Following on from their superb show at Rockhal, check out our wide ranging and extensive interview with Anti-Flag drummer Pat Thetic,
We should start with American Spring, it was written a while back and I guess theme behind that album was calling for change and for people to rise up and make a difference, do you think that things might have gone a little too far now?
Hahaha well I’m always amazed at how, through media and marketing and advertising, whether it’s the Russians or the crazy right wingers, that we can encourage people to go against their own self interests and I think this, (Trump etc) is another example of that and it’s always amazing to me. But people have been able to do it. It’s been happening throughout history, throughout time where strong men can make people think they’re going to make things better even though those people actively end up going against their self-interest.
What’s it actually like over there in the States if you don’t mind me asking?
Well, haha, as a white male it’s the same way it’s always been! But there’s a fear for everybody else. A fear that they’re going to take away women rights, it’s the fear of the taking away programmes for people who don’t have as many economic resources, you know, taking away healthcare, they’re already trying to do that. Luckily I’m in a position where I have healthcare and I have a roof over my head so I’m definitely much better off than a lot of people but it’s very scary for everybody else and that’s what we’ve always done as a band, we understand if it’s scary for one person then it’s scary for all of us. We’re not immune to all of these things and we’re not above all of these things. We’re in the middle of it for everybody.
It’s interesting that you guys are happy to be in the middle of all that and to take on these things and look at things head on when so many bands and artist are saying “ok well, just forget about that, we’re just here to have a good time, let’s have a party etc.”
Well yeah and there’s a lot of privilege from artists who say “well I don’t have to deal with that because I have money, I have resources, I have these things” but if they come for you then they’re going to come for me sooner or later. It’s only a matter of time.
So, and I hate to say this but when you see everything that’s going on is there an almost selfish aspect to it where you can say, man thee’s a lot going on here, we can hit this really hard, there’s a lot we can say and there’s a lot of material we can get out of all this?
Well I think any rational human being is saying that there’s a lot of material here! When the incompetence and the stupidity of the administration is so blatant that we all look like geniuses because it’s SO incompetent and stupid, I mean usually in politics, in most major countries the hypocrisy and stupidity is subtle and the selfishness of the ruling parties is subtle but in this instance it is so blatant that it’s easy. In that sense, for us as a band it’s hard.
We are strongest when we talk about issues that a lot of people are not familiar with so this situation is very challenging for us, to find the nuance of this grand stupidity and to highlight it because nobody wants to know that Trump is a liar because that’s just a given, every moron knows that so it’s not an interesting comment to make so we have to find the interesting element of the absurdity that is Donald Trump and highlight those things.
Over here in Europe we have Brexit and we know about Trump and it feels like every time you open your computer you just want to bang your head against the desk so..
Yeah so the way I see it is that the right-wing is a cyclical pattern. We saw it coming because you know, you blow up people in the middle east for years, they no longer have places to live, so they want to go and live in other places where they are not being blown up, which makes sense, so they start to move. And it’s the same thing in Mexico or in South America, where we economically deprive these people and they go, “Hey I want to go somewhere that I can have a better life”, they come to the States, so when you have populations moving the native populations become afraid and then you get the rise of the right wing.
Because there’s always a strong man, there’s always someone who’s going to say “I will protect you from these “others” who are trying to change your way of life”, and it happens all the time. It’s a cycle that continues and every time this cycle comes in to effect we need to have a group of people who will stand up to that racist ideology and that sexist ideology and fight against it. When you see it as these cycles that come through history it makes you feel more empowered to fight against it. Hopefully over time this right-wing wave that everyone in the whole world is riding will come to an end and we’ll have another wave of progression where people are treated justly and have the freedoms that they deserve.
So do you think that people got a bit complacent?
Absolutely yeah, I mean in the last few years obviously Obama was not exactly amazing, he was bombing more people with drone strikes than anybody else has done and he was deporting a lot of immigrants out of the US so he wasn’t amazing but we did get gay marriage passed, we have a lot of marijuana legalisation that went through, we have healthcare… So there were a lot of good things that came from the Obama years and then people became complacent, they thought, “Oh things are gonna get better and better” and then the reality is that things go in cycles and they don’t get better, the pendulum swings the other way and now we need to fight against the crazy racists.
I guess on the upside you do have people starting to stand up and start that fight. You even have people on the right or the centre-right saying “Woah, that’s a bit too much!”.
I saw an amazing programme about how to get, and I’m gonna go off on a tangent here, but how to get extremists to stop being extremists, and one of the main ways of doing that was to show them someone who was more extreme than them and then they start to pull back and go, “Wait a minute, that guy’s crazy we’re not that crazy”, and you’re starting to see that with the Republicans, which is the right in this country, they see someone who is more extreme than them which is pulling them towards the middle.
