So, it was the last show I’d be attending for a while in my (adopted) home state of Arizona. And what a way to go out with a bang! As far as I can tell, Against Me’s front man Tom Gabel is the only victim that has been interviewed by Racket Magazine twice. This time, instead of in a noisy room or over the phone, the interview was conducted in style, as yours truly, Aaron Hale sat in the back of the tour bus. Only the finest Cognac was sipped that night… just, not by me. On a side note, the big dogs we’re there. That’s right, there was an altercation between Racket’s obvious finest, moi, and a lowly photographer from Alternative Press.
Racket Aaron: I have this thing where I don’t like professionalism. Usually I don’t come up with questions, but I figured you guys are a big band now, so *unfolds paper*
Tom Gabel: haha, Awesome.
RA: Um, lets see…what’s Against Me mean to you now? I mean, so much seems to have changed…
RA: Like going from playing laundry mats, to obviously playing bigger venues, what’s that like? What’s changed?
TG: Um, You know first off, I want to clear something up, I only played ONE laundry mat, haha so I feel like its this myth that’s been blown out of proportion, haha. You know it’s like the tenth year of doing this, so it’s not like this all happened at once type of thing. I mean it’s all been a very gradual thing. Things have changed, they get different you know? You do something long enough, of course things get different. You don’t keep doing the same things over, and over again. I don’t know, you know? This is what I do all the time. I eat, sleep, wake up, and breathe in this band. It occupies my every moment, with the exception of my fiancé. This is all I do, if I’m not writing songs or practicing, then I’m checking the e-mail, or trying to answer all the regular mail, or dealing with all the kind of other sort of tedious stuff that goes on when you’re in a band, like taxes and shit like that. This is what I do all the time. It’s hard to have a real perspective on things, like I’m sure that when this is all said and done, I’ll look back five years from now and think "Wow, it’s really weird, things did really change.” or "Things were really different back then, it’s interesting how things went there," you know, but for right now, it just seems normal, you know what I mean? It doesn’t feel weird in anyway, haha.
RA: So what then, would be the next progression? I mean, I know you haven’t even released [New Wave] yet, but to you, what seems like the next logical progression as a band? What’s the next step, where do you go from here?
TG: I don’t know. It’s kind of a weird point, actually. I feel like everything in a lot of ways is kind of building up to this. You know, there’s so much of a stigma with signing on to a major label, and I’m sure a lot of people saw it as an eventual thing. But now we’ve got this new record coming out and it seems like, what’s going to happen after that? I don’t know. I imagine we’d continue to write music, and continue to tour, haha.
RA: That’s always the hope.
TG: Haha, yeah. But like I want to continue to challenge us, and be in interesting situations, you know.
RA: Yeah, haha. This is one I’ve searched hundreds of interviews to find, but couldn’t find, because, you know I don’t want to be that person that just asks the same fucking questions over, and over again.
TG: AH, Thank you! haha.
RA: If you ever get the chance, and this is a side bar, to check out the Racket Mag site. It’d be very awkward to ever face you again if you read my ‘About Me’. But um, where is the name "Against Me!" derived from?
TG: I was seventeen years old, and um I guess it was a real teen-angst kind of thing. I felt like the world was against me.
RA: So you know quite well, there’s been backlash blah blah, all over the boards, and .Orgs, with you guys inking up to a major label. On .Org boards, there’s been people throwing shit right back in your face, even so much as citing "Reinventing Axl Rose", or "Baby, I’m An Anarchist." To a point where I’ve even seen small bands name a CD after you (See Reinventing Tom Gabel). Most of Searchings…" songs seem to deal with your overall discontent with the record industry. Now, I’ve heard from Anti-Flag that Fat Wreck itself pays the best royalties, as far as indie labels go. My question would be: Was there any discontent with Fat, and what was it that Sire said that clinched you guys, and do you feel that you have more breathing room now, as far as creative control of your content on record?
TG: Well, there’s no definitely no discontent with Fat in the sense of bad feelings, nothing like that. Like you know, Vanessa, who’s a publicist with Fat…did she set this up with you?
TG: Like, we’re still hiring her to still work with us, even though we’re not on Fat anymore. So many of the people there, we consider really good friends, not just "Record label things,” Mike and Aaron included. It was weird, we as a band, kind of grew up in a lot of ways on Fat. We had records before that. You enter this new world inside of Fat, where they don’t make you sign contracts, but they have a lawyer. Then you become like "Well, you have a lawyer, maybe I should have a lawyer." haha. You know, like, "Why are you sending me a contract telling me what the deal is, I don’t have to sign it but…" it’s weird to think about stuff like that. I don’t know about their royalties, or whatever. I know they are very fair with their bands, and their employees but… uh, I know we got a better royalty rate with Sire (laughs).
