Great rock n’ roll doesn’t have to be mindless and socially conscious tunes don’t have to be dull. When art and entertainment devolve into mere commercial escapism, the status quo of an oppressive system and the empty banality of mediocre music will prevail.
ANTI-FLAG burst through the concrete wall of apathy like a proverbial desert flower. American Spring is an empowering, energetic antidote to the crippling cynicism that infects even the most dedicated of rabble-rousers. Co-produced by AWOLNATION’s Kenny Carkeet, Jim Kaufman and the band, Anti-Flag’s tenth studio album is both a shot across the bow of the political discourse and creatively challenging.
American Springis a stylistic leap forward that captures the essence of their dense catalog while conjuring a fresh new sound. Anti-Flag’s commitment to high caliber neo-punk music remains as strong as their devotion to raising awareness. “I hope this record can be an encouragement to people to never give up,” declares Justin Sane, guitarist/vocalist and cofounder of Anti-Flag. “I know that music changed my life.”
American Springis the next natural step in a career that produced activist-punk classics like For Blood and Empire (2006), The Terror State (2003), and Underground Network (2001), and inspired international audiences to learn more about the Occupy movement, the anti-war movement, and the idea that “socialism” isn’t a dirty word.
Drawing inspiration equally from political thinkers like Howard Zinn and Cornel West as from The Clash and The Dead Kennedys, Anti-Flag got going in earnest in 1993, a year before massive records by Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid pushed punk back into the spotlight. Anti-Flag hail from Pittsburgh, site of the Homestead Steel Strike in 1892 (one of the most serious labor disputes in history), Hill District riots in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, in a state that helped birth abolitionism.
Anti-Flag attacks the issues head on. Anti-poverty and social justice coalition Oxfam projects the world’s wealthiest 1% will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016, a fact tackled in “The Great Divide.” “There’s a class war going on. The rich are waging it on the poor and they’re winning in a staggering wave of crushing defeats, over and over again,” says Sane. “Most wealth is concentrated in about 200 corporations, which are owned and run by a really small group of people. We’re living in occupied territory. When the Germans in World War II occupied the French they had a resistance. It’s up to all of us living in corporate occupied territory to be the resistance.”
As detailed by the essays in the American Spring liner notes, Anti-Flag’s lyrics are as socio-politically minded as ever, but through the lens of deeply personal experience. Drummer/cofounder Pat Thetic’s uniquely identifiable rhythms and the dual vocals of Sane and bassist/vocalist Chris #2 ensure each song retains the sound Anti-Flag has established, even as Sane and longtime guitarist Chris Head unleash their heaviest riffs.
“Sky is Falling” is one of the darkest Anti-Flag songs ever recorded, capturing the oppressive feeling of its subject matter, drone strikes. “All of the Poison, All of the Pain” lashes out against nihilism, offering empathy to artists who’ve lost themselves to hopelessness across the generations, but urgently insisting to keep up the fight. “The Debate is Over” owes a debt to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. There’s no more arguing to do about climate change. It’s real. It’s here.
Chris #2 ended a relationship that consumed a huge portion of his life during the writing for American Spring. When he watched the events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold on television, he immediately felt the same rage he had hearing a not guilty verdict after a year and a half of court hearings surrounding the murder of his own sister. On American Spring, he’s connected his personal life to the bigger political picture like never before.
“I felt torn up, vulnerable, and unsure of my identity. I’d never had that experience before. So whenever I started looking at the politics of the world, I couldn’t help but connect each thing that was happening to something that had happened in my life.”
Punk icon Tim Armstrong (Operation Ivy, Rancid, The Transplants) guests on “Brandenburg Gate,” a song Chris #2 envisioned as akin to Billy Bragg’s “Socialism of the Heart” meets The Clash. “I’ve wanted to write a song with that sort of groove ever since I’ve known I can write songs.”
“Without End” confronts the false doctrine of perpetual war, dismantling the idea that a military “victory” can be had over concepts like “terror,” topped off with a blistering solo from Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine.
