JUSTIN SANE (vocalist/guitarist) GIVES SOME BACKGROUND ON ANTI-FLAG
For the real story on Anti-Flag you have to go way back to 1988. At that time, Pat could hardly play drums and I was even worse at guitar. But the fact remained that we were the only punk rockers in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania (the town where we grew up) and when faced with either hanging out at the mall, getting fucked out of our minds on drugs, or attempting to play punk rock, we went straight for the punk rock! By 1989 we were playing just well enough to have a band, which we named Anti-Flag. However that band didn't look anything like the Anti-Flag of today. At that time my sister, Lucy Fester, held down the lead vocals, and a number of stray guitarists and bass players sifted in and out of the mix. After playing only one show at a church hall we rented the band fell apart and as far as we were concerned was laid to rest forever! Jump ahead to 1993. After playing in a number of forgettable bands Pat and I drove across the country to fuck around on the west coast for a while. Pat went back to Pittsburgh a week or two after our arrival in San Francisco and I hung out there for about eight months to check out the scenery. Once back in Pittsburgh we were more determined than ever to start a serious band. All we needed was a good bass player. That's where Andy Flag entered the picture. I had met him a year or two earlier at church. Both of us had been forced to attend church by our moms and Andy was the only other punky kid in the youth group, so naturally, we automatically attracted to each other. As it turned out Andy played bass and he, Pat, and I, got together and played a number of times. But then Pat and I left for the west coast, which gave us no chance to really get anything going. So when I got back from San Francisco we called him up and asked him to join the new band we were forming. He accepted.
We practiced our asses off during the remainder of February and part of March and within a few weeks we were scheduled to play a live radio show on WRCT in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for us, we still didn't have a name! While Pat and I had already used the name Anti-Flag years earlier in our other band we had been kicking around the idea of using it again. Why? Well, it was like this... the name was originally inspired as a result of the late 80's Pittsburgh scene being infiltrated by a bunch of ass holes who toted the slogan, "Freedom not fascism". Well, that would've been great if these jerks practiced what they preached, but unfortunately, their idea of punk rock was VERY fascist! They took to sporting the American flag on their jackets, saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and (like the bunch of goons they were) beating the fuck out of each other and anyone who got in the way. (basically they were just macho jock types who happened to have gotten into punk) At shows I would see these fuckers sporting their flags singing along to the Sub Humans, Exploited, Circle Jerks, whoever happened to be on tour, and I would wonder why? Weren't these bands completely speaking out against everything these "punx" believed in? It seemed to me that these kids were really missing the point to it all. They needed to look "fascism" up in the dictionary so they could learn that fascism controls the masses by 1. Promoting extreme nationalism, and 2. Using systematic violence and terror. (To these kids credit they were against racism but they failed to realize that you can be anti racist and still be a fascist!)
With that in mind, even though we had already used the name Anti-Flag we felt like it was a name that could still say a lot about the current state of the punk rock community and the world as a whole. Our thinking was that people wouldn't so easily be able to treat our band as entertainment, but instead it would be a vehicle that would force them to think. THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO AGREE WITH US! We just wanted to make a point that we weren't there ONLY to entertain, we had something to say, there was a fundamental belief behind the band. So, the night of our show at WRCT we walked through the doors as Anti-Flag. (Fuckin' right!) Why did we put the hyphen in the middle of "anti" and "flag"? I'd like to be able to tell you that it's a symbol of defiance, we were snubbing the use of proper English to show our hatred for modern society, etc., etc... Unfortunately, the truth is, we were all just too dumb to know the correct use of a hyphen.
Moving right along...
Where Did Anti-Flag Go From There?
For about three years after forming Anti-Flag played local gigs and did our best to play as many out of town shows as possible which was hard because we didn't have a van, we didn't know anyone outside of Pittsburgh, and we didn't have much money. Luckily, one thing we did have in our favor was the unity within the punk scene. We had a lot of help getting shows in new cities from other local bands we were friends with like The Bad Genes and Submachine who had already been on tour. To get to those shows our good friend Anne Flag would drive us around in her van.
Eventually, we had our shit together enough to book a full U.S. tour which we did in the summer of '95. Luckily for us Andy Flag's grandfather had generously given him a nearly brand new 1995 van a few days before the tour and we traveled in style! Unfortunately, during that tour it became painfully obvious that Andy and I didn't get along too well when stuck in close proximity of each other for long periods of time. We fought most of the tour (mostly about STUPID things!) and our relationship never really recovered. We did our second tour in the spring of `96. It was very short, only lasting one and a half weeks, but by the end of it Andy Flag had quit the band. This time it wasn't only he and I who weren't getting along, Pat Thetic and Andy were having trouble getting along as well. Looking back, I think immaturity and inexperience were the root problems behind the troubles. Most importantly we lost sight of the bottom line behind the band, fun. We were taking ourselves way too seriously and that left no room for any fun. (We have since worked out our problems with Andy Flag and we are all good friends again.)
