27 years into their career Pennsylvanian punk lifers Anti-Flag remain as active and relevant as ever. Loud, confrontational and unapologetically honest, their ninth studio album American Spring released in May oozes with anger and authenticity, packing a hefty punch across 14 of the most heavily politicised and inspired punk-rock anthems heard in years.
A rallying cry to citizens of the world, American Spring came accompanied with essays detailing the meaning and intentions of every song, ensuring that these songs of revolution could not be misinterpreted as anything other than how they were intended to be.
Ahead of their Australian tour in September alongside long-time friends and fellow punk survivors, Pennywise, energetic singer/guitarist Justin Sane caught up with Music Feeds at the un-punk rock hour of 8 AM for a chat about the album American Spring, the US presidential campaign, activism and what it means to be among the last of a dying breed of genuine punk rock bands.
MF: Good morning Justin, I understand it’s the rather un punk rock hour of 8 AM where you are, how’s the morning treating you?
Justin Sane: I honestly only woke up five minutes ago man and now I’m doing this interview with you all the way over in Australia, so while the hour isn’t very punk rock, the lack of preparation and cavalier attitude is totally punk rock, so it all balances out!
MF: Anti-Flag are coming down under in late September, early October with Pennywise, are you looking forward to coming back to Australia and giving us a chance to experience your stellar new record American Spring live?
Justin Sane: Oh yeah man I’m totally excited for it. We love touring Australia, I love playing the songs from the new record and I love touring with Pennywise so put it all together and I’m really stoked.
Watch: Anti-Flag – Fabled World
MF: You’re couple of punk rock survivors, Pennywise and yourselves, so it should be bit of a old school kind of flavor on the tour. I’m sure there’s a lot of punk lifers preparing their mohawks in anticipation of this tour!
Justin Sane: Yeah it’s true, punk rock in some ways is becoming more of a rare species. Rock in general is. You know the kids are really into EDM these days and definitely bands that play guitars are less and less in our world today and especially you know punk rock … In a way it is much harder I think for bands to survive as a punk rock band and the fact that we’ve found a way to do it and to be able to maintain it pretty successfully is really exciting.
MF: It is, it’s damn impressive too. Now American Spring, is a great title and it’s a very spirited and angry record. Did you have any particular intentions when you were recording it?
Justin Sane: Well yeah, I mean there were certainly many intentions when we recorded it. There’s a booklet that goes along with the record and essays explaining each song or the inspiration behind each song. Certainly when we sat down to write the songs and make the record there were many intentions..
MF: The title is clearly inspired by the Arab Spring, was that the main point of inspiration for the album?
Justin Sane: One of the main point the record was to point to the Arab Spring. The main idea that we were getting at is that a lot of people would look at the Arab Spring and say that it was a failure, that it didn’t succeed in a lot of ways but we really take a very different point of view on it.
The Arab Spring happened in a part of the world geographically where it’s traditionally been said that the regimes in that area were so totalitarian that there could never be any kind of uprising and that nothing could ever change and despite that point of view people were able to organize and people were able to stand up. The reality is that great change often takes a long time and I look at the Arab Spring as something that is just a first step. It didn’t have the outcome we wanted but it’s just not there yet.
When you look at the American civil rights movement, African Americans were fighting for decades for things such as being able to use the same bathrooms as whites. You look at the situation in the states today, African Americans are still fighting the civil rights movement for their rights. These movements for great change quite often take a long time and that was an important message that we wanted to put forward with the record.
MF: One song that stood out to me in that regard was the single Brandenburg Gate, can you give a little more insight into the inspiration behind the song?
Justin Sane: Brandenburg Gate really carries on with that theme. The metaphor in the song is the Brandenburg Gate of course which it was like the iconic division between East and West Germany during the Cold War and it was right in the middle of the Berlin wall and it was unattainable, you couldn’t go to the Brandenburg Gate because it was right in the middle of the demilitarized zone.
A lot of people looked at that gate and said, wow we’ll never ever be able to cross through that gate ever again. Eventually the Cold War ended and the wall came down and people were actually able to pass through that gate again and just trying to carry forward this idea that nothing is impossible, that is always a possibility for change.
