Anti-Flag are a punk band that sings about, in short, what a f*cked up world we live in and the things we can do to change it. They’ve sung about these issues since the late 80’s and while perhaps their approach has softened, their message has not. They’ve toured the world and brought these messages to cities, towns, villages, festivals and political rallies. They’ve released a handful of records, as well as endless singles, EP’s, splits, even a couple concert DVD’s.
American Spring, their ninth studio album, comes out on Spinefarm Records at the end of May and it will cause ripples, mark my words, but positive ones.
Drummer Pat Thetic was there at the beginning. He started the group with its singer Justin Sane and continues to be a driving creative force in the band. We spoke with him about the new record and the old politics of this very outspoken punk rock unit.
You guys have been around a long time now. Over 20 years. And to the outsider, it seems like you’re still doing what you set out to do from the get go. What about inside the band, does the mission, the purpose still feel the same as it did in the late 80’s?
Pat: Absolutely. The thing that’s different is, well, we’re obviously a little bit smarter. And we understand how to channel our anger and frustration in slightly more productive ways. I wouldn’t say completely productive because we don’t change anything, but we now know that just yelling ‘f*ck’ and smashing stuff doesn’t necessarily create change. So we’ve learned a bit over the years that change comes when likeminded people come together. And that’s really the only time change can happen. But the basic idea of ‘things don’t have to be the way they are right now’ is something Justin and I started in the late 80’s and still do today.
Punk rock itself has had its ups and down over the years, in terms of popularity and interest on a global scale. Do you still feel that this type of music is the best platform for the things you’re trying to get across?
Pat: A three and a half minute punk rock song is not the best vehicle for trying to get across why Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, no. But what it is a good vehicle for is emotionally connecting with people and having that passion transferred from one person to the next. And if that passion is there, people will seek out the information that they need to know. So to answer your question, punk rock isn’t the best vehicle to create awareness, but it is the vehicle that we understand the most and makes the most sense to us.
And you still see that change happening in the crowds that come to your shows?
Pat: Absolutely. And the amazing thing for us is that because we’ve been around for such a long time, we see kids that go through the transition from being the awkward kid at the show, to going to law school, to becoming a lawyer to fight for people who are economically disadvantaged, for example. And I’m not saying that Anti-Flag is the reason for that, but it’s cool to see it happen.
All your albums are rooted in what is happening in the world at the time that they’re written and released. Do you allow the political climate to dictate to you when to release new material?
Pat: Well, the political climate always has an impact on us. And it’s always inspiring us to write songs. When those songs are collected into a document, or a record release, that isn’t necessarily controlled by the world around us, it’s more controlled by timing and the schedule of the band. But the climate does impact the songwriting and the songs that are on any particular album are a time capsule of what was going on at that moment in time in the world.
I think it’s worth noting that not all your songs are overtly political. There are a number of songs on this record, and in your discography, that are more personal and humanistic than people may realize. Do you find these songs and their messages get overlooked sometimes?
Pat: You’re kind of asking the wrong guy (laughs). If you asked the other guys you might get a different answer, but to me, all our songs are socio-political in some way. It may come from a personal experience, but it has a broader message that is intended from the song. That’s my point of view.
Pat: Spring is a comment on the Arab Spring, which is a wave of revolution that was going across the middle east and is still going across the middle east from late 2010 till now. We were talking about how revolution works and how does it turn into peace, or into civil war and violence, like we have in Syria right now. And we had discussions that institutions are much more willing to use violence than civilians are. Governments, religious groups, militaries, are always more willing to use violence than the actual population.
And what was your conclusion?
Pat: Well, that non-violent revolution is the only type that has any chance at success. I mean no revolution is going to be completely non-violent, but the higher the level of non-violence, the more chance at success that revolution is going to have. Anyway, that’s where the title American Spring comes from. And that’s where the images on the front and back covers of the album come from, with the flowers over the face and whether that’s an expression of violence or non-violence.
In a discography filled with incendiary and thought provoking covers, this one is probably your most thought provoking and even controversial. Can you tell us a bit about how it came about?
Pat: We had the name of the record and were talking about the images to go along. And one of our friends, who is a graphic designer, brought those images to us. And at first we weren’t sure if it made sense or not. But we had this really great experience where a friend of ours came in and we were sitting there talking and just the front cover was there, of the woman in the hijab and the flower, which he thought was interesting. Then we showed him the back cover, which in my mind is the juxtaposition of the two, with the soldier and the flower, and he said ‘oh you can’t do that, you’ll get shot.’ And I thought, ‘well why is this one acceptable and this other one not?’ And why would someone see it as violence when there’s actually no violence there. And for me, that clinched it. We want people to talk about it and we want it to have an effect on people.
Considering the controversy some of your covers and songs can create, as a band on tour, do you ever find yourselves in situations or countries where you don’t feel safe?
Pat: No. Actually, the most threatened we’ve felt is right here in our own hometown (Pittsburgh). After September 11th happened, all our records were pulled from the shelves at record stores and we were told not to go into certain shops or businesses because they saw us as traitors. Because we felt it was a mistake to bomb people and think they would accept freedom if we bombed them enough. So I’ve felt the most fear from certain right wing people in the U.S. than I’ve felt from anywhere around the world.
Aside from the messages contained within, one impressive thing about Anti-Flag is how well crafted and catchy the songs themselves are. Does it frustrate you as a band at all when you have fans who like the band because of how catchy your songs are, rather than for the messages you attempt to convey?
Pat: No. If it brings you into the room and allows you to connect on some level, that’s good enough for me. When we were younger, we had the debate of ‘if there’s Nazi’s at the show, is that a good thing or a bad thing?’ And my answer was always ‘get em in the room.’ If they’re in the room, they’re going to get exposed to ideas they didn’t have before. And hopefully they’ll have some impact on them. So I’m a fan of the more people in the dialogue the better. And people are smart enough to know what ideas are bullshit and what ideas are good ones.
Is there a reason why the new record isn’t coming out on your own label (A-F Records)?
Pat: Absolutely. It’s just really hard to put out a record and be on tour for six to eight months and trying to do all the things that need to happen for the record to come out. There’s a lot of organization that needs to happen. And we have really great people at home, but we need to be involved in that mix and if we’re on tour, we can’t do both things effectively.
Why Spinefarm this time?
Pat: We’ve never been very loyal to record companies. I love Fat Wreck Chords and Side One Dummy, they’re all great people. But as far as loyalty to any particular label, I’ve never had it. I’m a DIY kid through and through. So the idea of working with new people is always exciting to me. And Spinefarm came to us and said they really loved our older records and that this record was awesome, because we’d already recorded it, and they wanted to put it out and enable us to do some new things we hadn’t done before. I’ll give a record to anyone. Just one though. It’s the multiple records I have trouble with.
Finally, do you think this world is capable of getting its shit together enough so that a new Anti-Flag record won’t be needed?
Pat: (Laughs) That is our dream. Because I will tell you that Justin and Chris #2 have some really sappy sappy songs about girls and sunshine and puppy dogs. So yeah if the world was in a good place, we could write some really sappy, saccharine songs. Although if Hilary Clinton becomes the next president I don’t think we’ll be in that position.
Anti-Flags new album “American Spring” is out NOW. Plus you can catch them live on tour (Tour dates below). Full details about both online at: