Against Me! interview with Tom Gabel

by Adrian Bryksa

Preceding their latest tour stop in Calgary, I had a chance to sit down with Against Me! front man Tom Gabel to talk about the tour, the past, the present and the future and also had a chance to spin a few miscellaneous questions in as well.

Adrian: With me today is Tom Gabel from Against Me!. Welcome to Calgary, Tom.

Tom: Thank You.

Adrian: You have been to Calgary a few times, for some different shows.

Tom: (laughs) A few times this year!

Adrian: What is your most memorable moment here in Calgary?

Tom: Ah, I'm not sure, I guess right now at the moment it was the last time we were here, we played a small show at a club I forget the name of right now.

Adrian: The Republik?

Tom: Yeah, yeah The Republik that was it, it was just a really energetic crowd, a really fun time. I am kinda bummed out that today we aren't in that same area cause there was lots of record stores and stuff in that area. There is absolutely nothing in this area.

Adrian: So you are on tour with Japanther and Saint Alvia Cartel. How has the tour been going?

Tom: Its been good. It's a short run. We have tonight, a day off tomorrow and then Vancouver and then we go home for a week and a half then go back out on the road in the States, but yeah its just a short little run of Canada.

Adrian: Explain to the readership how sounds like Japanther and the Cartel, how do you get together come up with a tour? Do you guys find them or do they find you? How does it happen?

Tom: We always pick the other bands we want to tour with. For me, I view that as our chance to expose our audience to new and different kinds of music, you know stuff we're into or stuff they might never have heard of, as opposed to putting together a really predictable bills of bands that all sound the same. I like to play with bands that sound nothing like us, but at the same time are bands that I respect and like the music of. You know, hopefully someone will come to the show and think, oh wow Against Me! were awesome but hopefully they'll come to the show and think man, that band Japanther, I have never heard of them they're amazing or Saint Alvia Cartel or whoever.

Adrian: I put an opportunity out to the readership and said if you could ask Tom from Against Me! any questions, what would they be? One the readers wanted to know, do you ever stop touring?

Tom: (laughs) Um yeah, there will be a point where; we take breaks, we have a week coming up and then there's October and I am doing some dates in November and then we're doing a tour in December and then we're going to take some time for Christmas (laughs) no seriously after the December tour we are going to take a couple of months to write and record and stuff like that, take a nice little break and put out a new record.

Adrian: So, coming out the DVD: "We're Never Going Home", there was some talk about signing the big major label deal and then leaving it to back independent, do you recall that at all?

Tom: That was a documentary of what exactly happened, you know, it was 2004 or 2003 or something like that and we were being courted by a bunch of major labels and we decided to stay with our Indie Fat.

Adrian: Now that you're with Sire, does that desire ever come back? Do you ever feel that way or was it just a moment in time, just a passing thing?

Tom: You know I think in a lot of ways, that moment in time was us going through some growing pains of being aware that certain people that you liked and wanted to be friends with were going to dislike you based on decisions that you would make in your life that have no effect on them which is exactly what happened. I mean, we have made decisions in the career of our band or whatever that have no effect on anyone else but ourselves and people hate us for it and thats a really odd thing, you know, to have people that you don't know to hate you for something. In a way, that period of time as I said was growing pains where you're faced with these decisions and you're denying your aspirations and denying your ambitions in an effort to look cool in front of some people you know, and at this point, I mean at my ripe old age of 27, I have no problem admitting that I want to be in a band thats big, that people listen to, that reaches people you know. I don't have the desire to just play to a select group of cool kids in a punk rock scene, I don't really have the desire to belong to any scene you know, I have the desire to transcend scenes, to just be music thats judged as music not quartered off to some little ghetto, you know.

Adrian: That brings me to my next question, recently Rolling Stone classified you guys as "Best Punk Band". How does that label make you feel as an artist, or make the band feel as artists and is that something that you see continuing, I mean are you going to continue to make music that can be labelled that way?

Tom: Well, I mean I can't help it what somebody else calls my band, some people say punk, some people say folk, some people say you know, I mean it wasn't me who wrote that article in Rolling Stone, thats them. I grew up listening to punk, and punk rock music changed my life for sure but there comes a point where just kind of give up on the argument you know "Is punk dead?" or what does "Punk" mean? Its just stupid and it is a complete waste of time as opposed to sitting there debating about what is and what isn't punk and whether or not you are a punk band, why don't you just go out there and do something and leave it up to other people like Rolling Stone to decide what it is? It really has no effect on the actual act that you are doing or the music that you are making. I think to me, I don't like being relegated to just one scene you know its a drag when you go into a music store and I know music stores are a disappearing things these days, but when you go into a music store and your looking through the sections of records and your like you know, oh here's a band I like and there's an artist I respect but where's our CD and oh, its over there in the "punk" section. Its like why can't we be with these other people that we respect and that we consider our peers or who we look up to and thats kind of a drag.

In regards to going back to the question where we came from a punk rock scene, playing in basements and stuff like that, and you get to a point where you get a certain amount of success and there are people who used to be coming to your shows start calling you a sellout and saying you aren't punk anymore, it's like ok fine, we aren't punk anymore, you can have it but then let us exist still and that doesn't mean we have to stop playing music so its frustrating in that one sense too where its like I am not trying to claim anything, I just want to play in a band and I want to play music, I want to put it out there and I hope people enjoy it, you know and leave it up to someone else to decide what it means.

Adrian: Fair enough. I kinda want to switch gears and talk a little politics, if thats ok?

Tom: Sure..

