Interview with Pat Thetic
About 5 years ago, vocalist/guitaris Justin Sane from Anti Flag was playing a few solo gigs in Finland and I had the chance to interview him. Unfortunately, the recorder wasn’t on during the 60min talk I had with him, so that great interview got lost and this has haunted me over these 5 years. Cut back to November of 2015, Anti Flag comes to play in Helsinki, and I knew that this time I couldn’t fail. However, this time Justin Sane was unavailable to do an interview, but I was lucky enough to talk with drummer Pat Thetic, who alongside Justin Sane, formed Anti Flag in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 80’s. It was a conversation that touched upon a variety of topics, from music to politics to nostalgia to the band’s future, and luckily this time there weren’t any technical problems.
Interview by Petri da Costa
Let’s start talking about the latest record, “American Spring”, which was released early this year. The first thing I noticed was that this was a longer record than the previous one, “The General Strike”, which had a more ’direct approach’ and had less songs. So what was the band’s approach when making this new record?
Well, the interesting thing about Anti Flag’s records and the number of songs is that we usually record 20 to 22 songs, or we at least write them. Then, depending on how many we like in the end are the ones which make it to record. So there are more songs that were written that never made it to both of these records, but we just felt that the previous record was more of a aggressive and direct to the point. In this new record we were taking more a ‘bigger look at things’ and we brought in different people, so it changed the flavor of the record a little bit.
So it wasn’t a planned thing to be a longer record?
No, it wasn’t planned. It was just the songs were a little slower, which makes them a bit longer, less beats per minute. There’s a little bit more…not necessarily ‘creativity’ but more space for different things on this record than on the previous one.
I noticed as well that there’s a more melodic sound overall. Were there different influences on making this record?
What there was is that we worked with a man called Kenny Carkeet, who is an band called Awolnation, and his producing partner Jim Kaufman. They are both very talented, very melodic people. They are both well versed in Anti Flag punk rock, but they bring a different flavor to what we do. That’s why there’s more melody. The last two records before “American Spring”, we recorded in our practice room ourselves, so we weren’t looking for anybody else’s input, we were just looking to get something out. Not in the sense of just get out, but in the sense to release what was inside of us, that we needed to express this stuff. In this new one were like ‘Okay, let’s experiment a bit more, let’s be open to a little more than the last two records’.
Well, we have no loyalties to record companies. I’m not a big fan of record companies, I own a record company, and they are not what’s important to me. Some people are like ‘Oh, we wanna be on this record label because it represents something’. We’ve never been like that. We have a vision, the record company just comes along with us to express our vision. So we were just looking for someone new to help us and get the record out. Spinefarm came into the equation and had some really interesting ideas on how they wanted to release the record and spoke to a different group of people that we traditionally speak to, so we said ‘Yes, let’s give it a shot’.
Talking a bit about the lyrics, nowadays there’s this overload of information coming from all sides and different sources, everything happens quickly. A person can know what’s going on in their country or around the globe instantly, so how all this impact the band’s lyrics? Do you try to stay current when writing lyrics or do you write based on something that has influenced you guys personally or how do you approach the lyrics?
Well, being human beings we are current on what’s happening in the world just because it’s what interest us. I was just in the back reading about the Turks shooting down the Russian plane, and all that stuff is interesting to us. So we are being exposed to these ideas all the time, whether they’ll boil down to an idea that then becomes a song you never know. As most people are, we are consumers of information, political information, and it doesn’t matter whether is coming to us second by second or over time. It takes a little bit of time for those ideas to ultimately solidify into something that we wanna express through a song.
The other thing you guys have been doing for a long time now is putting the topics about the lyrics, information about what the lyrics are about, which I think it’s a great idea. So how important is that? Is this as important as the songs themselves? I mean, you guys put a lot of effort into this.
Yeah, we put a lot of effort in this. It’s all important to us. Nobody cares about the band unless they like the songs. Anti Flag has always being about creating art that talks about things from a perspective that is not necessarily a given. So that information that we put in the liner notes is very important to us because we think that there are other ideas out there that a lot of people don’t have access to, and this is a way giving people access to other ideas. When we were young, every record we got out had that type of stuff that said ‘Hey, you might wanna check these things’. But we got away from it because of the 2000’s internet revolution, we felt that people didn’t need us to tell them where to find this information. What we have learned over the last couple of years is that just because you have access to information, doesn’t mean you know where to find it. What we were trying to do is say ‘Hey, if you feel this way, these are places you might be interested in checking out and this is where you can find more information about these topics’. So yeah, it’s very important to us because we think that people are being lied to every day and we wanna give them places to find information that might be more truthful.
Let’s talk about the current tour. How’s this European tour been so far?
