Against Me! Interview

Posted July 22, 2010 in

Over the past ten years, there has been no band as divisive in the punk rock world as Against Me!. Started as the solo project of Tom Gabel in the late 90s, at the time a teenage anarchist, the band steadily gained momentum and released their landmark album Reinventing Axl Rose in 2002. Fast forward eight years and the band has just released their second major label album, White Crosses, and is currently on tour with the Silversun Pickups. Of course I’m glossing over the slashed tires, sell-out claims, fan altercations and clashes with the media, but it’s safe to say that Against Me! has definitely been through a lot. I spoke with frontman Tom Gabel a few dates into their current tour about the band’s new lineup, their new album, and their relationship with fans and the media.

SLUG: You guys just came back from a European tour. Europe is kind of known for having a more hardcore, dedicated punk scene. How do audiences treat you over there as compared to the US?
Tom Gabel: It’s pretty rad, actually. We’ve been lucky that people have been really receptive to us wherever we go. I think Germany and the UK in particular are always great places for shows. The only place we’ve ever been where the shows are just a little bit “eh” is France, but I still love being there.

SLUG: You guys toured in Europe with Franz Nicolay (former keyboardist for The Hold Steady, accordionist for World/Inferno Friendship Society), is he touring the US with you as well?
Gabel: Yeah, he’s still with us.

: Oh, cool! How has it been introducing him into the band dynamic and performing with him live?
Gabel Oh, it’s been rad. He’s an incredible musician. I’m a big fan of all of the bands he’s been in and his solo stuff, so it’s pretty fuckin’ awesome to have him playing with us.

SLUG: I just saw a video online of you and Franz playing "White Crosses" acoustically with an accordion. Have you been incorporating that kind of stuff live, using the accordion and all of the other crazy instruments he plays?
Gabel: Yeah, he plays accordion on a couple of songs every night and plays keyboard on pretty much everything else. We’ve been talking about incorporating other stuff too. That’s just one of the amazing things about him, how talented he is as a musician and how many instruments he knows how to play.

SLUG: That’s awesome, I’m excited to see what he brings to your show.
Gabel: Yeah, we met him through World/Inferno Friendship Society a few years back, and I’m such a huge fan of the band and the Hold Steady as well, so it’s been great having him with us.

SLUG: I’m pretty excited to see you guys play with your new drummer (George Rebelo, formerly of Hot Water Music) as well. How has it been introducing him into the band after having a solid lineup for so long?
Gabel: In a lot of ways, it was refreshing. It definitely mixed things up and took everybody out of their comfort zone. As far as songwriting goes, we’ve never really been the type of band that writes together, I usually write all the songs and bring them to the band so it didn’t really impact that, but [the addition of Rebelo] did have an effect on stuff in the studio. George is such a versatile drummer, and it’s great if I say, “Well maybe we should try that type of beat, or that type of beat” and have him immediately adapt and be able to do it.

SLUG: On this tour with the Silversun Pickups, you guys are playing in the middle of the show and you’ve recently gone on some other tours where you opened for bigger bands. What’s it like to go from headlining and selling out pretty big venues to go back and be an opening band?
Gabel: To be honest, opening spots are kush. It’s awesome. You get up there and play for 45 minutes and then you’re off. We’re just guests, so it’s a lot easier in some respects, but at the same time we’re not playing for our audience so we have to go out there and make an impression.

SLUG: The new album sounds a bit poppier, but not really radio friendly, if that makes sense. Was that a conscious decision to go in a new direction, or was it more of a natural progression?
Gabel: I think it just is what it is. If it was as easy as saying, “These are the types of songs we’re gonna make on this record, let’s do it,” that would be great, but for me it’s always just been like, “Okay, that’s what I wrote.” Personally I’ve never been afraid of melody or anything like that.

SLUG: I’m sure you’ve been talked to death about “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” but I was curious about how people are reacting to it. Has anyone confronted you about the message of the song?
Gabel: Well, there have been a lot of people just saying they like the song and think it’s cool, the people who hear it on the radio or whatever, but there have been some punks who have come up to me pretty upset about it, which is pretty cool.

: I really like the song, especially coming from you guys who have probably gone through more than most punk bands over the last ten years by signing to a major label and having the internet punk police jump on your back whenever you deviate from whatever they want from you.
Gabel: Thanks, man. In all honesty when I started writing the song, I wasn’t even thinking about it autobiographically. I got stuck on the line “I was a teenage anarchist” and thinking about it kind of like the old Michael Landon movie “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” I just thought it was a funny concept, and when it was finished I realized people were gonna read into it and have issues with it, but whatever, that’s fun too.

SLUG: I was surprised to see that you started your own blog and you have a Twitter account, especially because people seem to be going after you personally ever since New Wave came out. What was the motivation behind that, and how do you feel about being so accessible?
Gabel: Well I think that’s kind of the trade off. Talking about things like Punknews or whatever, I don’t have any problem with them, it’s a fantastic website for what it does, even from a band perspective they do it well. I think a lot of the people who gravitate towards that site are just the lowest common denominator of intelligence and some of the writing is pretty fucking not good. That was eloquently stated, right? But I think with stuff like that, and moreso with magazines like Alternative Press, what’s great about the internet and social networking is that it levels the playing field. I don’t wanna kiss anybody’s fuckin’ brass ring and I don’t wanna bow down to any gatekeeper as far as them holding the keys to the future of your band or your connection with the audience. Writing a blog or using Facebook or whatever is a way to connect with fans and it’s a platform that has just as far of a reach as any magazine or website.

SLUG: Do you have any fond memories or any sort of relationship with Salt Lake that our readers might like to hear about?
Gabel: Our shows have always been fun there, but we’re usually just passing through town. Actually, have you ever read a zine called The Fifth Goal?

SLUG: No, I’ve never heard of it actually.
Gabel: It was a Krishna zine, but it was also a graffiti zine that my friend Blake Donner made. I think he lived in Orem. He was someone who I was penpals with for a long time, and I heard he passed away a few years back so whenever I roll through town, I always think of him.

Against Me! will be performing at the Rail Event Center on Tuesday July 27th.