When ANTI-FLAG frontman JUSTIN SANE broke his collarbone trying to stop an overly aggressive concertgoer named James from “starting shit” during a set in the U.K. this past March, he knew word would travel. But it wasn’t until the guys were recently walking around Moscow that he realized how far the news would reach. “Chris #2 tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Dude, did you see that kid’s shirt?’” says Sane. Basically, it was the cover of Anti-Flag’s last record–it was a guy in a suit with an eagle head–and it had a little dialogue bubble that said, “Fuck you, James.” Die-hard fans like this, combined with Anti-Flag’s critically acclaimed, politically-driven punk have made the Pittsburgh-based band a mainstay in the scene for more than a decade. With the release of their seventh full-length, The People Or The Gun., Anti-Flag continue their tradition of challenging the suits, CEOs and despots as they take on the Obama administration’s policies on the collapsing economy, war and human rights. VALERIE McQUEEN recently spoke with Sane about all this and more.
What was it like for the band to record and produce The People Or The Gun. entirely on your own?
At first, it was a little scary because you’re setting up your own studio. If something isn’t working, you have to figure out what’s wrong. It’s not like you’re in somebody else’s studio, [where they] know how it works, and they make everything work, and if it doesn’t work it’s their problem. That puts a lot more pressure on you. But we’ve got an immense amount of experience in recording over the years, and we’ve worked with incredibly talented engineers and producers like Tony Visconti. I learned more from that guy in a day than I learned from most people throughout my entire life.
We’ve had a lot of experience, so I was pretty confident that we could engineer the record. What’s great about having your own studio is that you can play guitar solos, like, 400 times, over and over again. [Laughs.] There were often nights when everybody else would go home and I would stay there by myself playing guitar solos [Laughs.] I think that has a lot to do with why we made this record so quickly. Right after we built the studio, it was like having this awesome clubhouse. You want to play in the clubhouse. It’s always kind of been my dream to have my own studio, because–as much as the activism side of Anti-Flag is important and the political side of Anti-Flag is important–my number one love has always been playing music; that’s why I’m in a band. To have access to a recording studio is a dream come true.
What’s the story behind the album title?
It’s simply making a statement that people in positions of power have to make a choice as to whether they really are going to stand up to what they pledged to do before taking office. It’s a question that I think could be directly pointed toward President Barack Obama: Are you gonna stand with the Wall Street brokers and the corporate CEOs and the defense contractors and the insurance companies? Or are you actually going to stand up for the people that you promised to represent when you took the oath of the presidency? Obama’s election has been a great step in the right direction for the country, but I think he leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, he has supported bailouts for the bankers and the CEOs and the insurance companies and the Wall Street brokers. I don’t believe in bailing out those people; I believe in bailing out the workers and the students and the poor. All of that comes around to this question of, which side do you stand on? Who are you siding with? That’s the concept that we’re trying to put forward with this record title.
The Economy Is Suffering… Let It Die – Anti-Flag
On “The Economy Is Suffering…Let It Die,” you address how the federal bailouts are detrimental to the goal of improving the economy. What’s the story behind that song?
It’s interesting to me because [those taking federal bailouts] are the people talking about capitalism being the best form of government. My question to them is, “Really?” We just had one of the biggest economic disasters of our lifetime, in a century, even. You have 40 million Americans without health insurance. You have the greatest gap between rich and poor since the Great Depression. You have countless homeless people and homeless veterans. Yet, this is the economy that we want to save? This is the form of politics that we want to save? That doesn’t make any sense to me. I think there’s a better way. I think that there are a lot of countries you could look to–specifically Sweden, Switzerland or Norway. These are countries that have a real mix of capitalism and socialism, and it works really well. People in some of these countries are some of the best-educated people. They’re the least violent countries in the world because people have no reason to be violent; people are taken care of. The gap between rich and poor in those countries is almost nonexistent compared to the rest of the world. I think what plays into that is people know that they’re gonna have a roof over their heads. People know that they’re gonna have access to health care when they need it. So “The Economy Is Suffering…Let It Die” is asking the question, “Do we really want to save the economic system that has created the circumstances in this society where so many people have to take Prozac and anti-depressants just to deal with living?”
Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C. (Sheep In Shepherds Clothing) – Anti-Flag
The opening track, “Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C. (Sheep In Shepherds Clothing),” is a really aggressive song with some heavy lyrics that point to religion and politics. What are your thoughts on the intermingling of the two?
Lyrically, that’s a track that Chris #2 wrote. I think that song is pointing to the fact that there are all of these religious prophets that people are willing to put their faith in and follow. Many people who claim to follow the teachings of those people only follow the things that are convenient for them and quite often they ignore the teachings of those people [in their entirety]. Even in the Middle East, the parts of religious teachings that they point to are the parts that they use to divide people. Unfortunately, it seems that, throughout the years, that’s been the danger of religion. I’m actually a very spiritual person. I believe in something much bigger than this world and myself. I don’t know what it is, but I’m very wary of religion. Religion is one of the issues like nationalism, race and gender that is used by a few to divide the masses. It’s quite often used to control people.
In the video series you posted leading up to the release of the album, you said that “We Are The One” is based on a quote from writer June Jordan. Is that true?
June Jordan is somebody whose poetry, art and writings I’ve been aware of for a long time. I think she’s really cool. Ironically, she took part in Obama’s inauguration. The poem that she read during that was what inspired me to write the song. The song is about the fact that it’s not presidents or prime ministers or popes or celebutantes who are going to change this world for the better. It is the people. We the people have the power in our hands to make the kinds of changes that we want to see. Obama could not be in the White House unless he actually had the support of the people to do it. Ultimately, we have our future in our own hands, and it’s gonna be up to us to shape the world the way we want it to be shaped. If Obama is not living up to our expectations, it’s gonna be our job to send Obama on his way and hopefully put somebody with a better vision in his place. So often people want this savior to come along and save them and fix everything, but I don’t think that’s how the world is going to change. I think that everybody has a possibility of creating a positive change in the world.
On Independence Day – Anti-Flag
Speaking of “the few,” in the song “On Independence Day,” you take a jab at former Secretary Of State, Henry Kissinger.
Henry Kissinger was an international war criminal and was in the George W. Bush White House giving them advice to them about foreign policy. It really makes a lot of sense that the Bush White House operated the way it did and that the foreign policy it carried out was so disastrous: They had this total madman giving them advice. Part of the idea for the song is that you have to be careful about whom you’re turning power over to and you have to look at who those people surround themselves with. Quite often, you can tell the character of a person by those people they hang around. I think we are just saying it’s time for us to rid ourselves of this group of people and find independence for ourselves beyond the old guard. It’s time for this generation to say goodbye to that generation. alt