We recently caught up with legendary punk outfit Anti-Flag and drummer Pat Thetic who was kind enough to sit for an extensive interview touching on many facets of Anti-Flag‘s vast career. Pat discusses the making of Anti-Flag‘s forthcoming record, The General Strike on SideOneDummy Records, the band’s current political involvements, writing and recording practices, tour life, daily life, and that’s just the tip of the ice berg in the massive feature. Anti-Flag just set off on their Record Release US tour last night that kicked off in Philadelphia. Our staff photographer Anne Spina was were there to capture the show in pictures, which is the source of all of the visual accommodations for this interview.
With over twenty years active in the punk and political music world, we catch up with Anti-Flag during a very exciting period in their vast career. Be sure to check out the sister feature to this interview coming later this evening where we showcase the opening night of Anti-Flag‘s current tour with scores of live show pictures for your viewing pleasure.
Without further ado, let’s here from Pat.
Joshua BTS: Thanks for taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world, we really appreciate your time. Let’s kick off the interview by having you introduce yourself and declare your onstage weapon of choice with Pittsburgh’s political punk titans, Anti-Flag.
Pat Thetic: My name is Pat Thetic I plan drums in aforementioned Anti-Flag and I am from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
Joshua BTS: Anti-Flag has a forthcoming release entitled The General Strike, which is slated for a March 20th release on SideOneDummy. You decided to self-produce and record the record. Before recording- What does the actual writing process look like for Anti-Flag? Is this something you all take part in or is more of one member steering the direction of the ship?
Pat Thetic: It’s actually interesting because we have our own recording studio and it’s in our practice space, so our practice and recording are all very similar, it’s all the same thing. Lots of times, one of us will come in with an idea and then the four of us will work it out. If we then feel comfortable with the idea, we will begin to play and start tracking it, then the guys will go back and do over-dubs and things like that. The thing that is interesting about this record is that because we were all in different places, there was a lot less structure to the songs as they came in the practice room. We wrote a number of them just two of us, then the four of us in the room going through with just a skeleton idea of what we were trying to get at. Usually songs come in a little bit more formed before they get to the four of us.
Joshua BTS: How much time do you guys actually spend on the recording end of things? Is this something you do for other bands and other projects or is the recording practice just for the purposes of Anti-Flag?
Pat Thetic: It’s been mostly just for us because if we’re not on tour, then we’re using the recording equipment for our own stuff so we haven’t really done too much recording of other bands. I would like to do that, we just haven’t had the time with everything else we have been doing.
Joshua BTS: How did you guys settle on the name The General Strike for the new record? And does this relate to any of the lyrical motifs listeners will find throughout the record?
Pat Thetic: The General Strike really didn’t have too much to do with any of the lyrics to any particular song, but the idea, and I haven’t got the chance to talk about this in any of the other interviews I’ve done– Is that the strike, or the boycott (which the strike is essentially a boycott of work) are really the only tools the population has to fight against power. If you use violence, people in power always have more access to violence than the population does. So the only way of getting any type of change in the world is through withholding purchasing or withholding work. And The General Strike is bringing that idea back because in the US we haven’t used strikes very much. The union movement is sort of dead and I think it’s time we bring that very powerful tool for social change back to the American political system.
Joshua BTS: Along those same lines- I know the function of unions in the US and even strikes- What you’ve seen throughout history, whether it’s air traffic controllers or what have you- A lot of the time strikes end up just settling for more money or more finances. What do you see as the function of strikes as we head into the future?
Pat Thetic: I think more money and more benefits is always a useful use of a strike, I think the only reason we have weekends and minimum wage, and a forty hour week, is because people are willing to strike. So I think that the strike can be used for many things, it can be used for universal health care for all people, it can be used for the stop of a war, the release of prisoners in Guantanamo bay, for many of these things strike is a very powerful tool to get to any change that the population wants to happen.
Joshua BTS: You have a very long history of very politically inspired albums, as well as, grassroots protest concerts and things along those lines. Bringing us up to speed to today, I know you played an acoustic set at the Occupy Wall St. demonstration in New York City in October..To focus on that specifically- What does your day-to-day involvement look like with political movements and grassroots organizations? Is that something that takes up a lot of time?
Pat Thetic: The interesting thing about us and the good thing about us is that we are not involved in the day to day drudgery of activism on most levels. We deal with our own activism, but what we are able to do is to go in and help and support people who are doing the day to day drudgery of activism. Which is very nice for us because we don’t have the burnout that everyone else has who are fighting battles and loosing every week. We are able to work with them on certain issues and come in and be able to help motivate or help create some income, or interest in the cause at that moment. I know a lot of people and have nothing but the greatest amount of respect for the people who are fighting the battles every weekend, who are in the occupy movement and out in the street every weekend, and we, because of our lifestyles and the fact that we are traveling around playing music, don’t have that ability. But at the same time, we believe in the cause and we want to help in every way we can. We’re just not the ones who are actually organizing the protests every week, but we are the ones who are coming and helping out with funding or helping out with making people aware that the protest is happening.
