BY MARK WEBER
The Pittsburgh-based punk band Anti-Flag released their latest album, American Spring, last May, and they’re heading back to Canada for a run of dates including Red Deer on May 7th at Wild Bill’s in Red Deer.
From the start more than 20 years ago, the band has been melding their commitment to social justice issues and politics with their unabashed punk-styled tunes. Their latest CD – 2015’s American Spring has been described as, “An empowering, energetic antidote to the crippling cynicism that infects even the most dedicated of rabble-rousers.”
Co-produced by AWOLNATION’s Kenny Carkeet, Jim Kaufman and the band, Anti-Flag’s 10th studio disc is both a, “Shot across the bow of the political discourse and creatively challenging.”
Drummer/band cofounder Pat Thetic recalls the beginnings of the group when he and guitarist/singer Justin Sane first teamed up as youngsters with a common vision.
American Spring is the next natural step in a career that produced activist-punk classics like For Blood and Empire (2006), The Terror State (2003), and Underground Network (2001), and inspired international audiences to learn more about the Occupy movement, the anti-war movement, and the idea that ‘socialism’ isn’t a dirty word.
“The last two albums we recorded in our studio in Pittsburgh – and it was just the four of us in a room,” said Thetic. This record was a little bit different because they headed of Los Angeles to team up with Carkeet and Kaufman to bring in a fresh perspective. “We were looking for something a little bit different – for some different ideas to come into the project,” he said, adding that while crafting music is of course a focal point, it isn’t the entire focal point.
“We’re more concerned with what we are trying to achieve,” he said. “The message, the ideas, the passion, the anger and the frustration we want to express – but in going and having an actual producer and someone who is outside of the band, they bring those elements of, ‘Maybe this should sound a bit better’,” he added with a laugh.
“For me, the music is a vehicle for ideas. I’m not as concerned about the presentation of the ideas – the ideas are the most important thing.
“Sometimes, it’s better to bring someone else in and say, ‘Hey, let’s make these ideas sound as good as possible’. And that’s what they did on this record.
Feedback has been tremendous. “We definitely heard that this is our best sounding record,” he said. “So that is always nice to hear. And there are some ideas in there that are less harsh and little bit more about taking people on a journey. Less about showing them the way and allowing them to find the way.”
Drawing inspiration from political thinkers like Howard Zinn and Cornel West as from The Clash and The Dead Kennedys, Anti-Flag really got going in earnest in 1993, a year before records by Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid pushed punk back into the spotlight.
“Justin and I actually played soccer together when we were young,” he recalls. “We also both had a passion for music and for activism. We were a bit lost because the people around us didn’t quite understand what we were interested in. But we found each other, and had a way of finding other outcasts who didn’t fit in but who wanted to play music and find that community of people. We’ve been a band for 20-plus years, and that’s still what we’re doing is we are creating music to find those people who are interested in activism and politics and think that the world we see now isn’t the way it has to be. That it can be different – and we if we come together, we can change it.”
It’s fitting that the guys have the political and social fire that they do, as their hometown was the site of the Homestead Steel Strike in 1892 (one of the most serious labor disputes in history) and the Hill District riots in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Pennsylvania is also known as a state that helped birth abolitionism.
“There is this very progressive, social, left-leaning sense that has permeated the culture in Pittsburgh.” The sensibility of art being an effective tool for change has always been at the forefront. “Anti-Flag has always been a part of that – that has been a part of our DNA in this city that we have grown up in.”
Thetic’s uniquely identifiable rhythms and the dual vocals of Sane and bassist/vocalist Chris #2 ensure each song retains the sound Anti-Flag has established, even as Sane and longtime guitarist Chris Head unleash their heaviest riffs.
“I hope this record can be an encouragement to people to never give up,” said Sane. “I know that music changed my life.”
These days, there’s plenty of food for ‘inspirational’ thought for the guys in reference to the coming American election and the rise of Donald Trump.
“It highlights the fact that people aren’t content with the way things are,” he said. “I will also say that it highlights the lack of education spending, the lack of culture that we’ve been experiencing – scripted reality television is reality – and how when you watch the Trump campaign it is reality television at its worst.”
Meanwhile, Anti-Flag attacks the issues head on.
“Change happens one person at a time. It takes time. But it’s important for those ideas to be out there,” Sane insists. “It’s impossible to connect with every single person.
“When you’re putting an idea out there, you’re just hoping it will resonate with enough people that it has some kind of ability to affect their lives,” he said. “But change does happen in incremental steps. The first part of being involved is being aware. Then beyond that, there are steps we can all take to become a more active part of progressive resistance.”