Thursday, November 06, 2003
Music: Anarchy in the USA
Against Me! on record deals, demolition and Dubya
By Newt Briggs
Tom Gabel was born at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. From there, he moved to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Italy and Germany, following his father's military assignments. Eventually his parents divorced and Gabel landed in Florida, where he smoked a bunch of cigarettes, dropped out of high school and started a one-man, anarchist rock band called Against Me! Over time, he recruited three like-minded hellions to join his outfit, and the rabble-rousing foursome set out to change the world in a Ford Econoline van affectionately dubbed "Armageddon."
Mercury: Now that you guys have signed on with a semi-major indie label, do you still fancy yourselves anarchists? I mean, haven't you sort of allied yourself with the enemy?
Gabel: First of all, I would disagree with the term "semi-major indie label." In my opinion, Fat Wreck Chords is probably the most successful DIY record label out there. They don't have any exclusive distribution deals with anyone, and on an ethical level--in terms of speaking politically and all that--they are the most morally sound record label around. Or at least one of them.
M: It sounds like you've given it a lot of thought.
G: We've actually gotten questioned on this a bunch. People are calling us sellouts. We got our tires slashed the other night in Long Island.
M: No kidding.
G: Yeah, these two kids came to the show and stood in front of me the whole time I was playing. At certain points, they were yelling my song lyrics back at me and putting their hands on my guitar to try and stop me. And then afterwards, they proceeded to go out and slash our tires.
M: The kids can be passionate about their music.
G: I guess.
M: So when was the last time you did something really anti-establishment?
G: [Laughing] What do you mean by that?
M: Have you ever blown up a mailbox?
G: In fact, a guy who goes on tour with us was charged not too long ago with I-don't-know-how-many felony counts for going around and blowing up mailboxes.
M: Isn't that something. Why'd you name your new album As the Eternal Cowboy? Aren't cowboys--at least the John Wayne type--symbolic of the traditional power structure?
G: Yes. Yes. I know this is going to sound a little hokey, but it's meant to be concept record that explores love and war. Granted, that's kind of played out, but what I was going for was to make the album cohesive enough that you could follow the lyrics from beginning to end and they would tell a story in themselves. Thinking along those lines, the eternal cowboy can be symbolic of the power structure and can relate to the album's more political songs. But in a more personal sense, in terms of what I was going through in my life at the time, the cowboy represents someone forever wandering, lost and alone and all that.
M: Do you think that political speech has become less prevalent in modern music?
G: There are definitely a lot of bands that still wear their politics on their sleeves. Unfortunately, for the time that we're living in right now, I would say that there aren't nearly enough bands that are doing it. To me, the best band to ever blend music and politics was Crass. There have been other bands that have had success with it, but at this point I find that the majority of bands who are out there spouting clichéd politics are full of shit.
M: Who bothers you more, George W. Bush or Fred Durst?
G: I'm gonna have to go with Bush. Durst is from Florida.
M: I can't imagine home-state pride extends that far.
G: Actually, my current wife--although I'm getting a divorce--has a tattoo on the bottom of her foot that Fred Durst gave her. He tattooed her in his trailer when she was like 16 years old.
M: That's an outrage. Is Against Me! playing the soundtrack to the revolution?
G: I don't want to saddle myself with that kind of burden.
M: What about the soundtrack to The Matrix: Revolutions?
G: Is that the second or the third one?
M: It's the new one coming out--the third.
G: To be honest, I haven't even seen the second one. The other night, we were staying in a hotel, and we decided to watch a movie. My vote was to watch the new Matrix movie, but everyone else was against me and we ended up watching Bruce Almighty, which really kind of sucked.