American political punks Anti-Flag are celebrating the tenth anniversary of their album For Blood and Empire. What better way to celebrate than ending 2016 with an Australian tour to play the album in full. We caught up with bass player and vocalist Chris #2 (Chris Barker) ahead of their return to Australia as he talks everything from Ice hockey to MC Hammer.

SCENEzine
How’s 2016 been for you?

Chris #2
Well it’s been a crazy busy year for us. We put out American Spring in 2015 and we’ve been working really hard to share those songs with the world. As 2016 is coming to a close we’ve recognised that we’ve been sitting on some milestones with Die For The Government being twenty years and For Blood and Empire being ten years. So we’ve decided to take the end of our touring run and turn it into celebrating the fact that all these years later we are still here. Many of the people who have been a part of the community supporting music without empathy and supporting the punk rock community as a whole they are still there. It’s been a really cool thing to do and when we come to Australia in December we will be playing For Blood and Empire in it’s entirety that’s something we’ve never done before so we are really excited about it.

SCENEzine
Every time we turn on the TV in Australia at the moment all we see is Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. It’s hard to make sense of it all but I get the feeling with this election the American people aren’t that excited about either candidate winning?

Chris #2
Yeah I mean we should be really excited about the potential of our first ever female president of the United States and that being a testament to the fact that there has been some progress in a country that seems really backwards a lot of the time. That being said Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are millionaires slash billionaires and they have no concept of what the average person in America has to deal with. It’s completely oblivious to them and has been their entire lives. So to say that these are going to be people who will speak to what’s happening in poor communities, sick communities and communities that can not speak for themselves I think that that’s the understatement of a lifetime.

Obviously it’s very exciting to watch Donald Trump go up in flames. His true colours of being a sexist, ignorant piece of shit have come to light and that’s great but at what cost. Does that give us a definitive Hilary Clinton victory which is extrapolating on eight years of a Clinton dynasty that looked up more African American people than any other administration. It’s extrapolating on a Clinton dynasty that had wars of aggression on Grenada and furthered the disruption of the middle east by having the largest arms sale of their time. So I’m not very excited about either as a potential President but I’ve also known for a very long time our history isn’t dictated to us by these two individuals.

If it’s Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton that’s not going to be what the history book reads. What the history books will read is how the people band together to essentially take our lives back from media conglomerates, from war mongers, from people that dictate to us what our future should be. That’s the story I’m interested in being a part of. That’s why we write these songs and play these shows and do what we do.

SCENEzine
Being in a political band do you feel pressure in times like these more than ever to speak out?

Chris #2
It’s interesting I don’t necessarily feel like there’s a pressure as much as this is what inspires us. If anything there’s a focus that comes to times like this. I think that a lot of people write our story for us. If you go any of the places that people can anonymously comment on what Anti-Flag is doing on the internet you’ll find someone who says oh they were quite during the Obama years and here they are they are going to tell us what to do during Clinton and Trump. That’s certainly not the case we put out three records in the years of Obama and they were all directly aimed at his drone strike program, the way he treated the middle east, the fact that Obama was elected as the peoples candidate and he ended up being in the back pocket of Chicago banks and furthering the economic crisis in America.

So we had a lot to say it just might not of hit peoples radars much as when people are more into politics as a whole like they are now and when they were with such a polarising figure like George W Bush. We are always here, we are always raising our hands. There’s no pressure to do so that’s just what we do.

I think that in the beginning perhaps there was pressure where people would ask us questions and we felt like we needed to have an answer. Then we learned very quickly that it’s ok to say I don’t know educate me on that. There’s a lot of ins and outs of Australian politics that I don’t know and I can’t grasp because I’ll be honest with you they don’t talk about it at all here.

So while the presidential race in America is being beamed down your throat we don’t hear much about Australia other than when they talk about gun control issues. Australia is often used as a reference to how you handled a mass shooting in Australia thus leading to banning guns. I think it’s often looked at in a positive light and you could say that since that time you saw a problem and fixed the problem where as America seems to gash over the problem over and over again. I think that certainly there are learning curves to all things.

