Interview: Justin Sane of Anti-Flag
“Unfortunately, terrorism is the poor person’s smart bomb,” says Anti–Flag guitarist/vocalist Justin Sane,regretfully. “I mean for some people, there’s a notion of ideology that they’re fighting for, but some people are fighting because they have nothing left to live for – it’s a very complicated subject, but it doesn’t improve by watching drone strikes.”
Anti-Flag – and Sane in particular – have never shied away from speaking out on subjects that are close to their heart. Their music is confronting and honest, and designed to make their fans more aware of the world around them and its many flaws – particularly in relation to governments and war.
While each of their ten albums has its own agenda, it’s the groundbreaking For Blood And Empire that struck a chord with listeners the world over. The record made condemnations on the war on terror that many of their peers were reluctant to broach. Now, ten years after its release, Anti-Flag have decided to revisit the classic by playing it in its entirety on their upcoming Australian tour.
“It’s the tenth anniversary of the album, so we figured, ‘What the hell?’” Sane shrugs. “It’s certainly one of our best records, and there’s a lot of songs on there that we don’t play normally. It’s been fun rediscovering these songs, and if you’ve been a fan of the band for a long time, you’d know that we’ve got a lot of songs over a number of records – you can only play so many songs in a show, so this is an opportunity to play songs we wouldn’t normally play. We can’t complain about that.”
A decade later, many of the subjects addressed on the album are still relevant in the system, but Sane says he feels vindicated by the fact the truth behind some of these issues has been realised over the years.
“I think what’s really interesting about the record – and I don’t say this conceitedly, I just say it as a matter of fact – is that we were right. I would say that all of the issues that we address on the record came to pass. There was no reason to have the war in Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The United States wasn’t in danger. The war did end up costing much more money than the politicians told us it would. We knew the US would get bogged down in Iraq and that our military would be crippled by the war and so many military people would lose their lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s would die – that the Middle East would be destabilised.
“These are all things that we talked about with the invasion of Iraq. They were issues we raised on the record and we were right. It’s not like we were right because we had some kind of crystal ball, we were right because we knew our history. This is what happened in the past when the US tried to do something similar. When you look at Vietnam all of the exact same things happened there in some way. The same kind of lies were told to the public and that’s something that I think about. It’s important that people know their history so they’re not pulled in to the lies of the politicians.
“So often I come across people that have served in Iraq, and you see stories on the news about people who were crippled – I look at it and think, ‘What a waste.’ It was just a total fucking waste where people’s lives were thrown away for nothing. They were thrown away for the few rich people who run the corporations for their own wellbeing.”
“One thing we certainly talked about on that record – and we still talk about today – is the fact that every bomb you drop or every bullet you fire, you actually make yourself less safe. You don’t make friends by dropping bombs on people’s heads. You make friends by dropping hospitals or by building schools and infrastructure, and providing clean water and sanitation. It’s really interesting where in the past – when the US has been at conflict or disagreement with a nation and they went ahead and did these sorts of things – the results have been overwhelmingly positive. That’s what builds allies, but all we see as a result of the Iraq war and the invasion of Afghanistan is a rise in terrorism.”
While intended to raise awareness and challenge people’s opinions, Sane says that the true worth of Anti-Flag’s music is when it forces people to question their beliefs. He is strong of the opinion that through awareness comes truth, and says that he can tell through the reaction of fans that the fight is not just his own.
“It’s hard to say that we wrote a record or played a song and the world changed,” he said. “What I know for a fact is there are individuals out there that have found the songs and those songs have made a difference in their life. I’ve met these people. Going back to Iraq, I remember in the build-up to that war, a kid was at one of our shows and he told me he was going to join the military because of 9/11 but he found our song ‘911 For Peace’ and it totally changed his mind. He became an anti-war advocate. We hear stories like that all the time. I think making a statement is worth doing.
“No matter what it’s about, if it’s something you believe in or care about, I think it is worthwhile. I feel overall that the progressive left ideology that the band has put forward has made a difference, and we’ve been part of a voice that has helped move the needle in that direction. Socially, it’s a pretty exciting time to be alive. For example, recently in the US they made same-sex marriage legal – I hope Australia follows suit soon. It’s always interesting when something you’ve been talking about and waiting for for literally decades finally happens, and that’s when I realise that change is not something that usually happens overnight. It’s incremental. It takes time and people saying things over and over, and finding new ways to say those things – little by little, you get through to people.
“Every problem is not going to go away because somebody sang a song about it or wrote a book about it, but I do think that making a statement is important. Every major thing that happens in our world is the result of one person deciding that something needed to change so they stood up and said something. If you didn’t take that stand, nothing would ever change. You never know when it’s going to be the time that someone stands up to make that statement. You never know when someone is going to light that spark and start that fire.”
Anti-Flag / Scott Reynolds
Monday December 5th – The Triffid, Brisbane (18+)
Tuesday December 6th – The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (18+)
Thursday December 8th – Factory Theatre, Sydney (18+)
Friday December 9th – Uni Bar, Adelaide (AA)
Saturday December 10th – Max Watts, Melbourne (18+)
Sunday December 11th – Amplifier Bar, Perth (18+)