“The General Strike” – the new record by punk rock band Anti-Flag – is their spawn through and through: short, still loud, still angry. And why wouldn’t it be? When there is still so much going further in the wrong direction in the global political landscape. You can get a nice first impression of it with the video to “This is the new sound”, which they shot together with Amnesty International and a bunch of furry but cruel figures. Anti-Flag will soon head over the Atlantic to play some European concerts and festivals starting April 14 and including dates in France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the UK. Anticipating the start of the tour I post an Interview I did with bass player Chris#2 during Anti-Flag’s European tour last summer. We talked about how the entanglement of music and politics works for the band and how Obama’s presidency has influenced political activism.
You have been playing music for about two decades now. What came first: the musical or the political interest and activism?
It’s an interesting question because I don’t think there is a right answer. A lot of the bands that we were inspired by musically were also political inspirations. Dead Kennedys, The Exploited, The Jam, Billy Bragg. These are people that have always used their music to touch on their political agenda. So while we may have been inspired first by the sound, the ideas were just as important. I think for Anti-Flag it has always been a fifty-fifty split, trying to push politics on our agenda as much as we try to push ourselves musically.
How do you create your music? What is there first: the political topic or the song structure and music?
Again, it ever changes. Often we’ll find out about something that’s happening in the world politically and that will inspire a song. Other times we write a bit of music and we find the topic to finish that musical thought. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do it. We have songs that people seem to really enjoy that were politically first and we have songs that people seem to enjoy that were written musically first. We just do what’s best for the song and what’s best for the agenda.
Playing in a band obviously is a twenty-four hour job. How do you organize your political activism along that?
They are kind of one and the same. When you’re on tour you’re trying to bring out activist groups to the show, you are trying to say things from stage that make people clear about where your political stanzas are. When you’re at home you’re trying to read up on things and become knowledgeable about what’s happening in the world. And the same goes for being on the road, but it’s different. You’re not necessarily finding out about what’s happening in your town. You’re finding out what’s happening in the places that you travel to. So just keeping your eyes and your ears and your heart open – that’s the way you stay abreast to what’s happening in the political landscape.
While you’re on the road it’s very easy to just shelter yourself and turn everything off and just play shows, but we like to communicate with people. We like to talk to the people that come to the shows and find out what issues are important to them, find out why the are at a punk rock show. For a lot of people that is a very different thing. We are glad that any time someone sets a foot to the threshold of one of our venues we can then use that time to celebrate community and celebrate each other. And I think that’s a really positive thing punk rock has given a lot of us, the ability to stay politically active even when you’re just at a show.
By which criteria do you select the political organizations you work with?
Mostly it’s just what we’re knowledgeable on, issues that we believe strongly in. We don’t want to bring out organizations just to bring them out. I think that we need to be versed in what’s going on and there are a tremendous amount of people the are doing a tremendous amount of good. It would be awesome to bring everybody out on the road and have everybody come out to the shows but ultimately we have to stay focussed on the things that we truly care about, because we can be more passionate about them and talk about them with a little more vigor.
Based on that I think the organizations that we work with are generally humanitarian, peaceful and pro-bettering the social conscious of the world, whether it’s an issue such as vegetarianism or an issue of human rights, like Amnesty International. I view those things very similarly. That it’s about growing your conscious and believing that there is a world bigger that just yourself.
At a protest against the G20 summit in your hometown Pittsburgh in 2009 you intended to play a show, but the promoter cancelled it. Nonetheless you managed to play two songs and then participated in the protest. Where are the (legal) borders of of political activism for you?
It’s all your own parameter. Mine may be very different form somebody else’s. I’m not the kind of person that is going to throw bricks through windows and is going to necessarily use direct action tools that a lot of people do use in protest. Just that doesn’t mean I don’t see the validity of those actions. I think that a lot of times you can look at something like Seattle in 1999. Had there not been the protest movement, had there not been the anarchist movement there prevalent, that WTO meeting in 1999 would not have gotten nearly as much attention worldwide as it did. So I think there is often time when non-peaceful protest has benefitted, however it’s not necessarily my way of thinking and way of acting. I tend to believe that if we find creative ways to communicate with each other we can build just as strong a community as by throwing bricks to get people’s attention. In that respect it’s to each there own. But I certainly don’t look down at people that are passionate enough to try to get their anger out in their own creative ways. I think there is a time and place for much of it.
In another interview you said that with Obama being president now, the risk of people becoming more unpolitical again increases. Do you think that has happened?
In a lot of ways: yeah. In a lot of ways I feel like it was bound to happen, because people were focussing so much on the political landscape for the last eight years that it’s difficult for people not to get let down, not to get complacent. And Obama seemed like a very big victory for the left. Unfortunately he has ended up playing himself in his presidency very similar to the last twelve years of American presidents. So, it’s unfortunate but you can’t be too let down. I mean if you believe that one single politician was gonna change the world than I think you were severely mistaken.
The anti-war movement was so big and it stretched so far, to keep that pace up seemed implausible. And it’s frustrating, but at the same time – we survived in 2001 America, where patriotism was at an all-time high and questioning the politics of the president was looked at as treason. So we’ve been abandoned at the height of nationalism in our country and I feel like if we could survive that we can survive a little bit of apathy.
If you had to choose between playing music and being politically active, which one would it be and why?
That’s terrible! (laughing). I would have to choose playing music. It’s a thing that I am by far most passionate about. It just happens that most of the time that I am playing music I get angry about what’s happening, it makes me want to write a song. Or at least it gets me motivated enough to actually pick up a guitar and want to say something, because in my mind the things that are worth saying are the things that will impact us. So essentially both, but I think I’d definitely have to play music forever.
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