Since the late ’80s, Pittsburgh punk band Anti-Flag have been sharing their political anthems with the world. Isabella Eastwood sat down to discuss global issues with the band’s vocalist and bassist, Chris#2.
When Anti-Flag’s Chris#2 and I started chatting, the conversation invariably started with the weather. However, this time, when we were currently experiencing the most extreme heatwave the UK has ever seen, it quickly shifted to the topics Anti-Flag is best known for: global issues, activism and hope.
So you’ve been going there for a long time – we’re talking over 30 years – and the political situation has deteriorated…? How has your music reacted to changing times?
I think I’d like to start with the situation is worse than ever, global corporate fascism is at an all time high. Whether it’s climate issues, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe Vs Wade or the devastation and colonization of Africa. None of this state violence occurs in a vacuum. I think people want to see them as isolated incidents, not that there’s an intersectionality in this violence.
That’s what Anti-Flag has consistently commented on with our songs, whether it’s something as specific as a track from our album For Blood and Empire called “The WTO Kills Farmers” and hyper-specific to Monsanto, or “Fuck Police Brutality” on our debut album Die for the Government. You got a band that never thought we’d leave Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh had the highest rate of police brutality in the country. So we’re going to write a song that is mad at that because that’s what’s right in front of us.
It ebbs and flows, sometimes politics gets bigger, others hyper specific. The version of Anti-Flag we have today is a different approach to what we’ve done before: a concept album. There are 11 stories tracing either policy changes or corporate influence on our lives, growing cultural difficulties, and we try to dissect these issues, like health or education in the United States. You can find when corporations started influencing the American body politic to make people fend for themselves on health care, or the climate issue related to Exxon Mobile in the 70s.
We are the ones constantly looking for the best way to leave things better than we found them and to alleviate suffering. That’s what punk rock is to us. And every record or every gig or whatever the band does is just an attempt to do those two things.
Basically, are you optimists or nihilists? I myself tend to fall into the more pessimistic camp…
The enemy of movement is skepticism, and I have prescribed it all my life. We are in a very privileged position where we can talk about things. We talked about the masters of war who left us in the conflict in Ukraine, or the millions killed in Iraq, an invasion led by the US government.
But we were able to empathize together, empathize and have real human interactions. Because of that, we get that dose of optimism that not many people get. It is a privilege and an honor that the stories are shared with us as they are. We work with local and international groups and organizations – Sea Shephered or a local chapter of Planned Parenthood – and bring them on stage, let them speak to the audience, get them to explain and extrapolate, and people clap for them. And if you’re an activist at a desk all day, nobody applauds you, and I think that’s a powerful tool to let people know that their work is valuable. It’s something we try to do at every gig we can.
So yes, I am an optimist, often by force.
Having been in a band for so long, I have to ask: is that 30+ years of harmony, or separate coping mechanisms to “not kill each other”?
Well, we all go to therapy – I don’t know how many times my name comes up with the others. I can’t really say if this is a coping mechanism or not, but I know there have been many times where we have felt dissatisfied with the mission, and when that happens, there is a kind of failure in art: a record that does not stick with the public, empty shows… There are many things that will resonate and make it clear to us that we are not the best versions of ourselves at this moment. But the beauty of Anti-Flag is that one of us picks up where the other falls, and that’s how we were able to drag ourselves into the future, sometimes kicking and screaming.
This new record, the four of us wrote it in a room for five months in a row, which we wouldn’t have had without the pandemic. Because we have kids and families now, it’s a lot harder to say “hey, dedicate 8 hours to this for months on the hour” and then go on tour, so our time at home is precious . It was time for us to collectively write something together, and I can hear the ideas resonating between the four of us. We didn’t have that before, and emotionally we hear it – the little guitar noodle that would have been forgotten if we weren’t all in the room together, when it happens it brings us joy. It may not bring joy to anyone else, but it brings it to me and it is precious.
You got a lot of heat for signing with RCA from fans, and have defended your decision ever since, in part because it allowed you to reach a wider audience. I’m curious to know your opinion on the strain of fighting a big system from the inside. Are there any winners? (so, for example, even large charities that now operate as corporations?)
I want to clarify something: we never had the illusion of grandeur that putting a record label on the back of your album guaranteed that everyone would care what we said or were going to do. We’ve had previous times in the life of the band where we assigned to different labels or bigger labels than we expected to feel a monumental shift in the number of people we play with or the number of people we interacted with. And it didn’t fucking happen.
So when we went into this deal with a major label, and they tried to tell us, ‘Oh, you’re going to get your message out there,’ we were like, you can’t guarantee that, so go on fuck off. What they could guarantee us was that we could make whatever record we wanted to make, we could have a two-album deal, and we would be free to go all the way.
The success for us was for the first time, we had a label in Japan. We had a record company in Berlin. We had one in London and those are things we didn’t have before. And so, all of a sudden, our records weren’t imports, they were appropriately priced and accessible to people overseas. And that changed the band, the band became a band of international stature and a band that commented on things that affected us not only in the United States, but people were overseas, and we owe a lot to this agreement with RCA for this, or at least to open this door so that we can walk through it.
You know, there’s no right or wrong way, but it comes down to being a gateway drug to activism. I want people walking down the street, humming an anti-flag song, and maybe not knowing what it’s all about until they dive deeper. I see the same with Greenpeaces and Amnesty International around the world, if anyone is looking to get involved in activism these are great places to start.
These are all my questions asked! I have one last question from my editor though, who has a theory that the second song on an album is always better than the first. Thoughts?
Interesting… I could believe it. I think for a lot of bands we try to use the first track to set a mood or maybe an agenda, or a color palette for what the rest of the album will be. And usually you put your most energizing and appealing bit in that second place, and then in your third place you put the fucking banger.
But then, for Justin (of Anti-Flag), he wants the first trail to be the undeniable downtown…so opinions differ.
With that, my conversation with Chris #2 ended, save for greetings from my dad, who had met Anti-Flag drummer Pat Thetic – who was on his honeymoon – on a plane to South Africa , where they stayed at the same hotel. The world is a small place…
Anti-Flag is playing in Luxembourg this Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Kulturfabrik, 116 Rue de Luxembourg, 4221 Esch-sur-Alzette.