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Anti-Flag: “Find A Fucking Non-Evil News Site And Inform Yourself”

Rob Sayce
Rob Sayce 25 September 2017 at 12.40

Anti-Flag’s Justin Sane talks Donald Trump, working with Benji Madden and his band’s new album ‘American Fall’.



WHAT WERE YOUR GOALS GOING INTO THIS RECORD? WITH DONALD TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE, IT’S A UNIQUE TIME IN U.S. HISTORY…
Says Justin Sane (vocals / guitar): “What was important for me, writing this record, was that we made sure people knew there was a solidarity out there.

“The beliefs that we’ve always held important as a band, people still share them. It felt like all of a sudden, ‘Okay, racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, Islamophobia… there are people in positions of pretty high power and influence saying that these things are fine now.’ For that reason, I felt like it was important to say to our community – and the greater public as a whole – that no, these things are not okay.

“There’s a really vital, important movement against these things. People who believe in justice and equality for all are still out there –not just for straight white American people, for everyone. What surprised me was that I’d never imagined we’d have to make that statement at this point in time. It’s very black and white.”


HOW DID THAT FILTER INTO THE LYRICS?
“With the song ‘Racists’ for example, we just named it what it is. ‘This is what we’re dealing with, this is what’s going on.’ That song identifies those people who don’t even realise they’re supporting a systemic racism, a culture of oppression.

“We wanted to point out the guy who says ‘Well you know, I ran into a black guy today and he was actually really nice’, you know? Those people who have a bigotry, but don’t even know it. Basically we’re saying ‘it’s not okay for you to be a bigot anymore. Either you do something about it, or you’re going to be ostracised.’”




IS IT A KIND OF CALL TO ACTION, TOO?
“I was just on tour in the States this summer, and numerous times meeting people, they’d come up and say ‘I was asleep, I was apathetic and didn’t care. I care now’.

“If there’s any silver lining to what we’re facing right now, there will be a backlash to this. The reason people like Trump and his supporters are striking out is because they’ve had a special privilege. These people feel like it’s starting to be eroded away – that’s why they hated Obama so much. It was like ‘Oh, but that’s a white guy’s job.’ That’s why Trump was so threatened by Obama, even know now he’s in the White House, he’s just continuing a lot of his policies!

“Luckily the younger generation aren’t okay with just one group of people having that privilege. Equality being spread about can only be a good thing – we feel secure enough in ourselves that we don’t need that special privilege.

“And when people say ‘Well, music doesn’t change the world’, I know it’s completely false. I’ve seen it happen. It’s not that a song literally changes things, but it’s a domino effect – it influences a person, and they go change things. That’s really special.”


HOW DID BENJI MADDEN END UP CO-PRODUCING THE RECORD?
“It was amazing. The funny thing is, Benji was basically producing the record before he was officially producing the record.

“When we were just starting out we spoke to him, and he was like ‘Hey guys, we have a studio in L.A., why don’t you just come up here and work on the record here? Get away from the distractions of your life and just hang out.’ We took him up on his offer, were working on the record, and he’d pop in to hear what we were doing. He’d be like, ‘That’s really cool, maybe you should take it in this direction. This is interesting, maybe try doing this with it’.

“He was giving us suggestions and working on the record with us before it’d occurred to anybody that he was actually the producer!”


SO HE WAS EASY TO WORK WITH, THEN?
“Benji has two incredibly strong attributes. He understands what people need to complete a project, and finds a way to provide it. He does this all the time – he’s just a really great guy who tries to help people out, a genuinely giving person.

“It’s really impressive, but he also has an amazing ability to see where an idea is headed and to amplify it, magnify it. At one point it occurred to everybody, ‘You’re doing it anyway, why don’t you be the producer?’ It just made sense.”