Adrian: US Presidential Election is coming up? Is it going to make a difference if the Democrats or the Republicans are elected and what are your opinion on what its all about?

Tom: I think it will make a total difference. First of all, I should say that I am not a Democrat or I am not a Republican, and I don't belong to either of the parties or identify with any of the parties but at the same time, but do very much still plan on voting for Barack Obama and I do think that should he get elected into office, it would be an overwhelming positive thing, not only for the United States, but for the world in general.

I think that the significance alone of having an African-American elected into office as the first African-American president would be a sign of change and a sign of progress in American thinking and politics and it would be an achievement in a lot of ways and I think that beyond that Barack Obama is a very intelligent person, a very well spoken person and I think that probably my worst criticisms of him and while I don't agree with everything he has to say or all of his beliefs or anything like that but I think that unfortunately, he sees the need to dumb down his leftist politics in order to appeal to a more wider base of voters. I feel that if he just came out there a lot of the time and was like this is the way it is, you either vote for me or John McCain, and laid it out there, I would be a lot happier but I am sure he has some advisor thats telling him if you want to win the election that you gotta dumb down your politics you know, but I do think he gets it in a lot of ways and that he is way more in touch with the American public than John McCain is.

Adrian: Recently, we came up to the anniversary of September 11th. What sort of significance does that have to you as a person and as an American?

Tom: I don't know really, I definitely recognize the tragedy of the event and the impact it had on the world in general and on the American psyche, I mean I feel that in a lot of ways, this will be vague and weird, but things were a certain way before 9/11 in America and the world and that things were very different afterwards just in the way people thought and the way people felt and everything and that maybe things haven't totally recovered in a lot of ways from that. We were all talking about it the other night, backstage just talking about where we were on the day. I remember calling up our tour manager Jordan, first thing in the morning and being like hey turn on your TV and I remember calling up James house who lived with a bunch of my friends and saying turn on your TV and I remember waking up to go to work, I was working as an auto mechanic at the time and sitting there and thinking holy shit and then just went into work. In the following weeks too, it was even weirder too, everyone was super patriotic, and super paranoid.

Adrian: Anything you are reading these days?

Tom: I am actually reading Crime and Punishment right now, Dostoevsky. I made a new years resolution to read 12 classic novels in 12 months.

Adrian: Sounds like some 'light' reading there?

Tom: (laughs) Well, I already read War and Peace, that was a little heavier so Crime and Punishment is a walk in the park compared to it.

Adrian: ..and how about listening to?

Tom: I actually got a Best of Warren Zevon cd, he is fucking rad man, I don't know why it has taken me so long to get into him but so many good songs like Desperados Under the Eaves, such an amazing song, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, fuck, just really great lyrics, really great stories.

Adrian: It's 2008, do you believe where you are at, is it ever surreal to you?

Tom: Not at all, well yeah it is totally, but you know what's weird and we were talking about it the other day too.. When we were talking about September 11th, I was realizing how many years had passed since then and how it doesn't seem like it was that long ago and to me. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago that I was 17 and still living with my mom and recording songs on a little 4 track. You forget about of lot of things that happen in between a lot of the time but it feels good to be where we're at, it feels like hard work gets you somewhere in a weird way you know?

Adrian: Did you ever think you'd hear Against Me! music on the radio?

Tom: (laughs) I don't know, maybe a part of me thats arrogant, but I don't know. (laughs)

Adrian: Thanks for your time

Tom: Thank you.

Show Coverage:

Bringing back their show to Calgary for the 3rd time in 2008, Against Me! invited Brooklyn, New York based Japanther and Burlington, Ontario St. Alvia Cartel on the road to support them on their Canadian tour.

As usual, the University of Calgary Macewan Hall was a good backdrop for the evenings festivities as St. Alvia started the night off and showed that they are 6 piece act capable of commanding the stage with their punk- reggae infused blend, which reminded me of a bit of a hybrid of Rancid, Rage Against the Machine and Anti-Flag.

The Cartel was followed by the intriguing two piece act Japanther who bring cassette based samples, telephones as microphones and frenetic drum and base lines into a mash-up of low fidelity punk pop, dance music. These guys are definitely what the hipsters in NYC are used to hearing at parties and crowded bars and their approach got the crowd pumped up.

After what felt like a terrible eternity, the black cladded gents from Against Me! took the stage. In typical fashion, they proceeded to hammer out a set that left them drenched in sweat by the 3rd track. One nice thing to see was that the band was actively firing out water bottles into the pit which would allow those revelers to have a sip of water while enjoying the show.

Playing for about an hour, the band went back through their catalogue touching on tracks like Miami from Searching for a Former Clarity and This Shit Rules from 2003's As the Eternal Cowboy and delivered 6 tracks from 2007s New Wave. Since signing to Sire, Against Me! has taken a lot of flack from fans, saying the music has become over produced and too watered down to have much meaning. With that sentiment echoing, it was funny to me that those same fans who were so critical of the band actually paid to get a ticket to see them.

I suppose that the music that they make and how good it is or was eclipses the label they are now making it for. If this had been the first time seeing Against Me!, there would be no question that their energy, passion and stage presence could not be taken into question. If anything could be observed from a less positive side, the show that Against Me! has brought to the stage is starting to get a bit on the repetitive side and I would think a bit of a shakeup in presentation might be considered. Overall, three interesting and diverse acts, reasonably priced and a young crowd made the night fun.

  • Against Me! interview with Tom Gabel
  • by Adrian Bryksa
  • Published on September 21st, 2008
September 13th, 2008
Calgary, Alberta (Macewan Hall)
By Adrian Bryksa

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