Against Me! - Love to hate them, hate to love them

Rock n roll is dead. According to some at least. At a time when gentrified rock music is being taken to by younger, larger, more affluent audiences, many are questioning who will save rock music. For better or worse, punk quartet Against Me! seem to have been charged with this task.


What makes things worse is their music falls comfortably under the punk umbrella. An insular and defensive scene where activist fans jeer at the slightest hint one of their underground heroes may obtain some form of mainstream recognition. For Against Me!, a band who's star is undeniably on the rise, this has meant all manner of insults and barbs levelled in their direction. The band's drummer, Warren Oakes, explained what it's like to be constantly instructed by armchair quarterbacks the world over.


"There is rampant speculation as to whether our intentions are pure or corrupted. We have been praised and cursed equally. With each little decision we are met with cheers and boos alike. It feels like our band has become a damn spectator sport sometimes," he said


Against Me! seeped from the bowels of the Florida underground sometime in the 1990s. When, is slightly ambiguous. Against Me! slowly evolved from a solo project of lead singer and guitarist Tom Gabel. Succinctly, somewhere along the way they recruited drummer Oakes, bassist Andrew Seward and guitarist Tom Bowman. They released a string of EPs and an LP, inflamed the passions of a scene and got signed to punk rock uber label Fat Wreckchords. Now with two long players under their belt on the Fat imprint, we find Against Me! on the cusp of bigger and better things.


The band scratched out a following by playing dank basements, squats and laundromats, celebrated for their do-it-yourself bravado. But with the recent release of Searching For A Former Clarity, Against Me! have been garnering acclaim by the barrelful. They now find themselves with a video for the single Don't Lose Touch, gracing the covers of alternative music magazines and opening stadium shows for Green Day and Jimmy Eat World. One would presume it all seems a tad surreal.


"I am so grateful that by following our instincts, just ‘trusting our guts' we have been able to experience such a broad range of different people, places, worlds almost. This band has provided us with a passport to drink deeply of the spice of life. Surreal indeed," Oakes said.


Oakes explained how the band was even courted by, and ultimately declined the services of several major labels.


"We certainly considered it. We heard them out and evaluated our options and made the correct decision for our band and ourselves," he said.


Their first LP ‘Reinventing Axl Rose' contained the song Baby, I'm An Anarchist, a charming tune that told the story of two star-crossed lovers, one an anarchist the other a left of centre liberal, divided by their political ideals. Many interpreted this as a declaration of ideology. Against Me! were embraced as poster boys by state-smashers across the globe. Yet this tag was never explicitly adopted by the band themselves.


"I identify myself as an anarchist. So does Tom. We don't have a ‘platform' as a band and we aren't pushing our agenda but we all have our own crackpot theories and harebrained schemes to put under our pillows when we go to sleep at night," he said.


On Searching For A Former Clarity, Against Me! turned to eminent post punk figure J Robbins to produce. Robbins netted a name for himself as a musician in pioneering post punk outfits Government Issue and Jawbox, and for twisting nobs and fiddling dials for bands like Jets To Brazil, The Promise Ring and The Dismemberment Plan.


"I celebrate the man's entire catalogue, as a musician and recordist. He's an amazing dude. We sought him out because I thought he was the right person and he was. His opinions, perspective and tambourine skills were all totally essential. We had the pleasure of breaking in his brand new studio in Baltimore, the Magpie Cage. Good times all around," Oakes said.


And Robbins' input is perceptible. The emphasis for the band seemingly shifted from the energized two minute punk rock anthems of their previous records, Searching For A Clarity carries a threatening, foreboding tone.


"We stretched out a little on these songs. As a body, I feel that we really created an atmosphere that is nearly tangibly heavy, almost weighing on you as you listen with little buoys of resolution peppered within the conflict," Warren said.


Finally, but most importantly of all, what about the chances of an imminent Australian tour? Oakes seems keen.


"Hell yeah! Hopefully February. We can't wait to come back, we had such a great time the first time over," he said.

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