Florida punks Against Me! are in a bit of a predicament. After nudging the mainstream in 2007 with their major-label debut — the excellent New Wave — the band followed it up last year with the solid White Crosses. Within a few months, their record company dropped them, just as they were about to launch a world tour in support of the album.
Against Me! are now back on the road with Dropkick Murphys. But they have no record company, and they're pushing an album that's connecting with fans even without support from a label. For the first time in a decade, Against Me! don't really have a plan.
"It's weird," says frontman Tom Gabel (pictured right). "We're still in the mind-set of promoting this record that the record company has stopped promoting. Your attitude has to become, 'Well, fuck you.'"
The group's break with Sire Records is a familiar story these days: The label (which is distributed by music giant Warner Bros.) recently cut a huge portion of its staff. Along with employees, several artists were let go. Against Me! signed a deal for only two records, so it wasn't that big of a shock. Still, says Gabel, they're on tour with no label support — not exactly an ideal situation for any band, let alone one hoping to ride some well-earned buzz.
Despite these hurdles, it's business as usual for Against Me! They've spent the better part of the past 10 years on the road, and Gabel doesn't see that changing anytime soon. Plus, White Crosses — the group's fifth album — is still relatively fresh, he says. And no matter what his old record company thinks of the record, he's happy with it.
He should be. White Crosses starts with big, anthemic marching drums and ringing guitars. It's a triumphant-sounding record, revealing a band whose rousing punk has gotten more refined (like New Wave, the new album was produced by Nevermind mastermind Butch Vig) and a frontman who has settled in as a sharper and more melodic songwriter.
"When you first start out making records, you're intimidated by the studio," he says. "You have this sound in your head, what you want your record to sound like. But the first time you go in the studio, you come out with something that doesn't sound like that. We got closer to the sound we were going for with each experience."
Like the Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon, another tattooed punk, Gabel is a huge Springsteen fan, and there are plenty of times on White Crosses where he lets his Bruce flag fly. (Against Me!'s current drummer, Jay Weinberg, is the son of the E Street Band's Max Weinberg.) White Crosses is about growing up, but it's also about growing out of the occasionally stifling punk scene they came from.
In the album's first single, "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," Gabel asks, "Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?" before coming to a conclusion: "The revolution was a lie."
The 30-year-old Gabel still clings to parts of his younger, idealistic self (he's vegan, and his songs' politics still lean radical), but "my views have changed on some stuff, and you learn as you grow," he says. "My horizons have only been expanded. It's never been in a negative way. But as far as my interests and passions, I'm still doing what I did 10 years ago."
Gabel is a husband and father now, so there's some shift in perspective there. Plus, there was a lot of backlash against the band after it released New Wave and scored a radio hit with "Thrash Unreal." Fans who claimed they were with Gabel from the start — when Against Me! was the name of his Gainesville solo project at the start of the '00s — called him a sellout. "We've sold out 20 or 30 times now," he laughs. "We knew, coming from the punk scene, there were going to be people who were going to have problems with it no matter what. They weren't judging it on the music."
That kind of talk brings out the old punk in him. Those Springsteen similarities? The big, classic rock crunch on White Crosses? They're deliberate. "We were a band that started out in a definite scene," he says. "But once you're exiled from that scene, you feel like you're involved in a debate. If someone tells me not to do something, I'm going to do it."