Revisiting Past Work: Is Anti-Flag Still Legit?
This article first appeared in Colorado Music Buzz, June 2015. I met Pat Thetic from Anti-Flag backstage at the Marquis Theatre in Denver, excited to see how this band that had stood as a stalward rallycry for the anarchist punk rock scene was faring after two decades. Pat impressed me greatly. He was very open, humble, and seemingly as excited about their message now as back when I first saw them in 2000.
Is Anti-Flag Still Legit?
by Tim Wenger
The first time I saw Anti-Flag live, I hadn’t done much in life. I was 16, living at home, and truth be told, I was at the show to see Less Than Jake, but the giant, inverted and reversed American flag that Anti-Flag used as a backdrop for their set and the rally-like energy they brought to the stage has remained imprinted in my mind ever since. I felt like I had joined some radical political movement just watching them play their songs. I was literally swept away by the message, a fresh and willing new member of their punk rock army that was, at that impressionable age, just beginning to form my own opinions about how I wanted to live my life.
There were many things about that night that I’ve kept with me over the years. My friend Jon getting onstage and drinking off the makeshift bar LTJ had set up in the corner for themselves and then rambling on and on in a drunken tone in the passenger seat of my piece of shit car on the way home. Us both jumping over the barricade into the pit area from the GA seating of the Paramount Theater and ducking down behind some meatheads every time the bouncers walked through to check wristbands. Jon eventually getting busted and kicked out, then sneaking back in through the front door. The feeling of waking up the next day comfortable enough in my thoughts to confirm everything I had begun to think about what I had seen in my young life, from topics as big as religion all the way down to the cookie cutter house I grew up in. Really, this show was the defining moment of my teenage years and has since been made a personal legend as the best show I’ve ever seen.
Over the course of the next week, I took all of the extra money I made from working at the grocery store across the street from my high school and bought the albums of the three bands I hadn’t previously heard- Anti-Flag, of course, plus New Found Glory and Teen Idols- at Angelo’s CDs and Tapes. The previous few years had seen me begin the fall into my addiction to live music but that night was the injection that put me over the edge. Over the fifteen years and thousands of nights spent at shows since, I’ve yet to have a punk rock memory trump that night.
Here in 2015, an email came in to my inbox with the opportunity to speak with Anti-Flag drummer Pat Thetic in regards to the band’s new album coming out on Spinefarm, American Springs. My initial thought was that I don’t really care to talk about the new album. I’d rather pepper the guy with questions about what I’ve taken from their music to see if they are still walking the walk after all these years.
So, on a recent Thursday after a few beers with my Dad and an awkward time-killing stroll through Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood that ended up landing me half-cocked at a Cuban cigar bar drinking fine wine and smoking a Dominican, I sat down with Pat in a dressing room at the Marquis Theatre to see what I could get out of him.
Is the drummer of a band of notorious non-drinkers about to call me out on being sauced? I doubt it, this is a punk show. We’ve all got at least a bit of a libertarian mind set here. To each their own.
In many ways, most that I could tell, Anti-Flag has stuck to their roots. Playing a small all-ages club like the Marquis and taking the time to talk to fans before their set, and to prying journalists like myself before that, I got the vibe that they still care about the scene as a whole and the things they have been singing about for over twenty years. Pat elaborated on how their actions have evolved as they’ve gotten older. “One thing we’ve learned as we’ve gotten older are where the battles are that we can win and where the battles are that we can’t win,” he says. “When we were younger, we would fight any battle even though you couldn’t win it. Now, there are some battles that I know I can’t win that are still a part of my heart and I will still fight them personally, but I know I can’t change the US into a socialist economy in the next 25 years. It’s just not going to happen.”
I was curious as to their thoughts on the battles they are fighting for. In terms of one that society is dealing with currently, I asked for Pat’s thoughts on climate change and the music industry’s part in it. “We deal with this a little bit in the song “The Debate Is Over” on the new record,” Pat says. “Changing your light bulb, sure. That’s going to change the world a tiny little bit and I’m in favor of that, but it’s not the light bulbs that are the problem. It’s the economy and how people use greed and how the US rewards greed. Until there is a change on that, we’re not ever going to get a handle on climate change. Rewarding greed, and rewarding consumer culture where we create things just to be thrown away, no matter what light bulb you put in we’re still going to suffer.”
They still drive a gas powered van around the country just like you and me drive a car to work. “We haven’t found another way to get from Pittsburgh to Denver to play a rock show,” Pat laughs. Within their band and crew, they have worked to make sure everyone is happy and content with the way their affairs are run day-to-day, however, and as he said about choosing their battles, they believe in making differences where they can.
“I think in our little community that we’ve created, the four of us in the band and the guys that have been with us the last ten, fifteen years, we have a more socialist world within our world, and that is a way of us achieving these goals that we believe in. We can’t achieve them in the broader macro-world but we can achieve them in our micro-world and that’s important to us.”
Their world has seen them go from local punk rockers to a major label band with song placement in big video games, but through it all they seem to have not forgotten who they are and the scene that helped them get there. During the show following this interview, front man Justin Sane talked repeteadly about how proud the band was to be a part of the punk rock community and made every effort to make the crowd feel a part of their own. These guys don’t at all come across as big rock stars but as normal dudes in a band, a trait I have found quite a bit when dealing with punk bands over the years. “There was glamour for about a month when we did some stuff with Rage Against The Machine and got to hang out with those guys,” Pat says. “That was about it. We’ve been in vans, we’ve been in busses, we’ve been in RVs, we’ve been back in vans again so the life when we got in a van 22 years ago and said we’re gonna go on tour is the same life we have now.
“Where we’ve been lucky is, all four of us and the broader community around us, we’ve been consistent for the last ten to fifteen years. That consistency has been able to come out in the music and how we perform our business, how we manage our lives, and how we are as human beings.”
I can get down with that. As for the new record, which is out now and can be picked up here, the guys wanted to breath some fresh air. The previous couple Anti-Flag records were recorded completely DIY, a sharp 180 from their time spent on RCA from 2005-2009, and released on SideOneDummy. For this one, they kept it real but decided to branch out a bit. “The last two records we did, we recorded ourselves in our practice room, just the four of us,” Pat says. “We didn’t want anyone else’s input. The new record, we felt like we had gotten back to where we wanted to be and it was time to take a few risks.”
The guys reached out to Kenny Carkeet of AWOLNATION and connected with his producing partner Jim Coffman. “We said ‘Hey, we’ve got these great songs and we want you to listen to them,’” Pat says. “(Jim) had toured with us in one of his bands when we were on Warped Tour so he knew what we were about.” They recorded in LA and incorporated Coffman’s perspective into the final recordings for the album. “It was good,” says Pat. “We were looking for something to expand a little bit and they took us in some directions that we wouldn’t have gone.”