Anti-Flag - Justin Sane
Interview by: Luke Harlow
Photos from http://anti-flag.com
On May 4, 2001, I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with Justin Sane of Anti-Flag. Unfortunately, this was the last day of final exams at Western Kentucky University and on top of moving out and studying, this interview made things quite hectic. On Justin's end, I think things were much the same. The interview had been scheduled for earlier that week, but due to equipment troubles, it needed to be pushed back. He took a break from a pre-show sound check in Detroit to do this interview and during that time he got kicked off of the street corner where he was sitting and his cell phone cut out. As a result, we played a little phone tag and I think I was able to salvage some material here. Justin was a very nice guy to chat with and he provided some interesting answers to my questions. Anti-Flag latest record was released by Fat Wreck Chords in April and is entitled "Underground Network".
Luke: To start off, talk a little bit about the new record. What are your impressions, what were you trying to do?
Justin: Basically, as far as the new record goes, I am really happy with it. What I like most about it is that, I think out of all of our records, it has the best concept behind it. The record itself was really influenced by the WTO riots in '99 in Seattle. One of the reasons I think the protests there were so successful is that they were organized really well. It seemed like the organization was the result of a lot of different, alternative kinds of communication between groups and underground networking between groups, hence the name of the record. People are communicating with email all over the world and short wave radio, pirate radio, cell phones. That really intrigued me. I thought that was really, really interesting and the other side of it is whenever I read the alternative media, their side of the story about Seattle, versus the side given by the mainstream media, usually they were very different pictures. So, to me, I thought that it was very important that we help to kind of promote this kind of alternative media because there is not very much in America, but there is some here and it is very good, but it is also very difficult to find. I just felt if we could promote that with the record, than that is something we should do.
Luke: Tell me how you got hooked up with Fat Wreck Chords and how that went down, since it is a new label for you guys.
Justin: We've known Fat Mike for quite some time and we happened to be out on tour together last summer, so we spent a good bit of time together and we really like him. He said he liked the band and he wanted to do a record. We sat down and gave him our concerns and talked about things that were important to us and he was very interested in the same of kind of ideas that we were and he was willing to work with us however we wanted to work. It was really great. It just went from there. We knew that the distribution on Fat is really good, we felt like we'd have a good chance to reach a lot of new people and that is also one of the reasons that the cd and the booklet is packed with information because we just felt like we'd have a chance to put a lot of information out there by working with Fat.
Luke: You play a style that may be considered by some to be a throwback, maybe more true to the old school sound, especially with the political side to your lyrics. What would you say the general feedback is to your music?
Justin: The way we do things, we just try to do what seems like the right thing for us to do and what seems right to us at the time. Musically, I think we are definitely influenced by older bands like The Clash and The Jam, Sex Pistols, bands like that. At the same time, we're also interested and influenced by what are considered new school punk bands, too. Bands like No Use for a Name or NOFX. Then there are hardcore bands like Sick of It All, Snapcase, those are all bands that definitely influence our music. We kind of put it all together and really what comes out is just what we enjoy playing.
Luke: If you don't mind, I want to switch up from the band to your general ideologies. What makes a punk rocker? What is the defining characteristic?
Justin: I guess it is different for everybody, but to me punk rock is all about what's in your head, what you think and what you do. To me, it has always been something based in a left wing, progressive ideology. Anti-Flag to me is a classic sort of punk rock ideal, where our whole idea is to denounce nationalism and say that nationalism is just a tool used by leaders of the world to separate the masses. To me, I guess punk rock is pretty much about trying to make the world a better place, to get out the message and do things in your actions that create tolerance and a better world overall. For a lot of people, it is different things, though, so I can't say what it is for everybody. As far as it being about a look or something like that, I think that is just stupid. I'd rather hang out with a really cool, thinking football player than some moron, like some fascist with a mohawk. The whole idea that punk rock has to have a certain look, I think that is just stupid.
Luke: I am going to read a quote here, it is off your website. You say under your profile that you don't like right wing bands that play "punk sounding music and then call themselves punk when they are really just right wing fascists who are subverting the punk scene. Kids who call themselves punk rockers, but listen to and support the kind of band I just described," you say you'd rather have them listening to "Third Eye Blind, or something pretending to be something it isn't, while at the same time hurting our scene." My question is, can you give some examples or explain what you mean by this?
