Talking punk rock and politics with Anti-Flag

By Sarah Mac
Anti-Flag are set to embark on the cheekily titled Make Canada Great Again Tour this spring. Photo: Megan Thompson

Anti-Flag are set to embark on the cheekily titled Make Canada Great Again Tour this spring.
Photo: Megan Thompson

CALGARY — First off, let’s get one thing straight: Anti-Flag isn’t anti-government, they’re simply anti-war.

Hailing from Pittsburgh and banding together in the early ‘90s, Anti-Flag have become militants in the punk rock community. The quick, upbeat tempos draw you in and the loud, scratchy vocals keep you coming back. But Anti-Flag’s lyrics are what really pack the punch – blunt, and only interested in facts. Since the start and over a dozen albums later, they’re still spreading their message of empathy and unity. All while lending their support to many worthy human rights causes along the way.

Although Anti-Flag has been busy, they haven’t toured Western Canada in almost a decade. We decided to catch up with the band and enlisted the insight of long-time bassist, Chris Barker (affectionately dubbed Chris #2), to discuss anniversaries, their Canadian tour and of course, politics.

Let’s look back. 2016 marks the anniversary of three massive Anti-Flag albums: 20 years for Die for Your Government, 15 years for Underground Network, and 10 years for Blood & Empire.

“Those anniversaries come and go for us as a band, but we are curating the set lists to be really heavy on those three records,” says Barker. “We’re also playing a ton of covers to kind of demonstrate that everyone in the room found punk rock somehow. Kind of like, ‘here are a few songs that inspired us to pick up these instruments in the first place.’”

Canadian fans are heavily anticipating this tour, but why did it take so long for Anti-Flag to return?

“For a while we were trying consistently to find as many new places to tour as possible. But with the last record, American Spring (2015), we felt like it was the most important Anti-Flag record released in a really long time. So we made a conscious effort to go back to places that we’ve toured in the past. It was really important to us, we really wanted to make sure we got back to those places that we really cut our teeth on,” he explains.

Since this is Anti-Flag, it was inevitable that we’d have some discussion about politics. “It’s a tumultuous time in the world right now, not just for America,” says Barker. “But we’ve always felt it’s our band’s job and duty to go out there and share ideas of empathy and compassion and let people know that we [Americans] aren’t all gun-toting Texans like George W. Bush, and we all aren’t immigrant-hating, blind nationalists like Donald Trump,” he continues.

This is not an easy message to spread – especially as of late – but Anti-Flag’s determination and enthusiasm remains optimistic.

“Recently it’s been interesting because of the divisiveness of politics globally, there’s one extreme to another, which is a good thing. Things tend to stay the same whenever the decision-making process seems safe and people are apathetic and not engaged on both sides. Lately, you find more people paying attention to ideas of activism and leaving things better than how they found them.”

While this may be true from a broader perspective, when it comes to his home soil, Barker is aware of the political turbulence his country’s going through.

“I do keep coming back to the idea that we [Americans] get the presidents that we deserve. So if Donald Trump gets elected then perhaps that’s what America deserves in this point in time in history.

“But I’m an optimist. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be in a shitty punk rock band.”

Anti-Flag are touring nearly every corner of Western Canada in April and May. Select dates include April 28th at Venue in Vancouver, May 4th at the Starlite Room in Edmonton and May 6th at The Gateway in Calgary.

CORRECTION: The Anti-Flag tour date for Vancouver at Venue in fact happens on April 28th, not the 18th as previously published. We apologize for the error.

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