Anti-Flag – Across The Ocean


Anti-Flag are renowned for their political statements and hard hitting messages in their music and their tenth studio album American Spring is no different. Talking to Chris Barker (Chris No. 2) was a great experience listening to him fire up about the injustices of the American justice system and how through personal experience that affected him. Also, Anti-Flag are heading down under with Pennywise who are celebrating their anniversary of twenty years since the release of About Time and Chris elaborates on the tight bond between both bands.


Congratulations on American Spring, does it feel great knowing that it is out there now?

Yeah, it is one of those things that the process to the record was longer than any one we have ever done. It was a different scenario than every record except for the first Anti record where we didn’t have a record label, we didn’t have a plan or a tour booked, it was just us saying we will write the record and record it ourselves. Then once it is done we will play it for people and then find a partner to release the record, hopefully finding someone who is passionate about the songs as we are. Not to speak ill of other people or other record labels or any of that but when you’re working in a situation with your friends as we were, we had Fat Records as a label, you tend to heed their advice just because you want to be cool. You want to be good to your friends, make sure they are represented in their investment in making a record. For us, it was this way to free ourselves from all of that. We also had to deal with our own personal world while we were writing the songs and being able to make a political statement we wanted to make.

Was this album more of a cleansing process than any of your other albums considering what was going on in your personal worlds?

Absolutely, I have always been under this mantra that you don’t, Anti-Flag’s goal and responsibility is to be a political band and to comment on what is going on in the world and share either our anger or frustration or applaud or celebration of moments of progression or regression. With American Spring I was dealing with a lot of shit in my own life and we were coming off the twentieth anniversary of the band plus the soul searching of why are we doing this. We can go out and tour and play songs about death of the government and the terror state from our albums that were received really well, we could do that forever.

Unless you make a record that’s better than the previous one, unless you find a new way to engage people with your ideas and songs there is no reason to do it. I had a relationship end, there was a lot of soul searching and a quest for self identity at that point. I found that issues that were political in the world were hitting a different accord with me, they were far more personal and the songs reflect that. I think that with American Spring compared to other Anti albums was that we were commenting with far more empathy on this record than we had in the past. It was almost like commenting on something from afar.

Did you find that the raw emotions would emerge a lot more when writing this group of songs particularly?

Yeah, yeah, I feel like I’m on the other side of it now so a lot of it is reflecting back on that. So, absolutely, I remember sitting at home and we were in the midst of finishing the record when the Michael Brown murder case was going, it was something I identified with on a personal level because I have seen the failures of the American justice system. I had a sister who was a victim of a violent crime and lost because she was from a poor area and her boyfriend was black, there was drugs involved and it wasn’t a priority to those who were searching for justice through her death and her murder.

The first thing I thought of was the look on my mother’s face in the court room when there was a not guilty verdict and it was this feeling of disbelief for me because we have been singing these songs about there is no justice if you are poor and then it was right there. It was there in reality. When that happens in 2014 and you are writing a record in the studio while that it is going on it definitely strikes accord with you and you end up writing a song that is from a far more emotional place than it would have been in the past. It would have been that we saw the American justice system as being fucked here is our commentary on it. This is why I personally believe the American justice system is fucked, if that makes any sense.

Does this continue to frustrate you from where you see it at the moment or is there light at the end of the tunnel?

No, it seems like endless police murder, it is the largest divide between wealthy and poor. These things are not happening in a vacuum and are not separate from each other. It is not like idea one happened to people “A” and idea two happened to people “B”. I think all of these things are a direct result of an exploitative capitalist system that has the emphasis on power and protecting power therefore you’re going to have police that work in the interest of property and protection of those that have. Alternately you’re going to have poor people who want to eat or want to feel like they are human. In that there will be things that offend those that have more than they need. That is the system that is going to continue to cycle this way until something drastically changes.

Speaking to you from Australia, it was like the ban on guns one hundred or two hundred years ago in Australia and you look at the crime statistics before and after. It is pretty easy to see how impactful it is taking away gun s from people and making them far less accessible and how important that step is. So, because American politics is run by lobbyists and run by campaign finance dollars you see that has more sway than twelve school children in Sandy Hooks. That’s a really sad place to be in.

It is sad when you see another shooting in the US on the news, will it end?

