Anti-Flag is one of those iconic bands that shaped the 90s punk scene for many (myself included), and is continuing to be a dominant voice in the forefront of modern punk rock. When thinking of the most influential punk bands of the 21st century, Anti-Flag has always been one of the first thought of. Placing high importance on the message behind the art, these guys connected, and encouraged fans to strive for a better world. Guitarists, Justin Sane and Chris Head, along with bassist, Chris #2, and drummer, Pat Thetic, work together to deliver the full punk package: aggressive, loud music with an aim to change the world.
American Spring is their latest record, and it is already gaining notability as one of their most successful ones. With them in the thick of the album’s debut tour, I was able to sit down with Pat to get his insight on what the band stands for from the drummer’s perspective.
To someone who hasn’t heard of Anti-Flag (which I highly doubt they wouldn’t have), how would you describe your sound personally?
We are an aggressive, punk band with leftist political leanings, whose songs are hopefully interesting to listen to.
Your songs often have a political influence or message in them. Would you say that is ultimately your goal, to inspire change with music?
Well, for me it is. For the other guys, they’re much more skilled at songwriting. For me, the message and the ideas behind the songs are very important. I do realize that nobody cares what we have to say unless it is put into a package that makes sense to people. But yeah, the message is what’s important to me, and without that it’s not as interesting for me to just be in a band. Like, I’m not the kind of guy whose like, “I just like shred, man. That’s what I do.”
For me, music is about an idea, and a message. It doesn’t have to a political message, but there should be some type
of thing you are trying to convey with the music.
Right, and that was kind of the idea with American Spring, and most of your albums in general. But, American Spring has been very successful so far, and was released this year. What would you say was your favourite part of this album?
As far as songs go, I like “The Debate Is Over (If You Want It).” In that song we are talking about climate change, and how there’s been all this debate for so long on whether climate change is real. And now, unless you’re a complete moron or you have a vested financial interest, you understand that climate change is real, and it’s happening, and we need to do something about it.
You had Tim Armstrong featured on that release; how was it having him as a guest on “Brandenburg Gate?”
We wrote that song, and thought it would be awesome to have him sing on it. We have done tours over the years with Rancid, done warped tours, and stuff like that, so we had connected with him. He’s in L.A. and we recorded in L.A., and asked him to come over and sing on the song. Yeah, it was a pretty awesome experience.
And the tour so far? Do you have any stand out moments?
Well, any tour that you play the new record on is pretty amazing. This tour we went out, started playing the songs, and didn’t know if anyone would care. But, it is always a humbling and incredible moment when you look out, and you’re playing a song that you wrote, and talking about something that is very important to you, and people connect with it. And are singing along back to you. That’s a pretty amazing moment.
I was actually able to catch two shows this year. Once on the 18th of February, in St. Catharines, and once on the 4th of June, in Toronto along with the HMV acoustic pre-show release. Both times the venues were pretty tight, space-wise. (The Bovine Sex Club was PACKED.)
Do you think the vibe of this upcoming show at the Hard Candy Festival is going to change since you’re playing to a festival crowd, and do you prefer to play for a more tightly packed room as opposed to a festival crowd?
I like playing either a small room, or a big room, depending on which I played the night before. If I played a big room, it is always fun to play a small room, because sometimes when we play big festivals you’re so far away from everybody that it is hard to connect. And sometimes you play the small rooms and you can’t breathe, then it’s nice to play outside and be able to breathe, and not be so hot you can’t stand yourself or anybody else.
But yeah, those first couple of shows, the St. Catharine’s show, was before the record came out, and that Bovine Sex Club show was a show we just wanted to put together as something really special for the people in Toronto. So, hopefully when we play this festival there will be more people there, and a slightly different experience.
But Anti-Flag started out in basements in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and playing small hall shows, and that’s what makes the most sense to us. We do play festivals, y’know, we played in Poland to three hundred thousand people one time in the last couple years, but what really makes sense to us is the small room. Where people are able to really understand what we are talking about, and connect with us about how important these issues are to us and how important our music is. To us. Y’know, to us. It may not be important to anyone else, but it is very important to us, and if you are in close proximity to us, then you can feel how important it is to us.
