Published Jan 01, 2006On a cell phone outside a laundromat in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida, Tom Gabel is apologetic for sleeping through several earlier calls. Massive jet lag, the result of a recent European tour and video shoot in L.A., has caught up to the Against Me! front-man, and the frenzy of tours and promo isn't about to stop a stadium tour with Green Day is just one of the major items crowding the plate of a band whose punk-as-fuck ethics made them the poster children for the DIY scene only a few years back.
"Your mind just doesn't comprehend it," Gable says. "Anytime that someone is like, How are you handling all this?' or they're giving you criticism for doing something, you're just so completely unfazed for some reason. You're like, Of course this is normal. Of course I'm living in a hotel right now. Of course we're flying to New York tomorrow, and of course we're driving right back a week later. Why wouldn't we?'"
The criticism Gabel refers to hit the band full-force when they made the move to major indie Fat Wreck Chords for their last full-length, 2003's As The Eternal Cowboy. Two more years of non-stop roadwork and anarchist shit-talking have resulted in the highly introspective Searching For A Former Clarity, a record awash in themes of confusion and frustration.
"Gainesville is a really transient town with a high turnover rate of people, so you come back from being on tour, and you're so completely out of the loop with what's going on that you feel like a stranger," Gabel explains. "You don't know where people are hanging out, you don't know what's going on or what shows are coming to town, and it's really disorienting and alienating."
For a band like Against Me!, the feeling of disorientation comes not only from brief visits to a hometown they barely know anymore, but from a far greater feeling of isolation in a scene that seems unsure how to classify them. With roots in the folk-punk scene ruled by Plan-It-X Records but with major labels banging down their door, Gabel and the rest of the band have fought to retain the spirit and values that have always defined their music. Understanding their place in the midst of massive tours and large-scale festivals, however, can be a difficult task.
"There are bands we've toured with a bunch over the years that we consider our friends and our contemporaries, but from an overall perspective, I still feel really alienated from most things going on," says Gabel. "I just don't know where to place us most of the time. I never really feel in sync anywhere. I don't know where I want to be at."
At the same time, Gabel recognises the dangers of romanticising the past. While things may have seemed simpler in the days when the band was just a one-man show, their explosive popularity has provided opportunities they likely never could have imagined. "For us, there are situations we've come across where we would have rather not been involved, but I don't know if things were much easier back then," Gabel says. "Maybe it did make more sense back then, but you can also just make it seem like that in your head."
As the band evolve and fight to maintain their identity, Gabel swallows the idea that the only place to go is up. "We can't go back and put out a record on Plan-It-X anymore. You have to think about what the next step is, and what's best for you and your friends."