Anti-Flag first began in the late 1980s but didn’t solidify until the early ’90s—they’ve been together ever since. The band is comprised of punkers Justin Sane (guitar/vocals), Pat Thetic (drums), Chris #2 (bass/vocals), and Chris Head (guitar), and these Pittsburgh natives don’t mess around when it comes to their music. They make sure there is a meaningful message behind every note played.
Their songs of fast tempo, catchy melodies, guttural vocals, and robust beats are timeless and humanitarian. Their oldies-but-goodies like “Die For Your Government” and “This Is The End (For You My Friend)” have a message that has yet to go out of style—and their recently released full-length album, “American Spring,” still delivers their classic punk rock beats and catchy melodies, with lyrics that actually have a meaning.
Courtesy of the band.
Released just this past May, tracks like “Brandenburg Gate,” “Sky Is Falling,” and opening track “Fabled World” send a message to its listeners about a world that is divided. Sane, vocalist and guitarist for Anti-Flag, tells BTRtoday that one of the band’s ultimate messages is to dispel this “corrupt” patriotism. He admits that they are patriotic in the true definition of the word—that is that they love where they’re from. However, they stray from the terminology, because they believe patriotism as been diminished to nationalism and is no longer used for the public’s best interest.
Anti-Flag has been around the block and slaying in the punk rock universe for decades now. They’ve earned and well-deserve the attention they’re getting—not only are the creating the music they’ve always loved to create and that their fans yearn for, but they are also able to stay true to their stick-it-to-the-man edge!
They make sure to play shows that stand by a meaning they are fighting for and you can even still catch them at sweaty house shows and DIY venues. Just this past Thursday (November 3rd) they played a free show back called Rock Against The TPP at the longstanding and classic town venue Mr. Smalls in their hometown of Pittsburgh, all in protest of the Trans Pacific Partnership.
With this year’s uniquely absurd presidential race and Election Day approaching, BTRtoday chatted with Sane about being a political band, humanitarian rights, voting, and Donald Trump—and believe me, he had a lot to say! Check it out below, and make sure to find Anti-Flag online to stay up-to-date on what they’re up to next! (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Website)
BTRtoday (BTR): What encouraged you to start a political band in the first place?
Justin Sane (JS): There were a lot of reasons that I wanted to play in a political band. Probably, my family was the biggest influence, because I came from an Irish family and they were deeply interested with the politics of Ireland at the time, during which England had control of Northern Ireland. There were a lot of human rights issues around this, because Catholics in Northern Ireland were discriminated against since England was a protestant country.
So human rights were something that always ran really deep in my family. My parents were always fighting for human rights—for African Americans, women, for all minorities! Also, again, for the issues in Northern Ireland, I think those issues are what initially got my parents interested in human rights issues, but they were always fighting for human rights of all oppressed people. My parents just really believed in equality for all people. That was something that they always instilled in me.
Also, a lot of the traditional Irish music, which is something that I grew up around, is political music—it makes references back to Ireland’s struggles with England. So I just grew up around political music. My parents were into people whose music had a political message in it.
I grew up around that, and then, of course, when I was a teenager I discovered the punk rock scene in my hometown. Discovering punk rock, bands like The Clash, The Dead Kennedy’s, Minor Threat, and The Exploited, these were bands that had a socio or political message that I could really relate to and it had a real impact on me—it made me want to be involved in politics.
When I was very young I realized that you could reach people through music with a political message and influence people to get involved.
Courtesy of the band.
BTR: How do you think your music or music with a political message comes into play with our government? Do you think it actually helps shape it in some way?
JS: I think in an indirect way it does, because what I know from my own personal experience is that music changes people and then people go out and change the world. So, I’ve had many experiences where someone will come up to me and say something like, ‘I found your band ten years ago—I’d never thought about human rights or politics in my life, because of your band I became a political science major, now I work in the Obama White House.’ You know? Or like, ‘now I’m an activist in some way.’
