First gaining traction during George Bush’s tenure at the White House, Pennsylvania’s Anti-Flag always made sure their voices were heard. Now with American Fall, the band’s 10th album, they find themselves back in a period where punk music has started to take serious significance to the kids living in modern America considering the political environment. Ahead of the bands show at Walter’s on Feb. 3, FPH spoke with bassist Chris #2 (Chris Barker) about finding rage, crossing boundaries, and allies of the band.
Free Press Houston: American Fall is the bands 10th studio album. Is it even a challenge to find the rage, considering today’s environment?
Chris #2: Obviously that’s directed at where we’re at politically and what Donald Trump and his administration have brought to the forefront as far as emboldening for lack of a better term. I mean, you see Charlottesville — white supremacists and nazis marching the streets — that’s an uncommon occurrence. When you’re a punk rock band that uses two-and-a-half-minute songs to express frustration towards bigotry, on the surface it would seem like it’s much easier to do that now, because it’s relevant and out in the open, but I found that it’s actually, as far as creating the art is concerned, it’s been a bit difficult because of distraction politics of the current administration. We’re not immune to it either. You can find yourself being relatively knee-jerk reactionary, and we keep having to remind ourselves of the decisions of the George Bush presidency, lessons from the eight years of Barack Obama: Presidents aren’t the disease, they’re symptoms of the disease, and we need to treat them as such. Our steadfast mantra is challenge racisms, nationalism, homophobia, transphobia — bigotry of all kinds. That doesn’t change based on who’s in the White House. Our frustration and the direction towards the frustration might change, but our overarching goal has been the same since the band began.
FPH: What about the four Obama-era albums you guys released? Was it ever a challenge to look through the mass popularity of his tenure and talk about the negatives?
Chris #2: Well, in a lot of ways no, because they were a lot of people doing tremendous work to challenge the ails of the Obama administration. A lot of movements that even grew during the Obama era, such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street — there were huge cultural movements that we were just hoping to lend our support for and stand in solidarity. So there was no shortage of fodder for writing those records. I think they were people more apathetic than ever, and people that were burnt out of fighting those eight years in Iraq and the George Bush era — “you’re with us or you’re against us.” It was a bit of the revelation that politics is fashion, and certainly now with Donald Trump, caring more about yourself is certainly in fashion.
FPH: The band started to pick up serious prominence during the Bush-era. Do you feel like bands from that period, for the most part, are coming back up during the Trump administration? Or do you sense that there is a changing of the guard to newer bands with younger people who are growing up through this time?
Chris #2: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of people that were introduced through bands like Anti-Flag, Rise Against, Against Me!, of course Green Day — American Idiot was so undeniably massive towards the end of the Bush Administration. Those things certainly have impacted a new generation of people that choose to use their vocation to spread empathy, and that, to me, is what punk rock is. The sonics of it are different, the gender roles are different; there a lot of people in the gay and lesbian communities that are at the forefront at very popular and powerful music right now. Again, we’ve always just seen ourselves as members of this community that stand in solidarity with marginalized communities, so I don’t necessarily know if it’s our place to say whether or not the guard is changing. We keep our head down and be supportive of new art; that’s why we have the record label, bring the bands on tour. It feels exciting that people are turned on to activism and interested in politics. The Bernie Sanders movement was like the Warped Tour in the 2000’s. There were t-shirts that said “I love you, Bernie” like he was a popstar. It was amazing to see ideas of socialism, universal healthcare penetrate the mainstream. One of Bernie’s mantras was the 99 percent to the one percent controlling all of the wealth, and that language came from the Occupy movement. In a lot of ways, these piggyback off of one another; there really is no start or end.
FPH: Being such a political band, did you ever have any serious drawback? As in, did you ever have any run-in with the law or were you conscious not to step past some sort of line, especially in terms of lyrics?
Chris #2: I think we’ve always tried to be true to ourselves, and sometimes that puts us in precarious situations. I’ve never done a “Freedom of Information Act” on the band, just because we’ll end up on a watchlist then, if we’re not already on one. Based on that, I do know that our mail for a long time was often tampered with or opened; that seemed really peculiar to us. You know, we were a band on September 11, 2001, and we were a band called Anti-Flag on Sept. 11; that was probably the most difficult period of six months being in a band. Things were being sent back to us, every record we had was removed from the shelves of stores, we were banned from the radio, even though they weren’t playing us. So there were a few things that happened, definitely, from that event. With the nationalism that rose out of that, being called Anti-Flag was not an easy thing to do.
FPH: Can you talk about the “allies” portion at the end of the band’s website?
Chris #2: Yeah, absolutely. Again, everything the band does, we try to sneak some sort of activism in there, for the folks doing the real work of implementing tangible change, whether it’s an organization that will go on tour with us or A Voice For the Innocent, who does daily work for victims of sexual violence. We have some friends in the organization called You Can Play, which deals with gay and lesbian athletes. That’s something that — Anti-Flag and sports, you don’t really think of the two going hand-in-hand, but if there’s something going on that’s about equality and spreading empathy, we want to be a part of it. A lot of people that play sports listen to fast, aggressive music like us to get themselves engaged. Some of those people are members of the LGBTQ community, so we want to be sure they have a place to. Those [organizations] that are involved are either ones we’ve taken on tour, as far as a table at shows or merch — we did a “How to Make A Vegan Meal” with PETA. It can be something as simple as that to as heavy to spending a 60-day tour together.