TG: But like, um, I don’t know. We had done two full lengths, we did a live record, a handful of EPs, and we just did a DVD. It was kind of like "Well, we’ve done everything we can with Fat." A lot of the stuff that people ask about, or whatever, is about the creative control works. Truthfully, we have just as much control as we did on Fat, with Sire, you know? And that’s something we have contractually guaranteed with Sire. We will have creative control. That said, anytime you’re working with somebody who’s putting time and money into your band and investing in that, there going to have opinions, and you’re going to have to fight just as hard for you vision, or whatever, to make sure that it’s maintained. That was true on Fat. Fat Mike didn’t like our album cover for (Searching…) he HATED it. He wanted the name to be a lot bigger, he hated the track order; he wanted it all switched around. So we were like "This is how we want it, and this is how we’re going to keep it." And it was something we had to fight for a little bit. You know, back and forth with Mike, and it was cool and I respect Mike’s opinion, but that’s just the same as if you’re on a major. You have to fight to make sure that what you want happens.
RA: You brought up kind of an interesting point right now, as far as bands making records. It kind of is like an investment. It’s almost like the stock market for these kids. Do you ever feel, that as hard as your fighting that, with that said… do you ever feel like you owe it to the people who helped put you here, who are almost like your "contingency,” do you feel like you owe something to them, such as maybe picking up an acoustic guitar, and playing a few tracks like that, even though you may not want to, or write a song just specifically for the fans, or something?
TG: Well, you know, it’s a weird thing. That’s something that some people have brought up in the past, kind of thing. It’s and ODD question to think about. So, okay, when you started out as a band, when we started out as a band… NO ONE fucking liked us. (laughs) No one! Our first year of shows was just like us showing up, me and Kevin and unloading my acoustic guitar, and Kevin unloading his drums; which was like this weird home made kit, and people were like "What the fuck is this?" and making fun of us. No one liked us at first, and now there’s all these people saying "I’ve loved you since (Vivida Vis)." “No, you didn’t. No one liked us when (Vivida Vis) was around. I was there at the shows! There were TEN people there, what are you talking about? I know you weren’t there.” That’s weird, but people eventually did start to get into it. But it’s weird–my impression is like, we were doing what we wanted to do. Everyone else, where we were in Naples, Florida were kind of really into Christian Hardcore, stuff like that–hardcore in general, pop-punk, and stuff like that, we were like "We’re going to do things the way we wanted to, like this," so MY understanding is that people were into us because we were doing exactly what we wanted to do. So, at this point, the change can be like "Well, we’re gonna start doing what people want us to do, because we’re worried about pissing off our fans," is a weird concept for me to grasp, and I’m not into it. I feel out of respect for people that like our band that I should continue to do what I want to do musically, and that I should follow my creative instinct. And I’m not saying I’m perfect, or like ever idea I have is a good idea, but you have to have those bad ideas to get to the good ideas, and you have to follow that and be kind of bull-headed about it and just not second guess yourself, and not take into account what people think because it doesn’t hurt anybody–writing songs doesn’t hurt anybody. No one has to listen; if they don’t like it, they don’t have to buy the music, and they don’t have to come to the show. That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the fact what we’re doing is just making music, you know?
RA: So, have you noticed–I started listening to you guys around the time of (Reinventing Axl Rose)– have you noticed a slew of bands, that’s almost pretty much this "Gainesville Movement", as retarded as that sounds, that’s kind of similar to what happened in the 90’s. It seems to me, with the small label of Sub Pop, it’s almost becoming that way with No Idea, and the landscape seems to have changed from Seattle to, well, Gainesville, and surrounding areas, just a lot of bands that sound similar. Take for instance when you played in Tucson the last time around (3/19/2007), I interviewed Fake Problems, and obviously they have some electronic elements to their music, but facing the reality of things, they do, in fact, have a similar sound as Against Me! It seems like you helped to sire them in (no pun intended)—
TG: Well, they are on Jordan’s label, Sabot. You know, Fake Problems definitely has their own thing going on–I’m fine with that, as long as they’re fine with admitting there’s some influence from us–I’m fine with admitting there is some
Influence from us. I don’t mean to demean them in any way, but um, I don’t know, that’s the way it works. I copy bands, I copy other bands styles. It’s not like whether you want to or not, it subconsciously that slips into what you’re writing.