That’s definitely something you grab within the vibe in the crowd. Little things you guys do, like the
energy on stage, obviously you have fun on stage and make jokes between you guys, which always adds to the performance. Is that something that is translated into the songwriting as well?
As funny as we think we are, we realize when you talk about serious things it is hard to go back and forth between jokes and the serious issues we tackle. Or try to tackle. So, it is hard for us, for our humorous and lighthearted side to come out in the record sometimes. That’s the other thing that’s nice about those small shows, is that everyone is on the same page with us at those shows for the most part. So, we can be a little more willing to show our stupid side, instead of just our frustration and our, y’know, anger that comes out when we talk about the issues that are important to us.
But, yeah, we don’t do humour very well, except in very small settings.
Often you bring your drum kit out into the crowd, or part of it at least; I know you did that at the Toronto show as well as at Rockfest in 2014, is that something you intend to do again at this festival?
Well, if the show is going well, I do it. Because, it is my favourite part of the show, and because I am able to—especially in a festival where I am so far away—get down in the middle of everybody and really be a part of their experience. That’s important to me. So, if the show is going well, we will bring the drums out into the crowd. If the show is going shit, then I’ll stay up there, and stay away from everybody.
Are you excited to play with any of the guys from the lineup this Saturday? I know it is the premiere year [of the festival], but have you worked with any of them before? Like Punchline 13, Get The Shot, MUTE?
We have actually played with Punchline 13 before, and done some shows with them. I don’t know if we have played with any of the other bands, but I am looking forward to seeing them. I am always looking forward to seeing new bands, and bands I have never seen before. That’s the great thing about being a fan of live shows and being in a band, because you get to see amazing bands all the time.
I guess really the most important question everyone has is, are there any hints as to what we can expect in the future for you guys? Are there any albums you are working on past American Spring?
There’s always new stuff going on. There’s some live recordings coming up. There is some acoustic stuff that we got, that we are working on putting out in the next couple months. But for right now, we are really focused on touring for the new record. We are going to be in Australia, and Indonesia, and Southeast Asia, and in Europe again over the next couple of months.
So, we’re going to be touring, and then releasing some new music, hopefully in the spring, or late fall. Late fall, early spring.
The last question I have for you is that, I know you’ve done cover contests before; there was one with “Power to the Peaceful” for example. Are you guys planning on doing something like that again, to get the fans engaged? And is that something that you like to put together often?
That’s the interesting thing about the punk-rock community that we come from: there’s no—or, very little—separation between band and the kid who is at the show. And, doing those types of things, talking to people about what cover they would like to see for the record, or what music they would like to play, that whole thing is important to us. Because it gives them a chance to be a part of what we are doing. And also, makes them realize that, “Hey, if these fuck-ups from Pittsburg can do this, we can do it as well.”
So, we have done a lot of things where we encourage kids to play along with our songs, and to create artwork, and stuff like that for us, and with us. It just gives us a way of showing that you don’t have to have a band that travels around the world three hundred and sixty-five days a year to do these things. You can just be a kid, who wants to start a band, and create it as well. And once you start that process, it makes people think, “Oh, I can do this as well.”
That’s ultimately what we want. We want to have more voices talking about their issues. Because the more voices we have, the more we understand, and the more we can find out what the best answers to all these problems are.
That’s ultimately how you inspire people.
That’s how we were inspired to get involved, and hopefully other people can take advantage of that as well.
You can catch Anti-Flag’s next show in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec on September 5th, 2015, at the Hard Candy Festival, which should be a killer performance. As someone who has seen them play often, I assure you that they will blow you away live. Their website is regularly updated with tour information and news, so find the closest show to you, pack your bags, and drive out to see them. It is definitely worth it.
Written and Compiled by Danielle Kenedy
Photography by Megan Thompson
*edited by Kate Erickson