I’m not sure if it will end and one of the things we’ve seen and heard about is, I almost hate to use what happened in Sandy Hook  and use those kids but if that didn’t swing the pendulum or creates a paradigm shift I don’t know what else could be done. It was sad that the female newscaster and camera man were murdered and have a story about those who love them. Again, it is almost like a drone strike, it’s a face on the screen to most people in the world and no direct connection to these people’s families and who they are.

That kind of ties back in, not to let go from that to a shitty punk record but ties back in with the ideas of American Spring. We’re not actively trying to be a catalyst for this change, we understand that we’re existing in this era of seemingly endless violence. The art work comments on that, the record comments on that, all of them are to exist as a document that when people look back on 2015 in however many years from now and they say this place was so fucked, what was going on, did anyone oppose this? Did anyone at least raise their hand and look for another way. There will be this document of songs that will be on the right side of history. That is why we make records and why we made this record.

Are enough people standing up and taking notice?

I think people as a whole if giving the option would be far more on the side of humanity and what is good but they are not given the option. Their fates are decided for them behind closed doors, a system of lobbyists, a system of you have to be a millionaire to become president. At this point you have to be a billionaire to be president! That is a really false representation of what democracy is and what democracy should be.

There are exciting things happening like this Donald Trump thing. That’s a tremendous distraction from any talk about how we can make things better, it is a polarising event to continue to sway the discretion away from do you think gay marriage should be legal, when the only reason why that went through was from the people. It wasn’t a politician and wasn’t about somebody making a grand decree and all of a sudden we were free. I think if you look back through history and all the powerful movements of progression comes from the ground up and haven’t come from a politician or prime minister or president, it has come from the people.

Ultimately that is where you have to hang your hat and that is why being in a band and touring the world, touring Australia and playing to a thousand people that believe in equality, ending racism, ending sexism, ending homophobia and that is a shot of optimism that you wouldn’t believe. I do think that we are on a path towards something different, I just know it may not happen in our life time because these things tend to take a very long time. Change in a progressive manner doesn’t happen overnight and a great example of that is this Black Lives Matter movement which is akin to the movement that Dr Martin Luther King was doing in the sixties. It is a battle that is still being fought, riot footage from Chicago in 1968 doesn’t look any different from the footage in Baltimore in 2015. The only thing that is different is that they are using military grade weapons on people whereas before they were beating them with batons.

Celebrating twenty years as a band is a significant achievement, is there a secret to keeping that passion and intensity so strong?

There is no secret and much like anything else there are times where we strongly disagree with each other and don’t like each other. Then there are times when we definitely need one and other, relying on each other more than we knew we could. The writing process of American Spring is one of those inferences where we had a conversation about whether we continue to be a band and the culmination of that was us saying yes but only if all four members are completely engaged and we get back to a place where we feel that we’re a best version of ourselves, the best version of Anti- Flag could be. That being said I think we’re a better band than ever right now because of that, having that conversation and not being afraid of one and other. I don’t think that there is a secret to it other than we’re from a town called Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which is a small town where we can get away from each other but also get away from the things that happen in band world whenever we come home. Then being able to at least live and survive, the cost of living is low, and we don’t live in New York or LA, it is not always about selling something or being somebody. We can be ourselves and that goes a long way in the sanity of people who do some really insane shit for a living.

Touring with Pennywise must be like touring with brothers?

Every time I think that we’re done with Pennywise because there is no more world then it is like Australia, we haven’t done that yet, ok let’s go. They are a great band, great friends and I know the shows will be great. It is a special tour for them playing the About Time record and it is cool that they asked us to be a part of it. I think for us it is really important because it will be the first time that we’re playing songs from American Spring down there. We think it is a record that is received well by our friends in Australia and we’ve been itching to get down there so it was great timing when they asked us.

No world left? They are planning on sending people to Mars!

Yeah, the first punk show on Mars, Pennywise and Anti-Flag! We’ll let someone else guinea pig t first and we’ll go second!

Rob Lyon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Lyon has been writing about all things music for well over ten years in Adelaide clocking up more live shows each year seeing the best going round.

Whether it is rummaging through vinyl at record stores such as Clarity and Title finding hidden gems to scouring the internet to find that album by the next big thing or chasing bands to get that elusive autograph and photo his passion is music all the way.
Rob Lyon

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