By Andy

BEN – A little introduction if you please…who are you, and what do you do in Anti-Flag?
JUSTIN – I’m Justin Sane, I’m 19 years old, I’ve been in Anti-Flag for about 10 years and I play guitar and sing.
BEN – Brief history of the band?
JUSTIN – The band is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was started by myself and Pat Thetic, the drummer. We went through a couple of different members in the first five years then Chris Head came in on guitar and #2 came in on bass a year later.
BEN – What is it about this lineup that’s so right for you?
JUSTIN – I think the best part about it, and the reason we’ve done so well is that nobody takes things personally and everyone’s willing to accept constructive criticism. When you’re in a band such as thing people are always criticising you and you have to criticise yourself because you’re trying to make the best decisions. You know there’s going to be criticism coming out of any decision you make and a lot of times you’ll have an idea and the other 3 members might shoot it down quite legitimately. If you take it personally you’re not going to do very well. We all realise we’re very good friends and nothing that any of us say is to hurt each other.
BEN – In a couple of hours you’ll be onstage…what’s it like just before you go on?
JUSTIN – Always very hectic, because you’re doing all the things you forgot to do. I like to tape up my sleeve on my shirt because the buttons get caught on the strings of my guitar. It’s also a cool thing, as it looks like an armband symbolising what anybody wants it to symbolise, what they believe in. When I put it on I think about the things I care about and what’s important to me. It’s always something I do at the last minute and I can’t find any duct tape to do it with! Sometimes we forget to do our setlists…it always feels like a crazy couple of minutes, but then you get onstage and everything’s ok.

BEN – How important is the belief for Anti-Flag that you can indeed change things?
JUSTIN – I think it’s key, because we all love to play music but for me the politics came way before the music. I see music as a way to express my viewpoints and that’s always been the key driving factor in the band. I’d like to sing songs about other things as well, but politics is so important since if you don’t run your government, your government will continue to run without you, so if you’re concerned about your world and your life it’s very important to know what’s going on and try and take an active role in something.
BEN – Do you still stand by your stance of being not ‘Anti American’ but ‘anti American policy’?
JUSTIN – Yeah. It’s funny, because in the States, post-9/11, if you say anything against the administration, the Bush regime, people automatically call you un-American. To me, that is laughable – what does un-American mean? Does that mean I think it’s cool to blow up small children in school because they’re American? Who the fuck defines what un-American is? That’s a ridiculous statement, and it dumbs down the more important issues at hand. Is the Bush regime doing the best for the American people? By going to war with Iraq I do not believe that it is but as soon as someone calls you un-American it puts you on the defensive. Obviously there’s a lot of people I care about in America and enjoy living there so I don’t want to see bad things happen there so the idea of me being anti America is just kinda stupid. I do believe that there are a lot of policies coming from the American government, or at least those in charge of it that undermine what is important and good.
BEN – With the obvious political message that you have, do you think that in today’s climate the worlds of politics and entertainment should be kept separate?
JUSTIN – I don’t think it’s wrong for them to be kept separate, but I don’t think it’s wrong for them to come together. I love listening to things that are mindless and fun to dance to because it gives me a little break that I need. Sometimes it’s cool to listen to The B52s and just zone out. They sing songs about feeling groovy and that’s just cool as well! On the other hand it is important for those who choose to bring politics into their music to do it properly, because once you place a guitar in somebody’s hands, pick up a mic and put your voice to it…people are a lot more willing to listen to what you have to say. It’s really great when you have that opportunity, to have enough courage and care enough to take the next step and make statement, and be able to back it up.

