Just prior to their concert at Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, we had the opportunity to sit down with Pat Thetic, the drummer of Anti-Flag. In one of our more in-depth interviews as of late, we discuss a myriad of topics ranging from political activism through refugees to what it was like playing in France right after the Paris terror attacks. The new album and its sociopolitical message are also discussed, and the band's history revisited in a lengthy interview that should be a good read for all Anti-Flag fans out there, shedding some light in what makes the band tick.
RF.net: Hi and thanks for doing this interview. How has the tour been so far? Any funny stories to share?
Pat: My pleasure, thanks for chatting with me. Yeah, it's actually the last show of the tour. We've been out for six weeks, and it's been a long tour, but it's been a lot of fun. One of the cool things that we did is that on the new record we have a song called "Brandenburg Gate". For us, it's a reference to this thing in Berlin that was in between the Russian side and the American side, both sides could see it, but nobody could get to it because it was in no man's land. It was a pretty amazing experience to be in Moscow and having kids singing this song because it's kids from Moscow, American kids, all singing a song about something that was happening in Berlin where both sides were basically at war with each other, and keeping people from connecting and coming together. And for me, that was a pretty intense experience. I'm sure the people in Russia, they didn't give a fuck, but for me it was an experience because I remember that whole situation and what that meant for the wall to come down, and what it meant to have the wall up in the 80s.
RF.net: There's a whole lot going on in the band right now. You released "American Spring" earlier this year, an acoustic live album just came out, and there's the "Cease Fires" compilation in December. It really feels like the band is happening right now. Can you tell me a little bit about this year?
Pat: We like to put things together. We actually have great people at home who work for us, and we're always trying to make statements and to get ideas out there, and the best way for us to do that is to release music. So yeah, we have the acoustic stuff that came out when Justin and #2 were in Las Vegas doing some press stuff, and they did an acoustic show that really came out well, so we wanted to release that. And the B-sides and that other stuff is just what we had laying around that we wanted people to hear.
RF.net: Let's talk about the new album, "American Spring". The title seems to be a reference to the Arab Spring revolutions that swept the middle east. Are you suggesting a similar revolution in the US, and if so, what kind and with which objective?
Correct. Well, I think there should be a revolution everywhere. I think everywhere needs change, I think that is the basis of everything. The interesting thing about the Arab Spring was that it wasn't a revolution in one country. It just wasn't one culture. It was a large and diverse group of people who decided that they want freedom and justice and to be free from oppression. So that idea is what we liked about the Arab Spring. Then, unfortunately, a lot of those people who took to the streets and demanded freedom and justice were overrun by crazy religious extremists. And that is always a problem, to have religious extremists. We have them in the US, I'm sure you have them here, who are much more bent on violence than the original activists.
But I think that change is an important thing. I think that in all cultures we need to have a better distribution of wealth, more freedom for homosexual, lesbian, and transgender people, and freedom for everybody who feels as though they're on the outside.
RF.net: So that's kind of what the album title refers to?
Pat: Yeah, the name "American Spring" is in reference to those revolutions, and that we need that revolution in the U.S. as well. We're killing black people in alarming numbers by police in the U.S., and we need to have that changed.
RF.net: How do you think the album stands compared to the rest of the back catalogue? How has the fan response been from your perspective?
It's been really awesome. It's fun to go out and play new songs and have people sing them back to you. And also, for us to be able to talk about issues like drone strikes and why that is an issue, and why we think that a drone strike is an equivalent to a suicide bomber, it's a terror weapon, it's not a weapon of real change, it's a weapon of change.
RF.net: Yeah, you made a video for that, right? "The Sky Is Falling"?
Pat: Yeah. So those are the types of things we want to get out there, to put out there into the world.
RF.net: You've been a band for more than 20 years now and throughout your career you've been fiercely political and engaged in all sorts of activism. I guess it wouldn't be wrong to say Anti-Flag has pretty much always been "against" something if you can say that. A lot of these topics have seen little progress from your side of the argument: the WTO is still around, injustice still exists, etc. Does that ever get tiring for the band? When you speak out against injustice?
