Anti-Flag have been one of the most outspoken bands in punk rock for over twenty years. Most recently throwing their support behind the Occupy movement in the US, Anti-Flag are about to release their ninth studio album "The General Strike", before hitting our shores for a headlining tour in May. KYS spoke to drummer and founding member Pat Thetic to talk politics, travelling the world and suspect vegan sushi.
Hey Pat, how are you today?
I’m doing well. Sorry it’s so early in the morning for you guys.
It’s 10am, not too early!
Earlier than you want to be thinking about punk rock though.
That’s okay. Just to kick it off man, what’s your favourite political punk anthem of all time?
My favourite political punk anthem would be… “White Riot” by The Clash.
The end of this month sees the release of your ninth studio album, “The General Strike”. Can you tell us a bit about how it was written and recorded?
Yeah. We have our own studio and this is the second record we’ve done in our studio. It’s funny because I was just talking to another gentleman, and I need to clarify when I say we have our own studio. We have a cinderblock room with carpet from dumpsters on it that we call a studio that has recording equipment in it. It’s not posh in any way. But it does give us the ability to write and record music in our own time and in our own way and not have to worry about anybody else getting involved in the process. That is very important to us and we’re very lucky to be in that situation, to be able to do it that way. This record was really inspiring to us in that fact that we were watching revolution happen all over the Middle East and even the Occupy Movement in New York. Those types of things were very inspiring to this record and I think that you can hear that stuff on the record in the lyrics and just on the vibe of the record.
There’s been speculation that the name was changed from “Magnum” in response to the Occupy Wallstreet movement. Is that true?
(Laughs) No! The story of the record being named “Magnum” was Justin trying to be funny because in the movie Zoolander they ask the character – I don’t even know what the character’s name is – but they say the next big thing is to be called Magnum. So Justin thought it would be funny to say that, not realising that people would think that that was really going to be the name of the album. The record was never meant to be called “Magnum”, he just thought he was being funny. Now the record is called “The General Strike”, and the reason it’s called that is because it’s a statement about the fact that political change in the US and anywhere only comes from withholding work or withholding purchasing. In the US we have gotten away from the idea of a general strike and if we could really utilise the tool of a general strike in the US, we could get any political change we wanted in the world but it takes a lot of time and energy to mobilise it and a lot of people have forgotten to use that tool as a non-violent way of achieving political change. So we wanted to bring that idea back into the dialogue and say “hey everybody, we forgot about this tool. Let’s use it.”
Of course Anti-Flag has always been at the forefront of various causes, most notably the Occupy movement of late. Would you say it’s important for prominent musicians to get involved with activism?
I don’t care what other people do. For me it’s important because it makes sense to me. It is what we in the band are passionate about, but if you’re not passionate about activism or politics I don’t think you should write songs about it (laughs). If it’s something that’s important to you I think you should. If you’re passionate about goldfish you should write songs about goldfish. I am passionate about goldfish however nobody wants to hear a song from me about goldfish, they care about the songs about activism. So yeah, I think it’s important to write songs and create things that you’re passionate about. Speaking of being passionate about goldfish, you personally are very involved with animal rights… Yes I’ve been vegan for about seven or eight years now and I believe that I don’t want to be killed and eaten so I would think that most other animals or beings don’t want to be killed and eaten either.
Fair enough. I’ll take it back to the album for a sec – how have you found initial responses to the new material from either fans or critics?
Everybody’s been really excited about this record. This is one of my favourite records that we’ve done in a long time. It’s hard, fast and aggressive which is how I’ve always believed music should be. So this record really speaks to me. Obviously I’ve loved all our records but this one is really one that I find that I keep putting on, keep listening to over and over again. That makes me feel sorta tacky to keep listening to your own record, it’s sorta a faux pas. But if you see me at a red light in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in my car, there’s a high chance that I’ll be listening to my own record because I’m really liking this record. Other people have said that it’s aggressive and one of our better records. I don’t really care what anybody else thinks, I enjoy it myself, but luckily other people seem to be liking it as well.
Along with the album, you’ve just announced an Australian headlining tour which from what I know you haven’t really done before. What are you expecting this time around?
It’s gonna be fun because like you said, we have done festival touring in Australia. We did a club tour… it’s been probably eight years ago now, it’s been a while. So we haven’t played a good, proper club tour in Australia for a long time. We’re really excited to be playing shows where we can actually talk to people and really interact with them on a personal level. Also to be in Australia with Strike Anywhere and The Flatliners is just going to be a great show.