Joshua BTS: Just to focus on Occupy for another moment, I know that here in Philadelphia specifically, the Occupy movement has transgressed into more of a direct action network and they are taking up causes before the Occupy movement reconvenes I believe in July, where they are actually going nominate delegates. Along those lines- Do you foresee the Occupy movement as being schism that breaks our current political system or is there anything else that really has your focus right now as being something that is very important that you guys are behind?
Pat Thetic: I really like the Occupy movement because it is a very grassroots movement. I don’t whether people are like, “Well the Occupy movement is going to be dead,” or “The Occupy movement is going to be this or that.” And I don’t really see it as it’s just the Occupy movement, I see it as this is the current manifestation of the frustration that we have in our country. There’s always a movement that’s going on. Right now they’ve just called it the Occupy movement, but there is always a group of people who are trying to make political and social changes in this country and around the world. Right now it has a name. In six months it will be something else and twenty years ago it was a different name. But it’s always a group of activists who are trying to make change and do things from the place of fighting against power and trying to make change for everybody, not just for the few.
Joshua BTS: Sure. Understood. Now to shift focus again on to this record. You originally linked up with SideOneDummy in 2008 and obviously you have this new release coming out with them. How did you originally come to link up with SideOneDummy? And do you foresee this being a relationship that progresses into the future with future releases as well?
Pat Thetic: With SideOne, we’ve been friends with Bill and Joe and the guys who run SideOne for a long time. They’ve been part of the music community and we’ve toured with Flogging Molly and a lot of bands that were on SideOne, so we’ve had a relationship. So when we were looking for a new label, they came to us and said they were interested in working with us and we had worked with them in the past and we like what they had to say, so we worked with them on the last record. The nice thing about Anti-Flag is that we’ve always been in a position of power to be able to say, “We’re going to work on this record together and if we don’t like the way it goes, were going to go somewhere else.” And that’s the same thing with SideOneDummy– If we don’t like how it’s going, we’ll go to another record company. But at this point we’ve really enjoyed our relationship and that’s why we are doing this second record with them.
Joshua BTS: Great. Now I know it’s incredibly difficult to create CDs and T-shirts that are made from free trade or non sweatshop labor. Do you guys go to any lengths to avoid using sweatshop labor or avoid using extraneous waste when producing your records and your merchandise?
Pat Thetic: We are always trying to and it’s a ever more difficult battle and sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed. It’s actually interesting, the garment industry and how horrible it is. I am not going to say we are perfect on every front but I will say we are trying always and looking for new ways of producing all of the things that we do as humanely and as with as little impact as is possible.
Pat Thetic: Just in the fact that we are producing far less cds than we have in the past. We’re doing a lot more digital things. Just in talking to you, you’re not doing an actual paper issue, you’re doing an online thing, which is significantly different than it was ten years ago where we were producing all this paper and all this plastic, where as now we are not doing that. That is partly because the world has changed and it’s partly because the we’re trying to have as little impact as possible.
Joshua BTS: I would say you have one of the more loyal fan bases of any punk band that has been consistently touring, prolific, and around since the 80s. Does this add any pressure or excitement when you approach a new record? Do you feel like you have to outdo the record before? Your last record, The People and The Gun was very well received. Does that add pressure when you are writing? Or do you take on each record as it’s own individual entity?
Pat Thetic: It actually relieves the pressure on us because we know there is a core group of people that will give us a chance. So it allows us to take some risks and go in some different directions. There’s actually not pressure on us to conform to a certain thing, we feel as though the people who have been with us a long time will give us a little space to try some stuff and if it’s crap, they’ll tell us it’s crap and we’ll adjust from there. Being around for as long as we have actually gives us a lot of freedom.
Joshua BTS: Cool. Was there any in particular on this forthcoming record that saw you step out of your comfort even more? Anything that you tried that is completely new to Anti-Flag?
Pat Thetic: The song, “The New Sound” is a little bit out of the Anti-Flag box. On some records in the past we’ve done a lot more orchestration use, a lot more different instrumentation, but with the financial constraints of this record we didn’t have the money to hire a cello player [laughs] like we did in the past. None of us can play cello so it’s difficult for us to find a cello player that will come in for free and play on your record.