After Andy Flag quit, Pat Thetic and I sat down and talked about what we thought went wrong. We decided that things had to lighten up a lot. We also decided that things would never again get so out of hand on tour that there would be a fight or argument. I'm glad to report that since that conversation we've done 4 full U.S. tours, 3 full Canadian tours, and a number of East Coast tours without a single argument. Disagreements? Yes. But nothing that wasn't worked out like normal fucking human beings.
From that point we had to find a new bass player. For a short time our friend Sean from The Bad Genes filled in. Then on our Summer `96 Tour with Vancouver's d.b.s. our friend Justin from Connecticut filled in. Right before New Years 1997 we met Chris Head and he filled in for a show we played on New Years Eve in Pittsburgh. Then he filled in again for the "Die for the Government" cd release show in early 1997. Chris automatically fit right into Anti-Flag like a missing piece of a puzzle. Right off the bat we loved playing with him and having him around. We knew we had to reserve a spot in the line-up for him but unfortunately Chris Head (who we affectionately sometimes call "Gimmie") was not actually a bass player, he was a guitarist. For that reason we didn't want to keep him on bass but we didn't want to let him go either. In the end, we decided to have him play 2nd guitar and find someone else to play bass. That's where Jamie Cock entered the picture.
Pat Thetic and I had met Jamie Cock (who we call Cock) on our Summer `95 Tour while playing in her hometown of Toronto, Canada. She was really fucking cool and wanted to play bass for us really badly. We were leaving for tour with the U.K. Subs in a month and didn't have anyone new lined up to play bass so we were like, "What the fuck!", and that was that! She was now in Anti-Flag. Unfortunately she didn’t end up staying as a permanent member, so in ’99 we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle since we were going to do a show with a band called Subhumans but we lacked a bassist. Thankfully, an insanely enthusiastic fan who we kept running into at all of our shows insisted that he could fill in. We figured "why not?", gave him a shot, and hence... #2 was born. What we didn’t didn’t know was that #2 was still finishing High School and basically decided he would finish as quickly as possible in order to hit the road with us.
With the help of #2 we were able to finish "A New Kind of Army", which came out on Go Kart Records in April of ’99. Needless to say, we kept on touring, touring, touring... and much to our surprise kids loved the CD, listened to what we were doing and what we’re about. We found that we were really able to connect with cool people who shared our vision, and one of the coolest experiences of that time was being personally invited by Tom Morello and Rage Against The Machine to play some shows with them. Unfortunately I was very sick at this time so Anti-Flag could only play a few shows with Rage, but we’ve been in touch with Tom ever since. After much thought we decided that it would be even cooler to try and help out some upcoming bands by starting a small label. That label is A-F Records. Our first release was the reissue of a split we’d done with a Canadian band called d.b.s., which we called Their System Doesn’t Work For You. The money that we made from those CDs helped fund our next release, "Golden Mile" from our friends Reagan Squad (who unfortunately broke up). Little by little the label started growing (after a lot of trial and error) and it’s still going strong.
In 2000 we were invited to take part in the Warped Tour, where we made a lot of new friends, among them Fat Mike from NOFX/Fat Wreck Chords. He asked us if we’d like to do our next CD with him, we said "sure dude!". In the Fall of 2000 we moseyed over to Lafayette, Indiana, to Sonic Iguana Studios run by Mass Georgini (an absolutely fantastic guy and exceptionally talented engineer, producer and musician, who’s been in bands such as Screeching Weasel, Common Rider, Squirtgun, among others). The result was "Underground Network", which Fat Wreck put out in early 2001.
After even more endless touring, we wanted to try something different for the next Anti-Flag CD so why not put it out ourselves? Instead of just sitting down and writing a full CD, we thought it would be cool if we created the energy and community spirit of a live Anti-Flag show and put it on CD. So, after recording a few songs that were just too good to pass up, we booked a show in December of 2001 at the Mr. Roboto Project in Pittsburgh, invited a bunch of our closest friends and taped the whole shebang. That CD became "Mobilize". The next couple of months we were sharing those "Mobilize" songs with great bands such as Good Riddance, Strike Anywhere, Against All Authority and Thrice, as well as part of the A-F Records family, with The Code, Pipedown, Thought Riot and Virus Nine on the "Mobilize for Peace" tour. 2002 was also the first time we toured in Europe with Millencolin and the Donots, which was also a very fun and unique experience that I hope we’ll do again sometime soon. Finally, after coming home from Europe we packed our bags again and went out with the 2002 Warped Tour, six weeks of punk mayhem and severe sleep deprivation.