Unless you were living under a rock and didn't watch the news for the last year, the fall of 2011 saw the birth of a dramatic political movement that has swept over the entire country. While the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have been the most visible wing of the still-breathing Occupy Movement in the country, Occupy events have occurred all over the country. Baeble recently had the chance to speak with Pat Thetic, drummer for Pittsburgh based punk act Anti-Flag
, and whether we were discussing the band's new album, The General Strike
(which drops 3/20), or the group's feelings on everything from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to their Pittsburgh roots, it was readily apparent that Pat and the rest of Anti-Flag are committed and passionate guys carrying on the torch of politically-conscious punk.
As the old adage goes, unless you're talking about the Clash, punk is more well-known for music that exemplifies "three chords and the truth" rather than actual musicianship. Anti-Flag fans know though that, and much like Bad Religion, these Pittsburgh rockers know how to craft a dynamic and engaging tune that has more going for it than rebellious lyrics. "It doesn't matter how much truth is in the music you are writing. If it isn't interesting to people, it doesn't matter. They won't listen to it. We have a responsibility to make the music as interesting as possible, to get people to listen to the ideas that we're talking about," Thetic explained. One of the reasons that Anti-Flag has always appealed to a larger audience than hardcore punk acolytes is their willingness to craft actual melodies (as well as actually knowing how to play their instruments) around their message music.
Thetic bristled at our initial suggestion that Generator
-era Bad Religion was the most noticeable influence on the sound of their newest album. "We haven't sat around and listened to Bad Religion in a long time, other than when we played live with them," Thetic explained. Thetic felt like he had very classic, old-school punk influences (i.e. The Clash, Avengers, Social Distortion) whereas his band mates Justin Sane and Chris #2 had more contemporary punk influences. However, one of Thetic's most intriguing remarks was his idea that the band was influenced by themselves. At this point in their career-- The General Strike
will be their eighth album-- they have more perspective on what aspects of their sound has failed and what has succeeded, and now they want to fine tune the mistakes out of their music. Anti-Flag wants to make it better via their songs, and their long-lived career affords them the opportunity to look back on a large catalog.
Just looking at their name should tell you that Anti-Flag takes its politics very seriously. Over the band's long career (they've been together since 1993), they've tackled issues as diverse as the War in Iraq, human rights abuses, economic inequality, and most recently the corporate bailouts. Though Anti-Flag continues the classic punk trend of political activism, Pat Thetic was quick to point out, "That's just the punk rock I created in my own image." He added, "it does not mean I have a lock on what punk rock is." In Thetic's opnion, "That's the beauty of punk rock. It's been created in the image of the people who created it." Thetic doesn't know if punk rock has been bought. Rather, "I don't really care," was his response. Anti-Flag are just going to make the kind of music they want and let others worry about the state of modern punk.
Considering today's tumultuous political environment, we spent a healthy amount of time discussing some of Pat's thoughts on the ever-shifting political climate we live in. The Arab Spring (the uprisings of many oppressed peoples in the Middle East/Africa that has led to three governments being overthrown) had a special place in Thetic's heart. He drew parallels between the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movements here at home, saying "people are fed up with the economic system we have right now. They want a more equitable and just society." Pat saw these social movements as a worldwide phenomenon and seemed excited by the prospect for real change that they implied.
Anti-Flag performed at some of the Occupy events here in NYC while they were touring. However, what Thetic found more interesting than Occupy Wall Street were the smaller Occupy protests forming in places like Cleveland, Allentown, and Buffalo. "The overall broader idea that each of us are willing to take a stand because we think that things need to change and taking inspiration from other groups. Whether they're the people in NYC or in Oakland, CA, who are really battling right now with the police. People taking that inspiration and applying it to their own communities and to their own lives," is an apt statement from Thetic on how near and dear the Occupiers across the country and their symbolic message of unrest is to the band.
We were shocked to hear Thetic's initial reaction to our questions comparing the wave of economic equality protests now to the Peace Movement of the 1960s, although Thetic quickly softened his initial, rougher stance. "They were hippies. We f*cking hate hippies," was Thetic's initial reply to whether he felt modern protesters had anything to learn from the Vietnam War protests, but Thetic quickly qualified that statement with, "social movements are the same throughout history. Whether it's wearing tie-dye versus wearing bandanas and black masks, the goal is the same to have their voices heard." Thetic went on to explain to say that it's "our duty to stand up and say we aren't happy with the way things are going." While he felt that the music and cultures were different, their goals were still compatible. Thetic also expressed some admiration for radical protester Abbie Hoffman and his desire that the modern left could find a leader with the same charisma and vision.
Whether you're a regular Joe Strummer or Sid Vicious or you don't know the difference between Johnny Rotten and Johnny Ramone, Anti-Flag deserves your attention. They are talented musicians making technically sound punk in a day when that has ceased to be common and their political voice remains one of the loudest (if not necessarily visible) in the business. Check out The General Strike
when it drops 3/20 to get your own revolution on.