With their eyes set to the future, Against Me! have begun anew like a phoenix rising from the ashes. On their recent headlining tour with Cheap Girls, Fences and Fake Problems, Review Rinse Repeat had the pleasure of sitting down with frontman Tom Gabel to speak about the band's time on major label Sire, 2010's White Crosses and the possibility of new material. Here's what happened on a rainy Sunday afternoon:
Jerry@RRR: I'm here with Tom of Against Me! How have you been enjoying LA?
Tom Gabel: It's great. I love LA.
Jerry@RRR: What do you think about the rain?
Tom Gabel: You know it seems like whenever it rains here, people kind of freak out and forget how to drive. It seems kind of intermittent, kind of clearing up here and there.
Jerry@RRR: Clearly, with all the changes that have occurred in the past few months, how does it feel starting a new chapter in Against Me!?
Tom Gabel: It feels just like that. Kind of like starting a new chapter. I mean that's kind of like what being in a band is about. You're always starting new chapters, either starting a new tour or working on a new album or whatever.
Jerry@RRR: Obviously, one of the biggest changes was your departure from your major label. Looking retrospectively, how do you feel about your time on Sire? Do you still believe you made the right decision?
Tom Gabel: One hundred percent, yeah. I feel really thankful for all the opportunities that were afforded to us by working with the label and all of the records we made while we were there. I wouldn't take that back for the world.
Jerry@RRR: In an interview after your departure from Sire, you had stated that many of the A&R people in your corner had been let go of the company. Considering the current recession, do you believe that it is wise for a band to sign to major label, or any label at all?
Tom Gabel: Well, you know, as you said, considering the recession, it's hard to tell with the music industry how much of it is because of the recession and how much of it is because how much is changing in the music industry. I think for me it's always important to work, to be making new music, to be touring and putting out records in whatever format people are listening to. Whatever label that means you're working with, that's going to be important.
Jerry@RRR: Do you think perhaps signing a one record deal is a wise decision for a band to wanting to avoid a situation like yours? Do you think it is risky to take a one record deal?
Tom Gabel: It depends. There's benefits to both ways. If you sign a one record deal, you know you only have to do one record. But at the same time, if you sign a one record deal, what's to say the record label is going to be committed or invested because they don't have to do another record. They don't have any other financial investment in you. It just depends.
Jerry@RRR: What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry?
Tom Gabel: I think it's in a state of flux. I think that everything's changing, but nothing has really landed where it's going to land. It's kind of in motion.
Jerry@RRR: Do you think the industry will find a way to combat illegal downloading or do you think declined record sales will be something that has to be embraced?
Tom Gabel: I think that the model has to change in a lot of ways. I think that subscription is going to be a real big part of the future. I could see that for sure. I think that there will always be people who want to collect the physical format. Myself in particular, I'm a vinyl fanatic and I'm always going to want to own vinyl. I know that there's tons of people out there that feel the same way. I would take vinyl over CDs in a heartbeat. I understand why people don't want to buy CDs anymore. I think that it's just the casual buyer that's going to load up their iPod with what they want on a song by song basis, cherry picking from records.
Jerry@RRR: Right now, vinyl is making a bit of a comeback. Do you think that it's something that can be sustained in the future?
Tom Gabel: I do. I think it is because it is one of the original formats and that it's one of the original listening experiences. When it comes to the liner notes and the artwork and the overall package and aesthetic, I think that there's certain people who always listen to music in that way.
Jerry@RRR: In a recent article, Geoff Rickly of Thursday stated from personal experience that being in a band is not as lucrative as people tend to believe. Considering your position as a father, does the lack of money in the industry ever concern you?
Tom Gabel: Well again, it's something where you always feel like you have to work. For sure. And you look back at bands from the '60s and '70s who were able to live solely off of putting out records, there's a part of you that's like, "Man, that'd be fucking rad if you can be like The Beatles and be like 'We're not touring anymore. We're just going to put out records." Sure, that'd be great to spend all your time in the studio, but for us we've always been a touring band so that's been part of the deal.
Jerry@RRR: If you don't mind me asking, how expensive is it to be a band, especially one that tours as much as you?
Tom Gabel: It's very expensive. I don't know if I can sum it up in this answer, but you have to realize all the costs. If you're looking at a tour, you have you gas; gas costs are going up. I'm sure we spend at least $200 a day on gas. Then, you have your hotel rooms. We have four people in the band and then we have four people crew. We do two to a room and that's four hotel rooms a night. So, you're looking at $400 to $500 in hotel rooms a night. So already, you're at $700 a day. The band itself isn't on a salary. But the crew, they're just crew and they're working. So, you have to pay them. Most crews you are looking at least $100 a night. If you have four people times seven, that's how much a week. Add in the hotels and gas every day on top of that. For a $15 ticket, the house is taking most of the money anyways. Then, you have your booking agent, your lawyer, your business manager and then the government who takes out money for taxes. [Laughs] Then, you gotta eat too!
Jerry@RRR: Seems like a never ending list!