BEN – What’s the aim of this tour?
JUSTIN – Originally we talked about coming over to Europe, then as the whole Iraq invasion plans of George W spun out of control that changed. We thought if we’re going to Europe we should make a strong statement to the whole community that not all Americans agree with what he’s doing, and that he’s no representing us very well. What we decided to do was make the flyer an upside-down flag, with the words ‘No More War: One People One Struggle’, so the goal is to show unity with our allies here who feel the same way as we do.
BEN – Do you think there is a ‘one people’, as looking around outside there’s anyone from 15 year old girls to skins here?
JUSTIN – That’s what I think is beautiful, ‘one people’ meaning ‘inclusive of all people’. Obviously people are all very different and when we say ‘one people’ we’re talking about ‘all peoples’, regardless of skin colour, age, sex, sexual orientation. All people being seen as one entity. If we see each other as human beings we don’t see each other as Iraqis, British American…hopefully we won’t be willing to go out and slaughter each other in a war for oil.
BEN – Last time you were here you were with Millencolin, what’s the difference between this tour and the last?
JUSTIN – In some places, it’s the same. On the Millencolin tour we were also with the Donots, both great groups of people, very cool to tour with. Here, we’re with ZSK, now 5 Knuckle have come on too. It’s similar in that everyone’s very cool to be with. The difference is that we’re playing shows from anything from 200 to 1000 people, more varied than the Millencolin tour. One of the main reasons we were excited about the Millencolin tour is that we’d never been to Europe before and we weren’t sure what we were getting into. Especially for me, as I have some health issues with cigarette smoke, it was very easy to commit to it with the feeling that the rooms are going to be big; we’re the first band on so the smoke won’t be too bad. We could get an idea of how things work over here. Now we know, so it’s a lot more comfortable. The kids have been great and there is a more amped-up political atmosphere and we have been trying to have a different political speaker every night before we play.

BEN – Moving away from politics…I know certainly from looking at, and just listening to punk music, Anti-Flag are major figures I the punk scene and ethic – why do you think that is?
JUSTIN – The main reason is our high profile. When you work with labels that can get your music out to people then more people are exposed to you and if you’re doing something that they view as positive then they’re going to tune into what you’re doing. We try to do things that are positive and progressive, and we feel lucky enough to be working with people like Fat Wreck who give us the opportunity to spread our ideas to people. There are kids in basements who are just as progressive as us, doing activist work – the only difference is that they don’t have a machine behind them that is putting their message out. That’s the catch 22 – if you want to get a message out and you have a belief, but you don’t want to work with a large label or machine that can put your propaganda out there then it’s very hard to get things done. In the States, we’ve done the Van Warped Tour and Vans is a major company, so we say to ourselves ‘does it make more sense for us to not play and not promote the Vans name, or to play and get our views out to people who may not have heard them?’ It’s always a catch 22, but it makes me happy that people feel we’re walking that line as best we can. We’re totally committed to the underground ethic and try very hard to walk a fine line between pushing a message and not giving up on what we believe in.
BEN – Having said that, do you think the scene is healthy at the moment? From the DIY scene right up to those on Epitaph, Fat, Victory…
JUSTIN – First of all I have to say one thing. I don’t know about Epitaph or Victory or whatever, but with Fat Wreck it’s like an honour. They don’t sign bands they don’t like. Before we signed we sat down and talked to them about what we wanted to do and they were on the same plane as us ideologically. Yeah, Fat have made a lot of money but I don’t think making money is wrong if you do it in an ethical way. They treat their bands incredibly well – it’s not like they sell weapons or dump chemicals in the ocean! There’s a self-defeatist attitude in punk rock that you can’t be punk rock and make money and that’s ridiculous. But if you have money then the reality is that you have more power and money, unless you can move an entire nation in a grassroots way. When you’re trying to run a propaganda machine it’s very important to have financial backing but if you’re doing things in an ethical way I’m all for it. But as far as the state of punk rock goes I think it’s great. With the use of the internet it’s a lot more connected, and the underground is a more mobile and formidable force to deal with, more organised than ever. I think that’s a good thing because really, really evil people are running the world right now and that could be the reason it’s got so organised. Look at Argentina. It was the darling of the IMF, they were set up to show how privatisation was to be the wave of the future and the government collapsed and there is an incredible grassroots movement in Argentina. It’s a strike against the forces of evil, as the IMF, and that’s probably why you’re seeing so much mobilisation in the underground.

