Anti-Flag Premieres 'The Debate Is Over (If You Want It)' From Acoustic New Album

Jake Stark
Anti-Flag

The revolution will be quiet -- or at least quieter -- when the politically minded Pittsburgh punk rock troupe Anti-Flag releases its new acoustic album, American Reckoning -- whose video for the track "The Debate is Over (If You Want It)" premieres exclusively below -- on Sept. 28.

The 10-song set features the quartet's unplugged takes on seven tracks from its last two albums -- 2015's American Spring and 2017's American Fall -- as well as plugged-in covers of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth," Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and Cheap Trick's "Surrender," which takes on a more expansive meaning in the context of the charged topical fare that precedes it. The acoustic versions, according to bassist Chris "#2" Barker, offer Anti-Flag a chance to revisit material and messages Anti-Flag didn't want to get lost in the noisy news cycles of the past few years.

"We just felt like some of the songs and some of the issues got cast by the wayside of just American politics in 2018 and how fast it's all moving," Barker tells Billboard. "So this is kind of chance to revisit some of those things some of the thoughts that were maybe missed but that are still relevant to what's going on out there today." The album also offers Anti-Flag a chance "to find a new way to play them" as well as to showcase an aspect of the band that may be lost in the rock 'n' roll noise that usually surrounds the songs.

"It's not too much of a stretch," Barker says. "It's funny; People think that we only listen to the Clash and the Dead Kennedys and that's how every record is written. That's not really the case. I think those three covers shine a light on that fact that we listen to everything. And we're so greatly influenced by folk music -- Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie." In fact, Anti-Flag's process hews closer to folk than to punk -- at least at the beginning of each song.

"Usually we start with acoustic guitars," Barker explains. "Very, very rarely is a song written in a room start to finish with electric guitars. So I'm hopeful people will recognize everything isn't borne out of this very loud thing. The songs are typically driven by vocal melodies and the chords just kind of move up from part to part to go along with that."

Anti-Flag's mission, meanwhile, remains "to get people energized into a battle of empathy vs. apathy," and the group will be doing that when it returns to the road on July 27 for a combination of festival dates as well as a support slot with Rise Against and AFI and shows with Silverstein, Cancer Bats and Worriers. The group is also planning a return visit to Europe during the fall after a recent swing on the continent during the spring and the recent protests that greeted U.S. President Donald Trump, which Barker and his bandmates found illuminating.

"It's insane," Barker says. "They're dealing with a lot of similar issues that we are, where you see the powerful using the poor, using immigrants and refugees as scapegoats for a lot of the problems that they're facing. I think there's a lot of shared empathy (with the audience) whenever it comes to trying to put our focus on where the problems really lay versus what we're being told are the problems over and over and over again."

Barker adds that "it was really interesting" to be in Europe during Trump's latest visit. "It felt really akin to 2003 and the ramp-up to the invasion of Iraq where people were really focused and attentive to the...sales pitches these (politicians) make just to see who is on their team and who's not. I was grateful to see so many people show up and raise their hands and be part of that movement that's questioning and resisting like that. And I'm glad we could be over there to demonstrate that not all Americans are on board with (Trump). Not all Americans think semi-automatic weapons and armed teachers in schools is a good idea. We're like self-imposed ambassadors to say that there's this giant, monopolized political system in America that is run by these companies, and we have to continue to fight them and we're looking for allies in that fight all the time."