It’s been great. We were just actually talking about this song that we have, “Brandenburg Gate”, which talks about the Brandenburg Gate in Germany which was in sort of no man’s land between East and West Germany. So that idea of this monument that was in Berlin and then go to Moscow and play this song and have kids singing about it…you know, because that was when US and Russian were enemies, and then to sing a song about that in Moscow and have kids singing along was great. This song is about freedom and understanding beyond the national bullshit of Putin and Obama or Khrushchev and Kennedy. So to be able to break down these barriers and to play a song like that in Moscow was pretty intense for us, and very important to me. So, the question was how’s the tour going. It’s going very well. [laughs]
You also played couple of gigs in France a few days after the attacks. A lot of bands were at that time cancelling their European tours or gigs in France because they were concerned about security. Did this thought of cancelling gigs came to your mind?
Absolutely. Our question was not about security because that’s less of our concern. Our concern was more about ‘Are we offending the French people?’. We didn’t want to be seen as not understanding that this was a horrible thing and that people might not want to hear a punk rock song. But we talked to all the promoters and talked to the kids at the shows and they said ‘Thank you for coming, because we can’t stop our lives because shitty people do shitty things’. So we were very happy to go to France. Yeah, there was more security than usually at a rock show. I don’t like security in general, I think it makes people feel afraid, but sometimes you have to do that, sometimes that happens. But I’m a firm believer that people can control themselves in most situations, expect when you have extreme shitheads who wanna take guns and blow people up.
How was the mood in these gigs? Was it tense or how did you see this whole situation?
I think people at first, at each show, were afraid. We played outside of Paris, about an hour outside of Paris and kids knew a lot of people who were at that show. We played in Toulouse, and a lot of kids go to Paris for shows, so they knew these people, they have been to that club. There was a bit of heaviness. I think that as the show went on, people relaxed and realized that for that hour they could enjoy the experience.
After this European tour, Anti Flag is going again on tour next February-March. Any other gigs planned besides that, maybe for summer?
Nowadays many bands are pretty much living on the road. They are concentrating more on touring instead of making records…
Yes, there’s no money making records right now.
So, has this somehow affected you guys or not? I know that you guys are constantly touring and making records too, but how do you see this situation?
The sad realistic thing about Anti Flag is that we’ll be on tour whether is good for us or not, coz that’s what we do. [laughs] We are addicted to being in a room full of people who makes sense to us. When we go home, sometimes the people around us don’t make any sense. We are in a very lucky position that when we play shows, every night there’s hundreds to couple thousand people who have similar beliefs and believe that things can be different than what they are now. The homophobia, the bigotry is left at the door and people at the shows are there to celebrate the fact that we all found each other. All the fuck ups and weirdos have found each other here. So that’s an important thing for us, so we’ll be playing shows whether makes sense or not. Recording records is just a way for us to play live shows. [laughs]
For me…I hate recording. Recording is not interesting to me, playing live is interesting to me. The other guys like the recording process much more than I do. If you actually talk to them, they’d be like ‘Yeah, I’d love to stay home and make records’. I’m like ‘Fuck that, I’m not staying home and making records’. [laughs] So yeah, it’s different. Anti Flag is at its best when we are playing live shows with people who, again, believe that homophobia and bigotry is an outdated and backwards vision of the world, and that they wanna a world where everybody is free to make choices that are in their best interest.
Talking about another current thing happening with a lot of bands nowadays is playing a certain record in its entirety. You have done that, playing the whole “The Terror State”, but is there any plans for next year when “Die for the Government” turns 20 years?
Yeah, we’ve been talking about it. Not interesting to me, but the other guys are interested in doing. [laughs] So we’ll see, I’m sure we’ll do it at some point. There are a couple of songs on “Die for the Government” that I don’t wanna play just because they are hard to play or it’s a challenge. Yeah, it’ll probably happen at some point next year.
What do you think about this, because it seems that there’s a lot of nostalgia going among bands and in music?
Yeah, absolutely…I do think that there’s a lot of bullshit nostalgia, but people wanna hear those records and it makes them happy. Again, you are asking the wrong guy in the band about it. [laughs] I’m not interested in that stuff as much as the others, I’m a bit of a dick. But if it gets the kid who 10 years ago or 20 years ago loved this record, who hasn’t been to a show in 10 years, but brings him to the show and reaffirms to him why he loved that music at that point, and reaffirms that there are people who, again, think that wars of aggression are a mess, as we are seeing it in the Middle East, and that maybe going to his job and just being a shitty person to everybody else around him is not the best way to live. So if he comes to a rock show to experience something that he hasn’t experienced for a long time, then I think it’s a good thing, I accept that. I mean, it doesn’t have to be an Anti Flag show, every band is doing something like that now. If that brings back those people back into a room full of other fuck ups and weirdos for an hour, and gives them a different perspective on where he is in life, then I think that’s a good thing. Having said that, fuck those people who do these gigs, including us. [laughs] Playing a record from top to bottom, yeah that’s not interesting to me. [laughs]
The other thing I wanted to ask, you guys had organized a couple of years your own festival. Is there a chance for that to happen again?
