by Ryan Meehan
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 Spring is 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 co-founder of Anti-Flag. “I know that music changed my life.” It’s done the same to me as well, and that’s just one of the reasons I am proud to have Justin Sane of Anti-Flag as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: First off, who designed the cover of the new LP? What is that image supposed to represent; and why did you choose to use it?
JS: The art was created by a good friend and artist in our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. His name is Doug Dean. We had the vision of the record title and the idea of the artwork being about rebirth. But beyond that we wanted to challenge people’s own perceptions of violence and challenge people’s prejudices – ourselves included. Any sociologist will tell you that study after study shows that no matter how open minded a person is, everyone has inherent biases. It varies from person to person, but everyone has some inherent bias. When a punk kid sees a cop they think racists, a soldier they think baby killer. When a Middle-American Fox News watcher sees a Muslim woman they think terrorist, a black kid in a hoodie they think thug. So on all sides we wanted people to see that no one is immune to the social influence that creates personal bias in everyone, because only when we become self aware of our bias can we start to live above our bias. And once we can do that we start to move in the direction of a better and more peaceful world and see each other as human beings with the same hopes, dreams and aspirations.
RM: When did you first become a vegetarian; and was there anything that you heard or saw in your youth that personally influenced that decision to not consume any sort of meat products?
JS: I grew up in a vegetarian home. When I was younger I was off and on but eventually I made the choice to stick with it and now other than the occasional pizza or ice cream cone I’m basically vegan. It’s important for me to vegetarian on many fronts. For one, the conditions under which animals are raised as food is appalling. If you’ve ever been close to a cat or a dog you realize that all animals have their own personality and feelings. If you wouldn’t send your pet to be raised under appalling conditions as food then why is it ok to do so with a cow, pig, chicken, etc.? It goes back to the point we are making with our art work, where people’s ability to dehumanize each other makes it acceptable for them to see violence against some people as acceptable. With animals, it is a bit bigger of a leap, but the heart of the issue is the same. On top of this, animal “production” uses immense amounts of water and resources the world is running scarce of. Meat “production” is devastating to the environment on so many levels. Finally, eating meat and dairy is bad for your health. So for me, it’s just a no brainer.
RM: What’s the biggest difference between the material that appears on the new record and the songs on 2012’s “The General Strike”? Were there any major modifications of the writing process that occurred when putting together the music which would eventually become “American Spring”?
JS: Sure. Working with a producer forced us to take a harder look and revise songs more. Overall, this record is more focused conceptually. Sonically it is a much better sounding record because we recorded our last record ourselves where we worked with a really pro engineering team in the form of Kenny Carkeet and Jim Kaufman.
RM: What did Kenny Carkeet and Jim Kaufman bring to the table this time as far as the production of this record was concerned? Were there any new tips and tricks that you learned from them in the process?
JS: Jim and Kenny brought a focus and kept us moving. They’re both very creative and have a good ear for when something is working and we should keep after it and when something isn’t hitting and we should drop it and move on. Having outside people look at your songs always breathes new energy into your work and helps you push limits you likely would not have otherwise. Jim and Kenny did these things really well. I had a great time working with them.
RM: When it comes to the lyrical content of the songs on the new album, which track would you have to say holds the most personal value to you and why? Is there a particular line or set of lines from that selection which stand(s) out above all the others?
JS: All of the sarongs hold a special place in my heart and say something that I think is really important so it is a hard to choose. I love Fabled World because I think it exposes a lot of myths about American culture, the so called American Dream, which is just not a reality of most people. I wanted to discuss how growing in equality and the ever widening wealth gap leaves so many people – in the USA and beyond – vulnerable and living under great stress and sorrow. Our society has really lost its morale compass when we allow there to be billionaires while we also allow there to be homeless and starving people. To look at those extremes and to say that the current capitalist oligarchy is working means that you are truly out of touch with reality.
RM: In the essay that accompanies the lyrics to the song “Walk Away”, Gilad Atzmon is quoted as saying “We can never grasp people who sacrifice the ultimate unless we acknowledge that there is far more to life than just life…”. How does a someone from a country like the United States even begin to understand a concept such as that considering the way a majority of us live our lives on a day-to-day basis?
JS: You bet. There are so many in the USA with nothing, or on the verge of losing the little they have. People living in complete desperation and just trying to stay alive on a daily basis. There are so many people in the USA suffering and living in vulnerable situations. Look at what just happened in Baltimore. People are rioting because they have never had a chance. They feel as if the only thing they have left to lose are their lives.
RM: With the summer approaching, Anti-Flag has a slew of dates booked here in the States as well as overseas in Europe…When you are headed out on the road as you soon will be, what aspect of that whole experience to you look forward to the most and why? Has the answer to that question changed in the two-plus decades that you’ve been doing this? If so, in what way?
JS: When I’m on tour I have fun. I have a lot more fun than I ever have in the past. That is what has changed and for that reason in many ways I enjoy touring now more than I ever have.
RM: You have chosen to align yourself with the Occupy Movement…Why is that particular cause so important to your support of it, not just here in the US but abroad as well?
JS: For starters, it is a movement expressing a belief that the current system which favors the wealthy over everyone else is not fair because it causes great suffering and it leaves too many people – almost everyone – out of the political process. Furthermore, I believe that decision making by consensus, direction democracy, decentralization of power, core philosophies embraced by many connected to Occupy, are the kind of systems which we need to implement as a society in order to build a just and equitable society and to save our planet from environmental ruin.
RM: When your career is over many years from now, how would you like to be remembered by those individuals who have been fans of your music since the band’s origin?
JS: Simply as a person who cared about making the world a better place for all living things.
RM: What’s up for you and the guys in the rest of the band in the remainder of 2015 and beyond?
JS: Anything big in the works that we should know about? TOUR TOUR TOUR!!! Come out to one of our shows. They are special. Tons of energy and positivity. They are life affirming. Check out the website for dates.
Official Website: http://www.anti-flag.com/
Justin’s Official Website: http://www.justinsane.net/
Anti-Flag on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anti.flag.official
Anti-Flag on Twitter: https://twitter.com/anti_flag
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.