Joshua BTS: I got you, cool. So with you being the drummer, I’d like to focus on a couple specific drummer questions. What does your practice routine look like? What do you do to keep the chops in tact? And are there any drummers out there that have recently inspired you to try some new approaches, some new techniques on the skins?
Pat Thetic: I am always looking at different drummers, I love the drummer from Strike Anywhere, he does really great stuff. I am looking to try and steal things and actually the bands I steal from the most (and I say that in a loving and humble way.) I really love to watch young drummers play who are not very good and see how they tackle certain issues. Lots of times I’ll steal from them because A-I’m not very good, so it works out for me. And B-They just see playing in a different way then guys who have been playing for twenty or thirty years or ten years or whatever. They sort of figure things out, where as younger less experienced drummers are sort of fumbling through and actually create more interesting stuff.
Joshua BTS: Right on. When you guys are recording and drums specifically- Is there anything that you do that is unique or feel that helps you capture the patented sound? Because I feel like that even though Anti-Flag‘s corpus of releases has songs that vary greatly from one another, there is still that Anti-Flag sound at the end of the day. Is there anything that you do in the recording and particularly the drums that you feel that helps you capture that niche sound?
Pat Thetic: Well ya definitely, and this is getting into a little bit of more technical drumming, but I play on the front of the beat and Justin and they sing on the front of the beat as well. It is interesting when we have people come in to record with us that they are sitting in the middle of the beat or the back of the beat, and how bad it sounds when that happens. Because we have worked together for so long, we know exactly where everything should sit. It’s a joke, we’re all racing to the end of the song and whoever gets there first, wins. We really are pushing the front of the beat and that really is the sound that is Anti-Flag. You can’t really tell until you hear someone playing with us that is not up on front of the beat. Sort of difficult to explain, but for me if it’s not happening, it’s not Anti-Flag. If it’s not up there, it’s not Anti-Flag.
Joshua BTS: You guys have a string of record release dates scheduled for March. What do you have planned for these shows without giving away too much of your set. Are you going to be focusing on new material or is going to be a variety for new fans, old fans- What’s it going to look like?
Pat Thetic: Ya it’s definitely going to be a variety. We have like ten records, so in that, what we try to do is play a little bit off each record so that somebody who might only have one or two records will still be able to connect with the show. But we’ll definitely be playing a good bit off the new record because those songs are amazing and we’re really excited about them. I’m not saying they’re amazing to other people, but they are amazing to us. So we really like them and we really want to play them, so we’ll be playing a good bit of the new record as well.
Joshua BTS: Is there anything that you guys do that is off the beaten path on tour? I understand that tour obviously doesn’t leave a lot of time for sightseeing- But are there any quick stops that you guys look forward to when you’re on the road?
Pat Thetic: The thing that I like to do- Is that I like to go out and walk around in the mornings before the show and before sound check. That’s one of the things I really enjoy, to get a feel for the city. Obviously we’ve played a lot of these cities for years but every time we go back there is something that is different and new. So just getting up in the morning and going walking around the city, seeing what’s going on, watching people go to work and seeing who’s out and protesting or seeing who’s doing whatever. That’s the other thing, we always have people coming out and tabling at shows and getting to talk to them about what issues are going on in their local communities, that’s always something that is very interesting to us.
Joshua BTS: When you guys aren’t actively touring and writing what does daily life look like for you?
Pat Thetic: That’s interesting [laughs] Well, there’s very little time that we’re not writing or touring and we also have the record company, so we’re always doing something with that. Really there is no time when we are not getting ready for a tour or just getting back from a tour, working on a new record, there’s always something going on. But when I am not doing any of that, I have goldfish. I have a pond in my backyard. I really enjoy sitting by the pond.
Joshua BTS: Cool. So what does the rest of 2012 look like for Anti-Flag? Do you have the rest of your tours figured out for the rest of the year? Anything else that you are involved with besides touring?
Pat Thetic: This tour in March then we go to Europe in April. May, we go to Australia, June and July we do Warped Tour, August we go back to Europe, then for September we are looking for a Canadian tour I think. So we’re pretty solid until September / October.
Joshua BTS: We really appreciate you taking a minute today with Blow The Scene readers, means a lot to us. Any final thoughts as we wrap up?
Pat Thetic: Just want to say thanks for doing this and thanks for doing your stuff online because it’s very difficult to get people who really care about music and punk rock community and it’s more than just a job and trying to make a living off of it. We appreciate that and all you’re hard work.
More Info at The Official Anti-Flag Website
Anti-Flag “The Neoliberal Anthem” (The General Strike 2012)
[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo8Oj75l6E0[/youtube]