In our latest interview, we had the pleasure of calling Chris No. 2 of legendary punk-rock group Anti-Flag. Enjoy our exclusive interview below as we discuss their ninth studio album American Spring, the importance of vinyl, their political agenda, and the ultimate punk band.
AMBY: Congrats on the release of your new record American Spring! Being that your last album, The General Strike, dropped in 2012, how long did it actually take you to work on this new record?
ANTI‐FLAG: It will be three and a half years when this one comes out opposed to when General Strike came out, so we did about a year of touring before we started thinking about this record. There was a lot of upheaval inside of the band in that period, and me in particular in my personal life, so I feel as if we’ve been working on American Spring for over two years, and it will be well over two years by the time it comes out. It’s been a long arduous process to write these songs. A lot having to do with the personal side of my life, a lot having to do with the politics of these last couple of years, it seems like we’re ramping up towards some giant paradigm shift in this cultural clash that is happening between the have and have-nots and living in an era where the greatest eye between wealthy and poor, and I think it’s really culminating to a moment in our history that we’ll all look back on and say we were either on the right side or the wrong side. I think that is really important to us in finishing our songs and not just writing forever and it took a long time to get in the headspace to get it done and we’re very pleased with the record as it’s finished out.
ABMY: I love the way you’re actually releasing the album as the entire American Spring contains essays, and personal liner notes from the band. So just how important was it for you to practically deliver your record straight to your fans and kind of give them that inner look to your thoughts and process?
ANTI‐FLAG: I think that for us specifically as a band with a political agenda and this belief that all of us exist in this culture or punk rock or whatever the hell you want to call it because we have this one special part of us that believes in empathy. That’s why you see so much compassion and so much battling of cynicism, apathy, and injustice come from our community and when I saw ours I don’t mean the Anti Flag community but this counter culture of punk rock scene. When putting out a record and a collection of songs that are speaking directly to this community, and hopefully speaking with them, you want to make sure what you’re saying is clear and sometimes a two and a half minute punk rock song is not enough time to get to the whole heart of an agenda or issue, so I think it is very important t us. Especially in an era of time when people consume music in such a way where it’s free and digital and it exists for a minute then it’s deleted off your phone then it’s gone. I think that doing a record with is actually worth holding in your hands and worth reading along. That was a really important part of American Spring for us.
AMBY: I thought that the timing of it was perfect because there is a massive resurgence of people wanting to buy vinyl once again and hold that artwork in their hands. It’s great on your end to give the fans something they can actually hold and look at and really have a better grasp of what you guys were doing with the album.
ANTI‐FLAG: Yea, I feel like we’re all kind of coming to terms with the digital age and recognizing that a big piece of what got us into music and a big piece of why we fantasize and romanticize records is a hole that has been missing. There are a lot of bands that are putting out records now and there is a major resurgence in vinyl, but a lot of them are just putting out the record. They aren’t changing packaging from the CD or the digital version or whatever. So for us it was really important to make sure that each piece, like the digital version of the album exists as one piece, the LP version exists as another and the CD version exists as another. They all have their own unique packaging and they all have their own thumbprint and that’s really important because people experience it in different ways and I want to make sure they get the most fruitful experience they can based on what they choose.
ABMY: For sure. You had earlier mentioned the political agenda of the band and it’s clear that you’re respected pioneers just based on your early political views you’ve shared over the years with your fans. This has clearly crossed over onto this new record as Fabled World was inspired by the failure of the Obama era. If you weren’t in this band, do you feel you would be voicing your opinions in other forms, and if so, which?
ANTI‐FLAG: Yea, it’s funny because I started playing when I was seventeen years old and I had one other band that wanted to sound like Anti Flag [laughs]. So I don’t know, The Dead Kennedys and The Clash were legit and I think if you put those bands in a blender some band would become Anti-Flag. That’s what I’ve wanted to do and wanted to be a part of since I started caring about music. So it’s hard for me to think of what I would do. I would love to be an art teacher, I would love to be an ice hockey player, I’d love to be an astronaut too but I am what I am and I am very lucky and fortunate to be in a situation where I get to play in a band that travels around and meets people with empathy and compassion for more than just themselves on a daily basis. Not a lot of people are afforded that opportunity, especially people with a conscience and people who frankly hope for a better world. A lot of those people feel isolated and they feel like they are on an island, so we recognize the at the four members of this band are very very fortunate to be able to tour, to be able to be in rooms of ten people, a hundred people, a thousand people, or ten thousand people and have them say to us in not so many words, but their actions, that they give a shit about more than just themselves. That’s a really powerful moment to be in and it gives us a shot of optimism each time it happens.
AMBY: Nowadays the punk genre is expanding with sub-genres like post-punk, punk-rock, and of course punk-pop, but I am curious since you mentioned a few classic bands there; who would you define as the ultimate punk group for yourself and how did they influence you overtime?
