Anti-Flag Empowers People with Punk Music
By Tim Anderl
The roots of punk music have always intersected with politics. Meant to be a headache for power and imperialism, political punk bands combine volume, attitude and commentary meant to infuriate, inspire and instigate grass-roots action aimed at change.
Pennsylvania punk band Anti-Flag picked up this torch in the late ‘80s and has remained on the cutting edge of musical activism for over two decades. Known for its anti-war activism, songs about labor, class, and human rights struggles, the band raised the visibility of Greenpeace and Amnesty International, and has appeared at standoffs against power on international battlegrounds — most recently at Occupy Wall Street and in South America.
Dayton City Paper recently caught up with Anti-Flag founder Pat Thetic to discuss their role in activism, the costs and challenges of being a punk band, Dayton’s Air Force Museum, and the band’s forthcoming record, The General Strike (which drops via SideOneDummy on March 20). Here’s what he had to say.
Are you guys still located in Pittsburgh?
Living in Pittsburgh has really had a major impact on the band on many levels. One, because of the blue collar and union backgrounds of the Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania area. But also the fact that we’ve never been concerned about how much money we could make and things like that. We’ve always been lucky that we’ve been able to make decisions based on what we thought was interesting or what we believed in, and not whether we had enough money to afford a practice space next month. [Pat Thetic]
We’re in Dayton, Ohio …
So you’re aware of low cost of living… [PT]
I think it has allowed a lot of the bands from Dayton to have a certain creative freedom that they wouldn’t have been able to afford to continue to have had they gone someplace where the cost of living was a lot higher.
That is absolutely true. We’ve had the freedom to make decisions and to make music in the way we wanted to, and to worry less about what makes money right now. On a personal note, I actually spent some time in Dayton. My girlfriend’s sister is in the Air Force, so she lives in Dayton. So we were there a couple months ago and went to the Air Force Museum. It is pretty amazing the planes that are there. Then you think about how many people those planes have killed, and it is sort of an awe-inspiring experience that these weapons of war are in this museum. I guess they should be, but it is weird to think, “that plane dropped bombs on people all over the world.” [PT]
The General Strike is the fifth album that you’ve recorded in Pittsburgh. What are the benefits of recording your albums in your own studio and on your own time, and how do you keep from becoming complacent with the freedom that gives you?
It is amazing because I remember when we recorded earlier records, when we were paying for the recording with our own personal money … we were looking continuously like, “OK that’s another hour, another $40 dollars that we just spent.” The ability to be in our own studios and not have to make those decisions — should we redo this part again or accept that it is good enough? — is great. We’ve never been known to be great musicians, but I do think we have good ideas. It just takes us a lot of time to get those ideas past our mediocre musicianship. [PT]
Anthems are something that you guys have gotten really good at writing and “The Ranks of the Masses Rising” from this record is the anthemic call-to-action here. How important do you believe these kinds of songs are to polarizing people?
Those songs for us are a celebration of people who are really fighting against power. We were really inspired by the people in Egypt and we hope that they can sort the shit out and really get the democracy that they’re fighting for. The idea of people taking to the streets and standing up for something they believe in, with no guarantees that it will work and a high probability that they’ll be very uncomfortable, if not killed, is something that we wanted to celebrate in music. Those anthemic songs have a feeling to them, that things can and will change if people are willing to sacrifice to make that happen. [PT]
On a national level, you guys were involved in playing Occupy Wall Street. What was it about that effort that touched you guys?
People who are willing to sleep outside and make their voices heard because things are not going the way that they believe they should in the world — I think that’s an amazing thing that people are willing to do. We support that in any situation, whether it is in the US or places like Malaysia. They have an occupy movement in Malaysia and they aren’t worried about corporate greed in the US, they’re worried about the issues in their country. And they’ve taken inspiration from the occupy movement in the US and are protesting in the streets. [PT]
What causes are the ones that are most near and dear to your heart personally?
I like Iraq Veterans Against The War. Those guys have been very important for me. I am very sensitive to young people who are going and fighting wars for empire and wars for corporate greed, and people who are willing to fight against that from the inside are amazing to me. That is a group that I’ve always been really impressed with and really like to work with. [PT]
Would you guys ever support an organization like Wounded Warrior?
People think that Anti-Flag hates the troops and hates America and that’s not what we’re saying. I don’t want anyone to have to be off killing in the name of me, or for oil companies, or any of that stuff. I think we need to find other solutions to problems. Sending young people into the desert to shoot at other young people in the desert isn’t helping any of us. [PT]
Part of that equation is that people who sign up for the military are doing that for their own livelihood, because they don’t have other economic opportunities…
I have a lot of friends who joined the military because of the G.I. Bill and they were like, “This is the way that I’m going to be able to go to school because I don’t have any other way.” When you don’t have opportunities, the military looks like it could be a problem-solver. However, then you realize the reality of it, and a lot of people find out too late that it was a bad idea. Wouldn’t it be better to have people be able to get health care and money for school by doing good for people instead of shooting at and being shot at by other people? It would be a much better world. [PT]
(For more information about Anti-Flag, visit http://www.anti-flag.com. Anti-Flag’s record release party will take place at Cleveland, Ohio’s The Grog Shop on Wednesday, March 14.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.