Even before pressing play, it is obvious that Donald Trump is the primary, if not reluctant muse for Anti-Flag’s latest album, 20/20 Vision. With the US president’s image front and center on the album artwork, 20/20 Vision opens up with a chilling Trump soundbite before launching into the searing first track, “Hate Conquers All.”
But speaking to bassist and vocalist Chris Barker – or Chris #2 to you punk fans – it’s clear that the sources of inspiration are much more byzantine and globally focused than the reckless actions of the American Commander in Chief. He says the album explores the deeper, intricate impacts of globalization and of how this has led to the false populism that has brought us politicians like Trump as well as the UK’s Boris Johnson and the right-wing AfD political party in Germany.
“And it goes even further with the neo-liberalism of a Trudeau or a Macron in France where it’s further opening the floodgates of this globalization that’s really taking advantage of the working class of the entire world – there’s a lot of that discussion, frustration and anger on this album,” Barker explains. “It’s certainly American-focused because, again, it’s where we live, but this record is for everyone across the globe.”
When Anti-Flag plays the Wise Hall on May 29th with California bands Bad Cop/Bad Cop (San Pedro) and Grumpster (Oakland), they will bring their message of more tolerant politics, but most importantly, the sentiment of simply being kinder to the people who make up your collective community – a theme that runs throughout all of Anti-Flag’s music and message if you pay attention.
“Frankly, in 2020, being kind is punk rock,” he states.
Barker admits that the incessant barrage of negativity in the news and throughout social media can be discouraging to those who are trying to remain optimistic about the world. To combat this, Anti-Flag is on a mission to disseminate empowering tidings of compassion, spreading the good word of empathy to any of those who will listen.
“We’ve really been focusing on encouraging people to actively turn to their neighbor – on the left and the right of them – and shake their hand and make a new friend, recognizing that punk rock and this scene is based on community,” he says. “It’s based on empathy.
Speaking of the scene, it’s a common perception that tough political times breed quality punk music. But according to the passionate bass player, while the Pittsburgh band has a lot to write about these days, this isn’t exactly a proud moment in US or world history.
“When Trump was elected, people were saying things like, ‘Now punk will be great again,’”he says, laughing sadly. “But I honestly would trade every shitty punk record in the world to make LGTBQ+ youth feel ok right now; I would trade any song we write about a Donald Trump for people who live in Iran to have moment when they’re not living in fear of a bomb dropping on their head.”
In addition to spreading the good word of empathy and tolerance to the West Coast, Barker says he hopes they can show the audience there are lessons to be learned from what is taking place south of the border.
He believes that even if Hilary Clinton was elected instead of Trump, there would still be much work to be done on injecting empathy into the policies of an American economy that’s “based on war” and “based on squeezing the planet like a lemon.”
“But,” he continues, “you wouldn’t have suicide rates in LGTBQ+ communities up hundreds of percentiles because you have a president who’s trying to strip away their existence. You wouldn’t have children in cages because you currently have white supremacists in the White House.”
So does he ever get tired of writing scathing political punk rock songs?
“No, I don’t, it’s just what I’m interested in and what I’m passionate about – and I’m not knocking people who write love songs…that’s a skill in itself,” he says.
“I see politics in everything. I mean, I see the politics in ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’ It’s in there, trust me.”