ANTI‐FLAG: Well for me it’s The Dead Kennedys. The Dead Kennedys have had a lasting influence on me and it ties into other questions you have talked about and it ties into the artwork. If I wasn’t a kid and I didn’t get a Dead Kennedys record and pull out that inner sleeve, and they did a thing called Fuck Facts where they made this newspaper and it was like what the world would look like if the Dead Kennedys ruled it and that really to me, that struck such a chord. I want people to have that same experience that I had and I want people to think and read and recognize that when you’re in your room listening to a record, there’s a whole lot of other people in the world who feel the same way that you do, and you’re not alone. That influence was long lasting, besides the fact that I was really young when I heard them and they said the f-word a lot, that was awesome [laughs].
ABMY: [laughs] They had that cool factor for sure.
ANTI‐FLAG: It was like a gateway for actors on a gateway drug to counter culture, but once I walked through the door I realized that there’s an education process that needs to happen. We all don’t know everything, but if we live with compassion, if we live with empathy and this belief that we want to leave things better than we found them everyone is going to benefit from that, not just you.
AMBY: Many of our readers are in up-and-coming bands, so do you have any tips for them that you think you could share that you’ve learned over the years?
ANTI‐FLAG: Yea, I think that it is really interesting to be in a band in 2015 starting. I think that while the internet has leveled the playing field tremendously and you have now actually a global legion of people who enjoy punk-rock music or people who enjoy music with edge or an agenda or whatever. I think it’s also really numbed everyone, music, especially new music. So you find this kind of double edged sword of, we have this piece of technology it’s so powerful; how do we use it? How do we use it the right way? How do I not just put up a thing on Facebook and believe that is promoting a show? How do I just send out a tweet and hope that somebody somewhere sees it and books us s show at South Carolina or Ontario or Winnipeg or wherever? I think the thing about it is to keep the tools at an arm’s reach away and to recognize, yea they are very powerful and everybody needs them, because there are people searching for music on those platforms and you want to be there, you want to be able to be found by anyone who is searching for you.
But, this human element of it is what’s really reinvigorating punk-rock right now. You have people who are looking for more than just, “Hey wrote you on Facebook”, or “I sent you an email to book a show for my band”. I think it’s going back to the basement and fire hall and going back to being a scene about real relationships and real communities. Those are the places that I would start, the places that are less about opening for some band that are in a big rock club and hoping it is enough for you and dealing with a promoter who will make you sell tickets or some shit like that. I’d put all of that on the back burner and I’d try to communicate with people who are putting on real shows on a real level, and maybe they are house parties or basement shows, maybe they are fire halls, but there is no gain in that. You are not going to start and IRA or retirement plan with that [laughs]. That’s just playing music for the love of music, but punk-rock to be seems to be in the same place it was in like the early 90s or before it really exploded, even in the mid-2000s where you can play anywhere and people were looking for real and true honest relationships with the music. They weren’t just looking for something that was being sold to them.
My advice for any band starting right now would be to worry less about making a record, trying to open for bands, worry more about developing who you are and going out and meeting people and making friends because that’s why you should be playing music. You should be playing music that you long for something more. You long for a kinship or a community build, not that you hope to be able to sell records and make money because nobody is doing that.
AMBY: That is awesome advice. I mean, that is even something I have taken into consideration running a website and managing staff. You kind of have to form relationships instead of just being a boss.
ANTI‐FLAG: Yea, music as a whole is a dying business, so when people try to operate on the same old business model of things, that’s not real. If you have ten people who go to your site, but they really give a shit, that’s way better than a hundred people that just come and check it out every once and a while. I think that it’s the same way with a band. Some of the shows are smaller in 2015 because there are less people who give a shit about punk-rock music, but the people who are still there really fucking care, and that’s really important, and it shouldn’t be taken with a grain of salt.
AMBY: Absolutely. Well just to wrap things up, with all of the history the band has had together for quite some time, what would you say is the best part of being in Anti Flag and just sharing your music?
ANTI‐FLAG: I think that we’re at a pivotal point in the band’s life where this is our first record after 20 years of being in the band, this is the tenth album we’ve released. It seems as if there’s a lot of stakes and there’s a lot riding on it, which is why we took two and a half years to make it, which is why it’s on those personal records. Also, why I think it is our best record. I’m really looking forward less than I am looking backwards and maybe I’m looking backwards less than ever right now because we’ve had these great moment, we’ve had these really great shows where we’ve worked with people we’ve never thought we would and even in 2015, I still was able to call Tim Armstrong and have him sing on American Springs and call Tom Morello and have him play guitar on our new record and one of our new songs. I feel as if our reach now and our vision and our passion are greater than ever. So I really feel like we’ll be defined by this era, and this moment, and the next couple of years, and how we respond to things like what’s happening in Baltimore and how we’ve responded to the deaths of Freddie Grey, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott in South Carolina. These are tremendous opportunities to show that we are on the right side of the people and the right side of these moments in history and that’s the future legacy that I’m worried about. Not so much the legacy we’ve already laid.
AMBY: Thank you again for having a talk with us today. We really appreciate your time and we can’t wait to share this with our readers. Thank you!
ANTI‐FLAG: Yea, thank you!
Thank you Anti‐Flag, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout