The members of Anti-Flag are sharpening their lyrical swords for the impending Donald Trump presidency — but they’re a little surprised to be doing so.
“We’re working on a new record, and it’s definitely taking a turn of direction I didn’t expect,” Justin Sane, frontman and co-founder of the populist-minded Pittsburgh punk rock troupe, tells Billboard. “We were kind of gearing up to take on Hillary Clinton. We were taking on Barack Obama on our last few records. The very first song on our last record (“Fabled World” from 2015’s American Spring) was about the failure of the Obama administration — the deportation of people, the ramp-up of the prison-industrial complex, continuing the Bush military doctrine. So we weren’t easy on Obama and we kind of believed with Hillary Clinton it was going to be more of the same. We weren’t going to just roll over and take that. Now that it’s going to be Donald Trump, it takes it to another level.”
Sane, in fact, is anticipating he’ll be addressing topics that he didn’t expect would be part of the discourse in 2017. “I can’t believe that I’m probably going to be writing songs about nuclear disarmament,” Sane says. “I never believed I’d actually have to be protesting the ramping up of nuclear weapons in the way Donald Trump is talking about. But it’s one of the issues he’s putting on the table, so it’s like ‘here we go again.'” And Sane is confident Trump and his administration will offer plenty of other meat for his group’s material.
“He’s just surrounding himself with corporate Washington insiders,” Sane notes. “He said he was going to drain the swamp, but none of the people he’s bringing into his administration… they’re all corporate lobbyists and insiders. A lot of the people he’s bringing in are diametrically opposed to workers’ rights, and of course that’s a disaster for poor and working people. There are a lot of people thinking he was going to be on their side, and I definitely understand that. He very effectively campaigned that way. But unfortunately, I think he’s a con man, and they got taken.”
Sane doesn’t expect Anti-Flag to be the only band finding inspiration, either. “It’ll definitely be a time where I think political music will probably get a little bit of a boost,” he says. “Art and music often reflect how people are feeling, and I think right now there’s an increase in people feeling a lot of distress and concern about where things are headed.”
Sane and Anti-Flag are seeing that as well at the band’s shows since Trump’s election, which have become a sort of haven for kindred spirit. “Night after night people are telling me, ‘I came here tonight because I wanted to be around some people who are concerned about the direction of the country,'” Sane says. “They want to know that they’re going to be in a place where there was going to be some support and solace for the kinds of things that they’re feeling right now. I think people are feeling even more out of control than ever. I’m getting a sense that people are just generally trying to treat each other well and treat each other respectfully and have that baseline of just being good people. I think people feel that’s something that’s going to be absent here in the next four years, which is really distressing for a lot of people.”
Sane not surprisingly predicts Anti-Flag’s next album “could end up sounding like a more angry record, maybe than we would’ve originally intended to make,” but nothing’s in stone yet. “Ultimately I just want to make the best record we can,” he says. “I think that for as much as the politics about all this are going to matter, writing the best songs we can and playing music is something that helps me keep my sanity — even when we’re doing songs that are political in nature and about difficult problems. So we want the music to be good, not just angry.” He’s hoping for a fall release, but Sane also doesn’t want to rush into topical commentary without giving issues some time to develop.
“We’re not going to put out anything too fast,” he says. “We want to feel like we can make a critique that’s relevant to what’s going on. I think there’s a bigger realm of issues we can address right off the bat, like the fact that we don’t want to see hate speech and bullying normalized, which I think was part of the campaign. There won’t be any shortage of things to write about — that much I’m sure of.”