To bookend your weekend we submit a two-part interview feature with Justin Sane from Pittsburgh’s own Anti-Flag. The high energy, highly political quartet released their ninth studio full-length this week titled The People or the Gun. A political punk rocker for sixteen years on the scene, Sane logged on with (d)N0t in Part One to make some confessions about the major label experience at RCA, rap about the band’s new one-record-a-year clip and reveal Michael Moore’s role in Anti-Flag’s raid on the corporate machine.
Audio is available on The Gonzo Podcast and after the jump.
(d)N0t: Alright, been a busy week for you guys, and yet you still squeezed in a collaboration last night with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and The Coup’s Boots Riley superduo Street Sweeper Social Club. How did it go?
JS: It has been a real busy week, so busy in fact I was not involved in that. But the other guys were; the rest of the guys were all out there and were able to make the show. It went really great. Apparently the band is really cool and they had a great time. They said it was cool to be a part of that.
(d)N0t: Now you guys have been tight with Tom Morello for a while right?
JS: Mmm hmm.
(d)N0t: Did you guys first bond at the riots last year of the Republican National Convention?
JS: Oh no, we’ve known Tom for a lot of years. We first bonded I think in 1999, during The Battle of Los Angeles tour. Tom got a hold of an Anti-Flag record and they somehow tracked us down. We ended up playing with Rage Against The Machine on that tour; we opened up for them for a couple weeks of that tour. So it was really cool – that was our first encounter with Tom.
And we just stayed friends over the years. We’ve had a lot of musical collaborations over the years. And then we met Boots about a year or two ago. Actually both Boots and Tom are in our “Bright Lights of America” video. Tom puts in a cameo as the Teen USA Roller Derby coach. And Boots Riley plays his assistant. They both look really funny; it’s a funny video.
(d)N0t: Did Tom have to do a lot of research to accurately depict that role?
JS: Oh man. [laughs] Tom’s got plenty of spunk and fire. He just laid it down, he just went for it. It was very funny.
(d)N0t: Right on. Let’s talk about the new record, The People or the Gun. It’s released on SideOneDummy. Certainly not a departure for the band musically, but definitely a departure in terms of the band’s business. Are you stoked to be back at an indie label?
JS: Oh yeah, for sure. I think at the time we found RCA, that was a really interesting time for us and I think for the world. At that time there weren’t any bands in the mainstream that really were taking a direct stance against the George Bush White House. We saw this incredible void in the mainstream as far as people who were willing to take on what the Bush administration was doing.
Green Day’s American Idiot record still hadn’t come out. Bruce Springsteen still hadn’t said anything. Neil Young still hadn’t said anything. We just had this opportunity all of the sudden to work with a label that we felt was a really big bold one and maybe to be that voice. We felt like somebody needed to pick up the slack.
I think that was the number one driver in our minds to make that move. Not long we signed with them, Green Day’s American Idiot record came out and it kind of stole our thunder. And that said, it’s fine. I’m really glad that Green Day were able to do that; I applaud them for stepping up. But, when we did the deal, in our minds it was always a short term thing. We fought and worked really hard to make sure it was only a two record deal. We didn’t see ourselves being there for the rest of our lives. That wasn’t a place we neceessarily wanted to call home forever.
The guys at SideOne we’ve known for years, probably ten years. We’ve toured with a band on SideOneDummy now for probably our last five or six US tours, so our relationship with SideOneDummy has only grown and grown. By the time came around that we were getting ready to record, we pretty much knew that’s where we wanted to go. It didn’t take much discussion between us and the label.
(d)N0t: How do you look back on your major label experience? You’re one of many bands from the punk rock scene that have taken the plunge to a major label. A lot of people have conflicted feelings about it. Obviously, Less Than Jake’s time on Warner Bros. was not spectacular. Alkaline Trio recently announced that they’re Epic so they can make punk rock records again.
(d)N0t: Do you share that trepidation about that time? Did you enjoy your time at RCA?
JS: Well, amazingly enough, we actually had a really positive experience overall on RCA. You know, we went into it with our eyes wide open; we knew what we were getting into. I think in the end, we went into the devil’s den, we stole his pot of gold and we got the hell out of there. [laughs] That was kind of the plan.
