Todd Kowalski is a Canadian bass player that melts faces nightly with legendary Canadian band; Propagandhi!
#1 – When and how exactly did you end up becoming part of Propagandhi?
When I moved to Winnipeg from my old city, Regina I was introduced to Propagandhi’s demo tapes and the really spoke to me. I went to some shows and would see Chris around and he saw my band I Spy play and liked it as well, so we knew who each other was. We realized we liked all the same bands as each other and our musical experiences followed the same trajectory from metal to thrash metal to punk so we became friends, then of course I moved into the punk house with them.
I Spy and Propagandhi did a split 10” and went on tour across Canada together. A couple years later when it came time for a new bass player in Propagandhi Chris asked if I wanted to fill in and I said “Yeah, for sure.” and I ended up just staying in the band. At that point I Spy seemed like it was coming to an end and we weren’t up to much so I went with the flow and kept playing with Jord and Chris.
#2 – Propagandhi had a three-piece era. Did you do anything different with your bass tone in those days to fill the extra space during solos or just in general?
No not really, I’m still playing the same bass. Ha Ha. I think I had a Mesa Boogie amp and cabinet at that time. Sometimes I lay off bass fills now if there’s a lot going on with guitars but since Sulynn lives in a different city we’re generally still jamming as a 3 piece. It’s kind of cool because, as a three piece the songs end up sort of direct because we’re not relying on more layers to make something good or disguise something not as good.
#3 – Who are a few bass players that have really influenced how you play bass and construct your parts?
I’d say Darryl Jenifer from Bad Brains, Mike Dean from C.O.C’s Animosity and Technocracy records., Jay Robbins from the late 80’s era of Government Issue, John Duke of the Death Metal bands Votov and Immortal Possession, Rob Right from Nomeanso, Mike Watt, and my good buddy Arif from Protest The Hero, of course I love the mayhem of Cronos from Venom. I enjoy and take a lot from a lot of bass players and I go watch a lot of bands and shows but those are the ones that stand out offhand.
#4 – Do you find it easy to dial a tone you like into just about anything or are you picky when it comes to bass gear? What sort of things do you do with most amps to get that biting and bold tone you normally employ?
I’m sort of picky but not picky at the same time, if I like what I hear and it’s pretty close I’m good to go but if it’s not what I want to hear it sucks. If we’re recording I’m a little more picky. I use an Ibanez Soundgear bass with the settings at neutral and an SVT amp with the settings sort of middled, a bit of mids to cut through, I try to to let it get murky on the bottom or too zitty on top. Haha. On Supporting Caste I used a Musician Stingray.
#5 – What was the bass rig like on “Victory Lap” (Epitaph)?
That was SVT Classic and Ampeg Cabinet some extra little guitar amp that was t the studio just to mix in a bit of extra grit if and when we needed it. Ialso used a Xotic FX Bass BB overdrive pedal which I use for all our shows as well.
#6 – With Propagandhi still touring quite often, what’s your live rig like from the bass and pickups, amp, cab and anything else you’d like to share?
We use a tuner to the Bass BB, to The SVT amp and Amp Cabinet. That’s about it. I like to keep it simple and consistent.
#7 – A lot of bass amp sim software exists to give bass players big tone while sitting at home at their computer desk. Have you tried any of the bass amp sim software for PC or Mac?
I haven’t really, I’m alright playing though a semi decent tone on a computer, I’m not much of a computer musician, I’d rather play with the band for real or play music on my own away from the computer. I might start working tunes on my computer more so I might have to look into that stuff, as much as I’m not too inspired staring into a screen.
#8 – Once upon a time you were the frontman and guitarist for the band I Spy. Do you find you bring a guitar player’s approach to playing bass when it comes to writing basslines or songs? Do you still play a lot of guitar at home?
I’m sure my bass playing is very guitar influenced, I keep trying to move further away from that. I think a lot of the melody of guitar playing and songwriting in general comes through on my bass lines. I still play guitar every day and I make up my Propagandhi tunes on guitar. I’m finding myself playing guitar a lot then when I go to bass I practice more bass specific type things rather than using the pick playing bass. I’m trying to make my bass playing more percussive while hopefully keeping the melody intact.
#9 – When Propagandhi made the decision to seek out a 2nd guitarist, was there any talk entertaining the idea of you jumping into a guitar role and instead seeking out a bass player instead?
We thought about it for a bit but I like playing bass too so we just opted to get another guitar player. I could play guitar for the band as well, it would just take me a some extra practice. It would be hard to play as solid as Chris though, he’s really an amazing rhythm guitar player with great tone and it’s not just nice amps doing I the job, it’s his hands and the way his pick strikes the strings. Nice!
#10 – On the spot, name three of your all-time favorite recorded bass tones and the same for guitar…
Hmm.. I guess Geezer Butler on Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules rules records. Love Mike Dean’s Bass on C.O.C.’s record Animosity. It’s so out of control. One tone I love that if you check it out you’ll might say “What in the hell is he talking about?” is Dave Bacon’s bass tone and playing on “My Humble Life of Disarray on SNFU’s record If You Swear You Will Catch No Fish. It’s like a wild man riding a pogo stick and landing each time in someones skull eyeholes. The recording is sort of thin and whatever but man I dig it.
For guitar, I love Rob Urbinati and Joe Rico from Sacrifice’s tones on the “The Ones I condemn” and Dave Carlo from Razor’s metal beatdown on “Violent Restitution”. I love the warm guitar tones on Judas Priest “Defenders Of The Faith”. That chord at the start of “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” is so amazing. I really am the type of person who reacts more to the songs than to the tones of the instruments, I can overlook and put up with a lot if I like the band and the songs so half the time I don’t really think about the tones.
#11 – 2019 has been busy for Propagandhi so far, what does the next year or so have in store for you guys and your fans?
We just got back from a European summer tour which was a good time, this week we’re headed to Florida for two shows and then next week we’re playing two Winnipeg shows and headed to Nelson B.C. for a show in the mountains! Should be awesome. After that the world is our oyster, we have no concrete plans, we’re just collecting riffs, and preparing for whatever may come!
We have interviewed 2/3 of Propagandhi’s stringed musicians and we hope SuLynn will chat with us next! This band has been important to me for 25 years, which is over half of my life so I take a lot of pleasure in being able to talk gear with these fellow Canadians. Todd’s playing truly drives the low end and his stage presence drives 25% of one of the best live bands to ever lace ’em up.