Yeah. There are two things to that. One is that the injustices are always changing. There's an American folk singer called Woody Guthrie, who was influential in Anti-Flag's life. We actually did a song with some of his lyrics. And he was talking about refugees, he was talking about worker's rights. But he wasn't talking about Mexicans coming into the U.S. or Syrians coming into Europe. He was talking about people in Oklahoma going to California. So it's still a refugee issue. It's just a different geographic location. And a lot of these issues are similar in that the police brutality that we were dealing with in Pittsburgh when we wrote the song "Fuck Police Brutality", very specifically it was about a Pittsburgh situation. But now in 2015, we're talking about a national crisis of police brutality. So all these issues are morphing and changing all the time. They're still there, but different groups are being affected by them all the time. And with that, we have to continue to bring up these topics and talk about these topics and re-energize people to fight against them.
For us, it's not defeating that these topics are still a problem because we travel around the world and talk to people who are fighting against these issues every day. And so when we play a show in a place like Copenhagen, there'll be a lot of people telling us about their struggles and their battles that they are fighting with on these issues. So we're actually in many ways inspired every time, because we know that there are people out there doing work to change these issues.
RF.net: What would you say is the most important sociopolitical cause for Anti-Flag right now?
The rise of extreme right wing crazy people in response to refugees and terrorism. There is a very low probability that you will be affected by a terrorist act, there is a very high probability that your freedoms and your rights will be stripped away by crazy right-wingers. I think that people forget about that. They think, "oh no, I'm afraid of these terrorists", but in reality, they should be afraid of the right wing, who are going to take away their freedoms, so they can protect them from a threat that isn't really there.
RF.net: Do you think that is--obviously with the refugee situation now it is very much of a right wing issue--but do you reckon there are also similar factions inside the left wing sometimes? If you look back at history, for example during communism, there was a similar left-wing faction around?
Pat: We come from the States. So the left wing in the States is the center in most other places around the world. So we're much more aware of the right wing. I'm sure there are left wing extremists who are complete shitheads, but we don't see them as much in the States. If they're out there, and they're being shitheads, then fuck them. If you use violence to get your point of view across, then you have a shitty point of view and a bad argument.
RF.net: My next questions was going to be if your most important sociopolitical cause has changed over the years, but clearly it has since now it's about refugees.
Pat: It's still freedom, it's still a justice issue. Specifically, it's about refugees right now, and right wing making us afraid to take away our rights. But it could be a sexuality issue or a gender issue, or people in love with a certain group of people, but no, right wing have to stop people from loving each other. The right wing is always trying to take our freedoms and justice away, so that's ultimately what the battle always is.
RF.net: Lot of these topics obviously very heavily influence the records that you write. In light of this, what you just said about the refugees, have you already written some songs about it, or can you see yourself doing it?
We have not, but yes, there will be. Actually, we just have a black Friday crazy US Christmas season. We have released a picture of Donald Trump with a Ku Klux Klan hat on, it says racist across his head. So yeah, it hasn't come out in a song yet, because we haven't had a chance to go home and write stuff yet, but it's definitely come out in our work and expression of us.
RF.net: Actually, later on, I was going to ask, that I can't cheat my readers from asking you about Donald Trump.
Pat: Oh yeah, Donald Trump, horrifying. Donald Trump is a media genius. He knows exactly what to say to get the most stupid people to cheer. I'm hoping, and I don't know whether history will bear me out on this, but I'm hoping that he is not really dumb enough to believe the things that he says, but maybe he is, I don't know. Either way, if he gets elected, it's going to be a disaster. We're really hoping that this is an election phenomenon that happens in the U.S. based on the electoral process that we have, that always have these crazy extreme people who get a lot of press before we actually go into the real elections. So hopefully, he will fall away. But he does represent a very scary part of the American culture, that is, the one that doesn't believe in facts, and is led by crazy people.
RF.net: It's a funny thing to say, you don't believe in facts.
Pat: Yeah, but that's a very real thing. You'll find it in all cultures where the belief in the power is more important than the belief in the facts. It's unfortunate, but it happens in religion, it happens in politics, and all those things tend to kill people. So we like to keep it based on facts as much as we can.
RF.net: You guys are also, as far as I am aware, active in social and political activism outside of the band. Can you tell us a little bit about what each of you are doing right now in terms of activism, or is it just limited to the band?
Pat: Well, nobody really cares what I do in my personal life unless I'm wearing the brand of the band. So I've been vegan for fifteen years, but you know, unless I'm in a band, talking about being vegan, it doesn't really matter. Head and his girlfriend work with PETA and things like that, but again, it doesn't matter unless we're in the band talking about it.
RF.net: With the wake of the horrible Paris terror attacks a few weeks ago, how has that affected you as a band playing in Europe being on tour? We've seen a lot of bigger bands cancel entire tours as a reaction. If I'm not mistaken, you played a couple of shows in southern France only days after the attack.
