Anti-Flag\’s Chris #2 talks \’American Spring\’

FRR: The new record American Spring is out now! Tell me what it means to Anti-Flag. Chris #2: I think that it’s a tremendously important record for us for a few reasons, the first being that it’s our first record after our 20th anniversary as a band and that kind of puts a lot of pressure on us when writing these songs to even take on the challenge of putting out a new record. I think when you’ve been a band this long we are in a fortunate position where we can tour much of the world and live well in our hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the cost of living is relatively cheap and we can go and tour Europe and tour many places around the States and just play songs off Die for the Government, The Terror State, or Blood and Empire pinnacle records in our bands career if you want to call it that, and we’d be okay. So to take on the task of putting out our tenth record in twenty years of being a band I think that we really wanted to make sure we were more focused than ever and that we were more diligent than ever in not just creating a record of songs that commented on the social and political landscape in 2015 but a collection of songs that when we look back on the commentary of this time we can say that we were on the right side of humanity and the right side of standing up to injustice. I truly believe that this is a record that’s going to last a lot longer than Anti-Flag does as a band and I think it’s because of that work and us paying attention to the fact that this will be an important one for us for years to come. FRR: You guys have always carried the flag in terms of political in your music. 10 records and 20 years into it as a band is it easier to write or harder as time goes? Chris #2: This record in particular was extremely difficult for me personally to write. I was in a new headspace when we were writing the songs and I think a lot of that comes through specifically in my songs on the record where you could tell I was viewing them through a new pair of glasses and viewing the issues of the day through new eyes. That all comes with self-identity, and kind of a recognition or crisis therein of self-identity where I was in a relationship for 17 years, the entire time I’ve been in this band, and then when we started writing these songs I was no longer in that relationship so I was coming from a more emotional place. I think we all got into punk rock and we all got in to the counter-culture and we all got into these ideas because we have an over-abundance of empathy in our lives and that’s why you find so many people involved in these scenes who are vegetarian or vegan, because they care about more than just themselves. They fight against racism, sexism, or homophobia, bigotry that might exist at your high school but when you go to a punk rock show or you go to your community space none of that stuff exists. So already being someone who is more open to that empathy I think more than ever I was not just trying to comment on it and trying to say “Hey, these things that are happening, the barrage of images that we see of Mike Brown’s death, and Eric Garner’s death, and Scott in North Carolina, these things aren’t just happening on a television screen, these are happening in real life. These are people that are losing their lives and these are families that are devastated and until we can have true empathy for those people and their situation we’re gonna continue to allow these mistakes and missteps to happen.” So I think that maybe it was more difficult to do that than ever because I was more emotional and distraught and upset by these things that were happening and I found the best way to deal with that was to write these songs and be in this band because it is a shot in the arm of optimism whenever we get to play these songs live and we get to go on tour and meet people who have dedicated their lives to more than just caring about having a really nice car or whatever shit they’re told to buy. FRR: Obviously you went through a hell of a time through the writing of this record. Do you think that made for a better product in the end? Chris #2: Yea. I think that each of us in the band has gone through our own personal anguish or missteps or misfortune while making Anti-Flag records. It’s a very difficult thing that we do to be in a band for this long, to play as many shows a year as we play and not just keep things together at home but keep things in your life in order and keep yourself feeling sane especially in a band that’s commenting on a lot of the woes of history. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all and to feel as if things aren’t getting much better and why don’t we just hang it up and allow someone else to take over and worry about ourselves for a bit and not worry about the collective so much. So I do think that we have enough of a history and enough reference points to see that these moments in our lives that seem to be all-encompassing and seem to be bigger than anything else we’ve dealt with, we do know that those tend to be really important ones when making art and when trying to capture a timeframe or capture a piece of history and comment on it, so I think that we were well-aware that this would lead to a very important record for us if we stuck it out and I think that’s why we worked as hard on the songs on American Spring. We wrote this record over a two and a half year period and really bet on ourselves. We wrote and recorded the entire record on our own dime, out of our own pocket. We did the artwork with a friend here in town and we had the entire thing done before we even played it for any record label. That was really important for us. We didn’t want anyone but our own noses in this record. We wanted it to be an Anti-Flag piece from start to finish. Not to say that when you’re on a [major label] that they’re overseeing or meddling with it, but you want camaraderie and people that are working on these things with you to be as invested emotionally as they are financially. Sometimes someone will say “Oh maybe just play this one time, or maybe it should sound like this or maybe you should write a song about this” and you entertain that because you want to be a kind person, not because they’re saying “if you don’t change this I won’t release your record” but because you want to make sure everybody feels good about it. So for us it was really important to make this record on this own without any outside influences because