The new album American Spring – was it the kind of thing you whittled down from a big heap of tunes?
Yeah, we narrowed it down. Normally when we’re in the studio we’ll have demoed anywhere from 25 – 45 songs, and from that we narrow it down and really hone in on the songs that are important to us. For the record I think we recorded 14 to 16 songs and 12 made it onto the album.
You co-produced it with Kenny Carkeet (AWOLNATION) and Jim Kaufman. How do they work? Did everyone see eye to eye?
I think in general there’s always a consensus in that a song should go a certain way. You know you hash it out for a long time and eventually it just becomes clear what works and what doesn’t. Once you’ve got that main blueprint down to a song there might be a few details to go back to but for example on the opening song ‘Fabled World’ the guitar solo wasn’t gonna be where it is. That was something we kinda had a heated discussion about and eventually I won!
What about your writing? Obviously some of these songs have an initial agenda you want write about – does the music come second? Or do you have a bunch of riffs that you make fit?
It can come in any way. Because I’m a guitar player I like to play and write guitar riffs. A lot of times I’ll have a riff and think ‘that’s cool, I’m gonna turn it into a song’ and then something will hit me – an issue or an idea and I’ll make it fit. But then sometimes it’s vice versa and you have an inspiration for something you want to write about, and that pushes you to sit down and write a song. I’d say in general for me the song writing I enjoy the most, and is most rewarding, is when I have a topic and then I sit down to write a song. Some songs though I’ll just be sitting playing the guitar and start singing randomly out loud and it’ll work out. That’s when songs literally write themselves, it’s almost like you’re channelling something and you can’t even believe that you’ve just sang it and played it.
‘Brandenburg Gate’ with Tim Armstrong combines a catchy melody and hook. It’s accessible but still with a strong message – You describe it as a love song for socialism?
Yeah. It’s really interesting that we live in countries with this capitalist economic system, and because of the cold war there are a lot of people that have this twisted idea of what socialism is. I think in a lot of countries the best programs that the government have in place employ ideas that came from socialism such as the idea of national health care for people or building good infrastructure, roads and schools. Programs that make it possible for pensioners to retire after they’ve worked their whole lives. So there are many ideas that come from socialism that could be implemented for the greater good especially when we’re living in a world that’s so unequal with an ever growing wealth gap.
‘Without End’ features an instantly recognisable guitar solo from Tom Morello. How did the idea come about of having Tom on the song?
It is amazing how recognisable Tom Morello is! You know the solo comes in and you straight away think ‘that’s Tom Morello’. It’s the part of the song where we were gonna put a solo in, the space was sitting there and we were sitting in LA and Tom’s an old friend so we thought ‘who better to play a solo than Tom’ He enjoys getting in there and being a part of things so it was a really natural thing that happened. And the song felt like it was the kind of thing that Tom suited.
Gear wise I know you’re a big fan of the old Boss OS-2 Overdrive/Distortion?
Oh yeah – it’s my only effect! It’s a simple, cheap guitar pedal and you know I grew up really poor. I had a shitty guitar and shitty pedals, shitty everything really and I’d rather play a shitty guitar that’s hard to play that makes me work a bit cos you put more passion into everything you do and I just learned that coming from my background. But that said the pedal is perfect, I mean for punk rock the pedal’s great. It’s cheap but it works well.
You’ve gotta stick with what you know then?
Anti Flag has a significant back catalogue to call on – how do you decide set lists for this tour? Do they change night to night?
Well there’s people who come to multiple shows that have been fans for years so we have to play old stuff for them and with those fans following you to every show and they know all the records we’ll definitely cater the set for everybody. We enjoy playing the new songs but we’ll change our set each night so people can hear a bit of everything.
American Spring is out now via Spinefarm Records. For more info visit www.anti-flag.com.