Pittsburgh punks Anti-Flag are more than just a band. They’re a protest group. They have as much in common with Amnesty International and the global Occupy movement as they do with AFI or The Offspring – probably even more, in fact.
Nevertheless, when they’re not focusing on political activism they’re writing killer music. In their 22 years as a band they’ve released 10 studio albums, 11 EPs, 9 split albums, and assorted compilation and music video releases. Basically, for the last two decades they’ve been very busy boys.
But with well over 200 songs to choose from, which stand out above the rest? We asked the Flag’s founding father, lead guitarist, and singer/songwriter Justin Sane to pick out his top ten tunes, and these are his selections…
DIE FOR THE GOVERNMENT (Die for the Government, 1996)
Justin: “This is a quintessential Anti-Flag song, and it really became the first anthem that I ever wrote. It was something that really appealed to me as well, and I had a sense that this was where I wanted to go with my song writing. And of course at the very core of this song is the main concept that Anti-Flag was founded upon, which is the idea that when you go and fight and die in somebody else’s military, you’re not fighting for freedom, or patriotism or liberation - you’re fighting for corporations. You have to look no further than the Iraq War to figure out that that’s the truth. Our government also has a very bad history of caring for its veterans, and in the US there’s veterans that kill themselves every single day because the health care just isn’t there for them. They use you and then they throw you away, and the people you’re fighting and dying for don’t care about you. So if you want to fight for something, fight for peace.”
**UNDERGROUND NETWORK *(Underground Network*, 2001)
“For me, this song is sort of the follow up to Die for the Government. I really wanted to put forward the idea that it is possible to put ideas into the public discourse without using the mainstream. What I’ve always loved about punk rock is it’s this underground community of alternative ideas, and what’s amazing is that this movement has sparked so many other movements and ideas. So many ideas that are relevant today – anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia – are ideas that punk rock has been slowly pushing into the mainstream for the last 30 or 40 years, and this song is really a celebration and affirmation of that.”
**YOU CAN KILL THE PROTESTER, BUT YOU CAN’T KILL THE PROTEST *(The Terror State*, 2003)
“This is a song that Chris #2 [bass, vocals] wrote exclusively by himself. There are a lot of songs that we’ll collaborate on, but this one he did completely by himself, and it was a real breakout song for him as far as songwriting goes. I think the concept is really strong, too. It’s that idea that no matter how much intimidation or violence the powers that be use against us, the ideologies that drive a movement don’t go away just because you murder someone. And they certainly do kill people who protest and stand up for their rights. Musically, it’s a great song as well. It’s really aggressive and the lyrics are just great. It goes down in history for me as one of my favourite punk songs ever.”
**TURNCOAT *(The Terror State*, 2003)
“This is the first song on The Terror State album, and it’s my favourite song to play live. When I wrote it, it literally just happened where I strummed the guitar chords and said the words, and the chorus was written. It’s amazing when a song comes together like that. You even don’t know it’s happening, it just happens. I remember just singing out those four words, ‘Turncoat / Liar / Killer / Thief’, and thinking, ‘Holy shit, this is a great song!’ I wrote it without even trying. And I think it’s really interesting in terms of what was happening in the American subconscious at that time, when we were in the build up to the second Iraq War with the architect George W. Bush behind it. I’d been thinking for weeks about what a traitor to the country and the people he was. He took us into a war that was totally illegal and not based on anything other than greed, and he fed us a bunch of lies. The lyrics sum that up perfectly, and I think it’s a song that speaks to the true heart of what Anti-Flag has been about since its inception.”
THE PRESS CORPSE (For Blood and Empire, 2006)
“This song was on the next record after The Terror State, which was For Blood and Empire, and we made that after the invasion on Iraq. What I saw during that invasion was a corporate media that completely failed in the role of a media in a democracy. They’re supposed to be the watchdog of the powerful, and to question the powerful, and to press and challenge them. But instead what we saw, in the United States at least, was a corporate media that was willing to repeat the lies and not challenge the Bush administration. They were literally co-opted to print articles that later the Bush administration would cite as reasons for going to war. So basically they planted their own facts, and then they referenced those facts in their defence. There were newspapers that had always been considered very credible, and all of a sudden they weren’t credible at all, and that’s very much what the song’s about. It was a song that not only had a strong message and said something really important that needed to be said, but it was also a song that was written about something that nobody else was really talking about, and I thought that was really important. We even signed to a major label at that time, and a big part of that was because we felt like there was no one in the mainstream that was saying anything that was in conflict with what the administration was saying. So For Blood and Empire became one of the most political records that we ever made. And musically I think the song showed such a great growth in the band. We’d really hit our stride, and we understood how to write a great, powerful song, which ended up being the first single of that record.”
