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Justin Sane Talks

Arizona, World, Society

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Justin Sane, lead singer for Anti-Flag. Photo by Drew Coffman and used under a Creative Commons license.
Lead Singer And Guitarist For Anti-Flag Recounts The Evolution Of The Band, Provides An Outsider’s View On Arizona And Takes On Those Who Claim He Has Sold Out

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MTM: What was it like to throw your own festival, Antifest?
JS: Anti-Flag has been a band for 20 years now and we decided that we wanted to do some things that we have never done before, that we thought would be fun and that we have always wanted to do. We decided that putting on a music festival would be one of those things. So we put on Antifest. We did it in the United Kingdom, our choice for doing that was mostly logistical and it was great, it was really fun. We incorporated a lot of organizations like Greenpeace, and Amnesty International, and PETA, organizations that are a part of the community that has surrounded Anti-Flag for many years and we invited a bunch of our friends too. Bands that we’ve been inspired by and known for a long time and we invited them to play so I think the idea of the festival was to be a celebration of the music and activist community that we’ve been a part of for 20 years.

MTM: How is your record label, AF records doing?
JS: It’s been a lot of fun, and we just re-launched I would say AF records 2.0 with this being our 20 year anniversary and we released a new picture disk called bacon, and we’re working on a 7-inch series that we’re going to be releasing. So it’s been a fun way for us to stay connected to our roots. We are working with some younger bands, really helping them along to play music. It’s been a really good time, I think the point of AF records is it’s the vehicle for us to stay connected with other musicians and just be connected to people that are as excited about music as we are. Most record labels have fallen on pretty hard times, but for us at AF records there is no profit to it. With every release that we're doing at AF records we’re just trying to break even. It’s really just a labor of love, something that we enjoy doing.

MTM: Just starting out in 1993 did you guys expect to be playing voter registration drives, and things like that?
Yeah I did, if something existed I believed we would do it and I still do. I expected us to be a band for 20 years, and in a way 20 years to me is such not a big deal.  Because I don’t feel like anything has changed. In a lot of ways we still run the band like we did on day one. We are better at it so its easier and we have a lot more friends in the music world, so if we want to put something together we can pick up the phone and it’s a lot easier to do, but in general we approach things the way we always have and I think that’s why we've been able to be successful as a band and why we’re still doing it. I mean we still enjoy it its still a lot of fun and that’s what we set out to do when we started. We set out to have fun and hopefully make the world a better place while we were doing that and I feel like in our own small way it’s what we've been able to do. It doesn’t surprise me that we’ve been a band 20 years I'm pretty sure this band will be together until the day we die. We’ll probably be like pushing ourselves out on walkers and in wheelchairs and shit, but we’ll still be doing it.

MTM: How would you define your personal politics?
JS: I would say that my politics are human based politics, you know people before profit politics. That’s how I would define my politics.

MTM: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the United States?
Such a difficult question to answer. I think corporate influence in government is a huge problem. You know John Perkins in his book Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man he referred to it as a corporatocracy. Dick Cheney is a great example of this. Somebody who is a CEO at a company and then they come into politics and thy have a lot of influence in politics to help a company. Then they leave politics and go back into the corporate world and from that position they can still really influence politics and as a result corporate greed and corporate power is put ahead of the interests of the average person. What we see, the result of this of course is a deficit to everything whether it’s healthcare for people, or the environment in the form of clean air and water, or nutritious food and oceans that aren’t polluted and rivers aren’t polluted you know you can just go in any direction because ultimately when corporations are running our government good things don’t come of that. So its probably the most important issue facing American politics and world politics right now.

MTM: What’s your take on the use Black Bloc tactics as a form of activism?
JS: I don’t have a problem with the black bloc tactics, I really don’t. It’s pretty much that’s it. I think that peaceful protest is the most effective form of protest. I don’t believe in physical violence as a means to an end when it comes to political activism and protest. But I do believe in peoples right to defend them and that’s about it really.

MTM: What’s the biggest difference in your own politics from 20 years ago to now?
JS: The biggest difference is just the wisdom I’ve gained over 20 years. You know you live and you learn. If you don’t get wiser as you get older, shame on you. That being the case I understand that quite often you’re not going to get everything that you hope to get when you set out to change something, and that’s OK. Because change ultimately takes a long time, I think it’s important for people to understand that its OK to compromise on something to help move yourself in the direction that you want to see your movement go. Being really, really rigid and unwilling to compromise is something that doesn’t help move a movement forward, and when I was younger I didn’t necessarily get that. It’s something that I get now. But by the same token you know there are times when it’s really important to be uncompromising to, and you pick your battles. I guess the short answer to your question is what I've learned is it’s important to pick your battles, there are times when its ok to compromise and there are times when it’s important to stand your ground.

MTM: What issues do you never compromise on?
JS: I don’t think it makes any sense to eat meat. That’s a really easy one. The slaughtering of animals for human consumption is unnecessary for starters. It’s also detrimental to the health of animals. The meat industry is really awful for the animals involved in it. It’s really bad for the environment on many levels, and it’s bad for food distribution. The grains that are fed to the animals and the water that is spent raising animals for human consumption could feed the whole world. Instead they go to grilling animals for a small percentage of the population to eat, and so we could really do away with world hunger if we would reserve ourselves to stop eating meat.

MTM: What’s the perfect birthday for you?
JS: Perfect birthday? A sailboat in the Caribbean. In the morning I get up for a good snorkel, lay around on the deck for a while then I go for a good scuba dive and then a sunset on the beach with my girlfriend and a puppy dog.

MTM: Your birthday happens to fall on the same day Malcolm X was assassinated, what if any influence did Malcolm X have on your politics?
JS: Yeah I mean Malcolm X is a really diverse person, and I think he brought a lot of really interesting perspectives to the table. He brought a new slant to the civil rights movement for sure. It’s hard with a lot of leaders to point to one thing like, ‘oh here's how this person influenced me,’ but certainly Malcolm X is someone who has had an influence on the band over the years.

MTM: What do you say to people that say Anti-Flag sold out?
JS: Well I think that everybody is entitled to their point of view. We’ve always made our choices based on what we felt was the best thing to do at the time based on what we were hoping to achieve, and when we signed to a major a label there were no artists in the mainstream that were saying no to the Iraq war. We felt like voice in the wilderness that was reaching no one. Well not reaching no one, we felt like a voice in the wilderness that was being shut out of the debate as far as the direction our country was heading. Especially that post 9/11 era when people were just fanatical about warfare. We saw the major label as our shot at having our voice heard in the mainstream, and I think to a certain degree we had an impact. Right about the time that our record came out, Green Day’s record came out about six months before our record, and good on them I was happy to see Green Day, which was not a political band at all before George Bush. All of the sudden I think they looked around and they said this is crazy somebody needs to say something and they did and that was great. I don’t know if their record had come out later maybe I think they kind of took over that role which was fine by me. Green Day was already they were going to have a really big impact and I think they did. I think they made a lot of young kids think about the direction that the country was headed in, and I think that’s important. I bet they saved lives, I really truly believe as a result of my own experience I know that artists can influence what people think and do and during that era if we influenced somebody not to join the military and to be a soldier for corporations and oil then good, that’s what we were hoping to do.  But it’s alright, it’s easy to call people names. I don’t take it personally when someone calls me names. Most people who are calling me names don’t really know me too well so I'm not going to take it too hard.

Jeff Moses is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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