Antiestablishment anger is as crucial an element of rock’n’roll as cars and girls, but where do you turn when the escapism becomes as stultifying and stringent as the world you’re seeking to escape? Where do you go to scream when punk rock is the establishment? No small thanks to producer Butch Vig, who knows a thing or two about helping scrappy, sneering underground acts craft big-sounding Big Statement albums, New Wave is a beacon: Come this way, and come as you are. Yet where Nirvana (publicly, anyway) retreated from and undermined Nevermind‘s poppier, crowd-pleasing tendencies, Against Me! revel in New Wave‘s — the bop-bop-bop chorus of “Thrash Unreal” is more liberating than a thousand middle fingers, although punk purists may beg, loudly, to differ. From the title track’s opening strums and chimes — every bit the drop-what-you’re-doing clarion call of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — Howitzer-throated Tom Gabel and his Gainesville rabble-rousers use every inch of space that Vig’s Imax-size palette allows, even if the message within is as simple as it ever was: Question authority, question yourself. But it’s got a massive beat, and you can (slam) dance to it. In a perfect world, New Wave would have been greeted with the adulation and success the similarly agitpop American Idiot received. But in a perfect world, Against Me! would have no reason to exist.
So we’re just calling to say that New Wave is our favorite album of 2007.
Seriously? My mom’s going to freak out, man.
A lot of your fans don’t share our enthusiasm. Has that been frustrating?
For some people, their minds were made up before they even heard the record, and there’s nothing I can do to change that, especially since they’re basing their opinions on totally inconsequential factors, like the label it’s on or the production value. That’s insane to me that these are even issues.
At the same time, the album hasn’t yet broken through to the mainstream the way a lot of people — maybe yourselves included — thought it might.
I would love for that to have happened by now, but it’s so hard to tell these days, because nothing sells. We wanted the album to be polarizing, we wanted it to break us out of being stuck as just a punk band, but it’s taking some time.
What are you most looking forward to in 2008?
Being able to start fresh — I have some criminal charges I’m facing, but that’ll be taken care of by then.
Is this about the fight you got into in Tallahassee in August?
All I can say is, it was ridiculous. They were holding an anti-Against Me! protest show at this coffee shop I go to, and no one warned me. I walked into a hornet’s nest. So I was baited into a confrontation; some drunk kid got in my face. It’s just fucking stupid.
Is it weird that the punk purists are getting this riled up over the so-called authenticity of an album that features a song about how silly that very notion is?
“Up the Cuts” is trying to say that the argument the punk scene is making about mainstream culture is totally irrelevant now — technology is changing everything, and they’re still talking about $5 shows and seven-inch records. What I’d love is for those people to come with us.