There's the very low probability, going back to the facts, there's a very low probability of any of us being killed in a terrorist attack. So that was never our fear of going and playing Southern France, and we actually played outside of Paris, too. But we didn't want to be offensive to any of the French people who had lost friends. In France, a lot of people go to Paris for shows, even if you don't live in Paris. So that was the main thing for us. We reached out to the promoters and a lot of the people who were coming to the shows, and we asked them if they wanted us to come, and they said no, we want you to come and play the shows. It's interesting, Stiff Little Fingers played in Paris a couple of days after. While we were playing in France, they actually played in Paris. And they said to them, why are you playing in Paris? And they said, when we were in Northern Ireland nobody wanted to come play shows with us because there were always bomb attacks and terrorism. And we felt as though we were getting cheated out of music. And I'm paraphrasing now. And I was like, it's very true, you don't want to punish the people if they want to come out to a rock show because of the stupidity of a few. The few with guns killing people.
So yeah, in the end, it was a really amazing experience. We talked to a lot of people, and they said thank you for coming and thanks for not canceling, so, in the end, it was a good thing.
RF.net: Did the shows feel any different, I'm thinking that the emotional levels must have been quite high, right?
Pat: It was a little heavy in the beginning, but I think by the end of the show, it was a real Anti-Flag show. In our experience, and not to take it back to the U.S., but on a personal level right after September 11th in the U.S., we weren't really excited to go out and go to a rock show. But we did want to, us as a band, put on a show soon after September 11th because we wanted to say hey, we're going to do this, and we can't have people tell us what we're allowed to talk about, what we're not allowed to talk about.
RF.net: Looking back at the RCA years, you originally signed with them in order to ensure 100% control over the creative process. Did that work out as you originally hoped?
Absolutely. We had more freedom and more ability to do our thing on the major than we have on many of the independents. For two reasons: one, because they were afraid of us, and didn't know how to handle us, so they just wouldn't say no to us. The second is that they had the economic resources to do the things we wanted to do. We set up a whole nonprofit called military free zone to talk about military recruiting in high schools. We did this whole propaganda thing with USA Today, a newspaper thing, that we couldn't get an independent record company to do for us.
So yeah, the major label experience was actually, from our ability to get things done, was much better than being on an indie. Now, having said that we had to work with management. And we don't do well with managers. Managers managing us is not a good thing.
RF.net: Would you sign with again in the future?
Pat: It was a unique time in history because it was the collapse of the music industry. We were right at the end of that. We brought a lot of power into that equation, so they really wanted us. There was a bidding war, so we were able to get what we wanted, a lot of control. I don't think we would have that ability right now, but if we did have the ability to have the control that we wanted, yeah, absolutely. The majors were...we call it going to the dragon's den and stealing his gold and doing what we wanted with it. It was fun going to the president's of these major record companies, and say "How do you know you're gonna have a job tomorrow?", and watching them squirm because they knew that they had no way of knowing if they were going to have a job tomorrow. So it was actually a quite fun experience because they were on the bottom, and we were on the way up, so we could just do whatever w wanted, and they had to put up with our shit, which was fun.
RF.net: You're now with Spinefarm Records, which is primarily a metal label. I've also taken note of you guys doing a lot of metal festivals in Europe a couple of years back. I feel like there's a trend here.
You're the second one that has asked me this [laughs]
. I hate metal. No, I'm not a big fan of metal. But yeah, the metal festivals that we have done have nothing to do with going to Spinefarm. It was just a coincidence. Actually, we like playing metal festivals, we played a couple of them. We played with Metallica, Judas Priest, and all these bands I didn't think I was going to be on the same stage with.
RF.net: Was that a conscious thing, maybe to open to new audiences, or?
Pat: We have no loyalty to record companies. I don't like record companies. I had a record company, I think that they serve a purpose, but their purpose can be overblown. So we're always looking for different partners to work with to release music, with different ideas and access to different resources, and things like that. I'm a firm believer that the record speaks for itself, the record company should not be a part of that. It's a way of getting that record out to people, but it shouldn't be defining in any way that record.
RF.net: I've had the chance to see you guys play lots of times in the past, and your live shows are always vivid with plenty of unpredictable moments like moving your drumkit to the crowd or having an anti-wall of death at Roskilde some years back where you had everyone run out of the tent. How do you come up with this stuff? Is it pre-planned or does it just kind of come to you during the show itself.
