For all its outspoken politicism, one thing Anti-Flag has not done over the years is get too specific — especially about a president of the United States. But that’s changing with the Pittsburgh punk outfit’s next album, 20/20 Vision, an election year screed whose video for the track “Unbreakable” is premiering exclusively below.
The 11-track set even starts with a Donald Trump sound bite from a March 9, 2016 campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C. during which he advocated punishing protestors. The group’s Justin Sane tells Billboard that the time simply felt appropriate for the group to change its usual course a bit.
“Normally we’ve never named a president. We wanted our songs to stay relevant in the future,” singer-guitarist Sane explains. “We have a song called ‘Outbreak’ that’s about Bill Clinton, but we didn’t use his name. Our song ‘Turncoat’ could be about today; If you named George Bush, though, it dates the song. We think in terms of Woody Guthrie; ‘This Land Is Your Land’ is as relevant today as when he wrote it, and we’ve always tried to stay in that spirit.
“But with this record we were like, ‘Look, Donald Trump IS the problem, so we have to go directly at the problem.’ You could say he’s a symptom of a larger problem and I believe that’s true, but he IS the symptom. He’s a symbol of authoritarianism the country has moved towards, trying to roll back civil rights, LGBT rights. That’s why the first track, ‘Hate Conquers All,’ opens with a sound clip of Donald Trump, and from there we tried to move forward with the record and present a different kind of vision.”
Some of that is articulated in 20/20 Vision’s title track, which Sane says “is a song about taking the country in a new direction where we do away with divisiveness and envision a new economic system and move away from this oligarchy people are living in.” “Unbreakable,” meanwhile, has more personal roots; Sane wrote it during his late mother’s battle with cancer, though it became a more universal statement in the group’s hands.
“At the time I didn’t realize I was writing a song about myself,” Sane says. “It’s a great example, I think, of music being an outlet for people to work through where they are in their lives. And when I brought the song into the band they tried to be really sensitive about that, and I think they could see some things about the song I couldn’t see, so they were really sensitive about that. I think it could be a song that is a source of inspiration for a person who’s dealing with the loss of a loved one or dealing with depression, or it could be inspirational for a movement and a group of people who are working together.
“It’s just about the idea we are gonna run into a lot of adversity in life. Right now as a society we’re in a place where, for a lot of people, things feel hopeless, but this song is just trying to be an inspiration for people to not give up.”
The “Unbreakable” video is collaboration between Anti-Flag and a group of Nigerian teens called the Critics Company who have been using their smart phones to make short science-fiction films and have become a viral sensation, championed by Star Wars series runner J.J. Abrams among others. “Their work just connected with us so hard because they’re doing this stuff in such a DIY spirit — like punk rock DIY,” Sane notes. “It was interesting to see these kids from a culture so completely different from ours but then to see their work and be reminded so much of ourselves when we were younger and starting out. It really excited us so our bass player (Chris “#2″ Barker) reached out to them, not thinking they would have any idea who we were, and they said, ‘Well, send us a song’ and we did a Skype call and it was so cool. They were like, ‘We love this song! This describes our struggle!’ I think it’s been one of the most fun and exciting music video collaborations we’ve ever had.”
With 20/20 Vision due out Jan. 17, just in time for the primary elections season, Anti-Flag has “a lot of tour plans” according to Sane. The quartet has a few shows left in its 2019 schedule, wrapping Dec. 21 in Detroit. It will be in Europe during January and early February, while North American dates begin March 11 in Ottawa. “I feel like we’re going to be on the road this year a lot more than we have been,” Sane says. “We’re always trying to figure out how to get to other parts of the world we haven’t been to. We’re pushing to try to do that this year, as much as we can. We’ll see what opportunities are out there and what we put together.”