Tom Gabel: Well, it is what it is.
Jerry@RRR: Speaking of the industry and labels, do you believe the band will sign again or are you going to opt for a more DIY approach?
Tom Gabel: Well, I want to work with record labels because it's unrealistic. Do it yourself is great, but you also have to be honest with yourself and how much you can personally do. There's nothing wrong with working with other people. I think that the DIY mentality and ethic can still adapt to working with people as long as the people you work with are on the same page, share the same aesthetic and share the same vision. Again, it's about being honest with how much you can physically do in a day.
Jerry@RRR: By signing with a major label, you severed ties with the punk scene you were associated with. Now that you are no longer on Sire, what is your plan of attack? What are your plans, other than your current and upcoming tours, to promote Against Me! and to spread your music?
Tom Gabel: Really, we got a lot of touring for the rest of the year and then we're working on a new record. That's kind of the way it is. You tour and work on new records.
Jerry@RRR: Last year, you released White Crosses. With all the initial nerves and excitement subsided, how do you feel the album has done?
Tom Gabel: It's weird because for us the album is still really fresh. It only came out seven or eight months ago. I think that about a year ago, we still weren't even finished making the record. It's hard to have perspective on it I guess.
Jerry@RRR: In terms of the band's sound, the band has progressed with each release and have received backing from artists such as Bruce Springsteen. However, many, including some long time fans, have been critical about your newer releases. Some have even stated that you have abandoned your ideals. How do you respond to these critics?
Tom Gabel: I don't really think there's a need to respond to it. That's something you kind of realize after you've been doing this for awhile. When we were first starting out as a band fourteen years ago or whatever, there was a group of kids and when we'd play they'd be like, "What? Who's this with a fucking acoustic guitar and a drummer playing pickle buckets? What the fuck is that? That's lame." If we were to listen to those people, we would've been fools. We were sure with what we wanted to do and kept going. What you realize after awhile is that those people who were critics back then or people who were critics back in 2003 when we signed with Fat [Wreck Chords], a lot of those people just don't listen to punk anymore. They don't have anything to do with the music scene while we're still here. We're still playing. We played the Henry Fonda [Music Box] for the first time in what I think was 2002 maybe. It's 2011 and we're here playing at the Henry Fonda.
Jerry@RRR: What do you think has most inspired your progression?
Tom Gabel: I think it's just mostly a self desire to feel like you're progressing and to feel like you're growing and with each album you're doing something different or getting better with what you're doing, and each time you go on tour, you're kind of upping the game. You don't ever want to feel like you're stagnating or you've reached the ceiling on what you can do and that's it. It's all downhill from here.
Jerry@RRR: White Crosses contains many songs that charged with meaning, including the title track, "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" and "Because Of The Shame." Are there any other tracks on the album that have specific meanings or inspirations like the aforementioned?
Tom Gabel: I think the song "High Pressure Low" for me. It was the last song written for the record. At that time in particular, I was going to have a baby and I was just kind of losing my mind. [Laughs] It was like an almost schizophrenic period of time for me and that song looking back on that really captured that for me.
Jerry@RRR: Speaking of "High Pressure Low", you recently released a 7" that featured an acoustic version of the song and "Strip Mall Parking Lots." Do you have any plans to release any more singles or is that it?
Tom Gabel: I'm not sure. Not in the immediate future but who knows? There's a bunch of stuff that we've recorded that hasn't been released.
Jerry@RRR: I know you said that writing process has just begun, but what can we expect from future material? How do you plan on building on the progress you made in White Crosses?
Tom Gabel: I don't know. It's hard to say. Right now, I've been kicking around six or seven songs that I've been working on for the past couple of months. I don't feel like I've necessarily found the direction that I want to go in. I'm always trying to write because I think it's a bad idea to fall out the habit of it. It's hard to get back into it if you do. So, I'm just trying to stay focused with that. But right now, I don't feel like I'm necessarily on the path yet.
Jerry@RRR: Do you have any specific inspirations right now, in terms of styles or artists?
Tom Gabel: I've been listening to a lot of '70s powerpop I guess. Right now, that's kind of what I've been listening to.
Jerry@RRR: At this point, is it reasonable to expect new foam the band this year, whether it be an EP or a full-length?
Tom Gabel: Well, at the end of this tour, we're actually recording a couple of songs; the songs I was just talking about. They'll probably be released as an EP or 7" or something before the end of the year.
Jerry@RRR: Ultimately, what do you want people to take away from listening to Against Me!?
Tom Gabel: I guess a sense of connection. That for me was what I've always got out of music and I still get from music to this day. When I was younger, I felt like no one shared the views I had. It was listening to punk bands that helped me realize there are other people out there in the world. I feel like now is a lot more connected of time as far as it's easier to find people with the internet and realize that you're not alone. That's again what I still get from music; the feeling that I'm not alone and that there's people that understand.
Jerry@RRR: That's all the questions I have for you, is there anything else you would like to add?
Tom Gabel: It's been a pleasure talking with you.