Against Me! promotes new album in Gainesville
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
When Tom Gabel first entered Gainesville's music scene in the late '90s, he was living under a friend's staircase for $100 a month. He was selling plasma for money. He would occasionally dumpster dive.
What: Gainesville-based band opens national tour with at-home performance
When: Saturday, doors open at 8 p.m.
Where: Common Grounds, 210 SW Second Ave.
Tickets: $12, call for availability.
Info: 372-7320 or www.commongroundslive.com
The best part about those days was the downtime, he says. He had time to get things done, musically that is. And after five studio albums with his band Against Me! Gabel is still trying to find ways to use his downtime.
The current downtime ends Saturday — when Against Me! begins a new month-long tour with a performance at Common Grounds.
Nonetheless, Gabel is writing songs for another album, even though the band's most recent release, “White Crosses,” came out in June. He's also looking for a new label to put out that record because Against Me! finished its contract with Sire Records and is looking for another home base. And he's looking for drummers as Jay Weinberg, son of Max Weinberg of the E Street Band, fills in the next tour. Gabel hopes it's permanent.
Workaholics don't waste time, and Gabel is a workaholic. Even when on a break from touring he's always thinking of ways to push Against Me! to some place it's never been before. Perhaps it's what has kept the band so successful in a decade that hasn't exactly been kind to punk rock.
“When you're first starting out it's like, ‘Let's play a show,'” Gabel says. “Then it's like, ‘Let's record and put out stuff.' You set a goal and then you do it, but you always find yourself back at square one in a way. You finish a tour and it's like, what happens next?”
Against Me!, which also includes guitarist James Bowman and bassist Andrew Seward, is about to start a four-week-long tour (with the band Fences), fittingly in Gainesville, the band's home turf, where Against Me! always draws huge crowds filled with friends and acquaintances.
Even though Against Me! moved on to a major label and became a nationally touring act, Gabel still feels part of what's happening in Gainesville's music scene. He travels in from his home in St. Augustine for practice or to hang out with friends like Rob McGregor, a Gainesville musician and record producer, or Warren Oakes, Against Me!'s former drummer who now owns Boca Fiesta.
Gainesville was an inspiration to his earlier music because of the activism and intensity of the musicians here in the late '90s.
“It was a special time to live there. For sure, the community in a way was my reason for moving to Gainesville,” Gabel says. “I was living in Naples and a lot of us at the time were interested in the same kind of music and the same kind of activism. A lot of people were kind of going there at the time. I wanted to be a part of that scene.”
Whether it was the testy political climate of the Bush administration or just a sheer need to say something, Gabel and Against Me! capitalized on those sentiments to create a brand of punk rock that changed the game. It was fast and loose, loud and obnoxious, clever and witty, and undeniably sincere. Against Me! instantly became one of the leaders in political punk with songs like “Baby, I'm An Anarchist” (2003) and “The Politics of Starving” (2002).
But there was always something under the surface with Against Me! There was always a bigger band waiting to shed its skin, and because of Gabel's work ethic, that bigger band has arisen.
“You're only as good as the last song you've written,” Gabel says. “I'm a writer, I play in a band, I don't have an excuse to sleep in until 2 p.m. today.”
The music that followed the 2002 album “Reinventing Axl Rose” touched on different topics like love and friendship, but still incorporated the similar themes that endeared fans to Against Me! Things moved fast for the band, eventually landing them with Fat Wreck Chords and then Sire Records. Against Me! developed a big, blue-collar sound that all but combined the sharp tongue of Billy Bragg and the exuberance of Bruce Springsteen together in one band.
But bands grow up, and “White Crosses” is far more reflective than any other album Against Me! has made. It looks into Gabel's past and touches on themes of disillusion and defeat.
“With trying to grow as a songwriter, there was a time with writing a record I would want to approach it and make no revisions, and just capture the moment, Gabel says. “Other times I'd say, ‘Let's be really obsessive compulsive about this, let's rewrite and do a million revisions.' There are the different parameters as far as subjects. Let's make a record that feels detached. Other times it just flows from your mind. In that way things have never changed.”