Anti-Flag's 'The General Strike' delivers revolution
This week, Bruce Springsteen releases a new album that addresses the country's hard economic times in a heartfelt, hopeful, nuanced manner, employing everything from swelling gospel to Celtic folk-rock.
For the louder, faster, angrier version, you can rely on Anti-Flag, which follows two weeks later with "The General Strike," its ninth album and second for SideOneDummy.
Like with 2009's "The People or the Gun," the Pittsburgh band reverts to its early thrashy punk sound to call for revolution on songs such as "The Ranks of the Masses Rising" and "Controlled Opposition." Anti-Flag doesn't issue punk policy statements or pinpoint issues, as it's done in the past. This album is more about tapping into the energy of the Occupy movements, which the band visited last year while on the road. "This is class war/what are you waiting for!" the band hollers on "Nothing Recedes Like Progress."
"I think that there's a level of desperation on the record that I personally feel," says singer Justin Sane. "This is a time for people to get energized and make a change. Right now, you have so many people not only feeling we need a change in the country, especially when it comes to things like economic justice, but there's actually people on the streets in a way we haven't seen in this country when it comes to social issues. We saw it with the anti-war marches, but we definitely haven't seen it with these basic issues of social justice and income equality. I think the Occupy thing is so exciting in calling attention to an issue that most Americans weren't aware of -- most weren't aware that the top 1 percent owned so much of this country's wealth. So, the record does focus on that concept."
There was a longer gap between albums this time, as the members of Anti-Flag pursued other projects. Guitarist Chris #2 and bassist Chris Head spun off with the band White Wives, and Sane did some solo work. They also did a lot of touring and decided to put the brakes on the constant cycle by recording at their Shaler headquarters when the feeling moved them.
"Before this record we had done three records in four years," Sane says. "We were almost on a boot camp-style schedule. We would have a year planned out. Since we didn't have a time line when it had to be done, we were able to say, 'Wow, this is inspiring,' and we were able to write a bunch of songs that were topical to the Occupy movement."
On albums like "The Terror State" (2002) and "The Bright Lights of America" (2006), Anti-Flag had a clear target in the Bush administration. A lot of people expected the band would tone it down with a more liberal president in the White House, but that hasn't happened.
"When Bush was president," Sane says, "we had the Iraq War, and it was almost like we had one person we could look to and say, 'Here's the source of all the problems.' A lot of people looked to Obama as the person who was going to turn around a system that was out of balance. Then Obama came in, and people realized that just voting isn't enough to change things. It's a question of giving everyone an equal opportunity to participate in society and do well, not just in the U.S., but around the world. In that respect, this record is more broad with the idea that we are springing forward."
The hard part, Sane admits, is getting people to listen. Anti-Flag has a hard-core fanbase around the world, but punk certainly isn't on the mainstream radar like it was in its best decades -- the '70s and the '90s.
"We've gotten more mainstream coverage and interest on this record than we've had in a long time. But I think punk is off the radar right now and there aren't a lot of bands out there that sound like Anti-Flag. Not a lot of bands that do what Anti-Flag does as a full package, from the music we play to the kind of partnerships we engage in -- organizations like African Well Fund, Amnesty International, Iraq Veterans Against the War, etc."
In recent years, Anti-Flag has taken its message of punk and justice to such countries as Russia, Germany and Finland. In January, it broke into Southeast Asia for the first time, performing in Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia. How in the world do people there know about Anti-Flag?
"That's a great question. I don't know," Sane says laughing. "When we got to Southeast Asia and I'm walking down the street in Bangkok and a group of kids come running up to me, 'You're from Anti-Flag!' I have no idea how they found us. I kept meaning to ask people, but I forgot [laughs]. The culture couldn't be more night and day from Pittsburgh. It was so exciting to know that the records we recorded and music we've put out have helped us connect with people halfway around the world, and those people relate to things we're singing about."
This month, Anti-Flag strikes in the United States before heading back to Europe in April and Australia in May. The band will spend a month on the Warped Tour this summer. On Sunday, it plays a home show at Altar Bar in the city the band still calls home and loves coming back to between tours.
"We were talking about how punk is so dead in the mainstream, but it's totally alive and well," Sane says. "And Pittsburgh, for whatever reason, even when Anti-Flag started, had this cool little underground punk scene that was really tight and other punk scenes around the country knew about. I think there's a lot of passionate people here who really love music and care about other people. And that's really unique, the spirit of that being so strong in Pittsburgh. It does my heart good to be from a city that hasScott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg; blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise.
First Published 2012-03-07 23:34:09