We are constantly learning and constantly being educated especially while we travel the globe and head to new places. That’s where our education seems to happen the fastest and to be the most impactful. That being said there’s no right or wrong to what we are doing. We have a pretty simple message as a band and the message is empathy. Give a shit about more that just yourself. To some people that seems like a radical thing but to us it’s not radical at all.

SCENEzine
When you were a kid did you always want to be in a political band that can use it’s lyrics as a powerful message rather than just a band that sings about relationships?

Chris #2
Well there’s a lot of ins and outs to that question. One being when I was a kid I was into MC Hammer (laughs) I thought it was great. Then you fast forward to the first time I heard NWA “fuck the police” and I was like ok music with a message is what I wanna listen to. Mostly because it says the F word but also because I gravitated towards the politics of it. Then I found Bad Religion and I was into what they were doing but the politics of the band were too complicated for me at such a young age. Then I found The Dead Kennedys they kind of simplified it in a way that was palpable. Then I found Green Day and that was the band that allowed me to believe that I could play music. They were obtainable, they didn’t look that different from me.

We were teenagers and we had pimples and so did they it seemed like ok you don’t have to be this cool rock star you can just be who you are. That was the moment where I realised that anyone can play. At that time Anti-Flag was playing in town and I went and I saw them and became friends with them, again further recognising that these folks are just like me. That’s kind of what we want to continue with what we are doing now. Really break down that barrier between guy in band or woman in band and audience member. There should be no separation.

That being said I’ve always from a young age gravitated towards music with a message or an agenda. I think that comes from our upbringing. We are from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania which is a blue collar working class steel town. We had aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and grandparents that came here and worked in the steel industry and we saw those jobs shipped overseas in order to maximise profits and make things slightly cheaper that really polarised us as young people.

SCENEzine
When you get to Australia you’ll be playing For Blood and Empire in full. Are you stoked with how that album turned out and has continued to remain relevant ten years on?

Chris #2
Well we’ve been listening to it and there are a few things we would change (laughs). Some of the songs are too long and I’m thinking to myself we are we doing this chorus four times. But that being said I do think the sonics of the record really hold up and unfortunately a lot of the politics from the record really hold up. I think that we were coming off of a real media hyped election season with the re-election of George W Bush and the subsequent 2008 market crash that happened. We were coming off of that and it feels eerily similar to that time right now.

Where there’s this upper echelon of people who are controlling the worlds wealth and we need to find some way to level the playing field. That’s where we were at when we wrote For Blood and Empire. I certainly feel like a lot of the songs translate to today for good or for bad. Some of it being upsetting that we are still singing songs about Monsanto the company that is merging with Bayer becoming the owner of one quarter of the worlds seeds. That just seems wrong to me that one company can own a quarter of the worlds seeds but still it’s a battle that we have to fight and sing a song about so that’s what we are going to do.

SCENEzine
One of our favourite songs from the album is “This Is the End (For You My Friend)”. How did you go about matching up the message you want to deliver with the music of the song?

Chris #2
We had no idea that song would connect with people the way it did. If you look at the record it’s like track seven we kind of hid it (laughs). We were worried because it wasn’t a stereotypically sounding Anti-Flag song. I really felt like discussing this idea of eradicating the things that are beamed at us on a daily basis to make us feel inadequate and to cover up for those inadequacies. Essentially that’s what drives our global economies right now. It’s that your told everyday either via television screens, magazines, newspapers or the internet that the things you have aren’t good enough and if you get these things you’ll be better.

Unfortunately we have very little that deals with mental health and very little that deals with a persons ability to be confident with who they are as an individual. Those are the structures that we want to be supporting not furthering this idea that buying a cool pair of pants is going to get you laid.

We have no business being a part of that. There’s enough songs and magazine advertisements saying that. “This is the end” that song as a whole is meant to be something different be the antitheses of that. I’m really happy that the song has lasted as long as it has. It’s one that we play at every show and one that has really connected with people around the world.