we knew it was going to be really important for our band’s history FRR: You guys worked with Kenny from AWOLnation on this record, he co-produced it, what was that like? Chris #2: Kenny is really great because he has such an important sense of modern sounds and such a good assessment of ways to make things feel cohesive and as a piece. He’s really good at pushing you into the sonics of the songs. We were trying to do dichotomies because a lot of the issues on the record are heavy and that doesn’t mean that the song needs to be as dark and as moody as some of the subjects we were covering so we were trying to be cognizant of balancing that and writing songs that were not all in minor keys or all with heavy breakdowns or all too punk and too fast or whatever. We needed to make sure there was a landscape of sounds and Kenny was really good at doing that. The other really important part about Kenny is he is an Anti-Flag fan. His favorite records are Terror State and Underground Network. He’s cognizant of our history as a band. In the past when we’ve worked with producers we’ve worked with people that never really listened to us or heard us and we were working with them because of other records they’ve worked on and they tend to care less about your history and making sure that you’re preserving some parts of what got you here and Kenny was really good about being like, “Yo, that stokes me out the way that this song did” and he would have real reference points too and that was cool for us because we wanted it to sound like an Anti-Flag record. We wanted it to be obviously new and modern and pushing ourselves to be a better band, but we also knew that there’s a reason people listen to Anti-Flag records and we wanted to stay true to that. FRR: It’s good he’s a fan and knows the band because a lot of times a producer wants to change it to what they know. With Kenny being in AWOLnation they’re two completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of sound, but it’s still an Anti-Flag record. Chris #2: Yea, but he’s so technologically savvy and that comes through on the AWOL stuff and he was able to introduce some of that to us and I think a good example of that was “Songs for your Enemy” and that’s a song that’s got some drum parts to it that Pat would never play but Kenny being like “No man, this will be a new spin on the sound of Anti-Flag” and really pushing us to try something different. That was a song that really worked out and really rounded out because of a lot of the influence of Kenny. FRR: You recently stopped in Indy on the 10th anniversary of The Terror State tour. How was the tour? Chris #2: Well the tour was really important especially looking forward to American Spring I think it was tremendously influential in the way we were writing and the work ethic of the band because it put us back in the frame of mind we were in in 2003 and I think that’s where we really decided upon and defined the sound of what Anti-Flag would become and so to get back in touch with that by playing the songs was really important to making this new record. It was also the first time that we worked with an outside entity in Tom Morello being the producer of Terror State. So Tom and Kenny, I think that their inputs were very similar in that they challenged some of the rhythms of the band, they challenged some of the musicianship of the band. They put a lot of faith in our ability to write political leaning songs, they knew that would come, but they wanted to make sure that those ideas were demonstrated in the best way possible. So I think Terror State is if not the most important, one of the most important moments in Anti-Flag’s life so to go back and see that those songs still carry weight and that people still connect with them was just a really fun thing to do FRR: It was cool to see some of those songs live that we hadn’t seen before. Chris #2: Yea some of them we’ve only played the 6-7 times we’ve played the record now. FRR: Was it hard to go back and relearn the tracks? Chris #2: Yea absolutely. It’s been years since we’ve dusted off some of those chords and like I said, there were some in particular that we absolutely never played live until we did the record start to finish, so there was a lot of learning that went on. FRR: Obviously next year we’ve got the big election coming up. With the political views of the band how do you feel about the possibility another Bush/Clinton election? Chris #2: I think they’re not even trying to hide the dynasty era of politics anymore. I’m hopeful that people will catch enough wind of it and say “This is fucked up, this is not democracy, this is Coke and Pepsi and we’re choosing between these two people who have been in charge of our lives for the last three decades and this is unacceptable. This is not democracy and we need to start anew.” I hope that will make way for third and fourth party candidates because that’s the only way we’re going to get true democracy. You have to be a millionaire to become an elected official in America and until that changes, until corporate money is taken from the political landscape in America we’re going to continue on the trajectory that we’re on which is sacrificing the poor, sacrificing those that have very little for the very few that have a lot. FRR: I feel like if it comes down to Bush/Clinton I feel like somebody that is not the president will be in charge of what’s going on. I feel like it may not be a great idea Chris #2: I feel it’s counter-intuitive to the ideals of a democracy. The reason that we have this structure of electing people every four years is so that we don’t get on this endless escalator of the same people and we’re not in a dynasty and we’re not in a monarchy. I think this is obviously a loophole in the system, I think families run the way they’re running. Would it be exciting to see the first woman elected president? Absolutely. It was exciting to see the first African American man elected president. I think those things should be applauded and we should be pushing ourselves to be more progressive. I wouldn’t mind seeing the first elected transgender president. If the ideas are correct, then lets go for it. But what frustrates me is that Hilary is obviously the leading candidate right now and I would be remiss if I didn’t say it felt wrong to keep this trajectory of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton and what happens after iHlary’s term? Are the Obama daughters old enough to run at that point? I don’t know.