My point isn’t whether you like president Obama or not, the point is simply that our music had an influence on somebody to the point that they got involved in politics in a tangible way. We see that all the time. We meet people how work for the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], they’re like, ‘I became a human rights lawyer because I found your band’ or ‘I became an environmental activist because I found your band,’ so, what I’ve learned over the years is that change takes a long time. You don’t just write a song and then the next day something changes, but when you do write a song that has a poignant message and meaning, it can have an impact on someone’s life and that can have an impact in the direction in which they act upon in their life. As a result in that, your music can have an impact on the world.
Again, I think that I am a product of music that had a message—music with a message. Political music influenced me to find a vehicle for the things that I had to say. That encouraged me to play in a political punk rock band.
BTR: I know you are named Anti-Flag, which sounds very anti-America, but you do fight for Americans. So, would you call yourselves patriotic?
JS: Well, when you look up patriotism in the dictionary you’ll find a definition that’s something pretty close to ‘love of one’s community, love of where you’re born’ and I think that’s probably most people who grew up in a peacefully place and do love the place that they grew up—I know I really, to this day, when I go home and visit my parents and I’m in that neighborhood, and the place is familiar to me, it is a place that I really love. So I guess if you define it in those terms, you could say that I’m patriotic in that way.
However, I am person who shies away from the terminology of patriotism just in that what I’ve seen throughout my lifetime is patriotism being corrupted into a nationalism that is than used to coerce people to do things that are not in their best interest. I think that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a great example of that; as soon as the Bush government decided that they wanted to invade Iraq, here come the flags, here comes all this kind of corrupted patriotism to the point that if you don’t support the war, you don’t love your country.
The name Anti-Flag is meant more to signify a statement against that kind of corrupted patriotism, more than it is to make a statement against patriotism itself.
BTR: So this year’s presidential race is unique in its absurdity—as a musician in a heavily political band, what are a few of your thoughts on it?
JS: It is absurd, and it’s definitely unique in that way. We really have a presidential debate that is very lacking in substance. It’s much more about personality and how likable versus unlikeable a person is. I think when we’ve gotten to that point, then that’s a failure of our media to really drill down on issues that are important to people’s daily lives. Health care, equal pay for women, education, affordable college, the environment—it really comes down to this idea that the media are much more interested in doing stories on the personalities of the candidates than they are on where candidates stand on really important issues, and that’s tragic. It’s doing a disservice to our country as far as trying to make the country a better place and putting a candidate who is the most capable person of doing the job and doing the job that’ll be good for the American people.
The reality is that we have two candidates, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, who are as close to corporate America as a person can be. They’re both very connected to Wall Street and to the banks of our country. Anybody who thinks that one of those two are going to get elected and all of a sudden not be highly influenced by those institution is just daydreaming. That’s something that the media could really shine a spotlight on and really focus on, but instead they choose to focus on other issues, and that’s unfortunate. I find it shocking that somebody who is openly bigoted and racist and sexist in the way the Donald Trump is was able to get the nominee of one of the two national parties—that’s really, really shocking.
Donald Trump is sort of a poster child representing a lot of the things that the band is against. This distortion of patriotism into a nationalism, this ‘America first’ mentality, is the exact opposite message that Anti-Flag wants to put forward. We’re trying to look at things at a more global perspective in saying that we have to pick all people up—yeah, it’s important to take care of the people in our own community, but the best way to do that is when we help everyone.
So, Donald Trump to me is overall a disgusting human being, but I will say this, the difference in the two candidates is that Trump is very dangerous. He is someone who has been baited by a tweet at 3 a.m., that’s not a person who should be running the armed forces of the U.S.—that’s a problem.
BTR: What do you want your fans to ultimately be getting out of your music?
JS: There are a number of things. I want people to realize that they’re not alone. I think a lot of people who have a sort of alternative view in our society often feel really isolated. I know when growing up I did, and when I found punk rock I thought, ‘wow there are other people out there who see things differently and in a way that I see them.’ That’s a message that for me is really important for people who find our music to take away.
Ultimately, if our music helped influence one person be better today than they were yesterday, then we’ve had a success. It can be as simple as just caring about something that they’ve never cared about before. That’s a step in the right direction, and to me that’s something positive that I know our band can do. That’s why I still get excited about writing a new song, or going and playing a show. I really truly believe in that power of music and I always want to be a part of that.