Against Me! on How the Anarcho-Punk Movement Is Like Any Other Gang

Categories: Q&A
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Against Me! with former anarcho-punk and new father Tom Gabel second from left.
Against Me! made a name for itself playing infamously raucous, sweaty shows in the nation's basements for kids who identified as anarcho-punks. But with the release of its second major-label album last year -- the much more clean-sounding White Crosses -- Against Me! has distanced itself from underground politics. White Crosses is also the band's first album since beloved drummer Warren Oakes departed the band in 2009. We spoke with frontman Tom Gabel to find out what fans should expect from the Gainesville, Fla., quartet's shows tonight and Tuesday at Slim's.

Will the sets be different night-to-night?
Oh, we'll be mixing it up for sure. At this point, we have a big enough catalog that we can do that pretty easily. And we always try to change up the setlist every night on tour. Hopefully people can expect a fun time. We're excited to be getting back to San Francisco. I really love playing Slim's, so we're looking forward to it. So far the tour has been fantastic fun.

Do you see a wider range of people in your audience these days?
For sure. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we've toured with such a wide variety of bands now. Every tour we've done, we've picked up a couple of people. You tour with Mastodon, you pick up a couple of Mastodon fans; you go on tour with Foo Fighters, you win over a couple of Foo Fighters fans; you go on tour with Matt & Kim, you pick up a couple of their fans. Honestly, I think what we're trying to do is make our crowd a group of music lovers, not punk rockers, not solely one type of person. Just people who like music.

On that front, recent single "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" seems like you're actively trying to distance yourself from your past. Were you worried about upsetting a portion of your fans by implying "These are no longer my politics, this is no longer my community"?
Well, I guess it depends. There have been portions of our fan base who, with each our records, have decided that something I've said, or some decision that I've made, has been their line in the sand where they aren't gonna follow any further. "When I wrote the song, I was definitely aware that there would be a lot of people who would read a lot into the lyrics. But I didn't mean for it to be a line in the sand, or a disowning of former political beliefs -- it's just a true story. My past is mine and I have ownership of that. I started identifying as an anarchist at about 14 years old -- I can't change that. The moral at the heart of that song is really just talking about mob mentalities, and that the anarchist movement is really no different to any other gang, where you get a bunch of people together and eventually it becomes a witch hunt where the people who don't fit into the guidelines of the club are persecuted. Anyone who's going to decide that something in my songwriting, or choices of my band, disqualifies me from being part of any kind of movement, is full of shit.

But a lot of the lyrics on latest album White Crosses feel pretty pissed off and disillusioned -- like you're drawing a line in the sand and saying "I'm a grown up now - forget that stuff."
I don't know. It's hard for me to have that perspective on it. For me, the majority of the writing for White Crosses was done while my wife was pregnant. I wasn't necessarily making a conscious decision to address the changes happening in my life, but it's inevitable that subconsciously they're going to sneak in there and influence things. I was definitely trying to take an approach to the record where it had a Fresh Start story line -- [to] write songs that were a little more universal than writing something that can only pertain to a 20-year-old punk kid. Not that there's anything wrong with being a 20-year-old punk kid.

So, do you feel like your politics have changed?
Oh, definitely. That's only natural. Unfortunately, a lot of where I've changed fits the classic cliché of, you know, the older you get, the less you know. When I was twenty, I felt a lot more certain about things than I do now, at thirty. That's just the way it is. I've realized that a lot of things aren't as black and white. I've been very fortunate that I've gotten to travel all over the world and meet so many different types of people coming from all different walks of life, and I've just realized that you can't really generalize anything. You have to take everything on a case by case basis. There are still some very important messages and ideals that I hold onto from my experiences in the anarcho-punk scene -- specifically, being an autonomous, free-thinking individual and making up your own mind. Thinking for yourself. Those are the biggest things, and I try to do [them].

In the last couple of years, your personal life has changed drastically, too. How has marriage and fatherhood altered your attitude to being in Against Me!?
Well, it's interesting. Those things -- especially having a kid -- only all the more solidifies your certainty in what you're doing. I was already certain that this was what I wanted to do. It's not like I had any doubts about that. I think if I did, having a kid would've been a time to figure out my life, but I already knew I wanted to do all this so it just kind of makes you reorganize your priorities and your approach to doing that stuff. You become a little less tolerant of the bullshit.

Talking of bullshit, has the rampant criticism you received from the DIY underground for signing to a major finally calmed down now?
I don't know. I just kind of stopped caring (laughs).

What do you envisage as the future for Against Me!?
The goal has always been to continue playing music and to continue making that your life. Whether that's under the name Against Me! or as something else, I don't know. I very much want to continue playing as Against Me!, and that's the plan, but we'll see what happens.

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Slim's

333 11th St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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Hainesy
Hainesy

Great band. Love their old stuff, love their new stuff. The White Cross album still has some good political songs (i.e. smashing crosses on the lawn of an anti-abortion church), but there is a good change of direction too. People may want the bands they like to stay exactly the same forever, but you have to appreciate that those bands may want to evolve. It's like Muhammed Ali once said: "A man that views the world at 50 the same way he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life".

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