 

 

SCENEzine
When you look at a song like “1 Trillion Dollar$” that song is super catchy. People could look at it two ways just liking the music of the song or delve into the lyrics. Or you cool with the fact people can take two different things from a song like that?

Chris #2
Yeah I think so. I think that generally what happens is maybe they get into what we are doing because they think that the song is catchy or that it sounds really good. Then you fast forward to them coming to a show and they realise man this band is about something very different than just sounding like a pop band. We honestly had this idea with song writing that you can catch more flies with honey.

We see ourselves as operating under the guise of write the catchiest song we can write, have the most people hear it as possible and then hopefully through that there will be an education process. Where these people realise that there’s more to the world than just a couple of chords that sound great together. In that respect I think that “1 Trillion Dollar$” is a great example of that song being so poppy but also the agenda of it being so aggressive.

 

 

SCENEzine
One of our favourite Anti-flag memories is seeing you guys at Big Day Out teaming up with Tom Morello on stage to cover Midnight Oil. Do you have any memories of that?

Chris #2
Yeah I remember that we also did it with Billy Bragg and that’s the person who told us we can catch more flies with honey and write a better song (laughs). So I think it really comes full circle. That was such a surreal experience for us to be on Big Day Out with Rage Against The Machine, Billy Bragg, Bjork and Arcade Fire these are people that we have no business being in the same conversation with. Then all of a sudden we are up on Billy or Tom’s stage playing “Beds are burning” and looking over at each other going what the fuck is going on (laughs).
It was a really cool experience and one that we wont soon forget.

SCENEzine
Is there anything you’d like to do in Australia besides play shows?

Chris #2
Obviously I’m a vegan and the culture of food in Australia is amazing. There’s a slew of restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney that every time we are there I just end up being glutinous and essentially living at. But on this trip I’m talking with someone about getting some ice time in Sydney and playing ice hockey in Australia in the summer which is a thing that I never though I’d say I would do (laughs). I’m excited that this many years later after touring the world I can still find new things to do. I’m a big hockey fan and I play ice hockey I know that ice hockey as a game is catching on in Australia a little bit.

SCENEzine
Is the downside of being in a touring bend you don’t get to see much of your beloved Pittsburgh Penguins home games?

Chris #2
Yeah well when I am home I am there (laughs). I certainly don’t miss a game I’ll stay up to the early hours of the morning to watch them. It’s a thing that’s in my blood.

SCENEzine
Congrats also on your newest album American Spring. How was the experience of working with Tim Armstrong on “Brandenburg Gate”?

Chris #2
Yeah that was really cool. We saw Tim at a festival called Rock Fest in Quebec and essentially we just has a conversation with him about hey can we play you some demos there’s some songs that are obviously Rancid influenced that we are writing and it’d be really cool to get your blessing on them. I sent him “Brandenburg Gate” and he was like man I really love this song as I was like well why don’t you come and sing the second verse and be a part of the song. He came to the studio and it was amazing. It was really funny because speaking about sports.

We were in the studio with Tim Armstrong whose from The Bay area and the San Francisco Giants are in the world series while we are tracking his vocal and it’s not going very well. He’s singing ok and it sounds good but we were hoping it’d be more rowdy like it ending up being. Sure enough the second that The Giants won the world series he came in and did another take and that was the one that we ended up using on the record. So it’s really funny even for a bunch of punk rock kids something as stupid as a baseball game can influence us. It had a huge impact on that record it’s crazy.

 

 

SCENEzine
Lastly can you leave us a message for your Australian fans excited for the tour?

Chris #2
Honestly the thing about this tour and where we are at as a band right now is we want to be doing things that are interesting for us and interesting for the people who have been around us for as long as they have. So when we are coming to Australia and playing a record front to back it’s not a gimmick to us. It really is about saying hey your a part of the world that demands us treating you with respect by doing something that is different from last time we were here. Then you go through to the idea of this encore thing we are going to do which is essentially raise your hand and shout out a song if you want us to play it we are going to do our best to play it. I think that’s a really cool thing that we’ve never done before and I’m excited about doing it.

(Interview by Christian Ross)

 

Anti Flag

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.