Justin: (laughter) There are definitely bands out there, I don't think I need to go into names, either you know the bands or you don't. I don't want to support the bands by saying their names, but there are bands out there that definitely support right wind ideologies, such as nationalism. Definitely. There are some very nationalistic kinds of bands out there and to me that is totally subverting everything punk rock to me is about. That is just the kind of thing that creates divisions, and for me, I would rather not be around that. Usually those people are violent, and they're usually out to prove how tough they are. They usually come to shows and just act like morons. From my standpoint, I would rather not have to be around those people.
Luke: I'd say you've probably heard enough of this already, but if you would, talk about the band's name. I've read a number of things and it seems like you are pretty clear and pretty adamant about the fact that you are not anti-American. In fact, you've said that you're trying to make this country a better place. So, put it to rest. What is the name all about?
Justin: (laughter) It's a fair question. The goal of Anti-Flag is to bring to light problems that exist in the country and in the world. The upside down flag that we use is a distress signal. It is saying that this country, we have problems in this country that we need to deal with and unless we deal with them--. So many people say, "America: Love it or leave it." Well, why do that? To me that seems like giving up. I would rather say let's fight to the end to make it the best place it can be. Our leaders, they fly that flag whenever they are acting in our country's name so that flag represents the people of America and a lot of times that represents the people of America whenever our leaders are doing something really corrupt and really sick and really wrong. To me, that flag doesn't necessarily represent who I am. It is not about a flag, it is not about--. The flag doesn't mean I am patriotic or unpatriotic, I think it is more patriotic to point our the problems and try to work on them than it is to try and say "America: love it or leave it." That is basically what the band is about.
Luke: Your label, Fat, is about to release an ep by MxPx and they have a history of being a "Christian" band. Is there a place in the punk rock scene for Christians to play music?
Justin: I think there is a place in the punk rock scene for anybody as long as they're not trying to use their message to spread hate. I know a lot of Christians that I don't have any problem with. I have no problem with them being Christians. The problem I have with certain Christians is that they use God as an excuse to say, "I hate homosexuals," or whatever. At that point, I start to have a problem with them. But, if they're not like that, they're not a problem to me.
Luke: So you're not against organized religion or anything like that?
Justin: Again, it is not something that I would really buy into, because again, I think it is something that is very divisive, but I think it is a lot less harmful than some other things that are out there.
Luke: What are the biggest strides and that you have seen punk rock taking in the last few years? What are the downsides? You've been involved with punk for a long time now.
Justin: In a lot of ways, I think punk rock is much more activist-oriented that it maybe ever has been before. It may be more organized in that way than ever before. On this tour we have Refuse and Resist coming out to the shows, we have Anti Racist Action coming out to the shows. We set it up with them to come out and hand out flyers at the shows and have a table with information. In that respect, the fact that these organizations are there and they are usually run by these punk rock kids, I think it is much more organized. You see punk kids doing Food Not Bombs, different protest things. I think that is really positive because there are some really good things going on. I think, too, that punk rock now more than ever, with labels like Fat Wreck, bands have the means to get out a positive message. Some look at labels like that really negatively because they are so big, have all this control, whatever. I look at it differently because I think Fat Wreck Chords doesn't look at music as a commodity, they really look at bands that really do things in a credible way, and it gives bands the opportunity to put a strong message out. For negatives in the punk scene, you've got the same old negatives that have always been there and they will probably always be there. Sometimes you get boneheads and they just want to come out to fight or whatever, because they think that is what being punk rock is all about. That's a drag, but what are you going to do? You can't tell everybody what to do, in the end everyone has to make up their own mind. You can put your ideas out there and hope they make enough sense to people that they'll do something positive.
Luke: I guess that is all the time you had, if there is anything you want to add, please do so.
Justin: The only thing I would add is that people should check out the website. If you're looking for information on the band that is probably the best place to look, but sometimes it takes us a while to update it (laughter). http://anti-flag.com
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