Justin Sane. #2. Pat Thetic. Silent guitarist Head (reason given by the band for his not participating in the interview: “Head doesn’t talk”, despite him being disarmingly friendly the rest of the time) – or Justin Geever, Christopher Barker, Patrick Bollinger and Christopher Head. Point at the silly names, their involvement with a major label and the mohawks as evidence they’re picture-postcard punks without the nous to back up the bile, Anti-Flag are following the same lineage as Guthrie, Bragg and now Frank Turner in knowing that to get a message out on a mass scale, it has to be packaged well. It’s not a case of them becoming too big for the punk community, because the issues they discuss are global in scale.
Sane: “Our goal was to be a part of this underground community that was happening in our home town. We looked at Warped as the corporate tour.”
Thetic: “I remember the debate we had in your mom’s living room about whether it was suitable for us…”
Sane: “Exactly! We met Billy Bragg really early on, and one of the things we talked about was that when you’re given a platform to put an idea forward, regardless of who’s giving you that opportunity, you take it and mold it into whatever you want to mold it into.”
#2: “Again, another thing Billy taught us was that the best song wins, not the one with the best message…”
Thetic closes with a wink. “You need to get the most flesh out of the evil empire as you can. It’s not about bending over and taking it up the ass, it’s about biting off as much as you can chew.”
‘The People Or The Gun’ taps into topics that are alive in the world today, and that’s possible because they took RCA’s money, built their own studio and made what Thetic calls “the most Anti-Flag album yet”. Released three months after it was recorded so it had – and has – maximum impact, it’s the sound of a band in bloom. So Obama’s in; the gap between rich and poor has never been greater and there’s still as much discrimination than ever. The four guys in Anti-Flag are still biting off as much as they can chew because they understand what it is to be young, lonely and fucked up, and they’re surviving not because they’re tech-savvy (NME had to explain Spotify, despite the majority of their albums being on it) but because they work ridiculously hard, seeing as they’ve never sold more than 100,000 copies of any album. On Sane’s key-fob which holds his AAA pass – more important than a passport at Warped because it lets you get food – he’s gaffer-taped a Sharpie marker so that whenever he’s outside the bus he can sign something for a fan. “There were times in my life when I had nothing but a record, whether it was an Exploited record, Social Distortion, or a Clash record… when kids say the same stuff to me it’s a real inspiration.”
On NME’s final night, he hugs us before proudly displaying a text from a fan informing him they received the all-clear from a cancer diagnosis. Sane can’t get his words out, which is strange for a guy who’s so erudite in interview and so passionate onstage, but he finally stammers his appreciation over the clatter of the barbecue bedlam. “That’s… you know, man, that’s… that means more than… that, right there, is the reason we do this. To create this community of friends.” And for over a decade, Anti-Flag have done just that. What’s more, it’s never been stronger.