You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder-working and committed to their beliefs band than Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag. One of the most politically-driven bands who take to heart the teachings of The Clash, and Joe Strummer’s ideology that, “People can change anything they want to, and that means everything in the world.”
Bassist and co-lead singer, Chris Barker (more commonly referred to as Chris #2, partially because when he joined the band, there was already another Chris – guitarist, Chris Head) remains as equally passionate about politics as he does his one true love: hockey. I was lucky enough to catch up with #2 as he and the band were traveling to a show at the Metro in Chicago. We spoke about their recent single, “NVREVR,” their upcoming set at Punk in the Park Fest, and of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kevin: You guys just got back from Fest (the annual music festival in Florida, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary this year). How was that?
Chris: Correct. A lot of people think we’re regulars at Fest, but this was actually only the second time Anti-Flag has ever played there. We played two sets there – Saturday was Menzingers, Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music. I looked around like, these are the people we all grew up with. To see how much Fest has grown over the years was wild.
Kevin: I saw video from Fest of you guys playing “Spaz’s House Destruction Party.” There are rumors that you guys are retiring the song after this weekend. Is that true?
Chris: (laughs) Yeah, so it’s kind of secretly been retired. It’s a song that we don’t particularly enjoy performing because it makes some people who are unfamiliar with our band uncomfortable. The term “spaz” can be used as a derogatory term, but that’s not how we used it in the song – it’s literally the nickname of an actual human being that the song is written about. But for those reasons, it just felt like the appropriate time and setting to lay this song to rest.
Kevin: You guys just dropped a new video for the single “NVREVR,” from your upcoming album, “Lies They Tell Our Children” (due out January 6th, 2023). It features guest vocals from one of my favorite people, Stacey Dee, guitarist and co-lead singer for Bad Cop/Bad Cop. How did that come about?
Chris: Hmm… I can’t even remember our first interaction because we’ve just been such great friends since that moment that it seems like forever. I want to say maybe the 2017 Warped Tour that both our bands played on. It’s just such a perfect match. The way they hold themselves and the ideals they have for their band, their internal politics are so aligned with Anti-Flag’s, that whatever started as just an acquaintance became a friendship relatively quickly.
So, for the upcoming record, we have more guest vocals on songs than we’ve ever done before (seven of the 11 tracks). When we approached Stacey, Bad Cop was playing in Pittsburgh at the time, so she was the only guest vocalist to actually record in our studio; the rest were done remotely. Each one of these songs that has a guest on it doubles down on the influence of that person; Bad Cop is a really big influence on the pop punk feel of “NVREVR,” that we all said this is a no-brainer, let’s get Stacey to sing on this track.
Kevin: During the pandemic you guys actually released a documentary about the history of the band, “Beyond Barricades: The Story of Anti-Flag.” How did that come about and how long did that take?
Chris: the documentary was an intense labor of both love and hate. It was at least seven, if not 10 years in the making. The longest delay was we hated watching ourselves on screen and having to retell and relive some of the experiences we’ve been through. So, the pandemic gave us the perfect opportunity to take a break from the band and ourselves and focus on this. Plus, it gave us the perfect venue to release it with the birth of live streaming.
Kevin: Absolutely. In the movie, you touch on some personal tragedies you’ve gone through and I really appreciate your honesty and openness because I feel like it’s really helped a lot of people, whether through the music, or the documentary, or social media.
Chris: I appreciate that. Through the trauma in my life that I’ve lived, I’ve realized the benefit of discussing it is people will tell me they’ve gone through similar things and could finally be able to relate to my experiences and bring some solace to some otherwise arduous moments. Anti-Flag has given us a platform where we can discuss these things and really connect with people who could relate. It’s scary at first to take that leap and be so vulnerable but I think that’s what punk is supposed to be.
Kevin: So, switching gears to something a bit more lighthearted and something I know you’ll want to discuss: Rough start for the Pittsburgh Penguins this year, right?
Chris: They came out the gates flying the first four games and then they really shit the bed the last week and a half (laughs). Pittsburgh is a fantastic sports town but when the teams are losing, it’s rough to be here because the fans just do not have any patience. They expect them to win every game. But the team’s front office knows how long this season is and always seem to find a way to make it into the playoffs.
Kevin: What was it like growing up in Pittsburgh? Did that help shape your current ideologies and activism?
Chris: A thousand percent. The nature of Pittsburgh as a working-class, pro-union, the steel mill industry, the Homestead strike, and the activism that came from that. All of those things greatly influenced us. Justin (Sane, co-lead singer and guitarist for Anti-Flag) and I are both first generation Americans; my mother immigrated from Italy when she was 13 and Justin’s dad was born in Ireland.
My cousin is the one who got me into punk rock. My uncle played guitar and that’s how I found music. I was there when the steel mill in Monaca, PA closed down and he lost his job. To see how they could destroy an entire community in order to save a couple pennies by finding cheaper labor overseas is enough right there. So when it came time to play music, punk rock and activism is what you did. And I think Pittsburgh still has that – it’s not New York or LA where you can make it, so you’re not even thinking of that. You’re thinking, “What can I do to alleviate suffering, and how can I use my vocation to do so?” And that’s why the art that comes out of Pittsburgh always has a political tinge to it.
Kevin: What can we look forward to for your set this Sunday at Punk in the Park?
Chris: You know, it’s a short set. So, I think we’re just going to play hard and fast and get as many songs in that timeframe as we can. Any time we play a festival we try to make sure that everyone there knows that there’s this band of four individuals who believe in eradicating racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry from the lexicon of punk rock. And we’re going to use whatever opportunity we have to discuss those things.
Thank you to Chris Barker from Anti-Flag for the chat. We look forward to catching them and all of the bands at Punk in the Park this weekend at Oak Canyon Park.
Lots going on at Punk in the Park. Look for an announcement on the replacement for Dead Kennedys. Definitely look for the Anti-Flag set. They are a band that lives by their convictions which makes them a band that matters!