It’s been a hectic couple of months for Florida’s Against Me! - they found themselves drummerless and label-less after being dropped by Warners in a short period of time. But frontman Tom Gabel isn’t remotely worried.
I'll roughly summarise the career ofAgainst Me!: they've been through a lot of shit, a lot of good times and written some staggering music along the way. Over the last couple of months a lot seems to have come to a head for them - drummer George Rebelo left to rejoin Hot Water Music and they found themselves dropped by Warners, the major label they'd made their home for the last two albums - but the mantra seems to be onwards, soldiers.
Frontman Tom Gabel has always been a good person to interview - he doesn't give too much away and makes you work for an answer, but get him talking and he's engaging, funny and honest. In this extensive interview we talked everything from what's on his mind today to how he feels revisiting his past.
Let’s talk about the label issue. Run me through where you are with it.
“It’s a complicated situation. Our deal had run out - Warner had another option but they declined to take the option. I know there’s differences with Warner UK and Warner US so I’m not specifically talking about Warner UK but Warner US is kinda going under going a massive restructuring. They’re just making massive cuts and a lot of the people who are unfortunately losing their jobs are kind of our team at the record label who we’ve worked with on the past couple of records. Kinda like the classic story of you’re signed to a massive label and then your A+R bloke gets fired and you get forgotten about, you know? It’s sad to see the relationship come to an end for sure, but at the same time I feel glad because I don’t think we would have faired very well in that environment.”
When did the rot start setting in from you point of view? Do you think that ‘White Crosses’ was handled as well as it could have been?
“I think that they made some serious mistakes. It’s one of those things where you cant really point fingers, you know? And again, just to clarify, I’m not talking about Warner UK, I’m talking about Warner US. For instance there was a version of the first single ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ that was not a finished version; it had some slightly different lyrics, some of the backing vocals weren’t added in and that we had just sent it in as like, ‘Hey listen to this’ and then once the album came out they started pushing the singles, one of them made the mistake of sending the unfinished version of every radio station in Canada. So every radio station in Canada played the unfinished version of ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ because someone fucked up. And it’s just like, are you sure you’re paying attention to what you’re doing?”
What was the deal with the line-up change - how come George is no longer playing with you guys?
“We’re not ruling out that we wont play with George again, in the future. At the moment he’s in Australia with Hot Water Music, so he had some touring to do with them and I think they’re gonna be working on a record so it is what it is. He’s the drummer of Hot Water Music you know, so it’s not like us firing out our drummer or anything like that. In the past couple of years I’ve learned I don’t really want anyone to feel like they’re forced to do anything. Like, it shouldn’t be an unnatural relationship or anything like that. I want it to be what’s right and organic in that sense. So if George has to go and do stuff with Hot Water Music that’s great.”
How long ago did you find out that he’d be leaving?
”About a month ago or something like that. He said he had to go and do the dates.”
How did you guys take it as a band?
“Finding someone else is always a worry and you know, especially for some reason, drummers. I think anyone starting a band will tell you there’s more than enough guitar players out there. But finding a drummer is always hard! (Laughs) There’s always that worry where you’re like, ‘Ah shit, is this gonna work out? Are we gonna find someone that’ll fit, that we can click with?’ But you know, we got lucky and Jay’s been awesome to play with, you know, we’ve been friends with him for a while so, it just kinda worked out.”
Had you guys been doing any writing with George?
“No. It’s not like we write like a four-piece you know, it’s not like we did that with George and it’s not like we did that with Warren. The approach has always been I write the songs and I bring them into the band and then we kinda work them out and work out what everyone’s gunna play. So it doesn’t really affect that dynamic.”