Yeah, we’d like to do that again. It’s just finding the right city and the right time when we can get not only us, but that bands that we’d love to put together. It’s a logistical challenge to put all that together, but yeah we’d love that. We wanna do a festival in Pittsburgh, where we grew up, at some point, but it’s just hard to do all that and to be on tour at the same time.
Anti Flag has been active for over 20 years, do you look back on old lyrics and think the situation is the same, for example, when the song Free Nation? was written? Do you feel that it still resonates with you?
Yes, absolutely. People say that song is a criticism…you know, one of our musical heroes is a man called Woody Guthrie, who’s a folk artist in US, and when I read his lyrics, he was talking about immigration issues, but the immigration issues he was talking about were between Oklahoma and California, not about US and Mexico, or Syria and Western Europe. So the ideas are the same and they need to be talked about it, the details are always going to be changing, they are gonna be slightly different here and there, but those ideas of freedom, justice and people being taken care of, are universal and they need to be heard. They just have to be in different packages, from different types of bands or artists, but these are themes should be talked about all the time because they are continuously going on. So those songs are still important.
Well, you also have in a lot of songs a message of hope. Since you have been travelling around the world with Anti Flag for so many years, visiting places and talking to different people, how do you see this change over these past years, do you see a change for better?
I see in different places different things. We are very lucky because we interact with the best people in each city, people who are making things happens, who are trying to make a change, people who are trying to be different than their backward parents or the people around them. So we always feel optimistic because we go to Moscow and meet the greatest people there. We go to Thailand and meet the best people there. We are not meeting the people who are afraid of immigrants or the people that think they need whatever ridiculous backward beliefs that each of these cultures have. We are meeting the people who are striving for change and making things better, so we are always very hopeful. Actually our bus driver was telling us the other day, and he’s an older gentleman at this point, he said ‘There’s no way that any politician is every gonna get me to grab a riffle and go after any country coz I got friends in all the places that I’ve been’. That’s our experience as well. Now, politicians are very skilled at manipulating people into fighting, killing and dying for them, but we are amazingly lucky people to be able to travel around and meet great people in many different cities.
Talking about the band’s long history, you released between 2013 and 2014 a series of re-recorded songs from the band’s back catalogue. How was the experience revisiting some of these older songs and playing them again in the studio?
It was funny because in some ways, what we were trying to do was to take a song that had something very important to us and make it able to be played live. Take out all the things that made it frustrating to us and make it into something that we could love. In some situations it worked and in some it didn’t, and there were some songs that we played acoustic. It was a weird experience to go back and play some of those songs, coz some of them are great songs with great ideas but we just didn’t like the outcome of it. We wanted to give to those songs a rebirth, not just to us but to other people who might get why these songs were important to us, but just didn’t quiet get where it needed to be.
How did you decide the songs? Did everybody had a vote or how was it?
We talked about it. It wasn’t a formal vote, we just talked about these songs, like ‘I hate the way I did this and that, let’s change that. Oh, this song has a great idea, but we didn’t get it right, maybe if we did an acoust version of it would make more sense’. It was a weird situation. [laughs]
Were there more songs that you re-recorded but just haven’t been released yet?
Any plans for maybe a DVD about the band, like a documentary to celebrate also these 20 years?
We actually just gave to some kids all of our video footage for them to put together a DVD. So we’ll see what comes out of that. We haven’t seen any cuts or anything. We had boxes and boxes of VHS tapes and DV tapes and stuff, all from us over these years. If they can make something cool out of it, then we’ll definitely release it. Hopefully it’ll be interesting, I don’t know, I’m sort of looking forward to see it because you film stuff and then you just put in a box somewhere and you never look at it. So these guys’ job is to look at it and find something interesting and put it together.
So no ideas of when that’s going to come out?
No idea. It might be complete crap and never come out, yeah that’s fucking boring, that’s not worth anybody’s time. [laughs]
Any confirmed plans for the band for 2016?
We’ll just play more shows and then probably late 2016 or early 2017, we’ll start thinking about what we wanna talk about and whether we wanna release another record, are we inspired enough to express something. At this point, Anti Flag doesn’t need to record more records, but if we feel passionate about some stuff that we wanna talk about, then we’ll release a record.
Has the thought of calling it a day come up among you guys or it never has?
If it’s just the four of us, we’ll do it forever. Obviously, if there’s family preasure for all of us to do other things…coz it’s very difficult when you are in relationships with people and you are away for 6 months of the year, so that makes people at home very unhappy. So that’s always the friction, but it’s very important to us to play music and to travel around and meet people. If we can keep our home lives able to tolerate that, then we’ll continue to do it. [laughs]
Well, thanks a lot for the interview!
Thank you too, hopefully this one doesn’t get lost. [laughs]
No, this time I recorded everything. [laughs]
Oh ok, so you have been checking. [laughs]
OFFICIAL ANTI-FLAG SITES :