Interview: Anti-Flag [October 2015]

By Max Gayler

Having just finished up their festival season after a lengthy American/Asian tour, Anti-Flag decided the best thing to do was embark on a two-month European Tour starting at UK Warped Tour at Alexandra Palace. With new album, American Spring, Justin, Chris, Chris and Pat are addressing a global audience with messages as relevant now as they were 15 years ago. We speak with vocalist and bassist Chris Barker about the similarities between UK and US Warped, purpose in punk rock and the longevity of Anti-Flag’s early catalogue.

How does it feel to be at UK Warped Tour after being veterans of the US leg?

Chris: Well, it’s definitely a different experience. It being a singular event, that’s not what we’re used to. Normally you get a little bit of experience in figuring out what works. With Warped tour being so long in the states there’s a good margin for error. Thankfully we’ve done enough to know how it works. There’s a lot of similarities, like we didn’t know what time we were playing until we turned up today. But I also think that more so, the similarities are about the people who come. You’re going to see a lot of kids here who maybe don’t know much about all the bands that are playing and have come for the allure of the Warped Tour name. That’s something that we love, those are the people who don’t know what Anti-Flag is about and don’t know that there are bands like ours who stand against sexism, racism and homophobia. We try to convert this sense of community, and empathy over apathy. That’s a really import thing for us and really important opportunity for them.

You can see a lot of charities working here. Does it feel good to be a part of something not only representing music, but the causes of the music as well?

Chris: For better or for worse, an event this size, there’s going to be corporate sponsors, there’s going to money coming in from places that you don’t necessarily believe in wholeheartedly, however, the event is going to happen with or without you. So if we can hijack it for forty minutes it’s a really valuable tool for us. That being said, I believe that because Warped Tour comes out of the punk rock community, that’s why you see it more akin to having causes like you mentioned. Bands like Anti-Flag, bands like Reel Big Fish, even bands like Man Overboard who come out of punk rock and come out of this idea of believing in a community that cares about more than just itself.

That’s a really good point, and I think that’s probably, like you said, something that hopefully people will walk away with.

Chris: Yeah, and for me I don’t measure success in percentages. I think if there’s one kid who walks away thinking “I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone, I didn’t know that my disdain for the status quo wasn’t shared”. We’ve got a lot of issues going on in the UK right now to talk about. Austerity and the Tories and all these things that are happening… to have a place to go where it’s not the dinner table, it’s not school, that’s what punk rock is. That how I found solace and how I found hope.

You guys have plenty of albums now. They started off obviously based on what was happening in America, but you’re touring all over the world now. Do you feel like ‘American Spring’, or maybe on the past few albums, that you’ve brought in elements of what is happening in other countries?

Chris: I think ‘American Spring’ is our most global record. Part of that is due to the fact that every record we do we’re trying to find new areas and new places to play. That’s why we do festivals and territories that we’ve already been to. But it’s also why we are frequenters of Russia and Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Even just before this tour we played our first ever show in Thailand. We’re constantly trying to have that experience where you play somewhere for the first time and someone has that moment of “holy shit, I’m not alone”.

So, You guys have been on tour for… forever? Especially after a heavy festival season, does it ever feel like work?

Chris: I think this tour has the most potential for that to happen because it’s a headline tour. I don’t think that we get bogged down by the weight of it, I just think that when something is this long and you’re counting off days that you go a little stir-crazy. But ultimately, where we luck out is we have tonight a 45-minute set, tomorrow an hour long set. We’re going to have these opportunities to reinvigorate ourselves, meet new people. the bands we’re going out with on this run are going to keep us energised. There’s also a light at the end of the tunnel that this is the last thing we’re going to be doing this year. We’ll keep our nose to the grindstone and get through the 23 hours of the day that we’re not playing. More than anything, we honestly believe in the songs, in the band, and the community around it. When one of us falters the other members are there to carry the weight. On this six week tour all of us are going to falter at least once.

You guys have been going strong for 20 years now.

Chris: Yeah, next year will be the 20th anniversary of our first record.

I remember hearing relatives of mine playing ‘Die For Your Government’ when I was three or four.

Chris: That’s amazing.

It’s great that it’s still as relevant now as it was back then.

Chris: In some ways it’s frustrating that songs like ‘Fuck Police Brutality’ and ‘Die for Your Government’ are more apropos in 2015 than they were in 1996, but the difference is you can see the ways that you are able to adapt a message or find new connections to an agenda with a song. For example, ‘Fuck Police Brutality’ was written because in Pittsburg, we had the highest rate in the country at the time so we really focussed on a Pittsburg-centric idea. But now you look at killings in Baltimore, you look at Freddie Grey in New York, you look at Tamir Rice, you look at Sandra Bland, there’s a countless list of really high-profile police killings this year. The song transforms and it becomes about the now.

I think that’s something that does happen. At one time it speaks for one specific thing, but it evolves.

Chris: While that can be frustrating that we still have to talk about police brutality, It really makes me feel like we’re on the right side of history. It shifts your focus. When you start a band it’s naive to believe your rock will change the world or whatever. But then as you get older, you learn about the finite nature of humanity. I just want someone to look back on this time with ‘American Spring’ or the shows that we were playing, with the choices we’re making as a band, and see that we’re able to be on that right side of history. Not everyone in 2015 was okay with endless police murder, okay with the largest divide ever between wealthy and poor, okay with systemic racism and its abound in things like a war on terror or a war on drugs. For us, we’ve changed our focus from saying “we play this song, it changes this person” and then the world is better, versus saying that we’re comfortable with ourselves and we can sleep well at night knowing that we’re challenging the status quo, that’s been our main mantra since day one.


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