Watch: Anti-Flag – Brandenburg Gate
MF: A few months on from the records release do you feel like you’ve struck a chord with folks, both at home in the USA and abroad, it seems to me be a very timely and relevant record?
Justin Sane: Yeah in a lot of ways I think it’s been our best received record ever. The record seems to really connect with people. I would agree, the topics on the record are very relevant to a lot of issues that are taking place right now in the United States and around the world.
Another theme that we hit on really hard is wealth and equality and calling out the billionaire class and making a very direct and clear statement that there is a class war taking place right now and the billionaire class are winning. It’s time for people to stand up and fight for their rights, especially their human rights. A living wage is a human right and a roof over your head is a human right, health care is a human right.
These are things that are being denied to a lot of people in the States and beyond that, certainly around the world. We have a very, very small group of billionaires on this planet who are raping the world’s resources, who are killing the planet and who are exploiting people and that needs to change because it’ unsustainable and it’s simply just not right.
MF: Obviously one way that they can get changed or theoretically can be changed is through the political process.The whole dog and pony show of the pre-election campaign in the States is happening. As an American citizen how do you feel about the political climate in the US?
Justin Sane: Well I will say that I’m an American Citizen but I’m also an Irish citizen and when I watch what happens with the run up to the American elections I’m always really proud that I’m also an Irish citizen because it’s so fucking embarrassing. That said, there are actually some candidates that are running who are saying a lot of important things.
MF: Do you have a preferred candidate?
Justin Sane: One of them is Bernie Sanders. He’s second in the polls for the Democrats and he is talking about the issue of wealth inequality in a way that no one else is as far as the candidates go and he has a great track record.
Bernie Sanders is a Socialist, he usually forms a coalition with the Democrats because he’s the only Socialist in the US Senate. He is talking about issues that are important and it’s resonating with people because a lot of people are hurting and a lot of people realize that our system has to change. He’s drawing thousands of people everywhere he speaks so I think he’s actually a real force to be reckoned with but we have an issue where the press is controlled by numbers and money and they don’t want to cover Bernie Sanders so they don’t.
This is an issue we talked about many records ago, the fact that the press is controlled by a very small group of people and you can control how a populous acts and how a populous votes if you control the information that they receive. That’s what’s happening right now, there’s almost like a media blackout with Bernie Sanders but the good news is is that he’s running a grassroots campaign.
He’s not taking any corporate money, he’s only taking small donations from average people to keep the big money influence out of his campaign and because he is connecting with people in a grass roots way, he’s going to end up in the debates so people are going to hear what he has to say whether the media likes it or not.
MF: As a citizen of the world subject to the American omniculture, I can tell you it’s encouraging.
Justin Sane: Yeah, yeah absolutely.
Watch: Anti-Flag – Sky Is Falling
MF: You guys have always considered Anti-Flag to be very much a band made up of citizens of the world, a fact that it’s reflected in your band name and then all the way throughout your lyrics and your activism efforts. Is there any issue or movement in particular that you’re aligning yourselves with at the moment? I know you’ve worked with organizations like Democracy Now, Greenpeace, PETA and the occupy movement in the past?
Justin Sane: We just did some work with Amnesty International. I think environmental issues right now are obviously really important. If there was an issue that I was going to double down on right now it would be animal rights and we’re continuously working in that area with various animal rights organizations.
PETA is one that we partnered with a lot, PETA2 specifically. Animal rights, obviously the idea of treating animals humanely is an important issue, that’s the first part of it because I think that we’re so disconnected from the pain of others, whether it’s other people, other living creatures, that it makes it very easy for us to decide that we’re the only thing that matters and no one else matters and nothing else matters.
I think it is important to be vegetarian and think about other living creatures but also if you’re an environmentalist, if you care about global warming, factory farming is one of the leading causes of global warming. Not eating meat is one of the easiest things that you can do and one of the most beneficial things you can do to help fight global warming so it has an environmental tie to it as well.
On top of that there are other environmental sides as well. Factory farming kills ocean life because of the flurry that runs off of these farms. It’s really detrimental to the environment in many ways. That’s a issue that I think is really important.
