Punk rock is a genre that is as old as the hills, but still as dangerous as a car bomb. Meghan Player spoke to Anti Flag drummer, Pat Thetic about the relevancy of punk rock, the unity of latest album ‘The General Strike‘ and touring Australia.
The band started out in the late 80s/early 90s – while times have changed, the core of the band and its politically conscious punk sound have remained the same. Is that still an important part of the band and it’s sound, message, image…?
Message is the most important thing. It’s not necessarily ‘message’ as far as that we feel we have to say these things – it’s the idea that these are the most important things. And, for me, the most interesting. I enjoy talking to people about politics. I enjoy talking to people about freedom and what it means to them. I like to talk about how democracy works and how the change happens. Those are things that I talk about in my daily life. So, in the music and the things we create, they come out of a central place.
Especially when we travel around the world, everybody has a different perspective on how society should be organised and how they should be run. Those things are very interesting to me.
Keeping that in mind, do you think that your views of politics and your political stance has changed since the band started out?
For sure. I think that when we were younger, we were just angry at everything in the world – we saw injustice everywhere. Now we still see injustice everywhere, but we are more able to focus on the things that we think need to be changed. So, I can’t sincerely say we’ve gotten ‘smarter’ but I would say more ‘efficient’ in the statements we want to make and how we make them have the most impact.
Do you still think that punk rock has the same impact that it did 20-30 years ago?
I still see people who are committed to an idea everyday – you know, in music and art and just people generally walking around on the streets. I don’t really think that anything has changed. I think the fashion of how the music is played, has changed over the years, but I don’t think the passion and the anger and the frustration that people are expressing has changed.
When you think about punk rock – we all call ourselves “punk rockers” – the way we play the music, and how we do it has changed over the years, but the ideas and the sentiment, anger and frustration are the things that have remained consistent. Especially through all of us that call ourselves ‘punk rockers’.
Actually, just going into talking about your latest album, ‘The General Strike‘ – it seems like the band are going back to a simpler, straight-to-the-point, no bullshit punk sound with the album – was that intentional?
With that album, and what we wanted to create with it was – we wanted to get rid of some of the ‘fluff’. We wanted to get rid of some of the extraneous things, and just get right to the heart of it. If you look at the world in the last three years, there’s been revolution everywhere. That’s really interesting to me. We were travelling through Thailand, and they were having Occupy Movements there – like the ones in New York City.
You feel that need for change. And you feel that frustration and you feel that the people who have economic power have abused it – and their greed has become overwhelming for the rest of us. And that anger and frustration came out in the record we created.
You just mentioned about the Occupy Movements across the world, you’re also in an election year in the US – do you think these factors had any influence on the messages people took away from the album – or perhaps how they heard the album? It’s almost like a soundtrack for what is happening politically and economically at the moment…
Hmm.. well I don’t know if it really effected the way people heard the album, but I think that we were inspired by that. We were inspired by people who were willing to give up the comforts of their lives to make a stand for something better. That inspired us. We hoped that the passion that those people have would instil in us in that we were able to create the album. I don’t think our music had any impact in the larger sense, other than somebody who listens to our record may feel the passion that we were inspired by – and continue on with the struggle that needs to happen, not just in the US, but around the world.
There certainly feels like there is a sense of unity around the album – regardless of what situation you are in – in terms of politics, economy etc you can relate to it – was that something that you hoped people would take away from it?
Well, the intention of our records and what we create is an environment where borders and where you stand politically, socially, economically or sexually – is not the problem. All those things in our cosmology and our world are tools of powerful people trying to separate us.
The more we see those things, the more separate we become. So, at any time we are trying to create something, we are trying to create something that says ‘we are all bigger than these borders that they create for us’. If we see ourselves as bigger than that, and more unified – then there’s nothing that can stop us from having a much better lifestyle and a much better life than what we have now.
It certainly seemed as well that this album opened people’s eyes to a lot of issues and problems that they may not have been aware of beforehand..
Well, we are in a very lucky position because people come up to us and tell us about struggle and things that are going on all over the world. Right now there is a punk band called Pussy Riot who are from Russia, who are in jail because they are standing up against Putin – and they’ve been sentenced to 7 years in prison.
I didn’t know anything about that a couple of weeks ago, and somebody turned me onto that and with that – those ideas and issues and struggles become part of what we do.
We’re in a really lucky position, because we’re able to talk to really smart people everyday – and they inform us about what’s going on. So, if we can take some of that information and pass it onto others, than I think we’ve done our job.
It definitely seems that you are constantly inspired by people who stand up for what they believe in..
For sure. That’s what gets me up in the morning.
You’ll be bringing the new album to Australia with you very soon, are you looking forward to connecting with your fans here again?
For sure! The Australian people have a very unique take on the world. It’s always good to speak with Australian’s because they’re not – and I’m going to stereotype and generalise – but, you’re not nearly as knee-jerky and crazy as Americans are. Your culture has a very interesting perspective and a very level-headed perspective when it comes to a lot of the issues that are going on in the world. I’m looking forward to speaking to Australians to get out of the crazy, conservative news media that I get everyday. [laughs]
I think we’re just generally laid back about everything.
And that’s a good thing! Not every fire has to be put out that day. And as Americans we tend to freak out about everything, so a little bit of the ‘laid back-ness’ will be good for me.
In closing, you started Anti Flag in the late 80s/early 90s. You’ve obviously seen society, politics, the economy and generations change over the years. If the band were to call it quits tomorrow, what is the one message that you would like to be remembered by?
That’s a great question. And I hope that I have, I guess, a simple answer.
The name Anti Flag is a very simple thing – and I don’t think a lot of people get what we are trying to say with it. And I think when you’re not from the US, it has less of than impact.
But, when we came up with the name Anti Flag in the late 80s/early 90s, that was a major statement against nationalism and against borders. The US is very good at starting wars all over the world, and the way they get the population to back these wars, is they usually wrap themselves in the American Flag – figuratively or literally.
What that says is you cannot question anyone who is that closely associated with the flag. In the US it’s the flag, in the UK it’s the Queen – every culture has a quintessential thing that represents that culture – that means people fought and died for this thing, so the person who stands the closest to it must be right.
Our view of that is: that’s bullshit.
Anybody can wrap themselves in a flag and pretend to be right – but it doesn’t mean they’re right, and we shouldn’t follow blindly.
So, that notion of, just because you are closely associated to the flag or the Queen or whatever, doesn’t inherently mean that you’re right. By the inverse of that, that anybody who isn’t closely associated with that item, is not absolutely the enemy or wrong.
You’ll see throughout history of the way of creating enemies is by saying they are against these things. They are complete bullshit, but because the person in power has this flag, has this scepter , has whatever.. the population falls in line.
If we can bring that idea – a relatively simple idea – but to a lot of people, it’s not an idea that they think about literally. If we can get that questioning belief of a 15-year-old kid whose taking drugs and isn’t sure what they are going to do with their life, and they’re like ‘well, I could go and join the Army because the Army is there to make things better in the world..’ – and they can start questioning the belief of what the American Flag means, and what nationalism means, what Armies do..
To question that, and maybe not make that decision, that’s a pretty powerful thing.
Those are the types of things that Anti Flag is trying to get out there, and whether we succeed at that on a day-to-day basis, I don’t know, but that is the underlying theme of everything we do.
A huge thank you to Pat Thetic for taking the time to chat to us. A special thank you to Genna at Shock Records for organising the interview.
For more information about Anti Flag, including tour dates, check out: http://www.anti-flag.com/