A few weeks ago, Chris 2 of passionate Pittsburgh punks Anti-Flag stopped by to appear on the Cautionary Tales podcast. Although the program focuses on how bands endure or flame out over certain aspects of the music industry, Chris flipped the script on us and informed us about how great Anti-Flag’s tenure on BMG/RCA was a downright joy, allowing them to donate money to causes and retaining the vinyl rights to their recordings amongst many other things.
But before they teamed up with RCA, they had to tell some label presidents where to go—namely Fat Mike of Fat Wreck Chords and (wait for it) Jimmy Iovine of Interscope.
Anti-Flag’s first stint on the Vans Warped Tour in 2000 had them on a bill featuring at various junctures, with Green Day, NOFX, Weezer and many other bands, “a really big deal,” as Chris explains it. “We were having some of the better shows of our lives at that time.
“I think we were one of the first bands to ever tell Mike no,” he remembers, recalling Fat Mike’s early overtures to Anti-Flag. “He said, ‘I want to put you on [Fat subsidiary] Honest Don’s,’ and we said, ‘No, we want to be on Fat.’ He said, ‘You’re not ready for Fat.’ And we said, ‘Go fuck yourself.’” [Laughs.] Anti-Flag ended up selling 200,000 copies of their second album, 1999’s A New Kind Of Army on the Go-Kart label, and weren’t slighted by Mike’s stance one bit.
Later on in 2002, “Mike realized the error of his ways and said, ‘I want to do your next record on Fat.’ We thought our lives were going to forever change. This is a valuable lesson for us because we thought if we signed to Fat, it would be Anti-Flag, NOFX, No Use For A Name and Good Riddance. We’re done—we can retire. We’d be on Mount Rushmore of American punk. [Laughs.] So we put out Underground Network, our first record for Fat—and nobody cared. It did worse than New Kind Of Army did on Go-Kart. And that was a valuable lesson to us: The label on the back of your record does not guarantee that anyone will give a shit about the music you release into the world.
“This conversation that bands and artists have with their audience when they say, ‘We are making this move to spread our message,’ that’s not true. How do you know anyone’s going to listen to your fucking message?”
After Anti-Flag delivered The Terror State for Fat in 2003, Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello (the album’s producer) played it for music maverick/iconic producer Rick Rubin, who wanted to put out A-F’s next album on his American Recordings label. When word got out that Rubin was eyeing the band for his stable, Anti-Flag were suddenly taking meetings with every high-ranking major label. And it was usually with people who had no idea who they were or what they stood for. One of those meetings was with legendary producer/label exec Iovine.
“We go to the Universal building, and we’re in this room with this lovely woman who is at this front desk [in front of] a bookshelf,” Chris remembers. “They pull a book and literally, the bookshelf moves, and that’s where Jimmy Iovine’s office is. When you’re four punk-rock kids from Pittsburgh, that’s not real interesting.”
Chris describes the meeting as one of the best moments a band have ever been courted by a major-label executive. “He says, ‘I know you guys are political. I’m working on this record; I want you to hear it.’ And he plays us the new U2 record with that ‘uno, dos, tres’ ["Vertigo” from 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb LP] very loud. So loud, our drummer Pat raises his hand and says, ‘Can you turn it down?’ [<[Laughs.]e weren’t impressed by the secret door or his song choices. But we later found out [a[at]nother meeting that they used Jimmy to stall us to make us late for another meeting.
“That’s the entire conversation with those [m[major label]eetings,” resigns Chris, before imitating a cooler-than-thou major-label drone. “‘No, no, no, no. You don’t need to worry about this. Your slice of the pie may be smaller, but the pie gets infinitely bigger.’ And then you tell Jimmy Iovine in your meeting with him to fuck off. And he goes, ‘Wow, that’s never happened to me before,’ and he gets more interested. And then a bidding war happens, and it’s just fantastic!” [<[Laughs.]p>
Chris also went on to discuss how tough it is for new bands to get a foothold in the scene; and how punk rock still has the power to create a consciousness for a better world, no matter who is in the Oval Office. If you want to laugh, bum out and walk away from your chosen device feeling optimistic, click on the link above.