The entire band shares a strong point of view when it comes to compromise, to surrender, to giving up on the promise of a better world. Chris #2 flies the flag for optimism in the face of cynicism in songs like “To Hell with Boredom” and “Believer,” which declares: “Don’t give up / don’t give in / there’s no peace in the end / the war worth raging is right here.” Sane rails against apathy on “Low Expectations.”
“We’re coming up on a Presidential election where the choice could be between Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush. So I get why people feel frustrated,” says Sane, pointing specifically at the “corporatocracy” described by former CIA operative John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hitman. “We can count on whomever gets elected to placate the banks, Wall Street, oil interests, and the military industrial complex.”
Unthinkable income inequality, militarized police, neo-colonialism, corporate oligarchy, apocalyptic environmental destruction, loss of privacy and individual liberty, crackdowns on whistleblowers, perpetual wars on the tightening grip of mainstream media, the prison industrial complex, fascism and extremism of all stripes– there’s plenty to feel defeated about today. But as “Believer” proclaims, that means justice is up to “Just Us.”
“Change happens one person at a time. It takes time. But it’s important for those ideas to be out there,” Sane insists. “It’s impossible to connect with every single person. When you’re putting an idea out there, you’re just hoping it will resonate with enough people that it has some kind of ability to affect their lives. But change does happen in incremental steps. The first part of being involved is being aware. Then beyond that, there are steps we can all take to become a more active part of progressive resistance.”
Yes, thankfully there remain those whose resilience is assured, who fight harder against adversity and difficult odds. They are the proud torchbearers for progressive collectivism, radical change, and a free expression with heavy social responsibility. They are the artists with the talent to create works worthy of their message. Bessie Smith, Woody Guthrie, MC5, Bad Religion, Boogie Down Productions, The Clash – and after more than two decades, Anti-Flag carries the tradition forward, injecting the underground and the mainstream with politically charged, deliberate, smart-but-no-less-visceral neo-punk.
Music bestows a voice upon the voiceless. It provides a mouthpiece for the unheard to be heard. It amplifies the cries of the downtrodden in the face of oppression and tyranny. It’s the last line of dissent….
“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” – Howard Zinn
Since unleashing their seminal 1996 debut Die for the Government, Anti-Flag has empowered and emboldened the listeners of two generations beset with a new millennium stricken by war, racial upheaval, and financial collapse. The Pittsburgh, PA quartet—Justin Sane [vocals], Chris#2 [bass, vocals], Chris Head [guitar, vocals], and Pat Thetic [drums]—has consistently embodied a timeless punk spirit over the course of nine influential offerings, including The Terror State, For Blood and Empire, and most recently, 2015’s American Spring. The latter boasted appearances from icons such as Tom Morello and Tim Armstrong and yielded the anthem “Brandenburg Gate,” which cracked 1.3 million Spotify streams and counting.
They’ve incinerated stages on tour alongside Rage Against The Machine, Sick of It All, Billy Talent, The Offspring, Rancid, and more in addition to festivals ranging from Coachella to the Vans Warped Tour. A cultural institution, they have spoken out on behalf of movements such as Occupy Together, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, and Amnesty International between launching their own label A-F and ANTIFest.
As the world changed again with the controversial 2016 presidential election, the time felt ripe for Anti-Flag’s tenth and most definitive offering yet, American Fall [Spinefarm Records].
“There’s a focus on politics right now for obvious reasons,” says Chris#2. “When that happens, our band gets more attention. Being our tenth record, we wanted to make sure that we were true to ourselves. It had to sound like Anti-Flag. At the same time, London Calling is my favorite by The Clash because they took risks. Since they were in front of more eyes than ever, they didn’t play it safe. We wanted to push the envelope so we had a reason to put out another record when everyone was watching.”
Writing back home in Pittsburgh, the signature sound naturally evolved with slower grooves, tighter songcraft, thicker guitars, and bigger melodies. It provided the perfect musical counterpoint to the incendiary and inflammatory subject matter.
“Because we’re living in very divisive and dark times, we wanted to deliver our message in a way that wasn’t overbearing and oppressive to listeners,” adds Justin. “Getting a little more melodic makes the pill easier to digest. It became more impactful and simple.”
“Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” – Woody Guthrie
Kicking off 2017, the boys traded snowy Pittsburgh in January for sunny Southern California where they would co-produce American Fall with Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden. His personal perspective proved indispensable in the studio.
