Pittsburgh punk veterans Anti-Flag are still going strong and here to stay. The band is currently on a worldwide tour with the likes of Billy Talent, Rise Against and Moneen. They’ve got a message in a rock song and won’t quit until they’re heard. Actually, they have more than one message for this troubled world, starting with raising awareness about crucial global matters and the dangers of American imperialism.
The bands unloaded at the Bell Centre this past Monday, Feb. 6 during their Canadian leg of the tour, bringing Montreal a surging blowout rock show.
Walking steady past slithering camera wires, dodging blinding spotlights and steering clear of a local VJ’s territorial parameter, I made my way to Anti-Flag’s lounge back stage. Bassist/vocalist Chris #2 took time out of the band’s busy schedule to talk politics with the hope of tugging at the public blindfold. Ignorance is bliss?
Chris, can you start by giving us a history lesson, going back to the naming of the band and the significance behind the name?
Yes, come back with me in time. The band initially used the name Anti-Flag around the late 80s when they were all every young tots. What was going on at that time is you would go to punk rock shows and the local scene and it wouldn’t be uncommon to see bands playing in front of American flags and stopping and saying The Pledge of Allegiance during shows and really falling in line. For the band, what our belief in punk rock was challenging that status quo and that everyday average way of thinking. So the initial reaction was to piss those people off and call the band Anti-Flag.
A lot of bands have political messages but not with the same magnitude as Anti-Flag, how did you decide on the degree of or force behind your messages?
I think that it’s about where you come from and what you’re brought up on. Living in Pittsburgh, which is a hardworking, blue collar town, we weren’t making music to get famous or to even think about doing anything else than being a part of a punk rock scene that was in our local town. Without having those illusions it makes you focus in on what’s real to you. At that time we lived in the city and it had the highest police brutality rate and that was a big issue to us. So rather than write about how cool we thought each other’s hair was we figured it was much more important to write about what was happening in our town. As the band grew we have been able to extrapolate on those ideas and realize that there are so many global and economic injustices happening everyday, let alone the racism, sexism and homophobia you find yourself running into on the street. It would be unreal and untrue of us to write about things than what inspires us. Fortunately what inspires us is paying attention to the world and trying to make it better.
It’s a troubling time we live in, which is why you hear so many bands writing about political issues, war and inequalities.
How do you feel about artists like Madonna who try to put out anti-war messages, like her album American Life and then show up at Fight Poverty Benefits or Live 8 sporting diamonds and Versace?
You know, sometimes it’s unfortunate because there is so much power in that celebrity. Without being too prejudice against any designer because I’m not, you do find designer clothing way overpriced but at least you’ll find them made in humane conditions. I think I’d rather see someone wear a Gucci bag than a slave labour-made bag from Wal-Mart. But what I will say about someone like Madonna going to something like Live 8 and speaking wearing those designer things is that different things alter everyone’s confidence levels. It may be unfortunate for her that a pair of Versace sunglasses makes her feel confident, but once she is confident, she is making fairly important statements. The pressures that women and all people in this world have to live up to are ridiculous. I don’t know the psyche that goes into what Madonna wears, how she dresses or what plastic surgery she gets or doesn’t get, but it’s difficult to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say I’m ready to tackle the biggest issue in the world today. Maybe in her mind to do so she says ‘I’m going to wear $1,000 sunglasses to a benefit like Make Poverty History or Live 8.’ The only thing I know is I would rather her be there than not.
Speaking of which, I read that you are very much involved with organizations like Make Poverty History and Military Free Zone. Can you tell me about that?
We started this nonprofit organization called Military Free Zone to combat predatory recruitment practices in the United States. There is a legislation that states that any school that receives federal funding must turn over the roster of its students to the military for recruitment purposes. Military Free Zone gives kids the information they need to opt out and have their information removed from the hands of military recruiters. There is a petition where if we get 100,000 signatures we are going to march into Congress and hopefully get that part of the legislation removed. That’s been our main focus whenever we tour North America.
When you are touring Canada, do you get a different response towards you anti-Bush regime than you do in the States?
Oh no. I think it’s pretty universal that everyone knows that that guy is an asshole! But it is interesting to talk about Harper and the relationship that they have. People seem to tune in because I think no one wants to see your country follow down the path that America has.
If you were the president, what are the first couple things you would do or change first?
Well first off, I wouldn’t get anything done because Congress would stop me from doing anything! [Laughs] But if I had a magic wand I would change one thing and it would alter the entire globe. It would be illegal for any corporation to give money to a political campaign. What we have as a system in the U.S. is basically these corporations dumping millions of dollars into these politicians so their lives can continue as it is. The rich can get richer and the poor can get poorer and that separation between the two gets greater every year. Ultimately, if you take that corporate money out of the government you’ll have politicians working in the interest of votes not in the interest of campaign finance dollars.
You’ve been touring with the interest of the less fortunate in mind, especially during your autograph sessions and meet & greets. These aren’t just any meet & greets. Tell us about them.
Whether people want an autograph or not is not important. We just thought ‘Let’s take these Meet & Greets one step further, pick a local charity in every city and give the people the opportunity to walk into a mall, the very home of commercialism, and give; not just take.’ It’s been a hugely rewarding experience to leave there with 50 gallon drums filled with donated coats and blankets. Shit! Before we came here that wasn’t out there! It’s great to see positive people and their positive ideas come together and have it work out. We have the belief that the music we’re creating is working.