by Zach Brendza
In between stints in Europe, Pittsburgh's punk overlords Anti-Flag play the second date of X Fest. Chris #2 took some time to talk to us about the band's new record, rough times, the political climate and more.
How was touring in Europe? How did fans respond to the new album?
Well, it’s interesting: Europe as a whole, has really like ... they’re seemingly more aware, open to progressive ideas — ideas about humanity or ideas of empathy —maybe than anywhere else in the world. It seems to be like a really strong connection between this record and these songs and the folks that have been coming to the shows. Also, we’ve been doing a lot of festivals. That’s kind of what European summer is, it’s mostly festivals and those are folks from all walks of life. There’s, like, moms and kids. People that don’t just come to punk shows there. So to have that opportunity to maybe say some things in front of them and maybe have them feel like ‘hey I’m not alone’ and believing that the paradigm needs to shift and their focus needs to be towards empathy or humanity or whatever the hell you want to call it. That, to me, has been really inspiring and eye-opening.
What was your mindset going into writing and recording American Spring?
My mindset was broken (laughs). Now I'm kind of far enough away from it [to] be able to look back and think 'man, I wasn't really sure I wanted to do it.' We've been a band for a really long time and this is our first record after the 20th anniversary of the band. It's the tenth record of the band. It seemed like really unconquerable mountains of expectation and fear and all that stuff. Couple that with: I had a relationship end before we even began discussing making another record and that relationship was my entire life and it was [going on] the entire time I've been in the band. That was 14, 15 years something like that. It was a lot of self identity and self worth and a lot of things that seem bigger than writing punk rock songs that I had to deal with before [American Spring] happened. Thankfully, when you're in a band for that long [that becomes] your real life and your real friends and your actual family. These are people who are there more than my blood relatives. You learn to rely on them and that's what I had to do.
Whenever it came time to write, it was severely influenced — especially in the songs that I was writing— by being more open emotionally to politics, but also — like i said earlier and it's a word I've been beating to death with this process — but empathy. I think that when you lose love and when you lose a person in your life, I was immediately taken back to the [other] times in my life when that had happened. I had a sister fall victim to violent crime and subsequently though her death I learned a lot about the American justice system first hand at how broken it was. It was no longer just a song for us. It was a real life situation and a reality.
You have all that happening and [we were] writing songs when [the] Mike Brown verdict came out. For me, it was really serious to, with all of the issues, to be more focused on creating the idea that these things are happening to real people and not happening in a vacuum. Maybe with previous Anti-Flag records we've commented from afar. It's been ‘we see this, this is what makes us angry, here is our reaction to it.’ I think with American Spring it's a bit more of ‘we see this happening, how can we identify and put ourselves in the same place of others, that these things are happening to.’ Drone strikes in the Middle East. It happens on a computer screen. It happens from a bunker. It happens with a point and a click. Does it really happen to a real person? And the answer is yes and we're seeing that more and more. There needs to be some accountability for these things, and they don't need to be reported on as if they happen to an invisible person or not a real person with a real family and a real life.
X Fest II is your first show in Pittsburgh since a few smaller shows earlier this year. What do you expect on Friday?
[Laughs] Well its cool for us because we really enjoy the freedom of being able to do whatever we want in Pittsburgh. Not having a pressure to live up to anything. Don't get me wrong: we're very excited that The X has asked us to be apart of the show and that they're playing the song on the radio. I think that's really cool and kind of them. But [we've never had to] rely on Pittsburgh as a place we have to do well [laughs]. It's been kinda nice. We can do whatever the hell we want when we're home. If we want to book a show at The Slit, we go and do that. We've played Roboto in the past. We've been able to have our hand in a lot of the cool and interesting things that are happening in the city. We haven't been confined to traditional venues, as it were.
To go to Stage AE and to be playing with Social D, that's something we've done in every other city, except Pittsburgh. It's actually nerve-racking to do it at home because now they talk about the show on the radio and people I haven't heard from in years are writing me emails and texts like, 'hey man, can we come to the show?' And I'm like shit, now everyone knows [laughs]. We've normally gotten away with just keeping our heads down to play when we want to. So the cat's out of the bag on this one.
But that being said, Social D is a band we love and have been fans of for decades. I think they're responsible for the early sounds of Anti-Flag. I think if you listen to the record Die For The Government, there's 10 or 12 Social D riffs just stolen [laughs]. So we'll be sure not to play those ones.
With having world wide prominence in the music community, what's it like to come back home?