That’s the way it works. I think it was Picasso who said, "Great artists steal." (laughs)
RA: (laughs) So, a lot of the association people automatically tie-in with Against Me! is that you’re a political band. Would you consider Against Me! a political band, and if so–a lot of your songs that have more of a ‘political’ back-bone to them seem to be American-based, as far as politics go. Take "Her [From Her Lips to Gods Ears].” Do you think you’re average fan at a show in Germany is going to be able to relate to that? Do you think maybe your views, while they might be understood in America, may be too polarizing, or do you think that instead it’s more of a universal connection? Or are there just some songs you can’t play because it might fall on deaf ears?
TG: Um, hm, which should I answer first? Um, (haha) first of all; Unfortunately I feel U.S. politics are really over-bearing especially with the war in Iraq and the situation happening that you can go anywhere in the world and be like "Fuck the
War in Iraq,” and people will know what you’re talking about. You can talk about Condeleeza Rice, and you can talk about George W. Bush, and everybody knows who you’re talking about; which is unfortunate because if I were to turn around, and I were to ask you, or if somebody were to ask me "Well, who’s the Prime Minister in Poland?" I wouldn’t know the answer. And it’s an unfortunate thing, you know because American politics are all very much like "Oh, look at us, look at us." So, we’ve toured, you know, everywhere from Japan, to Australia; to Poland and Lithuania. We play the songs, and people follow along and they’re into it–the majority of people who come out to our shows share the same sentiment with us. They’re against the war, and they share a lot of our politics. But um, in answer to the first part of your question "Would we consider ourselves a political band?" …I think when we first started out with the intention of this very much being considered a political band–I wanted to be in an anarcho-punk band, you know? I was into Anarchist politics, and the anarcho-punk scene and anarcho-peace punk bands, and after a while I started to get the feeling that a lot of the other people associated with that scene are into your band being a part of it, or whatever, because they want to use you to further their political agendas, and everyone kinda has a cause and they’re just invested in their own political agenda, and I kinda got a little creeped out by the political scene or whatever. And you know, I also started to realize that when you start to say that you’re a political band, or this is a political song that people will take it in a different way, rather than if you’re just giving your opinion on something. I’m a big Bob Dylan fan, and I think Bob Dylan had a real good perspective on this, because he started out as someone who was considered a political folk artists. And then he decided he wanted to write songs about some different things, and people crucified him for that. They were like "You’re a sell-out." and it’s the same type of scenario, you know? And his response that he would give to people is something I very much agree with: Just cause you’re writing a song that’s giving your opinion about something, and you’re siding with someone in a struggle, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a political song. You’re just–you’re giving your opinion on a situation, or you’re siding in a struggle. And I think that people’s view of politics, and what is political is very narrow-minded. Like, ANY song can be a political song. Like, if you’re talking about a love song about a boy, or a girl, that can be a political song. Or you can turn a love song into a political song by making it be about a homosexual relationship–
RA: (immature snicker)
TG: No, seriously–that’s a political song; it’s still a love song.
RA: Since that’s such a ‘hot-button issue’.
TG: Yeah, yeah people think that you say it’s a political band, or it’s a political song and that means that it’s good, or if it’s not it’s bad. And I don’t like that whole argument because I’m burned out on it.
RA: So the last time you were interviewed by Racket, there was a moment of clarity where you trumped that smug-bastard of an editor. The re-cap of what happened was, he got into a debate about beer, and mistook the origins of Guinness, as a beer from the U.K. How’s it feel belittling small magazine editors with massive egos? (Editor’s note – Aaron, fuck you. – RacketBoss)
TG: I do totally remember that interview! (laughs) It uh, it’s pretty cool.
RA: It’s hot as balls here in Arizona. Where’s your favorite climate to be in?
TG: My favorite country to tour in is Australia; I think it’s beautiful. Summer or winter there is just fucking amazing.
RA: Song requests: love ’em, or hate ’em?
TG: It depends; it’s awesome to play something that would make somebody happy to hear. But sometimes there are songs that we don’t necessarily play anymore, and when people ask for ’em it’s like "God, we don’t want to play them anymore." An example would be the song (Burn) (chuckles) we uh, we don’t play it anymore and it’s like "Hm… sorry." (laughs)
RA: (laughs) So how do you feel about being interviewed? I mean honestly, I know it is just part of the process, a necessary evil if you will, to promote the album, etc. But do you get anything out of it?
TG: I hate being interviewed.
RA: Well fuck, (laughs) *crestfallen* (Writer’s note: at this point, it was like finding out God and Santa are the same person, and then finding out neither of them are real.)