It’s an interesting process to see the Republican party saying no we do need to have healthcare for these people, it’s important as a culture that we take care of these people, which would never have come about without this extreme capitalist view that Donald Trump and some other Republicans are putting forward so it’s a really interesting process to watch the Republicans move to the centre as they watch someone who is more extreme than they are.
Yeah I guess it’s that or else they see the backlash against what’s going on at the moment and they know that the only way they can keep seats in the next election is if they pull away and distance themselves from all of that.
That may be it as well but whatever it is that brings rational thought to people, well I’ll take it!
Very true! So I guess 11 minutes in to the interview we should probably talk about some music, We could talk about American Spring but as me mentioned, with so much material to tap in to, are you working on anything at the minute?
Yeah we’re in the process of writing new material now. We’re switching gears this week from writing music to practising old songs to get ready for tour. It’s been fun, I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing this time around, we’ve got some really amazing songs that we’re very excited about, I don’t know when they’re going to come out, it’s gonna be in the next couple of months because we’re still in the early stages of demoing and things like that.
Then with American Spring, it’s two years old at this point and we’re still very proud of that so we’re going to play some songs from that record when we’re out in April.
Is that weird? To put away the new material and the stuff that you’re working on there and then go back to songs that, as you say, are two years old?
No actually it’s a great experience because you get so focussed on writing new material and worrying about the nuance of this and that playing the old songs is just a release, you say, “Oh yeah, this feels comfortable, these are things that I want to say and feel comfortable saying.”. Whereas when you’re writing songs it’s a different animal. It’s nice to get away from it and then come back to it because it also gives you some perspective on what you’ve created. You might find that it was interesting last week but maybe it needs to be tweaked this week so I love the process of writing, then going on tour and then writing some more.
Obviously we spoke about the call to action that was a big part of American Spring but another part of the record was dealing with the death of Chris#2’s sister, for those who don’t know, she was murdered, so was difficult for you as a band and for Chris individually to go back to those songs?
Yeah. It’s sort of like putting a scar on something when you put it in to song. You protect it in a way that it doesn’t hurt as much any more and i think that’s been all of our experiences when we write music about personal things that have happened. It becomes less painful when you’re able to share it with everybody and you’re at a rock show and you’ve got people around you. That’s always been my experience of how that works, i can’t exactly speak for #2 but that’s always been my experience. So yeah #2’s sister died a number of years ago now and it’s always been a part of his writing process, it’s always been in the back of his mind as just another one of the experiences that makes us all want to create.
But there’s also many other things that we’re talking about on American Spring from drone strikes to revolution, to all the things that are interesting to us like change and economic injustice, they’re things we talk about in music and also in real life.
It must be really cathartic, to be able to get all of those things out, things that make you angry or any ways you might be feeling really.
Absolutely! And the thing that’s very important and powerful for us, that I don’t think people understand, is that every night we get to go out and meet a couple of hundred or thousands of people who also feel this way about these issues. Many people who think economic injustice is a horrible thing and want to do something about it are trapped in their bedrooms but we have the luxury of being in a room or a field full of people who want to talk about these issues and there’s that camaraderie that comes with that which is an amazingly powerful thing that inspires us to keep going.
So how does it feel when you come off stage? You know, when you’ve spent an hour thrashing out these songs…
It feels like throwing up! It feels like we’ve got that out of us and then we can go about our day a bit. It’s that release of that shit inside of us that you need to get out and once you get it out you feel better
So it’s almost like a relief?
Absolutely it’s definitely a relief. It’s interesting because we’ve been on a tour for probably the last 20 years, off and on every three or four weeks we go on tour again and when we’re home for a period of time and recording or whatever all of us are like, there’s something that’s not quite right in our lives and then you go on tour and you’re like “oh yeah this is what we needed” we were collecting all of this shit in ourselves and we needed to get rid of it, then we get to go on stage and be among friends and get rid of all of that shit that the news media and the political process and the TV that you watch puts in to you.
That kind of answers the next question I had but do you think that that need to be out among people is a part of the punk genre?
Well for us as people it’s important to be around those people every night because it empowers us and makes us feel whole. As punk rock kids you feel isolated and alone most the time and then you can go to a show and find common spirits out there and that’s very important to us. But I think there’s also an element, as working class kids, that if you’re standing around too long there’s something wrong with you, you should be working all the time so there’s always that balance of working because that’s what you do and not being crazy people who are on tour all of the time.
You guys have been around for quite a long time and in that time the music industry has changed a lot and a lot of newer bands are finding that they HAVE to go out and play all of those shows if they are going to make a living out of it..