Its hard to tell. For me, Pittsburgh has a really important music scene, going back to the bands that inspired us to play. Obviously Aus-Rotten's reach is huge and that goes into Caustic Christ, who's going to play again this weekend. The Behind Enemy Lines folks and all of that stuff. So there's a history on that side of things. The Bad Genes, who also had a reunion recently. Those are the bands that are responsible for Anti-Flag beginning.
For me, I was a little bit younger and went to those shows as a kid and had my mind blown and realized that anyone could do this. Therefore, I started playing music. Then you extrapolate that into Wiz Khalifa is on tour with Fall Out Boy and obviously Rusted Root is in car commercials. There's a lot of things that have come out of a very small town. To figure out a ranking system isn't something we're particular interested in [laughs].
However, I will say what I found from Pittsburgh artists or Pittsburgh bands, we all get up and the first thing we say is 'we're so and so form Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.' It's definitely 'we're not form New York. We're not from L.A. and we want you to know that.' I think that's a really cool trait we all carry as a badge. Being an anti-nationalist band, we consider pride to be a very silly and a very scary thing often, but our families are from here. A lot of us stuck around when it wasn't America's most livable city. And that's a really important thing to note.
With the nature of the band, I feel like I have to ask what your thoughts are on the 2016 Presidential Election. There are so many crazy things happening.
Of the candidates being discussed, I think it's clear to most people [with] a brain that Bernie Sanders is the most humane of them all. Obviously, not without fault. He's definitely a character people have latched onto, and rightfully so. I'm afraid Donald Trump can win [laughs] ... I this point I don't say never. I think at this point it's so backwards that Donald Trump has given a voice to a lot of insane folks. That's a scary proposition. That being said, I hope for our own American justice system and this belief in democracy that we have that it's not a Bush or a Clinton. Dynasty politics is something we don't need to be living in at all. I guess the other thing we've learned is, history is not made by presidents or prime ministers or popes or the C.I.A. History is carved out by people. We write two and half minute long punk rock songs not to change the world, not to have the word revolution next to our picture in the dictionary. But to leave behind a document that in 2015 there were people who were opposed to drone strikes in the Middle East, people who were opposed to the largest divide between the wealthy and poor in our history.
And that's why they call them records [laughs]. It's a document of a period of time and we just hope to be on the right side of history when that all comes out. Stressing over Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush isn't necessarily the conversation we want to be having. We want to be having bigger conversations as to how we worry about our thumbprint or footprint.
You’re touring Europe again this fall. When you get back, will you start up any projects, like White Wives?
The thing about White Wives is we're permanently in flux. That’s our kiss and our curse: we never know when we're going to pay again. Always assume we'll never play again. But for some reason [we] continue to [play] . I wouldn't put it past us to do a show sometime. Roger [Harvey] moved to Philly, so it's become a bit more complicated to even be in the same room. But as you and any reader [in] Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania can attest, they always come back [laughs]. So at some point he'll come back.
That said, we have A-F Records, the label, and we run that pretty diligently. There's a gentleman named Chris Stowe who [does] the day-to-day label managing for us. He's always signing things and I end up recording them because we have a studio as well. I just finished a record for a band called Endless Mike and The Beagle Club. That's a really great record. That'll be coming out later this year. Essentially if I'm not playing shows with Anti-Flag, I'm generally in the studio in the city or trying to piece together six other people to play a White Wives show.
How has A-F been? There's been a lot of success form World's Scariest Police Chases and Homeless Gospel Choir.
Honestly, what happened was we kind of put it into a dormant state. There was no one to take care of it. We had a discussion and we actually thought about making a statement and getting rid of the label. Like 'we're not putting out records any more. If you wanna get Anti-Flag stuff, you go here,' and that's it. We had a discussion and the idea was that music and all things are cyclical. How much effort you put into it, it might not come back to you, but it'll come back to somebody. Whether it's the scene or surrounding bands or other people who are working or caring about music, not for a monetary stake but for an arts stake.
That being said, we waited and waited and playing in White Wives I met Chris Stowe. He just seemed like he had his shit together and he could take it over. We did a test run — a die-cut 7-inch for a song called "Bacon." It was a police brutality song and we thought we were being very clever. And he did a great job with it. So that snowballed into doing the World's Scariest Police Chases record. All that was awesome, but then I realized I had also signed up to be the producer for all these records [laughs]. So once again if I'm not on tour, I'm in the studio. That's what my life has been. But it's been cool. It's been a great distraction while I figure my shit out.