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TALK: Against Me!

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Last year, socially conscious folk-punk-rockers Against Me! released their major label debut, New Wave (Sire). Their efforts were applauded by various music critics (the album found its way on many year-end top-ten lists), while being simultaneously protested by many of the band’s early (live-and-die-by-punk-rock-ethos) followers. The band has not stopped touring since the album’s release, and will continue to stay out on the road (including playing this summer’s Warped Tour) until the end of the year. We caught up with them on their most recent gig–opening up for the Foo Fighters on their current U.S. Tour:

Jim Shearer: Last time I saw you guys, you were working on your major label debut. I know there are always expectations before a group releases an album–what were your expectations before you released New Wave and have they been met?

Tom Gabel: It’s kind of an awkward question, because it’s like asking someone, “You’re going to see the movie Atonement, what are your expectations of the movie?” You could answer that question, but I can’t answer what the expectations are for the record that I made–

Jim: C’mon, you didn’t have any expectations? After you finished recording, you’re weren’t like, “I hope it does this, and I hope it does that”? Even when I sit down and draw pictures I have expectations for them.

Tom: A lot of it is just assumed expectations. Stuff like–well–I assume that we’ll go on tour. That was a big chunk of the expectation, that we were going to release a record and there would probably be a lot more press than before–and that’s been true, and that we’d go on tour–and that’s been true. I expected some people to really like it, and some people to not like it–and that’s been true.

Warren Oakes: I think it’s kind of like asking if you have expectations for you child. Maybe they’ll be an honor student, maybe they’ll be great at art, maybe they’ll excel in athletics, you never know which way they’re gonna go.

Tom: But really, you just hope they’re happy.

Jim: With the recording industry, you’ve been on both sides of the coin–

Tom: Indie and major?

Jim: Yes, so what do you think is going right, and what do you think is going wrong with the recording industry?

Tom: I think that everything’s going fine. It’s right on track.

Jim: This is going to be a horrible interview–

Tom: But seriously, why wouldn’t it be?

Jim: A lot of labels are going under.

Tom: Major labels.

Jim: Which has sort of leveled the playing field for everyone.

Tom: I think the problem right now is that you have too many bands, and then you have labels that have existed in a way that is not financially feasible for them to carry on. That’s starting to catch up with them, and they’re having to restructure themselves. In a lot of ways I think, it’s like–the punks won, you know? The punks wanted it like, “Down with the mainstream,” right? Well now there is no mainstream, it’s all niche markets and every band is in its own little world and own little universe. The “superstar” is disappearing and the major labels are dying, so the punks won.

Tom: The mainstream doesn’t exist anymore–it’s just little different worlds of bands, and people will listen to a little bit of each. You don’t have to rely on those old industry methods for doing a band. You can record your own music and you don’t need to have a lot of money in the budget for that. You can put out your own music via the web and you don’t need to rely on someone else’s distribution methods. You can do your own publicity and press for a band fairly inexpensively. If no one will interview you, you can write a blog. Personally, I think it’s a future that should be embraced, instead of battled against.

Jim: Tom is back!

Jim: With all that being said, can you still make a living as a band?

Tom: Right now being in a band and making money relies heavily on touring. That’s how you support yourself and make a living. Unfortunately with the way things are right now–with people thinking that you shouldn’t have to pay for music online–you can only rely on making money by touring, which I think is unfortunate. I do think that music should not just be free.

Jim: Is the age of the guitar-shaped swimming pool over?

Warren: I think there will be a certain style of music that will survive, that can only exist with a huge bankroll. There will only be a couple of these superstar artists that will be funded–they’ll be super glamorous and will record in whatever the most high-tech way is, but I think they’re kind of becoming dinosaurs.

Jim: I’ve interviewed you before and you all seem like very nice people. Why is it that you evoke such a passionate response out of others? Some people love you, while others feel the need to protest you?

Tom: Warren’s really nice.

Jim: I think all of you are really nice.

Tom: I’m the asshole and people don’t like me. So that’s the yin and the yang of the group. James is on my side with the “not very nice”, because people don’t like him. Andrew’s on Warren’s side.

Jim: Alright, Warren and Andrew, since you’re the two “nice” members of the band, why do you think there is sometimes such a negative response to Against Me!?

Warren: I think it’s because Tom and James are assholes (laughs). No, I think that we as a band have made a lot of unpopular decisions along the way. It would have been easy to go a certain way–it would have made a lot of people happy in theory. [But] we’ve defied them on every turn. I think we’re interesting, therefore controversial. They’re fire and we’re ice.

Andrew Seward: Well, we (pointing to Warren) would be like warm water.

Jim: Even though you may side-step it, you guys are a political band. This being an election year, do you approach 2008 in any different kind of way? Do you have any special agenda?

Warren: I think this election is totally huge. If you don’t care at all about politics and you feel totally alienated by the whole thing, or if you think voting is a total sham, I think that just because there’s going to be Supreme Court appointees within this next term–go vote for a Democrat. Even if for no other reason but to keep the Supreme Court from getting totally lopsided. I think it’s everybody’s duty to go vote for a Democrat.

Tom: I totally agree. You can sit there and say that voting is a sham, but regardless, with or without your vote, the election is still going to happen and a candidate is still going to take office. You can sit there and say that voting doesn’t matter, but [the election] it’s still going to happen, so why not get involved with that and make an effort to make some kind of change?

Andrew: It’s not that big of an effort to register to vote.

Tom: In answer to your question, if there’s an agenda–this year for me–it’s getting educated on where the candidates stand and making an educated vote come November.

Jim: You’re currently on tour with Foo Fighters and Serj Tankian. Is this good on-the-job-training in doing rock music right? You’ve got the Foo Fighters who have been doing it for a while, and Serj (System of a Down) who has also been tossed into that socially-conscious rock category.

Andrew: Not to be vain, but I think we do it right already.

Tom: We’re taking notes, but our notebook is pretty full.

Jim: Ben Lee recently did an acoustic covers-tribute of New Wave. A couple years ago, he, Ben Kweller, and Ben Folds went out on the Bens Tour. Would you ever team up with Rise Against and Rage Against the Machine for the Against Tour? You could also throw Against All Authority on the bill.

Tom: We have toured with Rise Against before, in 2003, so I don’t know it will happen again–and I don’t know if Rage Against the Machine would do it.

Jim: We are also in an Olympic year, so if you were competing against these bands in the following Olympic events, who would win? Let’s start with baseball.

James Bowman: Us.

Jim: Who would get the silver?

Tom: Well, Rage Against the Machine will lose in every event, because they’re old men. We’re younger than Rise Against, so we’re obviously going to beat them. I think that will pretty much be the ranking in all of the events.

Jim: What about Greco-Roman wrestling?

Tom: Can we have Jordan, our tour manager, with us?

Jim: Sure.

Andrew: You know what? I’m going to take Rage Against the Machine. They’re old, but they’re pretty burly.

Tom: How much time do we get to prepare?

Jim: From now until the Summer Olympics.

Tom: It’s going to be us then. I can get huge. We got the Perfect Push-up. Have you been in Rise Against or Rage Against the Machine’s dressing room? Do they have the Perfect Push-up?

Jim: I have not seen the Perfect Push-Up in their dressing rooms.

Tom: These are the real ones too, they’re not the knock-offs from CVS.

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