“He understands that we know how to do this, but he also added a fresh take,” Chris#2 goes on. “It was cool to have him around on these songs, because many of them are structurally and sonically pretty catchy punk rock. We embraced the idea of writing singalongs and big hooks. We were all on a similar page going into this.”
“He had a great sense for feeling where something was heading and pushing it in that direction,” adds Justin. “That was a really impressive skill that he brought to the process.”
Introducing American Fall, opener and first single “American Attraction” hinges on a hulking drum beat and hummable guitars before snapping into an explosive chant. It’s quintessential Anti-Flag as far as the subject matter goes...
“We were definitely interested in talking about the politics of distraction on that one,” Justin exclaims. “The politics of distraction lead people to make choices that aren’t in their best interest. They follow leaders who are just using them and don’t care to actually do something positive for the country. When you live in a society that glorifies guns, drugs, and war, you become susceptible to those politics—while the individuals in charge are only worried about re-election. They don’t care about you.”
“Sooner or later, the people of this country are going to find out the government doesn’t give a fuck about them. Government doesn’t care about you. All they are interested in, is keeping and expanding their own power.” – George Carlin
Elsewhere on the record, “The Criminals” gallops ahead at full speed driven by a performance soaked in blood, sweat, and tears and pure punk fury. The acoustic guitar and chant of “When The Wall Falls” gives way to a buoyant groove, and “Casualty” caps everything off with a fitting middle finger, proclaiming “Try to shut us down, but we won’t be another casualty.”
Speaking directly to those in need, the lyrics to “Casualty” are accompanied by phone numbers for Trans Lifeline, Suicide Prevention, Domestic Violence, Crisis Text Line, and Trevor Project Lifeline. Moreover, the booklet includes essays, quotes, and writings of Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, Peter Montgomery, Ryan Harvey, and more.
American Fall heralds another era for Anti-Flag as their impact remains as palpable as ever.
“We were on Warped Tour THIS summer,” recalls Pat. “Three-to-five trans folks would come to the booth and say hello to us every day. These same marginalized kids were at the shows 20 years ago, but they were afraid to express themselves. The fact that they are NOW empowered to be who they really are is incredible…the fact that they know they are welcomed by our band and community is awesome, the same goes for so many others who are feeling alienated and they are receiving that message loud and clear.”
In the end, American Fall does what Anti-Flag has always done—it inspires change.
“I want everybody to realize they’re not alone,” Chris#2 leaves off. “These conversations we’re having are ones that others are having too. Four kids from Pittsburgh don’t have all the answers, but we’re looking out the same window and realizing that the color and the shape of things isn’t what we want. However, we can band together with some likeminded individuals who feel the same way and turn it into the thing we want.”
“After all this, won’t you give me a smile.” – Joe Strummer
The White Noise
The White Noise continually flip the script. The Southern California quintet -Shawn Walker [vocals], David Southern [bass, vocals], Josh “KJ” Strock [guitar], Bailey Crego [guitair], and Tommy West [drums]- infuse aggressive rock with cinematic expanse and hardcore punk urgency, striking an elusive middle ground between influences as diverse as Underoath, Brand New, and Nine Inch Nails. Since their formal emergence in 2015, The White Noise has made waves. Alternative Press hailed their Aren’t You Glad? EP among “The 12 Best EPS of 2016” and claimed, “The LA group have left an undeniable mark on the scene with the first six songs of their career.” Further acclaim came from New Noise Magazine and more as the band incinerated stages on tour with I Prevail, Dance Gavin Dance, and many others. Meanwhile, “Picture Day” has clocked over 683K Spotify streams and 512K YouTube views. On their 2017 full-length debut album AM/PM, produced by Drew Fulk (Motionless In White, Crown The Empire), the group boldly bob and weave past convention and emerge with an infectious and inimitable body of work representative of their penchant for unpredictability.
"We're at a really concerning place in politics. Actually, it's downright terrifying. At times like this, it's hard to see any silver lining at all. Thankfully, Baltimore hardcore band, Sharptooth, is here to save the day with their first full length, Clever Girl. If anything is going to be a silver lining in times like these, it's this album. "