MF: I could talk to you for days on end about social issues but unfortunately that’s not exactly my job, so I’ll take it back to the tour a bit now, your live show has always been a riot and it seems like no matter where you’re playing or who you are playing with the fans always seem to lose themselves in the punk rebellion of Anti-Flag. What do you think it is about your live shows that connects with people?
Justin Sane: We are a very serious band in a lot of ways but we love to have a good time and we show up to play and we show up to put on a show and I think that just connects with people, people can see it, it’s just obvious and it’s in peoples faces.
I remember my first punk rock show, it was right between walking that fine line of chaos and mayhem and death and as long as the death part doesn’t happen everybody leaves feeling really great and like they had a spectacular time and that’s the kind of night I want people to have when they come see our show. I want it to feel exciting and dangerous because that’s the kind of show that I love to see and so we always push ourselves to have a great time.
At the same time it is important to realize that we have to respect each other and take care of each other in the middle of all of that and I think that that’s what’s really cool about our shows is that it is possible to do, to have all of those elements and we find a way to do that. I want our shows to be a place where everybody has the right and the ability to have an equally good time and so that’s what we set out to do when we put on a show.
MF: That’s amazing to hear especially considering some of the unfortunate reports that have come out from the Warped Tour recently regarding certain bands acting in a particularly offensive and misogynistic manner.
Justin Sane: There’s almost no punk rock bands on Warped Tour anymore, but unfortunately those bands get branded as punk it ends up being detrimental to the perception of bands who are doing this for the right reasons with the best of intentions.
There’s a lot of misogyny out there, there’s a lot of bands encouraging people to be violent towards each other and to me that’s not what music is about, certainly not what punk rock is about. I see music as a force to inspire people and bring people together and excite people. The last thing we want people to do at our shows is be violent because if they are we’re going to call them out on it. It’s not even like we don’t want them to be violent, it’s like if we see people being mindlessly violent towards each other we’re going to stop and deal with it.
That comes back to the wall of death. I think the wall of death is completely idiotic. It’s not anything we’ve ever encouraged at our shows. We have done the wall of high fives though, which is way more fun, inclusive and not at all violent.
The wall of death, it’s just fucking macho bullshit. When I see bands do that I pretty much know that I don’t want to watch that band anymore. Like weeding out the timewasters for me.
MF: If I see anyone in Australia trying to start one I’ll let them know that it’s not cool. I’ll be like, get back with the ‘rank n file’ and hi-five guys.
Justin Sane: There you go. Send them my way and I’ll have a little chat with them, I’ll shut them down and tell them what’s up.
MF: I believe I’ve got to go and let you keep going with the rest of your interviews. I do have one more thing to ask though and that is next time you see Tim Armstrong can you tell him to tour Australia, we haven’t seen them since like 1998 and I was 12!
Justin Sane: I can’t tell him but I can encourage him, I have been on record saying Rancid are the best punk band in the world right now, especially live, they’re incredible. That’s really awful to hear that Australia hasn’t had a chance to experience Rancid because they’re really just such an amazing live band right now. They’re probably the best they’ve ever been and what I think is interesting is that for Anti-Flag, that’s definitely true as well.
Being a band for this many years now, you just get better at your craft, you become a better performer, you become a better player, better songwriter and that’s the benefit of being a band for many years. I think right now, the last couple times I’ve seen Rancid has been the best they’ve ever been. I’ll encourage him to do that for you. You have my scouts honor brother!
MF: That’s awesome, I’ll bug you about it when I see you in September!
Justin Sane: Australia deserves Rancid.
MF: Australia deserves Rancid and we deserve Anti-Flag and Pennywise. Have a good day man.
Justin Sane: Hey great talking to you brother. Thanks for everything.
Anti-Flag tour with Pennywise at the end of the month, grab the dates and deets below.
Watch: Anti-Flag – This Is The End (For You My Friend)
Pennywise About Time 20th Anniversary Australian Tour 2015
Supported by Anti-Flag
Wednesday, 23rd September 2015
The Tivoli, Brisbane
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Thursday, 24th September 2015
The Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Friday, 25th September 2015
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Saturday, 26th September 2015
The Roundhouse, Sydney
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Monday, 28th September 2015
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Wednesday, 30th September 2015
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Thursday, 1st October 2015
Tickets: Destroy All Lines