After a host of releases on various underground record labels, Against Me! has seemingly become part of the very mainstream machine it often rails against in its socially conscious and politically charged songs. The Gainesville, Fla., band signed with Sire Records, a Warner Brothers imprint to release 2007’s “New Wave,” has raised its profile by performing on the Conan O’Brien and David Letterman shows and its single “Stop!” has become a radio and MTV staple.
“New Wave” has indeed brought Against Me! — originally a solo acoustic act consisting of singer Tom Gabel before he joined with Andrew Seward (bass), Warren Oakes (drums) and James Bowman (guitar) — into a new world. Spin named it album of the year, and Rolling Stone named Against Me! “Best Punk Band” in May, raising questions such as: If Rolling Stone names you “Best Punk Band,” are you even a punk band anymore?
We caught up with Gabel via e-mail in advance of Against Me!’s Sunday, July 27 Warped Tour appearance at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain, and we touched on the changes the band has gone through and Against Me!’s folky roots.
Weekender: Do you think Against Me!’s fanbase has changed over the past few years? How?
Gabel: Yes, it’s definitely changed. It’s grown, there’s a wider variety of people who come out. It’s not so much an exclusively “punk” crowd.
Weekender: What is it like balancing a DIY ethic and grassroots fanbase with being a major-label band and being on MTV?
Gabel: There is no balancing required.
Weekender: How has the Internet (MySpace, etc.) impacted the all-ages/DIY/punk scene? What role did the Internet have in Against Me! growing its fanbase and promoting itself?
Gabel: I think the Internet has had both a positive and negative effect on the all-ages/DIY/punk scene. On the one hand it has made networking between bands so much easier. When I used to book all of our shows I did so almost exclusively through the band’s Hotmail account. It’s also a completely democratic system for bands to get their music out there and heard. Record some music, put it up on your MySpace page, and try to get people to listen. Anyone can do it, and aside from the recording cost, it’s free.
On the negative side, the Internet is a breeding ground for negativity and shit-talking. There is no accountability, you can say whatever you want about someone, doesn’t matter how mean it is, doesn’t matter if it’s true, and you will never be held responsible for what you said. I look at message boards and stuff like that as such a joke. I’m not that old, I’m only 27, so I’m not trying to come off as some old man saying “When I was young ...” but, when I was young, when I was 14-15, my idea of punk had nothing to do with sitting around talking trash on a message board. I was out starting bands, doing a ’zine, drinking beer in alleys, starting up Food Not Bombs chapters, dumpster diving, smashing the state.
Weekender: What similarities do punk and folk share? For example — would you consider Bob Dylan punk, in a way?
Gabel: Well, I guess at their root, punk and folk are both people’s music, street music, working-class music. Would I consider Dylan punk? In some ways, I’d consider punk a little bit like Dylan.
Weekender: What attracted to you combining folk and punk sounds?
Gabel: I started playing punk songs on an acoustic guitar because that’s all I had. I didn’t have an electric guitar at the time, didn’t have the money to buy one. It was just about working with what you had. Bands like Crass, Chumbawamba, The Apostles, Flux Of Pink Indians, The Mob, they inspired me to play an acoustic guitar. Dylan inspired me to go electric.
Weekender: What’s next for Against Me! after Warped? More touring? Recording?
In September we’re doing a Canadian headlining tour with Japanther and Saint Alvia Cartel. In October we’re doing a headlining U.S. tour with Ted Leo And The Pharmacists and Future Of The Left. In November I’m doing a couple dates by myself on The Revival Tour with Chuck Ragan, Ben Nichols and Tim Barry. Then in December we’re possibly heading to France for a handful of shows. So yeah, after Warped Tour is over we’re still going to be out on the road for the rest of the year. Hopefully we’ll start recording a new album early next year.
Weekender: What are you listening to these days?
Gabel: I have a real healthy appetite for new music. I got really into bands like Hot Chip, Ghostland Observatory, The Knife and MGMT recently. I heard a couple of the new No Age songs as well. All good stuff.
Weekender: What’s the best concert you saw in the past year?
Gabel: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street band in Washington D.C. It was amazing.
Weekender: Best new album you’ve heard in the past year?
Gabel: Hot Chip — “Made In The Dark”