Pat: Yes. Some of it is. Me playing in the crowd is a function of, sometimes I'm so far away of what's going on, I might as well be at home. There's no connection. So being able to go at the end of the show, go into where it's happening. If I could play down there the whole show, that would be fucking awesome, because that's where it's happening. That's where the energy is. So yeah, that's where I wanna be. So if the show goes well, we'll go into the crowd. If the kids are beating each other up and being really shitty to each other, we'll do something like the anti- wall of death. Our goal is for people not to get hurt. Our goal is to see that you can express yourself in a way that is getting that energy out but not necessarily in a violent way.
RF.net: I also noticed that you've been covering The Clash lately in your set. How come you're doing that instead of playing another one of your own songs? It's not like you don't have material to choose from.
Pat: That's fun for us. It's like we're gonna play our song that makes us happy, you guys had ten songs that made you happy, so we're gonna play this song. So yeah, sometimes we'll play The Clash. This tour, we haven't been doing a cover. So yeah, it just depends on where we are. The reason why we do The Clash is maybe six or seven years ago, somebody asked us to do a whole set of The Clash songs, so we learned a whole bunch of them. It wasn't FEST, it was somewhere in Jersey I think. So yeah, we had to learn a half an hour's worth of The Clash songs. And one thing that's really interesting about Anti-Flag, or specifically me, is I'm really shit at playing covers. I don't do it very well. The other guys are really good at it. So it was really a challenge for me to learn other people's songs. And then I was like "Oh, I can actually play this one halfway decent", and we sort of made it into our own, so we play it sometimes.
RF.net: Another thing I've noticed while I've been browsing through your setlist from the last couple of months, it seems like you're playing very few or even avoiding songs off "The People Or The Gun", "The General Strike" and "The Bright Lights Of America". Is that a conscious decision?
No, there's just different songs that come and go in our world. We were playing "The Bright Lights Of America" on the last couple of sets. #2 writes the set up, so whatever he chooses. But obviously we're trying to play some new songs from the new record, so we have to take out some of the ones that we like playing a little less and put in the new ones. So that's sort of how it happens, there's no grand scheme. It's just sort of like, "Let's play this one, I don't like that one as much, let's play that one instead."
RF.net: If we remove the new album from the equation, what is your favorite, or your top two from the back catalogue?
Pat: I will tell you that I probably can't remember two records that we did because I don't remember the records. And I don't remember the titles, because when we write them, they are different titles than they are. But I will say "Mobilize" was an important record for us because it was right after September 11th that we released that record. There was a real fear in the U.S. and the right wing was really strong, and it was our expression of some way of fighting back against that jingoistic, nationalistic bullshit that was going on in the States. So I would say that "Mobilize" is an important record for me. I'll also say that "The System Doesn't Work For You", which was the b-sides from the "Die From The Government" session, and it's just got some weird quirky songs on it that we'll probably never play live in our lives, but it has some interesting songs on it.
RF.net: To many punk fans, you guys and Rise Against have been the torchbearers of the modern political punk rock movement. Bands with a message, so to say. Are there any artists out there that you see as becoming the next Anti-Flag or Rise Against that are maybe not in the spotlight just yet?
Pat: It's very unusual for a band with a political point of view for people to care about. There are a lot of bands with political points of view. They're in the basements, they are not big enough to get out to play in Denmark or something like that. It's just expensive and hard to get to the outside of the US. But I do think that especially if Trump or some other crazy right winger gets elected, there will be an influx of political bands. When we were young, we were young and angry, and it didn't matter who was in power, we felt as though it was bullshit no matter what. But we've learned over the years that politics and music are definitely a fashion that comes and goes, and I'm not saying that as a negative, I'm saying that as that's just the reality of it. If you put politics in your music, at any time, I will take it. But yeah, I haven't seen yet the next Anti-Flag or Rise Against come out yet. There are a lot of great bands...not because we're great bands, it's just that I haven't seen a band that's able to stick it out for 20 years.
RF.net: Lastly, I gotta ask. Groezrock next year?
Pat: Groezrock next year? Not sure yet. Haven't gotten it all sorted out, we're still working on our calendar next year. Groezrock is a great festival, and we always like playing it. It's a great festival because all the punk bands are there, so if you're into punk rock music, that's the festival to go to.
RF.net: That's all from me today. Thanks for the interview, do you want to add anything?
Pat: Thank you for doing the research and knowing who you've been talking to. I talk to a lot of people who are like "I have no idea what you guys do", so I think it's awesome that you are aware of what we do and have real questions that dealt with that, so thank you for that.