Hard times. Economic crisis. Instability. Bailouts. High unemployment. People without adequate funds for survival, without health insurance. Making do with ramen for dinner and aspirin for chronic pain because prescriptions are too expensive. Things are tough, people are stressed and kids are being forced to face hard realities sooner rather than later. The ignorance of youth is quickly becoming a thing of the past, as young people are now being directly affected by the shit storm. But what the hell can we do?
“You have to remain optimistic,” says Chris #2 of politically-minded punk band Anti-Flag, who seems upbeat and cheerful on the phone despite the overcast weather. “I’ve had to remain optimistic. I have to believe the world will recover. You can’t start thinking you’re doomed, or else it’s all over, you know? I write songs about a better place. The alternative would be, like, ‘Get off the ship, it’s fucking sinking.’ That won’t help anybody. I have to have hope that things will get better. And hopefully, I’m not wrong.”
Anti-Flag has been around since 1988, but Chris #2 joined them in 1999, solidifying the previously tumultuous lineup. The band held it together and has since released seven albums, the most recent of which being the highly acclaimed The People Or The Gun (2009). Unlike many bands of their genre who simply condemn the government, the military or the economy, Anti-Flag bring a heavy issue to the eardrums of the public, then suggests means for change and unity. They’ve had albums released on Fat Wreck Chords, the label run by NOFX’s Fat Mike, RCA, and are currently with SideOneDummy who released the band’s Complete Control Sessions 10-inch on Sept. 27.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Complete Control sessions, they are a series of live recordings by various punk bands, released digitally and on vinyl, a spin-off of Complete Control Radio, a weekly show hosted by SideOneDummy co-founder Joe Sib. “It was a really cool experience,” says Chris. “These are songs we’ve played for some time, finally recorded in a live format.” Along with a few recognizable covers, as well… “The Clash is one of our favorite bands, it’s no secret that we rip them off (laughs). We tried to do our best to do them justice.”
Aside from Complete Control, the band has been writing and working on the anticipated follow-up to The People Or The Gun, for which they had built their own studio to record. I asked for a little hint as to what to expect. “It’s really kind of all over the place, for lack of a better phrase,” he laughed. “In the last nine months or so we’ve recorded somewhere I think between 13 and 16 songs… though we’ve written more songs than we’ve actually documented. We’re almost finished. It’s hard to say when it’ll see the light of day, but we’re hoping for sooner rather than later. We thought about rushing a fall release, but there’s no point. The band has a history, we don’t need to rush something. There’s no reason for us to release a record, just for the sake of releasing a record. We have to make sure it’s ready, make sure the ideas behind the songs come across.”
Those ideas are not lost on long-term fans or people hearing their music for the very first time. They know this, and they use this knowledge to provoke change. In recent times, Uncle Sam has sort of turned into the creepy uncle. You know what I mean? Says he’s got your back and he’s gonna keep you safe, but still tries to grab your ass at a barbecue. The things they sing about are the things people are worrying about… and if you’re not worried about anything, you are not paying attention. I can only speculate as to what sort of subject matter will be on the upcoming record, but Chris shared with me some of the current issues he finds the most alarming.
“You know, when the Bush administration finally ended, it really seemed like we were turning a new leaf. There was so much excitement… Obama took office, people were coming forward with new and progressive ideas. Humanity was the focus. But that’s just diminished now it seems. The fervor and ferocity isn’t there, it took a backseat or something. People are just kinda tired of it all, taking a break from the politics and paying attention, but if everyone gets so disenfranchised, no one’s gonna learn. When Obama took office, it was like the nation took this deep breath, a deep breath they’d been holding for a while. But now that’s over, and we’ve kind of fallen in step with previous administrations. All those new ideas and goals, what happened to those? They haven’t done shit.”
I agreed, and then asked him what he would change himself, if he had the immediate power to do so? “Well, I think the easiest change would have to be removing corporate dollars from American policy. This way politicians and government officials would be working for actual votes, instead of money. If I had a magic wand… that would be the first thing to go. For sure.”
But there is no magic wand, and it’s easy to talk about change. Most people don’t actually make the conscious effort though. Anti-Flag practices what they preach to the best of their ability. They emphasize the need for activism and awareness; instead of guns and violence, they’ve got a microphone and a message.
“We’ve done a lot of activism work over the years. We’ve worked with Amnesty International, and last November we worked with the Pittsburgh food bank. But no degree of activism is worth more than another; we support causes and fight issues that we are personally passionate about. Pat [Thetic], our drummer, is very interested in the struggles in Africa; we’ve done a lot for the African Well Fund. We’ve donated ticket sales, auctioned off Anti-Flag guitars… we’ve helped build wells in Africa. It’s incredible. These are actual, tangible wins for us. Not theoretical wins, or ideological wins. We educate ourselves about causes that we believe in, we take on projects that speak to us. And it feels really great to be able to see the impact of our efforts.”
It’s definitely a great success, there’s no denying it, but it would be potentially short-lived, if not for the fans, for the people who heed the call. It’s not an easy task, getting people to stand up and get involved; I would venture to say that Anti-Flag’s ability to connect with their audience is one of their biggest strengths.
“We play punk rock music, there’s no way around it. That’s our forum, and that’s how we communicate. We just get in front of people, and we play passionately. Some of them are diehard fans, some of them have never heard us before. Some of them just came to see NOFX (laughs). But we’re challenging people to re-evaluate their focus, and set it on humanity. So far we’ve had a lot of success, and we’re grateful for it.”
But how easy is it, really, to get involved with change after hearing the message? How much of an impact can one person possibly make? Honestly, probably more than he or she realizes. “It’s very easy to get lost in looking at things in a broad spectrum. You think, ‘How can I fix the economy? The Iraq war—how could I possibly fix that?’ It’s overwhelming. People tend to think that change only exists globally, and that’s far from the truth. Change starts within ourselves; care about what you believe, and live life with conviction.” And what about young people, who are starting to get fed up with the way things are, but don’t necessarily have the platform they need to do anything about it? “Impact can occur even at the lunch table at school. Be knowledgeable, educate yourself. When someone asks you about something you believe in strongly, educate them. Explain your beliefs. You can change more than you know.”
It takes a lot of conviction and dedication, to tour and release records and speak candidly about huge issues, to face people who oppose your every word almost daily and still go out and play and try to reach the masses. Chris and the guys make it look easy. In addition to the upcoming releases, they’ll be touring this fall with NOFX, The Bouncing Souls and Old Man Markley.
“It’s pretty exciting and kinda funny. As bands we’ve all survived and have been doing our thing for so long, and to have us all in one room like that is kinda nuts. It’s a short tour, but it’s really cool. The stars aligned or something,” he laughs.
I hope this feature will inspire you to actively seek change in your community. Whether you’re a fan of Anti-Flag or not, find something you are passionate about, and donate your time and effort. It beats the hell out of shouting at the evening news from your couch.
Anti-Flag will play the Fillmore at Irving Plaza Oct. 7 and 8, and the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville Oct. 10. For more information, go to anti-flag.com.