Anti-Flag – Underground Network – Interview


Underground Network (Fat)
An interview with singer Justin Sane
by Scott Hefflon

Just to kinda summarize, seeing as it was my intention and might be overlooked unless noted, three East Coast bands were recently signed to well-known West Coast punk labels (Anti-Flag to Fat, Kill Your Idols to Side One Dummy, and The Unseen to BYO), and all three are interviewed within these pages.

This is your third full-length, your first for Fat, and I remember the one on Go-Kart, but the bio doesn’t mention who released your first one, Die for the Government. Was that on Radical or something?
It was on New Red Archives. It must’ve been an oversight that they weren’t mentioned. They were a really cool label. Nicky’s a great guy… He was the original guitarist for the UK Subs. He wrote the first three or four records.

They’re outta San Francisco, and you’re from Pittsburgh: How’d you hook up with them?
Our friend, The Old Man – who’s actually in his late-40s – had a radio show called “The Old Man Radio Hour,” and he really liked our band. He knew all the labels, so he sent out our stuff to let people know about us, and New Red Archives was interested in putting out a record for us. Pretty simple, actually.

Were you touring at the time?
We’d done one full US tour, and an East Coast tour. The US tour was about six weeks, and the East Coast one was almost two weeks. Then we did one more tour before the record actually came out. We had two or three 7″ out by that point and a ton of comp tracks as well.

The decision to switch to NYC’s Go-Kart makes sense for location’s sake if nothing else… Seeing as your record is called the “underground network,” what, um, other labels are from the East Coast?
There really aren’t many. We’re trying to help change that with our label, AF Records. We’re undergoing a major expansion of the label, bring in new people to work full time, and we just signed six new bands.

Who actually owns and operates the label (nod to Descendents/ALL’s O&O Records)?
Pat (drums), Chris (guitar) and I run the label, and our friend Neil is managing the label. We needed someone just as dedicated as us. but someone who wasn’t in the band who could work in the office everyday. And we’re very fortunate to have someone competent and into the idea. The label’s been doing OK for the last couple years: We have the last two Unseen records (including the first, formerly on VML) and both of them have done about 10,000 copies. When we signed to Fat, suddenly there was all this interest in the label – and the resources were available – so it seemed like the right time to expand the label.

As for signing with Go-Kart, it made sense because they were nice and close, and Greg Ross – the guy who runs the label – came to see us all the time.

And it was only a matter of time until you met up with Fat Mike and he wanted to put out your records… Funny, I can’t think of any other East Coast bands on Fat… Snuff is from the UK, Hi-Standard is from Japan, Wizo is from Germany, but most of the bands are, ya know, from California…
Um… Avail is from Virginia.

Yeah, that’s quite recent and they used to be on Lookout!…
And Sick of it All.

OK, you’re blowing holes in my over-generalization now…
(laughs) Yeah, it’s been great working with Fat so far. I’d met Mike a few times but never really got to know him all that well. But then we were on the Warped Tour together and got to know each other really well. He liked the band and we felt really comfortable because we felt we got to know what he’s about, and he understands what we’re about. And Fat’s distribution is just a great way to reach a lot of people.

I look at Anti-Flag as kinda like any political publication, the main difference being that we play music. Music is our medium instead of print, even though we use print as an aspect.

One thing I’ve found interesting is that this whole time as I’ve cancelled/rescheduled this interview repeatedly cuz I always overbook (claiming that so many pussy out or run late, so it usually works out in the end for me anyway, but actually I’m just a lousy judge of time and want to get as much cool stuff done as I can before the world ends) is how accommodating and polite you’ve been. This coast, this biz, the punk genre in general, and politically-active punks in particular, are not known for their friendly, easy-going manner, flexibility, and, well, gracious behavior.

(laughs politely, a bit embarrassed perhaps)

Usually when people say so-and-so is a nice person, it’s cuz their band sucks. But your band is good, widely-respected, AND you’re a swell guy…
It amazes me the way people treat each other… I try to roll with the punches, and even the things I care most about, I try to have a sense of perspective. [Don’t know about anyone else, but I call this the “range of acceptability.”] If you’re so specific all the time, you’ll just burn out. I was angry at everything all the time when I was 16 and it practically killed me.

In the end, I think we’re all on the same team. And even if we aren’t all out to achieve the same goals, we have more in common than we think. That gets lost much of the time, and that’s very sad. It makes people feel alone and suspicious of everyone around them.

I’m kinda hoping that reality TV stuff will help unify people. When you see a punk, a metalhead, a lawyer, and a cute bank teller dropped in the middle of nowhere and they have to rely on their wits and learn to trust each other and work together so they don’t get lost or starve or get attacked by bears or whatever, well, maybe that’d make high school a little less hellish.
It’s funny you bring up the outdoor aspect… When I was 16 and hated everything, I went to camp. There were all these hippies and jocks and a couple of punks, a couple preppies, yet by the end of camp, we were all really good friends. It was a really interesting time for me because it opened my eyes to the fact that, in many, many ways, most kids are very similar. They have the same fears, the same dreams and hopes, but to greater and lesser degrees, and they express these similarities in very different ways sometimes. That realization is something I’ve always hung onto, and it’s one of the reasons I always try to find the commonality in a situation in which there’s conflict rather than isolating and debating the differences.

On the other hand, I do think it’s important to focus on and give voice to what’s wrong, even if it’s just to give people something to think about, or just so they’ll be aware of what’s around them, things that might not fit into the concept they have of their own little world. Not to force opinions on people, and not simply for shock value, but mostly just to keep the doors open and the flow of ideas – even those that aren’t popular – going. An open, free exchange of ideas is a very healthy thing. And in the end, everyone makes up their own mind as to where they stand.

While I don’t know you very well, I get the feeling that you “lead by example.” Basically, you don’t spout empty slogans, you do your best to live openly and honestly with your desires and weaknesses, and you encourage others not to follow you, but to follow themselves, so to speak.
Definitely. And I always try to make it very clear that I’m not always “right” and I’m sure not infallible, but it’s a goal and I’m working on it.

I always consider myself a work in progress and give myself the complete freedom to have been wrong. I’d rather have been wrong, realize it, fix it, then be “right” again, than be too proud or too close-minded to accept that new information “forces” me to chance my stance… Would it be possible to either hit the highlights or “summarize” what Anti-Flag’s message is?
The main theme is humanitarianism. Treat others the way you want to be treated. And stand up for those not able to stand up for themselves. And that leads to nationalism and patriotism. Those things divide people and inspire them to focus on the differences between groups. And when you get into matters of warfare, the people fighting the war usually have more in common with “their enemy” than they do with the people waging the war.
(PO Box 193690 San Francisco, CA 94119)