**THIS IS THE END (FOR YOU MY FRIEND) *(For Blood and Empire*, 2006)
“There are moments when songs are written, and the memories of writing them are so vivid that they become like these special moments in your life. They capture where you were and what was happening. I remember after being up for about 48 hours, I was sat with #2 on our knees in this dark little walkway on our tour bus, and he had his guitar and he strummed out those opening chords. I’ll never forget him showing me that for the first time, and him thinking he was onto something, and me just sitting there saying, ‘Yeah dude, you are onto something.’ It ended up being a tremendous song, and I also love the creativity of where it came from. It ended up being really meaningful as well, because it’s about the personal being political, and the idea that it’s important to value yourself first, and stay true to yourself regardless of what people say about you, because once you’re good to yourself then you’re able to be good to others.”
**THE BRIGHT LIGHTS OF AMERICA *(The Bright Lights of America*, 2008)
“This is a song about disaffected youth, and the fact that it’s really hard growing up in a society that values money and profits over people. It’s important for us to let each other know that when we’re struggling, we’re not the only ones who are struggling. So many of us struggle in so many ways, and I think we have to be honest with ourselves about that, because only then can we help and support each other and guide each other through this insane thing we all live in, which is life!”
**BROKEN BONES *(The General Strike, 2012)
“Broken Bones *is a really important song for me personally. It’s about how this touring world that we find ourselves in is not all it’s cracked up to be. 20 years into our career, so much of the good that’s come from life has come from this. But so much of the heartache and the pain, and literally the broken bones that we’ve suffered, have come out of touring as well. There’s a real conflict of identity that happens sometimes when you get towards the end of a six-week tour and you look in the mirror and you think, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ But then you have that moment each day where you meet somebody that inspires you, or you play a show and you realise you’ve connected with people. So even though there’s a lot of hardship and it hurts sometimes, at the end of it all it’s a good pain, and a good fight – no doubt about it.”
**FABLED WORLD *(American Spring*, 2015)
“This is track one off the new record American Spring, and for me it’s an important song because it really encapsulates a lot of what’s happening today in society, especially when you look at the roots of where wealth and inequality has come from, and why we have so much injustice in the world. It doesn’t happen by accident. It’s really a rigged game. Especially in America, where we’re fed this idea of the American Dream, where everybody has a chance and if you work really hard then you can get ahead. But when you look at somebody like Donald Trump, he’s a classic example of why this isn’t true. Donald Trump’s father left him 300 million dollars. He didn’t start in the same place that most people start. So we’re fed this myth that everybody has the same chance in life, but I can tell you right now that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you start with 300 million dollars, you have a much better chance of success than someone who started with nothing. So this is a song that’s trying to expose that myth and put forward the idea that it’s OK to acknowledge reality and say that you don’t want to live in a society where it’s every man for himself. People who aren’t starting out from such a great place deserve a little bit of help. And I want to live in a society and a community that’s excited about helping people, because it doesn’t have to be every man for himself. That’s the kind of world that I want to live in, and that’s the concept behind this song. And I just think it’s a ripper to be honest with you. It’s got a great solo too. I know because I played it!”
**BRANDENBURG GATE *(American Spring*, 2015)
“This is another song off the new record. It’s a really catchy one, and I really love how collaborative we were when writing it. We wrote it at a practice where we were just about to give up, because we’d been playing a load of shows and we were all kind of beat. Then #2 said, ‘I’ve been wanting to write a song that kind of goes likes this.’ So we just started working on it, and within 45 minutes we had a song. It was amazing to me because we’d almost decided it was time to call it a day, and then 45 minutes later we had a song that we knew was going to be great. I love when we work on a song and it’s a real true collaboration, where we’re all pitching in ideas as we’re writing it. This song is a great example of that. And #2 wrote great lyrics for it. It’s a song about the fact that anything is possible, and to never give up, because there’s always a possibility that things can be better. It’s an optimistic song, and that’s how I try to live my life, so that’s why I like it so much. And we got Tim Armstrong [Rancid] singing on it.”
Justin Sane was speaking to Matt Stocks. Anti-Flag’s new album American Spring is out now. For more information, visit their official website.