war back home, their families are still there, they have to send money home, they may have to work menial jobs here because their qualifications are not accepted here, they may even have to learn to read or write. There could be any amount of factors to worry about. But if you ask who I most worry about it is my Pop. He's too old to be abusing his body the way he is. Every time he phones I think it might be the last time I talk to him. That sucks.
SBV: Finally, how do you imagine music progressing over the next 10 or 20 years, how do you hope your own music progresses and how to imagine animal rights and animals lives will progress over the next 10 or 20 years?
CH: Incredible music will continue to be made outside of the mainstream, as it always has been. Hopefully we will contribute something meaningful in that respect too. The animal exploitation industry will never engage in an open and honest debate about animal liberation issues because it is a foregone conclusion that the industry will lose. They know this is true so will do what they can to keep the debate in the margins while they continue to make money off of destroying lives and despoiling the planet.
TK: I hope music progresses in a way that I cannot sit here and imagine. I don't want to see and hear the same thing recreated over and over again. It is not interesting to me. I hope people realize how animal abuse and factory farming are harmful to the environment and combine those ideas into one to make people see that it is too much of a waste, too cruel and too harmful to continue.
Visit www.propagandhi.com for more info.
* This interview was originally printed in issue 62 of Black Velvet. If you would like to order a copy of the mag, go to www.blackvelvetmagazine.com/backissues.htm