BEN – As you’ve set up your own label, A-F Records, do you think it’s important to have such an outlet to get the music you like and the messages you agree with out there?
JUSTIN – For us it was important because we would see bands that we thought were very cool, with a good message, but with no backing. We thought what they said was valid, and they were important to the underground, and we could be involved in helping people along in the same way that people helped us along. With Fat we can do whatever we want and they’ve always been helpful. After 9/11 we wrote a song called ‘911 For Peace’ and released it online for free. They were willing to pay for the recording expenses – they didn’t, we did – but they were willing. They housed it on their website for us so in that respect we don’t need a label, in that Fat will help us. But A-F is cool, there are bands out there which are cool and that we want to help. At this point in time we’re not making any money from it – we certainly hope to, as it’s a lot of hard work! If we never do it’s ok, as long as we don’t go bankrupt!
BEN – What do you say to the kid in the crowd who it’s their first punk show or whatever…what do you want him to come away from the show thinking?
JUSTIN – It’s funny you ask, because kids come up to us and say ‘this is my first show’ and I get so excited about that. With our shows we always try to get across the idea that it’s really important for us to act as a community and to treat each other well and take care of one another. If I was at a punk show for the very first time and I heard about people as a community, treating each other with respect…for me that would be really moving and powerful. That’s the kind of message I would hope to come across with. That’s what we need to do to keep this world from going down the tube – to make people compassionate towards each other instead of being cynical and evil.
BEN – What about the supposed rise of alternative culture? Do you think the burgeoning popularity of skate punk, or punk rock, or ska, bodes well for the scene?
JUSTIN – Some people come into punk rock just because they saw a video on MTV. Maybe it had no substance, or a little punk rock, and the kid thinks ‘OK, I’m going to be punk’, comes to a show and realises that there’s more to punk than haircut. I think if that can happen, where punk is in the mainstream but there’s enough of the ideal getting through to the people then it’s positive. That’s the way to look at it positively, I always try to look at the silver lining!

BEN – I’ve just got a few questions sent in by some readers…from littledave – what do you think about the rise of internet file sharing?
JUSTIN – I think it’s fine, but speaking from an artist’s point of view and as someone who’s done it for ten years. It’s not something we’re going to make a ton of money doing so I would jus say if you find a band you like, buy their records! It’s hard to make a living doing this, and if a band is doing it full time then they need to make some kind of money to sustain themselves. I think it’s ok to swap files, but I would say support the bands you like.
BEN – Next one comes from francescopadormo – how can I start to make a difference?
JUSTIN – I always tell people that there’s a million different things. Find something you care about and start being active in it. Inform people about it, even if you just make a flyer and distribute it to your neighbours. There’s so much disinformation out there and so little information of substance that it really is important to make people aware. That’s one thing you can do. You can always look for activist groups in your area and see what they’re doing. If you check out the Earth First website there’s all kinds of different actions going on. One thing we’re starting is called the Underground Action Alliance and one part of it is to present information to people and tell them how they can be involved. Putting petitions together for things you care about, writing to your representative, Amnesty International is great, they do a lot of letter writing. In the nest month or so you’ll see a lot of stuff on the Anti-Flag website showing you what you can do.
BEN – Next one from snakeeyes – what’s next for the band, how long can you go on for?
JUSTIN – I have no idea. What’s next is that we’re going to go home and record an album to come out in October on Fat, then we’re going to go to Japan and probably come back here too. We’ll take a little time off, then do it all over again! I’ve no idea how long the band can go on. I’ve thought about it at different times and I can’t imagine myself out there at 55 and still rocking. We just saw the Dead Kennedys and it’s pretty amazing really that they’re at their age and still doing what they’re doing. I can’t imagine singing ‘Die For The Government’ at 55. If there’s a need to do it, and I’m able, then I probably will!.
BEN – This ones from matt_from_nnm – when signing new bands on A-F what do you look for?
JUSTIN – I definitely look for people who are committed to an alternative lifestyle by doing and saying positive things, and be a part of trying to create a healthy underground scene. We like bands who have something to say, but that’s not to say that every band we sign has to be political. If we come across a band that we really like and they’re not political we’d definitely be willing to sign them. We’re looking for real people who are positive in being progressive.
BEN – Last one…
JUSTIN – …and yeah, your music has to be great! [laughs] I don’t care how cool you are if your music sucks!
BEN – You’d think that might be important…last one from IN->DK – how has the scene changed over your time in Anti-Flag?
JUSTIN – For me it’s incredibly more organised. There’s a lot more activism going on, at least where I’m from. Touring over the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot more and I attribute it a lot to the internet, showing that people can be organised and more information can be put out there. I know a lot of people hate it, but with punk going to MTV there’s more wide-term acceptance of punk ideals.

And with that my tape ran out. The show that followed this interview was one of the most visceral and passionate that I’ve ever been to, thereby proving the resolve of Anti-Flag. I couldn’t get much of what Justin said out of my head for a number of days since it was so provocatively intelligent and he definitely succeeded in getting me thinking. I’d like to extend my thanks to him for such a candid interview, and to the rest of the band for putting on such a powerful show.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]