Anti-Flag Stays Political All These Years

Anti-Flag's last record is perfect for these turbulent times.
Anti-Flag's last record is perfect for these turbulent times. Photo by Jake Stark

The members of Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag have always been unapologetic about being a political punk band. "I'm entertained when people say we're cashing in on being political, but if I were cashing in I'd write pop songs," says founding member and lead singer Justin Sane.

The band, going strong since the '90s has always been a punch to the face of the establishment, and a beacon for unity. "We were in high school in 1988, and we played our first show with the original lineup, but we didn't play again until 1993. I aspired to be a punk rocker. I grew up in an Irish family, my parents were very anti-war, they believed very much in the writer Oliver Goldsmith about being citizens of the world. I never saw myself doing anything else, and I always wonder what else I'd be doing if I wasn't in this band."

The band's name hasn't made their rise any easier either. Some people don't seem to get what these guys are all about, and what the name really means. "The name has always been a struggle, radio companies saying, 'Yeah the song did great but we got a lot of negative feedback over their name,' it's been difficult over the years. What is patriotic, what is nationalism, people who talk about American ideals but push back against a political argument, they're closer to nationalists than patriots. In these days of Trump, it's challenged more with the clamp down of free speech and freedom of the press. We're anti-war and we're better off living in a world with unity and peace," Sane says.

The band comes from a scene, where most of the bands are politically charged, from the ashes of the American steel mill closures. "Pittsburgh shaped our band. It's a city where Carnegie built his first steel mill at, and the whole city is steeped in blue collar workers who worked in the steel industry. In the mid-'80s, everyone you knew had family that worked in the steel industry. When I was in high school, the steel mills started closing and Pittsburgh went into a depression. As a result of that, the punk scene was political in the labor union tradition.

"When we'd get out of town, we'd play with bands like Screeching Weasel, NoFX, and Green Day and they weren't political at all and it shocked us. We then realized you could be in a punk band and not be political, cause that's all we knew. It's something that's unique to a couple of scenes."

Last year's American Fall used the oval office as the backdrop, and a skull made from currency. It felt like the band was speaking volumes as to how they see this current administration. "The narrative to the album and the cover, is do we want to live in a society where consumerism and greed control everything under a president who attacks everyone. Is that where we want our moral center to be?  Trump talking about wealth like it's a value is something I found to be appalling. Looking at the groups Trump has attacked we want to be in solidarity with.

"As a band, our guitarist's wife is Muslim, we all have friends who are Hispanic. There are members of our families who are LGBTQ, and to hear that they don't feel safe in the world, I'd never heard that before in my life. For them to experience that and actually feel it, we took that very personal. I think the cover is just as important as the music, and it's questioning our country's character. The chair is empty because Trump isn't being a president. It all comes down to money and how it benefits him and his family. It symbolizes the corruption of the office."

The live shows from Anti-Flag are something else. The band has always performed in a fervor,. "We'll play a couple off of the new record, performing first of three is hard, though the Rise Against guys have been cool in getting doors opened early so everyone can catch us. We're also on a shrunken stage, so with a 40-minute set of the hits with a couple of new songs. Our goal is always so everyone has a chance to have a good time while making a friend. We want people to leave with the optimism that the world is a better place because they came to the show. We have the political message, but in the end we want people to think about giving a fuck and caring about others."

You can stream all of the Anti-Flag albums including American Fall on all streaming platforms, or order the album from most digital storefronts, from Spinefarm Records, and directly from Anti-Flag. You can become unified with those around you by catching Anti-Flag in person when they perform at Revention Music Center on Wednesday September 12. The all ages show will also include performances from AFI and Rise Against. Doors at 6 p.m.; tickets $52 to $88.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.