Interview with Against Me!: Crosses To Bear

“The ideal environment in listening to this record is getting into your car, going on a road trip, and smoking a joint.”

That’s how Against Me! vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabel describes the band’s soon-to-be-released album, White Crosses. The tranquil, cannabis-filled vibe is a complete 180 degree turn from the atmosphere their music is usually played in—dank dives where sweaty, beer-soaked punks fearlessly jump from balconies, hang from rafters, and do insane stage dive flips that Gabel confesses he would “never in a million years attempt.” But then again, the founding member of one of the most successful punk rock acts in existence today is himself a contradiction, an army brat turned anarchist who expresses his life experiences with raucous, gritty compositions.

“During the first Gulf War, my family was living in Italy, and being that we were overseas at the time, there was a lot more of a security concern,” Gabel recollected during a recent interview with The Aquarian Weekly. “I was eight-years-old and going to elementary school, and there would be bomb searches on the bus before any kid could get on. We also had armed guards on the roof of the elementary school and standing at the gates of the elementary school. As an eight-year-old kid, you’re like, ‘What is going on here? This is crazy.’ But I think it influenced me into the man I am today.”

What began as a one-man show in 1997 (Gable, as a pubescent adolescent, provided vocals and guitar during the beginning stages of the musical project) has flourished into anarchic empire built upon the revolutionary spirit of punk. Countless band members—with the current lineup consisting of Gabel, Andrew Seward (bass/vocals), James Bowman (guitar/vocals), and George Rebelo (drums)—have come and gone, but Against Me! has still managed to release five studio albums, and even signed with major record label Sire in 2007. Not to mention that they were the featured band in the tour documentary We’re Never Going Home, a film that follows the band as they perform throughout the United States.

As Against Me! prepares for the release of White Crosses on June 8, Gabel speaks to AW from the band’s practice space in Florida while he breaks in a new member—a keyboard player who will provide instrumental backup for the group’s European tour.

Do you have any good stories about the band’s studio sessions while creating White Crosses?

We recorded at this studio called Eldorado in Burbank, California. It was a cool studio. It’s really low key. There’s only one band in there at a time, so there’s not a lot of things going on. There’s a basketball court right next door, so whenever we wanted to blow off some steam and get out of the studio for a second, we’d all go over to the basketball court and shoot some hoops. We learned very quickly that we’re all horrible, horrible basketball players.

Why was that? Was it two-on-two play?

Well, I remember one day we were like, ‘We aren’t going in until everyone makes a three-point shot.’ There were six of us taking shots, and we were there for like 45 minutes.

[laughs] Okay. So why is the album named White Crosses?

I was living in St. Augustine, Florida, when I wrote most of the record. St. Augustine is a small coastal city on the Atlantic side of Florida, and it’s also the oldest city in the United States. But right across the street from my house, there was a church. On the church lawn, there were 4,000 white crosses. The crosses were about a foot high off the ground, and behind the crosses there was a big billboard and a bunch of different children’s faces on it. It was called ‘The Cemetery Of The Innocent.’ It was a monument erected to represent every abortion that happens in America. I thought it was such a fuckin’ eyesore to have to see, and daily I had to restrain myself from going across the street and just fuckin’ stomping every one of those crosses into the ground. Well, I didn’t do that. I wrote a song. That’s the story behind the song, and it’s kind of how the album got its title.

It’s said that your move from Gainesville to St. Augustine affected your songwriting process for this album. How so?

I think St. Augustine is just kind of a great place to escape to kind of forget about the rest of the world. It’s such a laid back, low key beach community, not the cultural center of the universe or anything like that. That’s what was helpful in the sense for writing, to feel more relaxed and at ease. To feel totally unpressured is really conducive to being creative, at least in my opinion.

So what is the story behind the track ‘Because Of The Shame?’

A really good friend of mine was murdered about a year-and-a-half ago. I wanted to write a song that paid tribute to her and her memory.

Do you think it does successfully both lyrically and instrumentally?

I hope so. Lyrically, it’s not shrouded in metaphor or anything like that. The lyrics are pretty straight forward. Musically, my friend, who the song is about, we used to work at the same bar together, and after we’d get out of work, we’d go back to my place and hang out and have some drinks or whatever. One of her favorite acts was Bruce Springsteen. So I really wanted to write a song that captured that memory, of sitting around and hanging out with her and listening to Springsteen records.

Wow, my condolences. What was it like working with the new drummer, George Rebelo, on this album?

It was great. To be honest, it was surprising how super smooth it all went. George was with us maybe a month-and-a-half before we headed to L.A. to start preproduction on the record, and he couldn’t have been more adaptable and more eager to just be on this album. I mean, we have known George for years before, so it wasn’t like some stranger was coming in. Anyone who’s a fan of any of the bands he’s played with over the years, like Hot Water Music, knows he’s a formidable drummer. So having someone you know already and you’re friends with and is an amazing musician makes it a lot easier to have a transition like that.

Against Me! fans have been back and forth with the band, from loving you guys to calling you sellouts. Being that the album leaked a few months before the release date and you’ve already played the songs during shows, what has been the reaction towards the album with fans so far?

Well, I guess that’s one of the really positive things with the record. You usually go out on tour and you play the new songs, and no one’s heard the new songs, so they’re kind of blankly staring at you. You know, like, ‘I wonder what this song is about.’ But now since people have heard it, they already know the words and they’re singing along. It just makes for a better show, I think.

It’s been said that one of the band’s influences is Bob Dylan. Let’s just imagine that he listened to the album. What track do you think he’d pick as his favorite and why?

I don’t know. I mean, I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan. I love Dylan, but I don’t think he’d like our record.

Not even the one named after him (‘Bob Dylan Dream’)?

I have a feeling he doesn’t like many contemporary bands. So I’m guessing he’d probably think our record is shit. [Laughs]

[Laughs] What do you want people to come away with from this album?

A feeling of connection. A feeling like they can relate even to just one song. For me, I guess, I feel like the great thing about music is it makes you feel like you’re not alone, whether it’s playing music or listening to music. I know when a song strikes me and makes a connection, it makes me feel like I’m not alone, and that someone is out there in the world who understands. I can only hope our music does the same for people.

Catch Against Me! at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ, on June 24 and at the Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn on June 25.