WHAT KIND OF EFFECT DID HIS INVOLVEMENT HAVE ON THE MUSIC?
“I definitely think he had some influence in that way, because there were times when he’d go ‘Oh man, this song reminds me of The Clash’, or something like that, and he’d fine tune something for us or dial us into something we might not have seen on our own. That helped make the record stronger.

“His fingerprints are really on it in that way. It’s certainly a lot poppier than anything we’ve done recently. Part of that was something we were already thinking about, and part something he added. We understood, ‘Hey, there are a lot of people we interact with who feel like shit is really heavy and the world is really threatening to them. If we’re going to address these issues, why not present it to people in a way that’s more palatable right now?’

“These are dark times for a lot of people. Even a song like ‘Racists’, it’s actually packaged in something pretty catchy. It’s the same thing with a good few songs on the record. I think in the end, that’s a positive.

“We’re in touch with a lot of people right now who feel threatened and insecure, people in the LGBT and African American communities. Our guitar player’s long time girlfriend is from a Muslim family. We’ve witnessed upfront how insecure people feel as a result of the Trump presidency and other things. To make the record sound too dark, it didn’t feel like that was going to work. Part of that was also ‘Man, we’ve got to play these songs every night. I want to leave the shows feeling good and hopeful.’”




YOU DELIBERATELY MADE A MORE ACCESSIBLE RECORD, THEN?
“A great man by the name of Billy Bragg once told us that you catch more bees with honey. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. You can’t always control what you end up writing, how a record is going to sound, but I do think you can be cognisant of how you present something, and steer it in a certain direction.

“It wasn’t 100 percent like, ‘Let’s make some lighter songs’, but there was a little bit in the back of our heads. Of course there are some heavier punk songs on there, but I like to write the music I love to listen to. My favourite bands are Social Distortion, Bad Religion, The Clash, so when I write a song I enjoy when a song sounds like one of them.

“A lot of the time I write something and think ‘Ah yeah, I’d want to listen to that!’ If I have my media player on shuffle and we come on, it fits right in.”


YOU WERE VERY VOCAL IN ATTACKING GEORGE W. BUSH’S ADMINISTRATION BACK IN THE ’00S… DO YOU FEEL LIKE PRESIDENT TRUMP REQUIRES A DIFFERENT RESPONSE?
“I learned long ago not to hinge my hopes on a president. Under Bush and Obama we had record incarceration and deportation in the United States, we had a record military spending, we have our longest war, which continues to this day in Afghanistan.

“The actions of presidents are shaped by public opinion, though Trump is slightly outside of that trend. He’s catering to an extreme base that he’s hoping will keep him in power. The way my view has changed about politics is that we’ve learned a lot of lessons, in the time between Bush and Trump. When Trump is gone, and he will be someday, hopefully we’ll be able to build a more progressive coalition and roll back some of the damage he’s done.

“But, what’s really going to be important is to ask people to stay engaged, to not become apathetic. I think people became burnt out after Bush – ‘Obama seems like a cool dude, so we’re going to check out.’ We found out that things weren’t cool. I just want people to be engaged just enough so that people like Donald Trump don’t get elected, and we’re not dropping bombs on people all over the world. It doesn’t take a lot.

“There’s a perception that there’s so much to deal with, it’s not even worth trying. Well, find a fucking non-evil news site and inform yourself. At least when it’s time to vote, go and vote. It won’t fix everything, but go do it. Give a shit.”


DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR MUSIC IS MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER, GIVEN ALL THAT?
“We’re definitely in a unique position, and I’m proud of that. When we do a tour, we usually try to partner with an organisation that’s fighting for something we care about, whether it’s Amnesty International or Sea Shepherd. Meeting these incredible people at shows, it makes you think ‘Oh, there is some hope, and the choices we make do matter.’

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve persevered so long. I understand how people have a lot of despair right now, there are a lot of problems and ugliness that it’s important for us to confront, but there’s a tonne of stuff we can build upon too. I really believe that we’re going to.”


‘American Fall’ is out on November 03 via Spinefarm Records.

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