With songs like “You’ve Got To Die For Your Government,” “Bring Out Your Dead,” and “Free Nation?,” Anti-Flag has represented their anti-war stance and left-leaning politics since the band was founded in 1988. They also support several non-profit organizations, including Amnesty International and the African Well Fund.
Unfortunately, the band recently made headlines for an entirely different reason. While the Pittsburgh punks are well known for their socially- conscious rock and non-violent beliefs, they were implicated in the tragic Arizona shooting earlier this month after a former classmate of shooter Jared Loughner mentioned that he was a fan of the band. Anti-Flag frontman Justin Sane took a break from recording to speak with OurStage about that misconception and what Anti-Flag actually stands for, as well as what the band is up to in 2011.
OS: What’s going on for Anti-Flag in the new year?
JS: Mainly we’re picking up where we left off last year. We’re in songwriting mode. Currently we’ve demoed about seven or eight songs, and now that we’ve got a good half-dozen songs that we feel good about, we’re in the process of actually tracking those songs. We have a studio, so we can record pretty much any time we want. After we get those songs tracked, we’ll just move onto the next batch of songs.
OS: So will we see a new album by the end of the year?
JS: We’ll definitely have a record out by the end of the year. We could potentially even have a record out by the summer sometime. When we write, we usually clip along pretty fast. I came in with a good half-dozen songs ready to go, and at that point it’s just a matter of everybody having their input into them and fine-tuning them and making them better. When you start out like that, the momentum’s pretty good. With us, we usually just take that momentum and we’re off.
OS: You recently created a Twitter and said one of your resolutions is to “jump into the virtual fray,” how’s that going so far?
JS: Well, the series of pipes and tubes that I understand sometimes get clogged have been working out pretty good for me. It’s pretty funny. Earlier on, with MySpace, there were a bunch of people that impersonated me. It just turned me off on the whole thing. I was like, “If this is what this is gonna be about, I just don’t want to know anything about it.” So other than going to MySpace pages to hear people’s bands, that’s about been my involvement with the Internet and social networking. I think also, luckily I’ve just found a way to have a pretty busy life in the real world. The virtual world, I just didn’t have time for. But actually, it’s been a blast! I’m finding that I like Twitter the most. It’s short and sweet, and because of that I find it very manageable. And I actually respond to people’s messages a lot, too. I think it’s cool. I write to people and they’re like, “Is this really Justin Sane?” [Laughs] I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, it really is!” I think text-message delayed conversations—when it comes to the world wide web—that’s where I belong. That’s where I’m living these days.
OS: A lot of people seem to have mixed feelings regarding Twitter.
JS: Oh, absolutely. I think it kind of comes back to my original stance that people were impersonating me on MySpace. There’s a lot of privacy issues. In a lot of ways, it’s very “Big Brother,” but on the other hand you choose what to put up there. There’s certainly a lot of angles about it that I think are kind of creepy. But I can see the value in it, too. I think I’m just at a place in my life where—especially if you’re in a band like Anti-Flag that’s fairly serious—there are just some times in my life where I have to say, “Fuck it. I’m just going to get on board and have a good time with this because it’s fun.” It’s okay to say “Fuck it,” every once in a while. It’s okay to have fun every once in a while. I think I’m just at that stage.
OS: Anti-Flag has four tour dates in South America this March, are you excited for that?
JS: I am totally excited for that, I think it’s going to be total mayhem. We’ve had a following down there for a long time, and we’ve never been. We probably had a half-dozen tours booked there, and for various reasons tours fell apart. Usually it had to do with some shady promoter. Hopefully we got it right this time, and hopefully this time it’s really going to work. That’s actually why we’re only doing a four day run. We want to feel it out. But I think it’s going to be great, and I’ve been getting a lot of messages from kids down there that are really pumped up. I think it’s going to be a really interesting experience for us.
OS: What was your reaction when you first heard that Anti-Flag’s name was in the media regarding the Arizona shooting?
JS: My initial reaction, of course, was to get all the information, because I just didn’t really have it. When I finally saw what was said, it’s alleged by a former classmate of his who hasn’t seen him since 2007 that he was into Anti-Flag. And the quote is like, “He was into bands like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Anti-Flag; I haven’t seen him since 2007.” So a lot of things came to my mind. Obviously, anybody who is aware of the band Anti-Flag and what Anti-Flag stands for understands that Anti-Flag is a band that stands for total nonviolence.
(Ed. Note: You can read Sane’s full response to the Arizona shooting tragedy here.)
OS: Anti-Flag works with Greenpeace and helps raise raise money for a lot of nonprofits, can you tell me about some of that work that you’ve been doing?
JS: Yeah, there’s a ton of them. I think that the four of us in this band were in a lot of ways activists before we were musicians. It really just made a lot of sense that we would start a punk band that would speak to social issues of peace and justice and equality. I’ve done a lot of work with Amnesty International, and a lot of work with the African Well Fund raising money to build wells in Africa. Water is the most essential element people need to survive— it’s like oxygen—so that’s a project that’s really been rewarding and very inspiring. We’ve done a lot of work with PETA. The list kind of goes on and on. Recently, I’ve been working with Billy Bragg’s organization Jail Guitar Doors. They work in an effort to raise money to send guitars into prisons and conduct music workshops in prison. … There are many studies that show that prisoners who go through some kind of music rehabilitation program when they’re in prison, their rate of recidivism back to prison is very low. It’s remarkably low.
OS: What sorts of organizations would you recommend your fans get involved with if they’re looking to promote peace?
JS: I think one thing that everybody can do, and it’s not that hard to do and this is why I bring it up, because I know that it’s incredibly effective: you can join Amnesty International. You can organize letter-writing campaigns based on whatever letter-writing campaign Amnesty is doing at that time. Their members will update you. They’ll let you know which political prisoner they’re trying to help, and what leaders they need to target with a letter-writing campaign to put pressure on those leaders so that that particular person will be treated more humanely or freed from prison. It’s not something you have to have a lot of resources for. You can do it by yourself, you can form a club, and if you’re in college or in high school you can hang fliers around your campus and inform people as to what you’re doing and start a club. And it’s something where you’ll have great return. It’s amazing how many political prisoners Amnesty International is responsible for freeing because they were able to bring so much pressure in the form of letter-writing campaigns. I think that’s maybe one of the most simple ways that people can get involved in actually doing something that affects a lot of change. You can imagine: if you’re a person that’s being held in prison because of your thoughts, that’s a pretty intense thing. It would mean a lot to you that people from all over the world would take twenty minutes to write a letter that ultimately—with all those letters put together—is responsible for giving you your freedom. I think what’s really important is for people to have knowledge. For those who have knowledge, that’s what inspires you to act a lot of the time. I think the most incredible news program in the world is Democracy Now. Democracy Now covers stories in a way that no one else does, and covers stories that no one else does. When you watch Democracy Now, you learn about things and you can not believe that it’s not the leading story on the evening news. So in that respect, I just encourage people to check out democracynow.org.
OS: If you had to sum up the message that Anti-Flag has been promoting since the beginning, what would you say?
JS: I would say that human beings are not a color of skin, we’re not straight or gay, we’re not male or female, we’re not one religion or another, we’re not countries, and we’re not flags. We’re people. And we need to treat each other accordingly. And I would say that, in a nutshell, is what Anti-Flag stands for.
For more information on Justin Sane, check out his solo project here.