So you say you’ve known Jay for a while…
“Yeah, he’s been coming out to shows for a couple of years now and he’d jump up onto the drum kit for the end of the set whenever we played the song ‘We Laugh At Danger (And Break All The Rules)’ and he’d finish up the set. And we’ve been practicing probably about a week. We’ve just been hitting it really hard and it’s funny because I was kinda stressing we weren’t really ganna have enough time to get things in order for the couple of shows that we’re playing this December. And Jay showed up - I gave him a list of 20 songs to learn and he showed up and knew about 50, so total achiever!”
How far ahead are you now looking with him? Is he contracted into the band for a certain period of time?
“We’re doing a, run of the US starting in early January and then going out with the Dropkick Murphys; and then after that we’re hoping to make up for some of the dates we had to cancel. I mean, right now we’re planning on him doing the January stuff and the Dropkick Murphys stuff so, hopefully it’ll continue beyond that as well.”
Those cancelled UK shows, was that because of the George situation?
“No it wasn’t. There were a couple of things going on in people’s personal lives that needed to be dealt with and we were also going through some stuff with our label. And it was at a point where if the shows had been in the States or hadn’t been shows that required a little more of a financial commitment I don’t think we would have had to cancel them. But unfortunately it just worked out the way it did and we had to kinda pull apart for a second and then re-group.”
It feels like 2010 was a year of real highs and lows for the band – has it felt like that for you or have you just ploughed through and only looked back retrospectively?
“I’ve kinda been aware of it the whole time. Although every time things look like they’re going great you’re just holding your breath waiting for them to start going badly. But it has been just one of those years where there has been some amazing things that have happened, and there’s some sad patches but what can you do - you just gotta kinda roll with the punches and keep going on.”
What parts of the year stand out for you most as positives and negatives?
“I think overwhelming positives are definitely in our personal lives. Both myself and Andrew are new fathers and there’s been many things that go along with that that have been really rewarding. At the time when Andrew’s wife had their baby it was a really complicated birth and the baby was two months premature, so that was a little bit of a scary moment. We were on tour right then and we were playing in Boston and he got the call, like, minutes before we were going on stage that she was gonna have an emergency labour. So we finished the show and then he flew off and that’s one of those moments where no one knows what’s gonna happen; and it kinda puts things into perspective.”
With everything that’s happened this year how do you take perspective on it? Do you ever kick back and listen to the old albums?
“Yeah, not often though. Every once and a while if there’s a song that we haven’t played in a while and we’re like, ‘Hey, we should bust it out’ sometimes I’ll go back but nothing really other than that.”
I listen to ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’ and it reminds me of a really specific time in my life – is it the same for you? Or do you only notice how much everything’s changed?
“I think the good thing is that the songs have evolved and in a lot of ways. Take for example a song like ‘Walking Is Still Honest’, that song was actually released before that album - I’ve been playing that song since I was 18 years old, you know? But if you look at the way that song was played back than to the way it’s played now, it’s changed and it’s grown. I mean, the words are still the same, the chord structures are still the same, but stylistically the approach to it has evolved over the years. And if I do hear an older recording, like if someone puts it on or something, it does take me back to that time and place and I’m always amazed at certain things. Like, ‘Oh my god, my voice sounded like that?’ or, ‘What were we thinking with that snare tone?’”
Do you feel like you’re able to close the door on the past? There will always be someone like me asking about what you did when you were 18…
“Well yeah, but at the same time we’re building on that past and I don’t think that if had that as a foundation then we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. When it comes to playing older songs it makes me happy that there’s people out there who want to hear all the songs. Or there’s people that are like ‘Ah you know, I’m already a fan of that record, not really a fan of that record’ type of thing. I totally respect that, it’s just that I hope people respect the fact that I can leave them in the past, that I have to continue doing what I feel is valid as an artist. But it becomes an issue of being honest with your audience. I mean, there’s some songs that we have played throughout the years that are always on the setlists. It’s not because we feel they’re songs that we have to play them because people wanna hear it, it’s because they’re songs we get excited about playing and have fun playing. And the songs that we stopped playing are the songs that aren’t fun to play for us.”