Against Me! took the stage at The Pageant in St. Louis on Saturday, March 5th, as the #2 spot opening the show for the Dropkick Murphys. The majority of the crowd had been whipped into shape by partaking in the St. Louis Mardi Gras festivities and were ready for some great music. They were not disappointed. Singer Tom Gabel led the charge to the stage looking ready for a damn good time. Bearded Andrew Seward on bass was hopping up and down getting the fans going while guitarist James Bowman calmly took his place. Drummer Jay Weinberg was the last out but for obvious reasons. His right hand was in some sort of wrap and his left foot looked to be in a walking cast. Kansas City must have been a hell of a show.
It was a great mix of old and new, most surprisingly the vocal talent of this band live. One would have never expected to find such tight harmonies and intricate riffs in a punk band. Not only were they a pleasure to watch, with their energetic stage presence, but also they were in great vocal form. Their entire 45-minute set was full of nonstop energy. Seward hopped and shook all night while Bowman, although more stoic, belted the high notes and provided the much-needed depth to Gabel’s attention grabbing lyrics. Weinberg, while appearing to be a bit down physically, was defiantly not out. Had you not seen him limp to his kit on stage, you would never have known he was injured. He provided the beat and took everyone for a fast paced joy ride around the world Against Me! calls home. Punk Rock land.
QRO managed to meet up with Gabel just before the show and ask him some questions. Approaching this interview from the fan’s perspective, QRO actually connected with a few fans and asked them what they wanted to know about the band and the music. Gabel talked about their upcoming plans, including Australia and returning to The Fest (QRO Festival Guide) in their hometown of Gainesville for the first time in seven years, his different perspective on touring now that he’s a new father, new producer Butch Vig (of Nirvana’s Nevermind & much more), new drummer Jay Weinberg (son of Springsteen/ex-Conan drummer Max), demos vs. released material, vinyl > iTunes, indie = major = indie, leaked songs being given names by fans and getting requested at shows, and more…
QRO: Do you find it to be less pressure being the opening act rather than the headliner?
Tom Gabel: Yes and no. There is an advantage to being in both set-ups. There is something to be said about being the headliner on a tour, knowing that everyone in the room is there to see you and you don’t have to work so hard because they are already excited to see you, but then as an opening act, you have to get out there and try and win them over. You really have to work for it. It keeps you on your toes.
QRO: So you all are taking April off then off to Australia. Do you have a major fan base down under?
TG: Yeah, we do pretty well. Australia is a great place to tour. Every time we go back it gets better and better.
QRO: I saw you all were involved in the relief fund for the Queensland flooding disaster there. Do you have a special connection with Australia or how did that all come about?
TG: It’s good, I think the couple items we donated raised about $1500 but the whole effort was a real success. We were asked by the booking agent we deal with down there to donate to the relief fund he was involved in.
QRO: Do you ever get on the forums under an alias and see what people are saying?
TG: Never posting. Definitely in the past, when this was a new phenomenon, it like, ‘This is weird, there is a forum about,’ and we would check it out, but I do still go on from time to time to check out the live show reviews from the fans. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to check out what they are saying because that is your audience and you want to make sure they are still stoked and having a good time.
QRO: With social media being what it is, did it take a long time to get used to random people walking up to you on the street and knowing everything about you?
TG: [laughs] It took a while; it is a real weird feeling.
QRO: If you didn’t choose a career in music, what would you have chosen to do instead?
TG: I have no idea. I have wanted to be in a band since I was like eight years old.
QRO: How old were you when you were in your first band? Was it high school or junior high? What was its name?
TG: The Black Shadows, and I was probably around twelve years old.
QRO: If we plugged in your iPod right now, what would we find you listing to?
TG: Wow. Umm, I’ve been listening to that new Bright Eyes record [The People’s Key – QRO review], I think that’s pretty good. I’ve been listening to a lot of The Cure and the Handsome Furs (QRO album review). I have a pretty big appetite for new music; I mix things up pretty often because I get burnt out on the some old stuff. I am currently in the mood for some new stuff to listen to.
QRO: Do you get inspired by the new music?
TG: Oh for sure. Especially if it is a band that is still out there making new music like you have never heard. If it’s a band you are friends with, it is almost like a challenge. Like they are saying, “Ok, what do you got?”
QRO: Was Andrew born with a beard?
TG: Why yes he was. [laughs]
QRO: How is touring, now that you are a father, different than before, and do they travel with you?
TG: Well, in a lot of ways, it makes me prioritize. I now have those moments where I think to myself, ‘How does this look, me doing this as a father?’ I tend to not really go out to bars after the shows like before. I’m kinda over the party scene. I have got into the mentality, not in a bad way, but I’m here to work and be focused so I can accomplish a certain goal, which is the show. I feel guilty that my wife is home and has to make sure our daughter goes to bed on time and taken care of. She doesn’t get to hang out and party with me after the show anymore so I want to take it more seriously. They have not really traveled with me yet, like in the bus or anything. We will wait until she is a bit older and can express her feelings to let us know if there is something wrong or she doesn’t feel good, you know.
QRO: What was the coolest show you have played to date?
TG: We played Iceland a couple years back. That was probably the most interesting, weirdest place yet.
QRO: Where would you choose to play if given the chance?
TG: There is a ton of places I still want to go. We have never played South America; I really want to go there. I would love to in Africa, to play Mainland China and all over Asia. We have just so many places left to conquer.
QRO: Do you have any songs in particular that you feel have been misinterpreted? If so, how and what is the true meaning?
TG: Oh yeah, but not in a bad way. This is part of writing songs. The listeners just adapt what they hear to their life and feelings and can identify with it and I think that’s great. I don’t want to make every song have a directly obvious meaning. You want people to put their own interpretations to the music and enjoy it in their own way. As a fan, we do not want you to feel we are handing you feeling about a certain song.
