Festival Guide: Against Me!
Onstage and on record, Tom Gabel still has something to prove.
Do you remember your first music festival? Probably Warped Tour when I was 16. Social Distortion played. I remember Mike Ness was like, “I wrote this when I was young and angry. I’m still angry!” [Laughs] That was my most vivid memory.
What’s the best thing about playing festivals? Being in a band, you don’t get to see a lot of shows, so festivals are your chance to see bands play. You’re also playing for an audience that isn’t your own, so you have something to prove.
What’s the worst thing? Let’s just say some of the more long-standing European festivals have a disorganized bathroom situation. You know there’s going to be thousands of people, get it together!
You guys have been accused of selling out your anarcho-punk ideals. Is it difficult to block out that criticism? You get numb to it. There’s no way you’ll ever convince people who feel like that to think otherwise. At the same time, if someone’s upset, at least they’re paying attention. If we’re polarizing, that’s cool.
Against Me! nearly broke up a couple years ago. What happened? We’d been touring [2007’s] New Wave for about a year and a half and got sick of each other. One night onstage, I said something snarky to [bassist] Andrew [Seward]. He snapped, punched me in the chest, and said, “Fuck you. I quit.” After the show, I had to apologize and convince him not to.
Why’d you split with drummer Warren Oakes? Warren didn’t want to tour, he wanted to open a restaurant. He wanted to spend time at home. I didn’t want to have compromise. In life, certain relationships run their course. It’s not a bad thing.
What would the teenage Tom Gabel think of new album White Crosses? I’d be lying if I said I was always punk as fuck. I’ve always loved pop songs. When I was 17, I was really into anarcho-punk bands like Crass and Zounds, but at the same time, one of my most influential bands was Chumbawamba. Listening to those Chumbawamba records — impeccable politics, but they’re pop records and they’re great.
The new song “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” might be read as a disavowal of your former radical ideals. When you’re young, you feel like you can change the world. I’ve lost that feeling over the years at certain points and found it again, and want to hold on to that as long as I can. But when I first got into anarchist philosophy, I was really interested in being a free-thinking individual. You have these people selling you versions of revolution and making you feel guilty for feeling differently. I’m not interested in pandering to that anymore.
Is political bomb-throwing less appealing to you than it once was? I can’t define myself by what I’m against anymore. Also, the current military involvements had been topics on the last three records, and the same actions are still taking place. So are you really doing anything other than spitting in the wind? Lyrically, I wanted a fresh start.
You realize “Because of the Shame” sounds a lot like Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender”? It was intentional. A good friend of mine, C.C., was killed about a year ago. At her funeral, her mom told me that C.C. was really hurt by a song on New Wave, “Thrash Unreal.” She took it that it was about her. Her mom made me promise to write a song to make up for it. So I went home and didn’t sleep for days and wrote “Because of the Shame.” When we used to hang out, we listened to Springsteen, so I wanted to write a song that reminded me of those nights.
After seeing Coldplay in Japan, you wrote on your blog that a voice inside your head sometimes tells you, “You’ll never know what it feels like to command a stadium full of people in Tokyo.” Do you really want that? Sure.
Why? I want to reach as many people as possible. Playing music is a high, and each time you get high, it takes a little bit more the next time to get you just as high.
But then is it ever enough? I don’t know. Talk to me after we’ve played to that many people. [Laughs]
What if you never do? Having the ambition is what’s important. If you aren’t striving for something greater than what you’ve already achieved, what’s the point?
Against Me!’s White Crosses (Sire) is out June 8.