Yeah for sure. The tour you’re about to kick off at home in support of the album is also with The Flatliners too. Are you really good friends with them or?
We’ve done a couple of shows with them before and we just really love the band and really like them as people. So we were like, it’s a good fit for the US tour and a great fit for the Australian tour.
As you say, you’re no strangers to our shores. Do you have any standout memories of Australia?
I do! I’ll tell you my biggest standout memory of Australia. Because we’re jetlagged when we get into Australia we get up really early in the morning. So I got up early in the morning and went out and found sushi at a corner stand or something. I got so sick that I threw up for the… I don’t even remember what city we were in but it was one of the festivals. I was puking for about three or four days and trying to play shows, trying not to throw up throughout the whole show. So that’s my last memories of Australia and festivals. But I do love Australia! (laughs) I don’t blame Australia for my bad choice in eating day old sushi, but I didn’t have such a good memory of the last time we were there. But this time is going to be much better!
It’s funny you should mention sushi because I remember Rick Jimenez from This Is Hell saying that that was a defining memory of Australia. Obviously not so negative though…
(Laughs) The sushi in Australia is very good! It’s just when you get up at seven in the morning and the shops open at nine or whatever and they have the sushi from the night before, you probably shouldn’t eat it. You should probably wait until they make new sushi. Just to be clear – there was no fish in the sushi. I don’t know what it was in there that had bacteria but it wasn’t fish cause it was avocado rolls or something. It made me really, really sick. It was very unpleasant. So that’s a nice thought. I did make it through the shows, I remember my drum tech was holding a bucket unless I was going to throw up on stage at a couple of the shows I played. But we made it through.
Just returning to the album, “The General Strike” will be your second album with Side One Dummy having returned to an independent label after a couple of records on a major. How has it been working with Side One?
Well they’ve been really great for us. We’ve been friends with Joe and Bill who are the owners of Side One for a long time. They know the kind of band we are and what is important to us so they’ve been able to help us to achieve our goals through making statements about the world and allowing us to do that without getting in the way. That’s what we look for in a record label, so yeah they’ve been great. However, we’ve never released more than two records on any particular record label so maybe we’ll have to go to another one after this, I don’t know! We’ll have to see (laughs). We can’t break the tradition and actually do three records at one place. There’s less record companies around these days than there were in the past. If we were going to do a third record with any company it would be Side One because they’re great.
I feel as though your message and political stance would be a bit more controversial in America than it might be down here. Do you ever get really fierce responses at home?
We have in the past. At this point in our career, one of the things that’s interesting is that when we were younger people didn’t understand what we were about. They would book us shows and we would play shows with like a white… not necessarily a white power band but bands that had sketchy politics. So there would be all sorts of problems, there’d be fights and all sorts of things. We’d show up to clubs and they wouldn’t let us play and things like that. But at this point people know who we are and what we’re going to talk about so they’re less surprised about us being as controversial as we are. I don’t think we’re controversial, I just think we make complete sense. But other people seem to think that we say things that are controversial. I do think that you are correct that people in Australia and people in other places around the world, the things that we talk about tend to be less offensive because people in the US are much more uptight maybe? That’s why we say the things that we do because we think it’s dumb that they are as uptight as they are and we think it’s dumb the policies that we have in the US. We think that we should talk about them and it makes people in the US very frustrated sometimes.
Because I’ve even read interviews where the interviewer will grill you about your politics and not understand why you do what you do…
Yeah, even people in the punk rock community can be sort of conservative which is unfortunate because in my vision of punk rock it should be a statement against power always and always looking for alternatives. But that’s not always the way people see punk rock.
Other than your upcoming Australia tour, what does the rest of the year hold for Anti-Flag?
We’re going to be in Europe right before Australia, then we go back to the States and do some touring in the States. We’re going to do Warped Tour in the States. Then we go back to Europe for a bit and then we’re going to do South America at the end of the year. So we’re going to be all over the globe, and actually right before last month we were in South East Asia and we played Thailand, Jakarta, Malaysia and Hong Kong which we’ve never been to before. So we’re going to be around the world this year which is going to be fun to interact with people and talk to people about what’s important to them in their cities and their communities.
Yeah we are, I agree. I’m very lucky to do what I do and be able to talk to the people I talk to.