“Because I'm stubborn,” Tom Gabel openly and easily admits about half way through our conversation. We chatted about a number of topics mainly concerning his too-good-to-be-true 10 year old punk rock-‘n-folk entity, Against Me!, which started in 1997 in Naples, Florida, and despite all odds against them, Gabel (lead vocals) didn’t let the band fall through or give up. Thus why he admits to being stubborn, and why a band like Against Me! has been able to live on and become known for their strong presence in the underground Warped Tour punk scene, something close to a legend in the same vein as Bad Religion.
He goes on to say, “I wanted to do it just to spite people.” And it’s that stubbornness that has allowed Against Me! to tour and write solid record after solid record for our ears’ pleasure. However, the beginnings were not so picture-perfect, and only someone as determined as young Gabel would have been able to keep pushing this hard.
“Well for me it was always frustrating because I was always having a hard time convincing people it was a good idea to pursue this,” Gabel tells PureGrain over the phone from Florida. “We’d save up money for a year, write some songs, try to get some recording together and book a really crappy tour where over half the shows fell out and come back, the vehicle would be broken, we’d all be broke. Nobody could pay rent and everyone was like, ‘this is dumb, we just should work our boring jobs.’ But I would be like ‘No! This is awesome, let’s keep doing it.’ It’s hard to convince people to really devote themselves to it and that it will eventually pay off. In the beginning I was definitely frustrated with that.”
What made Gabel so sure that Against Me! was the band to save the planet from its self-inflicted trauma? Not many punk bands get the chance to strike out in the big leagues, no matter how determined their frontman is. But when it came down to it, Gabel wasn’t so sure himself, just a driven kid with tons of musical creativity and energy spawned from the fear of falling into a 9 to 5 job. “At least you can go to your grave knowing that you tried,” he says, if Against Me! didn’t become what it is.
But I’m sure he wouldn’t let that happen. It doesn’t seem like much has changed in Gabel; he still has that youthful exuberance that started the band in the first place. As they approach the release of their “best record yet”, they seem more poised for success than ever. Alongside Andrew Seward (bass, vocals), James Bowman (guitar, vocals), and Warren Oaks (drums), Gabel will be spending some time in New York to master the already recorded and recently named, New Wave, fourth full length album, before heading out on a North American tour.
“Looking at it now, musically,” Gabel says. “I think this one is a lot more of a straight solid rock record.” While listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, Gabel penned a number of songs that will make it on to the new album. This is the first time he’s written the whole album, musically and lyrically, by himself. Although each member will add their own touch, Gabel says this release is the one he is most proud of his personal growth.
Raging with angst and anti-political fury, Against Me! have shaped their rebellion into an art and although they know they can’t change the world, their passion and commitment has not gone defeated. Right now, Gabel is most fuelled by the recent takeover of digital music. He speaks with energy streaming through his vocal chords. “It’s screwed up, that’s something that I think about. It’s a weird thing because I can see both sides of the argument. People have been forced to pay overpriced costs for CDs for years and now they feel like it’s liberating music or something, but at the same time people like Apple and Mac are just making money for free off of artists because their product doesn’t work without that free music floating around out there. Music is the most important thing in my life. I want to support musicians, go to shows, and I want to buy records, I want to listen to those records, know the record inside out, and know all the songs on the records. I want to know what the cover art looks like, I want to own them and have a music collection. Somewhere along the line people, and I guess it’s punk, I had a lot to do with it unfortunately, people got this idea in their heads that they shouldn’t support the artists and that it is a bad idea to support them, they should just be getting it for free. It’s kind of a weird thing.”
Despite some artists’ encouraging free downloading of their tunes, it is obvious to all those in and around it, the music industry is in a deadly state. But this is just a small portion of the big picture. “It contributes to the mentality,” Gabel tells me. “It’s a very American attitude.”
2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity obtained many well-deserved accolades from the press and public. The album was a stunning release that truly proved Against Me! as a punk-based force to be reckoned with. As Gabel discussed, it’s all about the chase.
“Well it is exciting, it is fun, that’s what keeps you going,” Gabel explains. “It’s fun and exciting in a way that’s extremely addictive. It’s kind of like mouthing off to the world, it’s a high. You keep wanting to do it again. The challenge is to keep wanting to do it better, like every time you put out a record or every time you play a show, it’s like it’s not enough, even if it was the best record or show in the world. If it was really good that means you have to do it better than the last one, because you don’t want to do it worse. It’s always a chase because even if we did make the best record ever and put it out, it’s like... I’m 26. I’m not going to retire! What am I going to do now? I am going to go and sell insurance or something. Haha no, I’m still going to want and make music. So you got to put out a record that tops that. It’s a constant challenge to out do yourself.”
Gabel confirms that on their fourth full length, New Wave, they have indeed outdone themselves, and I have no doubt what he says is true. After all, he’s a pretty stubborn guy.