It was the plan in that we really believed in the idea that we would be able to use the resources of the major label to our advantage and to further the agenda that was important to us. And one of the people who really highlighted that idea to me was Tom Morello. Because of course we talk to Tom about all these things before we did them. Another person I happened to talk to around the time we were thinking about working with a major was Michael Moore.
JS: Michael Moore again is just another individual who we’ve played some dates and did some things with over the years. It just happened at that time we were with Michael Moore and Tom Morello together, so it was interesting to have the conversation. They are two artists and individuals who just have an incredible amount of success using these huge corporate structures to further their own agenda. You know, we had that example. We almost had these mentors to kind of guide us through that.
I feel like we got a whole lot more out of the major label than they got out of us. But, going into the major label thing, we understood… Pretty much, the way it’s worked with Anti-Flag and labels is that we get to know the people at the record label we’ve been on. It’s part of the fun and I just think the nice side of what we do is we develop these relationships and we get to meet people. New and interesting people and partners and friends.
One of the things that was dispelled for me about major labels is that everyone at major labels is a heartless, cruel bastard. There are actually a lot of decent, hard working, good people who actually work at the label. The worker bees of the label, these are a lot of good people there and it kinda makes sense. Because you think about who’s into music, it’s usually pretty cool people, people who worked at the college radio station, you know? That’s a lot of the people that you find at certain labels, certainly that was the case at RCA.
But what we also understood was that quite often when a band signs to a major label, the people who’d bring the band into the label because of corporate cutbacks and layoffs and all that kind of BS that we never had to deal with in the indie world, those people would lose their jobs. They’d get fired for someone who can work cheaper. And we were well aware of that possibility happening. And that was another part of why we negotiated really hard to have a two record deal.
In all honesty, that’s exactly what happened. Almost everybody we had a really close, tight relationship with at the major label was axed or promoted or disappeared in some way. By the time our second record came out on RCA, we didn’t really have many relationships there and they hardly worked the record at all. The Bright Lights of America was a record that almost went right under the radar. In some ways to me, it feels like never even came out.
But that’s why we protected ourselves. That’s why we were really careful about what we did. Unfortunately for our friends, we’ve seen a lot of them go through this process and we’ve seen exactly these things happen to them. The only difference is instead of us getting stuck at the label and fighting to get dropped and having all these issues that drag out, we were just able to walk away. And that allowed us to just continue what we do. We were able to make a record pretty quickly and on our own terms and when we wanted to make it and with whoever we wanted to make it with. We didn’t have the whole issue of trying to get the label to let go of us and all that kind of BS that a lot of bands have to deal with.
(d)N0t: You mentioned the speed of the turn around time. In a recent interview, Chris #2 mentioned that was one of the biggest benefits. You can get this faster turnaround time between the songwriting process to putting a record on the shelf. Is an album a year going to be the new clip that fans should expect from Anti-Flag?
JS: Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we kept up that clip. We just built our own home studio. Our home studio is like our old practice space basically with some carpeting put on the walls and updated with some new microphones and what-not. Unfortunately, it’s not cathedral ceilings and hardwood floors. [laughs] And, you know, 64 channel mixing desks. But it gets the job done.
There’s sort of this pride about putting your own studio together. It’s like anything else, it’s like you’re building a little cool clubhouse. [laughs] And when you finish it, it’s like you’re eleven again. “Cool, it’s finished, now I’m going to hang out in here.” Sitting there in the clubhouse and read comic books or whatever you do in your clubhouse, you know?
For us, we’re just really excited about having the studio finished. Once its done, you want to play in it. And so you start writing songs and you’re recording songs as you go and it’s a blast. I would stay at the studio and record guitar solos until like four in the morning, just because I could. You don’t need anybody else there with you, because you can run the rig yourself and play and record. It’s a lot of fun in that way.
We just enjoy playing, we always have. Even if people didn’t really have any interest in Anti-Flag, if musically people didn’t follow our band, there weren’t quote-unquote “fans” I guess you would say… We’d probably still have a band, because we all just love to play. In that respect, us kicking out a record a year? That might be a little ambitious, but we could probably do it because the studio is sitting there and we love getting together and playing.
Tune in next Monday for the second part of our interview with Justin Sane as he takes off the left’s rose-colored Obama glasses, relates his personal experience with nationalized medicine, and breaks the news about a new Anti-Flag 7 inch coming out this summer.