Society & Culture & Entertainment Music

An Interview with Tom Gabel of Against Me!

June 2, 2010
Against Me! has made a name for themselves playing a unique brand of gritty, unapologetic, blatantly political punk/folk music. This sound has made them distinctive and a mainstay at small clubs and Warped Tour main stages alike. This time around, they’re releasing White Crosses, their second major label release, which finds the band eschewing some of their grittiness in favor of a more mature sound.

We caught up with Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel on tour in Europe as the band prepared for the release of White Crosses and a U.S. tour supporting the Silversun Pickups.

RC: It's an interesting, if old point, but you guys took a lot of criticism from your self-ascribed anarchist fans when you moved to a major label to release New Wave, but it really worked out for you, both commercially and critically, and really it never seemed like there was any real compromise in your political stance.

Now, a few years later, you're back with another release on Sire, working with Butch Vig, and it really looks like Against Me! is continuing to forge on with your own political stance, and an album with a lot of passion. Is that the case?

TG: We never would have made the move to a major label if it meant making some kind of compromise in the content of our music. That being said, regardless of the label we've been on at the time, I've always approached making music with the exact same convictions and intentions.

At most I'm hoping to make an emotional connection, to maybe share an idea. At the least, hopefully it's entertaining.

RC: Did you get any backlash ever from the label about your messages, or do you think they knew what they getting into signing you guys in the first place?

TG: I think it's pretty hard to get people to pay attention at all in this day and age, let alone shock them. I don't even really cuss that much in my lyrics. Does Marilyn Manson even get censored these days?

RC: Obviously, there is plenty of room for punk rock on major labels, more so now then ever. When did that change? I know at one time, major labels ignored punk until they recognized it as a sellable commodity - I mean, it's a business - but do punk bands have to compromise in any way to sign with a major - even if it's just on a personal level?

TG: Not to be rude, but I don't really agree with the statements made in this question. We're on Sire Records, which was home to the Ramones. I wasn't even born when Sire signed the Ramones. CBS/EPIC had released the first three Clash albums before I was born. As far as compromises and labels go, in my experiences I've seen an equal amount of bands compromise on major labels as indies. And on the other hand I've seen an equal amount of bands on majors and indies that have never compromised.

RC: Then where do politics even fit into punk rock anymore? It seems like punk rock, on some level, is still essential for providing a disenchanted voice to a certain portion of culture, but is that being degraded at all in recent years, or are punk and politics still viable partners?

TG: I don't think the chance for music to provide a voice to the disenchanted is something exclusive to punk rock. I think politics' place in music is immensely important. I think there always needs to be people out there who are willing to speak the truth. At the same time there's nothing wrong with some music being strictly about escapism. There's nothing wrong with some music being strictly pop.

RC: The song that's already getting a lot of play is "I Was A Teenage Anarchist," and it's a song that addresses a lot of the disillusionment that comes with maturing. Was this meant to be entirely introspective, or was any of it intended to address some of those fans that were critical of your signing with Sire?

TG: The song is about mob mentalities, what happens when people gather into herds, form societies, cliques, lynch mobs. It's an ugly side of humanity. I definitely have a history with Anarchism and punk rock, sure, and inevitably I'm sometimes going to draw from that past when writing, sure. But in all honesty, in my initial approach to writing that song, I just thought it would be interesting to tell a story of someone who joined the Anarchist movement because he thought he would find like-minded, free-thinking individuals or revolutionaries, but ended up finding nothing but more of the rigid automatons he was originally seeking refuge from. It's not meant to be a critique of the philosophy, but the actual present day practitioners.

RC: There really are a lot of themes going on with this album. It has some really heavy songs issue wise, and a lot of lyrics that seem really personal. Is there an underlying message to the whole record?

TG: It's not a concept record, no.

RC: It also seems that your sound is continuing to evolve and progress. You're gaining some polish without getting rid of the underlying grit - like with "Because of the Shame," where you have this rolling piano melody and a pretty poppy beat, but there is still that punch to it as well. Where do you think you guys are progressing musically?

TG: I'm not sure really, but I'm excited to see where it all ends up.

RC: What's it like to work with Butch Vig? He's a guy who's worked with some serious names and produced some influential albums -- Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Laughing Hyenas, AFI, Green Day, the list goes on. Is he an intimidating factor? What's he like to work with?

TG: If we never made another record again I'd feel confident that the two albums we made with Butch where worthwhile legacies to leave. I look at opportunities to work with Butch as the closest I'll ever get to going to college. I can put no value on what I've learned from him.

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