This week's main music story is my piece on Anti-Flag, the political punk band that started in Pittsburgh in the early '90s. The band is releasing a new album this month, with a show at Altar Bar this Sunday. I had a long sit-down interview with Justin Sane and Chris #2, and thought it'd be nice to share a long version for those of you who like Q&A stuff; since it was a really long interview, I'll share it in a few installments. The first, which I'm posting here, deals with the band's recent tour in Southeast Asia.
So you just got back from a big trip to Southeast Asia — how was that?
Chris #2: It’s kind of like — I feel like being in a band for as long as we have, you get to a point where all the self-consciousness of being in a band and having people come out to your shows, and expect certain things from your records, it gets to where you either cave to that or you embrace it. And I think this year we’ve just been like, “Fuck it, let’s do things we wanna do.” And we’ve always wanted to go to China. And it’s not financially smart to pay $7,000 for plane tickets to go play shows where you get paid not very much money. But we were like — we’re putting out a record, we’re gonna go do the cycle that we always do, but how do we keep it exciting for us? And I think that trip and this record and all of this stuff has been about making sure that we leave behind a thumbprint that we’re happy with. It’s kind of an arrogant way to think about it, but after you’ve been in a band a long time, you realize, the records you put out — the whole reason all of us make music is to leave something behind after we’re dead. And why not leave something behind that we’re happy about, and that we didn’t just play the same 12 cities?
Justin Sane: And I’d add two things — one, I really believe that there will come a time in my life when my nieces and nephews or my kids and grandchildren will look me in the eye and say, “This world is really fucked up. When you look back in history, a lot of things that happened during your life contributed to this world being really fucked up. What were you doing when they were invading Iraq? What were you doing when this rhetoric about bombing Iran was being ramped up?” And I would like to be able to look those kids in the eye and say, “I was fighting for righteousness.” You know? And I understand that it’s only in my own small way. I’m acutely aware that my fingerprint on making social change and fighting injustice is really small compared with a lot of other people. But just to be able to look myself in the mirror and look the people who come after me in the eye — I think that’s important.
Coming back around to the tour we were just on, the place we went to are as foreign to us as any place we’ve ever been. I mean, Thailand, I was so ignorant about Malaysia, for instance. I don’t honestly know if I know anyone who’s been to Malaysia. Going to Indonesia and Hong Kong — these places are so foreign, and the way people live there is so different from the way we are. You go to Indonesia, it’s a country full of Muslims: That’s a very stark contrast to this country. What was so life-affirming about it was that all of the ideas that Anti-Flag has been putting forth all these years — you know, we’re not a color of skin, we’re not straight or gay, we’re not Christian or Muslim or atheist, we’re not countries or flags, we’re human beings — that simple message that this band has rallied around all these years was so affirmed in my heart as a result of this trip. And that’s why I love going to places like Japan and Russia and far-off places we’ve never been before. We had an incredible opportunity to spend time with the kids who we did these shows for, and it was so fun. In Malaysia, we went to this DIY punk show. And I was looking around the room and I was like, “That’s that kid I know from Pittsburgh; that’s that girl I know from New York.” It’s — the personalities are different, but they’re the same. They’re interested in the same things. The kids there are fighting for DIY spaces the same way kids here are.
#2: At one place, the kids told me they changed the entrance, because they don’t want the authorities to know — it was like, yeah, that’s happened at every club I know!
JS: That’s what going to these far-off places, to me, it still pumps me up. I came back from that tour so reinvigorated; I think like #2 was saying, you’re in a band forever, shit, it can become kinda routine.
#2: And you start to question your relationships, and all these things. But for me — we have this show where we just rock right away, we come out, we don’t say anything, it’s great, but we’re in China, and I’m just like — “Stop, stop! We’re in fucking China!” Looking at these guys — everyone in the audience is like, yeah, we know, we live here, but I look over like, “Good job, guys!” It sure didn’t make any sense to those people in the audience, but to us it’s like a tangible victory.
What’s it like going into places like that, especially places where you’ve never been, and back here you stand for everything that’s not the Ugly American, but over there, you can’t help it, you’re automatically the Ugly American?
#2: And it’s so indoctrinated it us, I’m just like — Oh shit, this is me in line, speaking really loudly, and — oops, it’s rearing its ugly head again! Going into China, we went in as tourists. We had visas everywhere else, and the proper papers, but they were just like, “You’re not gonna get ‘em, let’s go in this way.” So I think maybe we were over-analytical about our personalities going in there. We’re flying to these places with people, and we’ll have a little meeting beforehand where they’ll tell us how to act — we get briefed.
JS: We’d definitely catch ourselves in the airport, like, “Hey dude, go long!” and somebody’s throwing me a pillow or something. It’s like — you realize, we’re maybe being the ugly Americans right now.
#2: And we’re in Malaysia ... another part of being in the band for a long time, you don’t take things too seriously, so we’re sound checking and playing songs that aren’t really songs, and goofing off, and they’re politely trying to interrupt us to tell us that it’s prayer time. And we just don’t know what that is. So finally, we’re alerted that we’re making a ruckus for the building upstairs —
JS: “You need to stop!”
#2: ... and they’re saying their prayers!
JS: And we respect that, it just took us a little longer to catch on. But I will say that, going into somewhere foreign, where sometimes there’s an incredible language gap, and working with people you’ve never met before, the apprehension is really high. Because you’re not sure — everybody that is a contact for you is sort of hit or miss. Sometimes you’re with somebody who’s really sharp, understands
#2: And it’s almost overprotective: Here’s where we’ll eat, here’s where we’ll sleep.
JS: And then the other side of it is somebody who just picks you up, doesn’t talk to you, doesn’t explain anything, you don’t know what’s coming.
#2: You might end up in someone’s really nice house, where you’re holding an interview, and you’re like, what is this place? And no one’s talking to you, and you’re there for eight hours and nothing ever happens, then people come in and start taking pictures with you, and then they leave, and you’re like, what just happened? That happened to us in Jakarta.
[Read the rest of this interview here!]