QRO: Are there any songs with really random/weird background stories?
TG: There isn’t anything out there from us that has any real odd background or anything. When I was younger, I was in the habit of just writing free thought. Just what ever came to mind I would put down on paper but then I would get into situations where I couldn’t really explain what I was talking about so I got out of the habit of that and now I try and be more direct with song writing.
QRO: Are there are plans for a demo New Wave and a demo White Crosses release such as Total Clarity and Original Cowboy?
TG: We have the demos; we have the unreleased materials. Hopefully one day we will be at a point that we can make it available.
QRO: There seem to be a lot of unreleased songs from the White Crosses (QRO review) sessions such as “David Johansen’s Soul”, “You Don’t Have to Surrender Your Soul”, “Hot Shots”, “Andrew’s Sexy Shake” and a few more – will we be seeing these anytime soon?
TG: [cracks up] Those are total fan names. It’s so funny when people call out for us to play songs and call them by names they make up. We are like, ‘That’s great you have a request but, you named that song yourself and I have no idea what song it is you are asking for…’ We do appreciate your enthusiasm and excitement over it but I have no clue. A lot of these songs don’t have names because we didn’t release them as tracks but they may see the light of day in the future.
QRO: The songs “Lost”, “Search in America”, and “Exhaustion & Disgust” have become fan favorites over the years. Why were they left off of Searching For a Former Clarity?
TG: When we recorded those songs, it was just a demo session for the album. We had just a couple copies of that demo and one of the that use to work for us had a copy to listen to and unfortunately he ended up putting it on the PA system at the club he worked at in Cincinnati. Someone literally jumped behind the bar and took the CD out of the CD player and went home and put it on the Internet. So that is how our demo was leaked and it was our first experience with the Internet encroaching on our territory. It was a real drag having stuff you weren’t really ready for people to hear was already out there and being downloaded so we said, ‘Fuck It! We are starting fresh.’
We kept a couple of the songs but we wanted to take a new approach at writing everything.
QRO: Why do you think those songs are so popular among your fans?
TG: I think specifically because they are rare. They are not on any album. I don’t think there would be this popularity for them though, if we had recorded them and released them at that time.
QRO: Are there any other New Wave songs that were recorded acoustic, like the title track “New Wave”, and “Graceful Concession”?
TG: I believe so. I don’t really remember what all we have because there was so much recording going on before we sit down to officially record the record. There is tons of stuff.
QRO: What would you consider your ‘anthem’ song?
TG: I don’t know man; at this point we have been playing “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” and “Walking Is Still Honest”. I have been playing those since I was like 18 years old. Those are almost always in the set list.
QRO: Is there any songs you play for the fans that you are just tired of playing?
TG: No. If we get tired of something, we just put it away. We don’t want to fake it up there for our fans. We don’t want to just be a jukebox.
QRO: With artist like Paul McCartney and The Cars making a move to Indie labels this last year, do you think indie is the future of music?
TG: There has to be a point where people stop referring to indie and big labels in different ways. At this point, what is really the difference?
It use to be the major labels sold millions and millions of albums and had millions of employees and made millions and millions of dollars but now they have just as many employees as the smaller indie labels, making less money and selling less albums. I mean really, record of the year at the Grammy’s, Arcade of Fire [The Suburbs – QRO review]. It’s an indie record. How is that really indie anymore? If it’s the main stream, how can you tell who is who as far as recording labels are concerned. The lines are so blurred the term “Major Label” has no meaning anymore. I do think, however, we are in a weird transition with everything in the music industry with everybody still looking for what the new model of how the music will be sold and consumed.
QRO: How did it feel to click on iTunes for the first time and see your band listed?
TG: It’s weird but I don’t consume music like that. Sure I have an iPod, but I collect vinyl. I listen to mp3s but I love the experience of holding an actual record in my hands. Going through the record stores and picking things by the cover art or just on a whim. It a real, physical experience, and not a file in cyberspace. Mp3s just feel so disposable. The first time you put out a record, especially if it’s vinyl, when you get it back from the pressing plant and are holding it in your hand, looking at it. It feels real. It is such an amazing feeling of, ‘I made this.’ Seeing your music on iTunes gives you the feeling of, ‘Cool, my name is on a computer screen,’ but it lacks that feel of accomplishment as opposed to having your hands on a record.
QRO: What it is that [producer] Butch Vig brings to Against Me!?
TG: A lot of things. He has the technical expertise; it goes without saying that he knows how to make records. He brought a lot of confidence to us. Having someone like Butch in your corner championing you and being someone you can trust is a really big asset.
QRO: How has the transition been with Jay and the band? Do you think things sound different with someone else behind the drums?
TG: It’s been fantastic. It is hard for us to tell if the audience hears a difference but each musician has their own feel for how things are played. It’s an all around good feel. The drummer drives the songs and different guys have different pockets where you can tell when they are locked in and with Jay, we all seem to find that groove easily I think the fans can appreciate it.
QRO: How do you think The Fest will go for you all this year?
TG: I’m sure it will be a drunken good time. We played the first four Fests then took the last six off. Things happen. Our schedules didn’t line up or what not but it is a super easy thing for us to play. It’s like being in our home court. It’s funny how the people who go to the Fest have a different view about it than the people who live in the town. When you live there it is just a ton of people coming in and taking over the town but if you are going there on a vacation, you are taking over the town and looking for a fun time. We are really looking forward to doing that show again.
QRO: What’s on tap for Against Me! after this tour season is done?
TG: We will be working on writing on the next record for the rest of the year then back into the studio. The fest is the last show for us this year but there is spots between now and then where we can get some work done on the road.