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Against Me | As the Eternal Cowboy | interview | Tom Gabel | punk | Lollipop
As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat)
by Evan Solochek
An Interview with vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabel
From the sandy shores of Gainesville, Florida comes one of the most powerful and driven punk bands in a long time. Combining traditional punk sounds with a bluesy-folk edge and leftist politics, Against Me! has made a name for themselves in the scene as the rebirth of "punk" music. It's been six years since Tom Gabel picked up his acoustic guitar and started Against Me!, and while the band surely has undergone some drastic changes since then, their passion and dedication remain steadfast. Against Me! is undoubtedly the future of punk built on the pillars of the past.
Some people were really upset when you signed with Fat Wreck Chords. Can you discuss some of the opposition and your reaction to it?
Yeah, we've obviously noticed it. The majority of people are just shit-talking on the Internet and Pitchfork and won't actually say anything to your face. We played in Long Island a couple of weeks ago, and this fucking kid came to the show and stood in front of me the whole time I was playing and then afterwards, he slashed our tires. It's an interesting thing. A lot of people who complain about Fat I don't think can form a valid argument. On like a political level or a moral level, Fat Wreck Chords is an amazing label and they treat all their employees amazingly well. They do profit-sharing. They treat their bands insanely well, and all their actions really demonstrate to me that they're really not in it for making money. I mean, Fat Mike in particular is probably already pretty independently wealthy, and it's not like Fat Wreck Chords is his main source of income. They have no exclusive distribution deals with anybody either, they're a completely independent label. I feel that most people's problem with them is that they don't like some of the bands that have been on it, or that they're not cool or something. I really could give a shit less if people think we're cool.
So the reach and treatment was your main motivation behind signing with them?
Obviously, when you're in a band, it's a perk that the label putting out your records can get your record into stores. I'm a fan of bands on Fat Wreck Chords and I've been a fan of Fat Wreck Chords for a long time.
What does it mean to be a "punk" band in 2003?
I don't know, it's one of those things... There are a million bands out there right now, and a lot of punk bands are getting very popular and very mainstream. If Good Charlotte says they're punk, whatever. I might disagree with that, but I'm really not interested in fighting for the title of being punk.
The Eternal Cowboy has a lot less political content than the earlier releases.
I don't feel that I left out politics. Maybe I didn't say the word "anarchy" as many times. There are various ways to go about relating your politics to people. You can be really blatant and beat them over the head with it, or you can talk about the way politics work on a personal level. Your daily life can be a very political thing. The way you interact with people, the way you treat people, everything can be political. I find the best way to effect any kind of social change is to concentrate on what's around me. If my interactions with people and the songs I write aren't considered political, whatever.
How has the growth of the band from a solo act to a full ensemble affected the songwriting process?
This new record is definitely the most collaborative. It's really representative of everybody putting in input. Some of the songs were still just by me. I prefer playing in a band. I like interacting with people like that. I like the creative exchange.
You title your records in such a way that it sounds like the band is an actor playing a part: "Against Me Is Reinventing Axl Rose," Against Me as The Eternal Cowboy," "Crime as Forgiven By Against Me." Why do you title the albums this way?
The most recent record, ...Cowboy, is meant in a way to be a concept record. I don't think that if you're in a band and you have a certain political view that you need to fucking say it every single time on every single record with every single song. There's a difference between having a political view and being an artist. Someone who's in a band and a musician wants to try new things and experiment. So yeah, in a way, it's almost meant as playing different roles. This record is meant to be something different than the last record. But that doesn't mean that the political views have changed.
What influences your music, especially non-musical inspirations?
Musical influences are always kind of subconscious and you don't always intend to mix them in. We all have very varied tastes in music. Everything from Willie Nelson to Lick Savvy Sav, Constantines, Crass, and Bruce Springsteen. Apart from music, each song has its own inspiration and comes from a different place, the things that happen in our daily lives. That's one of the things that really makes for the changes in the band and the difference between this record and the last record. We grew as people. I'm not the same person I was three years ago when I wrote the songs for Reinventing Axl Rose.
What do you feel accounts for the explosive rise in popularity that Against Me! has enjoyed?
I wouldn't say that it's necessarily been explosive.... I mean, I've been doing this since 1997, and we spent a very long time being a very unpopular band and we toured constantly. Every tour that we've done has gotten better. We've worked really hard, and each time out, it's gotten a little bit better. We've worked hard and tried to write good songs, but maybe we've met the right people and the right people are putting out our records.
Have you noticed a change in the fan base as you guys have become more and more popular?
Unfortunately, I've been noticing a change in a negative way: People calling us sell-outs. We started out in the whole peace-punk scene where squatter kids and crusty kids were our original fan base. Those are the kids who, the majority of the time, now hate us.
How has that affected the band?
Well, it sucks... I feel it's only because Fat Wreck Chords isn't cool to some people. You start to be like "Hey, I thought we were on the same page on this..." People call you sell-outs, and its like, what the fuck? It's an interesting thing to witness, and unfortunately, the majority of the time, it makes us very defensive. It makes me very hostile.
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