Yeah it’s interesting that you bring that up because I agree. One of the things that we have been incredibly lucky with is that we come from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has two elements that make us who we are today; One is that there is a social justice and labour history that Pittsburgh has in its DNA as a mill town and an old steel town that we are just a product of and the other thing it has is that because of that economic depression that Pittsburgh went through in the 70’s right through until the current day, is that the cost of living is relatively inexpensive. So we’ve never had that fear that we need to go on tour to make a living or to pay for our practice space or whatever.
We go on tour because it’s what makes us happy and what makes us whole and we’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to make economic decisions in the band because of what we felt was right and not because we needed the money. I look at bands from LA and New York and San Fransisco and the cost of living there is so expensive that bands have to go and play a couple of shows just pay for the practice space rent so we’ve been lucky not to be in that rat race where we had to make those kinds of decisions because it was, economically, in our best interest.
That’s interesting because one sort of phenomenon that has appeared, in Europe anyway I’m not sure about the States, is that there are a lot of so-called “posh” musicians who have been able to pursue this thing where had they had to go and work in a shop or something wouldn’t have been able to write their songs and records so it’s an interesting thing where if you come from a place where it’s cheaper to do it you might end up with a different kind of music because there’s a lot of singer-songwriter songs about a girl or a boy and there doesn’t seem to be this anger that you guys might have..
Yeah and I absolutely agree with you and I’m not going to say that that art isn’t important and it should be created and they should do their thing it’s not as interesting to me and it doesn’t have the urgency that the punk rock world that we inhabit has. Taking your idea and extrapolating it a little bit, we are actually in a very nice bubble where we can make the music that we want to create and don’t have to make a certain kind of music because of the economic choices (we made) and place where we live. So we’ve been incredibly lucky in that sense.
It’s a sort of paradox really, there’s such pressure on bands to have a hit and then if the single becomes a hit they either have to continue and do the same thing again or else they’re just going to disappear into obscurity. A lot of times back in the day, bands would have had three or four records to discover the sound that they wanted to make because of the support they had, whereas now it’s only bands that have been around for a long time who have that freedom to see what they want to do and find where that takes them..
Yeah and the other thing is, and I don’t want to be an old man who’s like “oh it’s different now” and “kids these days have it so hard or so easy”, I don’t believe in that but in our experience, we were in a band, we played music, we drove around in a van by ourselves and ate shit in Taco Bell and whatever and got stuff out of dumpsters for years, so we’ve done that. Obviously going back to that is unpleasant and i don’t want to do that but we know those skills, we have those skills.
But for a lot of other bands, if you go from zero to a big song you don’t have those skills of driving around in a van or figuring out how to get food or booking your own tour because you’ve never done any of that so when the money dries up and you have to make your world a little bit smaller and do things yourself you don’t have the skills to do that and that makes it harder and they go into obscurity.
Where we have been very lucky is where if things have been going well that year, we can hire a truck to take us around and if things aren’t going well we can be in a van and we can do it the way we’ve always done it. We’ve got those skills over years and years of doing it.
So what’s the music scene in Pittsburgh like?
It’s complete shit! Hahaha, no to be honest I can’t say that because we travel around I’m not as involved in the Pittsburgh music scene as I used to be because we’re out of town for six months of the year and when we’re home it’s very difficult to go to a rock show. We’re always in that mode of “I just got home, I’m just getting ready to leave again”, so I haven’t been to as many shows in Pittsburgh as I would like to.
The interesting thing about Pittsburgh that created Anti-Flag and many other bands in the 90’s that were our contemporaries, was that there wasn’t an infrastructure for bands to play music. The community of musicians had to come together and we’d put on shows in abandoned warehouses or in the University where we would rent rooms or we’d go in to church halls and put on shows so there was never an established infrastructure like other cities we had to create it ourselves and that makes it very difficult unless you’re very passionate about it, to find music or to play music there.
Well just one more question and I’ll let you go, do you remember the name of the first band you played in when you first started out?
The first band was called The Flying Society. Justin, if you ever get him on a good day, he will tell you the lyrics of the songs that I wrote with some other guys and he makes fun of me continuously for them. He wasn’t in that band but he remembers that band because we were friends and he still sings the songs to me! Haha, he still likes to make for of me over that from time to time!
Can you remember any of the song titles even if you’re not going to give us the lyrics?
Haha no way I’m not going to! I’m not going to embarrass myself! We all have those bands and I had one of those bands too.
Fair enough, Pat, thanks for taking the time and best of luck with the tour and of course that new record that you’re working on too.
Thanks so much!