Interview: Anti-Flag

Eponymous American punk rockers Anti-Flag are heading to Corp this October, bringing their signature brand of politically minded and socially conscious rock to the stage. Back earlier this year with their tenth studio album, American Spring, the band remain true to form with critical writing on divisive topics of war and social justice, proving they’re not shying from controversy just yet, even as they approach an impressive thirty year milestone in the band’s career.

Beth Maguire caught up with Chris Barker, AKA Chris no.2, to chat about the issues and what to expect at the gig.

What are the major themes of your latest album that differ from previous albums?
I think that American Spring is just coming from a more honest and personal space than any other Anti-Flag record. It’s the idea of rebirth, renewal and starting again. It’s in the songs, the artwork, the title. In my personal world, I’ve had a relationship end that I never anticipated dealing with. Couple that with making our 10th record, the first after our 20th anniversary. These things led to a tremendously arduous and essentially different writing and recording experience. Being in this new headspace and viewing the world through a new set of glasses made me reassess the moments in my life that applied to our political commentary.
My sister was the victim of violent crime, she and her partner were murdered; my family’s experience with the American justice system through that time was beyond eye-opening. I guess what I’m getting at is a record of commentary on police murder, American justice, the largest divide ever between the wealthy and the poor, endless drone strikes from the “anti-war” administration. These things are all being viewed from a different place. American Spring is us as a band not just trying to discuss these issues but presenting the idea that empathy is the only solution. We need to find ways to put ourselves into the places and situations.

What is the process with song writing? Do you often see something in the news and it sets you off?
It varies. Issues can lead us down paths, so the music is sometimes written first and then we try and use that as a vehicle for something. Different members of the band have issues that they’re passionate about, and that often creates inspiration.

Sheffield and Pittsburgh share a history rooted in Steel production, and faced similar decline following the collapse of this industry. Did growing up in a city with a heritage of industrial collapse influence your interest in political/economic injustice?
We saw first-hand how industrial abandonment in favour of cheap labour and profit margins has impacted families – and humanity. It’s in our blood stream to be in favour of those who organise, to be on the side of the people.

Does the passion of the lyrical content drive the music?
Mostly. Like I said it changes from song to song. But I think more often than not a lyrical idea will steer the musical side of the band.

Anti-Flag-1You tend to court a bit of controversy due to the critical nature of your music, particularly in the more patriotic US. How do you view the attention your music gets? Do you think it helps to draw focus towards the issues you discuss, or more so towards the band’s profile?
That’s something I don’t think we’ve ever thought about. Mostly in those situations it becomes self-preservation. September 11 was a dividing moment for the band. So many people told us we must support the president, change our band name and re-think our band’s agenda. We opted to stay anti-war, to be pro-peace, in the face of that adversity and re-shaped world we lived in.

It’s obvious you’re very serious about the topic of each song. How do you bring that passion to each live show, when you’re playing every night for two months straight?
That’s actually the easiest part of what we do. The songs take their actual shape in the live environment. It’s a place where we are all free to be ourselves. Free from racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry of all kinds. That’s where our band’s optimism comes from, those moments at the show.

What’s the reception been like at the live shows this time around?
American Spring has been the kindest received record in a very long time for our band, from festivals to headline shows in small towns and punk scenes. People are connecting with the idea of spreading empathy over apathy. It’s beyond inspiring.

You’ve been around for nearly thirty years, so can audiences expect a few fan favourite tracks on this tour?
Oh yeah. We still truly believe in and appreciate the songs that got us to this point. If people connect with them we want to play them. Songs like ‘Fuck Police Brutality’ and ‘Turncoat’ have taken new meanings in 2015. We are more focused, better at delivering their agendas, and just a better band than ever. Come out to the show with an open heart and an open mind.

Anti-Flag head to Corporation on October 22nd. For more information and tickets click here.

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