TG: No, no, no, no worries! It’s just, I feel like I’m bad at it. I just feel like every time after an interview I’m like, "Ah! I sounded stupid there" or I’ll get weirded out, because after you do a lot of interviews, you’ll notice certain things you say, like, I’ll notice I say the word "like" a lot. I HATE that I say like a lot, or at the end of questions, sometimes I’ll say "you know?" and it’s really dumb to say "you know". I feel like it shows a sign of insecurity, and I wish I didn’t do it. But um, I just wish I was better at interviews, and then I would enjoy them more. I like MEETING people, but uh yeah I don’t know (laughs).
RA: So this is the point where I’ve run out of "standard questions" so, if you would happen to have any questions you’d like to ask the interviewer, kind of turn the tables, would you?
TG: How long have you been doing this?
RA: Um, about 8 months, give or take.
TG: What made you want to work with a magazine?
RA: Um, I tried my hand at making music, and I suck at it. So, I think writing about it probably the next best thing.
TG: Do you, what is, (laughs) this is an interesting spot to be in, let me think. What is the biggest change you’d like to see in music?
RA: It’s not that I necessarily like the type of music it is, but I’ve seen over the years that nowadays there’s no such thing as a mid-card band. If you look back into earlier 90’s, for every BIG band you had, like say Nirvana, you had the medium level band that enjoyed a good amount of success, a modest existence that was nothing to laugh about, that really held a show together. No one cares about the opening band so much of the time, and I’m not saying I agree with that, but I’m saying most people are buying merch, or drinking, or outside just generally socializing, and the few people that are inside, there’s the few that will nod there heads along, the others that fold their arms and just shit on the opening band, and the ones who just are getting a good spot for later on. That said, it leaves the middle market open, and untouched. Every label seems to just want the next big thing, and I think drastically things could, and would change, if say, to every Green Day there was a Pansy Divison at one point. There’s just no mid-card bands anymore.
TG: So what do you think there are?
RA: I think that, I really hate that right now it’s about screaming about such and such a girl left you, and sure that’s hard times, but when every song is about that, and every album is about that, and you founded a career off of one song, it takes the meaning away from the original purpose to begin with. It seems like touring is dead, and fighting tooth and nail for every fan you can get is a thing of the past. You have Pure Volume, and MySpace, and don’t get me wrong, those are excellent tools for discovering music–but you have bands that just have 30,000 fans, and haven’t even played one show. The hype is completely overbearing. What would be a good change I personally think, would be labels taking the focus out of signing a band and demanding a million units moved, to just building a growing band. If you’re just focusing on the one band that can sell millions, you take away the chance for other bands to turn around and do the same because the promotion isn’t there. That’s what I mean by saying, "We need mid-card bands". Take My Chemical Romance. To date they’ve had three songs that were considered hits, and they sold out Jobbing.com arena–
TG: Did they fill it, are you sure?
RA: Yep. Sold out. It’s an ultimate dash-and-dine. I’d like to see it end. Take someone like Trent Reznor, I’m not the biggest fan, but he’s taken the matter of promoting (Year Zero) in his own hands, and it’s been a fucking amazing thing to watch, because it’s so different.
TG: I think it’s really a great thing. I think it’s awesome what they are doing, I think it’s totally rad. Do you think that a music fan like yourself, do you still collect CDs?
RA: Um, see now I feel really embarrassed, because I brought an LP of Against Me! and I was completely forgot I’m supposed to be professional and all, but at the time I was like "I’m gonna ask him to sign it. Good move. This will be an awesome thing for my collection." Then I realized like, two steps out of the car that that was a lame idea, so I left it in the car.
TG: No! I’ll sign it.
RA: Thats uh…that’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When I was younger my dad gave me this old record player, which I still have, and still use. It still has the original needle on it too, which is fucking weird. But he completely got me into collecting records. The inlays, the artwork, it’s just a really cool thing to look back on later down the road. I personally don’t care for downloading CDs. It feels less tangible to me.
TG: Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean.
RA: I just feel my nerdy demographic gets overlooked (laughs) I mean, I don’t even own an iPod.
TG: You don’t own an ipod?
RA: Too poor. Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to be asked?
TG: Not really, no (laughs) not a particular question, no. I’ve been asked that question before, and I’m always like "No."
RA: Any last words you’d like to say/ any free swag?
TG: Yeah, thanks for the interview, it’s been a lot of fun. Yeah, sure, come on down to the merch table, we’ll hook you up.
And hook me up, he did. I got a (signed by Andrew and Tom) 7” of the (White People For Peace) and a shirt.
July 10th. New Wave. Go now, and pre-order if you can. Buy it. It’ll be the best record out this year, I promise.
By Aaron Hale