”Against Me! Has Changed.”

Friday, 17 September 2010

Someone wise once said that “Change is growth and growth is life” and, as unfashionable as it might be to admit, it's as true for entertainers as it is for everyone else – particularly given that the current pop culture climate has seemed (in some cases) to pare Andy Warhol's fifteen-minute time-frame for fame down to a matter of microseconds. Particularly in the case of pop music now, most bands are left in the uncomfortable position of having to prove themselves with each successive album; it's not so easy to hope that an audience will be willing to watch a band grow, and the possibility of a band simply being able to tread water is even further removed. The music industry has become a cut-throat business but, while some might find that sort of pressure to produce stifling, Gainesville, FLA's punk pride and joy Against Me! finds that kind of pressure very liberating; the pressure has become a sort of push to produce exactly the records they want and, according to bassist Andrew Seward, the band did precisely that again during the recording process that ultimately yielded White Crosses, the band's newest long-player. “For us, [White Crosses] was a completely different kind of record from the record before and, of course, the record before that but that has pretty much always been the way we've run,” explains Seward of the changes that listeners can easily pick out in White Crosses. “For us, it feels completely natural and normal and we don't really think about it because it's just what we do. Every record we've done has been fairly different from the others I think, and we've heard about 'how different this is or that is' from people every time, but it's not exactly a conscious decision that we make to make a lot of changes on each album.

“I think it feels different and you get a different sense of it if you live it,” continues the bassist. “It's absurd sometimes, being in the band, because sometimes you get a different sense of it than other people do. For New Wave, for example, a lot of mainstream magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone liked it and that's great – no one's going to say, 'Oh I don't want you to like my record' – but a lot of people started asking, 'What the fuck is this' when it came out while other people loved it automatically. That's the way it is with any band and any record I think; you're going to have people who like it an people who don't like it. That's their right; people can like or dislike whatever they want, although some people do go a little too far and are a little too adamant about not liking or liking it, but that's free will and their choice. Because it's something we're there with every day though, we don't think about it as much – if that makes any sense. It just kind of happens. I think, well hopefully, we are better at playing our instruments now and better singers than we were when we started and, because we've been together as a band for so long, I hope we got better and tighter [chuckling].”

While the minutiae of the sounds used and the directions taken on the band's newest album could be debated endlessly (and they likely have been), it would be impossible to deny that White Crosses is the tightest, most consistent and concise album that Against Me! has released to date. This time out, producer Butch Vig has reigned in all of the stray sparks of chaos that have always flown from Against Me! songs (while New Wave was more slick and streamlined, the songs on that album had them too), centered and focused the band's energy into a set of ten discreet rockers that chug and charge along as ceaselessly, regularly and undeniably as a freight train engine. There are no moments in this runtime that wll give listeners pause as they listen or make them do a double-take (like the exhausted horns of “Miami” from Searching For A Former Clarity, for example), songs like “I Was A Teenage Anarchist,” “Because Of The Shame,” “Suffocation,” “Rapid Decompression” and the title track all seem to ride on smooth rails powerfully and anthemically and using that undeniable force to drive adrenaline up in listeners and get their pulses racing. Here, singer Tom Gabel shelves his idiosyncrasies and the signature growl that dominated his vocals on all of Against Me!'s albums up to and including Searching For A Former Clarity and still colored New Wave and sings comparatively pretty while Seward and guitarist James Bowman stick close to newly recruited drummer George Rebelo to present a solid and imposing sonic wall that moves along irresistibly. Because of that unified front, it's impossible for listeners to not fall in line behind the band; the delivery is seamless and never stops which will hook listeners along for the whole ride once they're in at first. Because of that (and the fact that it's so well performed) too, it'll actually take a minute for those listening to realize that the band has beefed up its' compositional repertoire – all of which makes for a very different kind of listening experience from an Against Me! album, again. “It's been really cool, but I think a lot of the differences that have happened specifically over the last couple of records have been because of Butch Vig, which is exactly what we wanted,” muses Seward enthusiastically. “One of the reasons we signed with Sire – besides having that element of control to do whatever we want – was to be able to work with Butch Vig; that has definitely been a factor.

“Butch and Tom were always on the same working page so we came out to California with Butch already having heard demos of songs that we'd sent him and then we went out there and basically locked ourselves in a rehearsal space in North Hollywood for a month and played the songs for five or six hours a day with Butch right there the whole time to help us further develop the songs. With him we'd try different things and if it worked, it worked. He is like a fifth member of the band when we're recording because we trust him implicitly and listen to him. If he doesn't think something's working, he'll say so.

“That stuff was already in place and we knew what to expect because we worked with Butch on New Wave but, with White Crosses, there was a fresh energy in a way,” continues the bassist, mulling over the White Crosses sessions. “We had a new member in the band because Warren, our old drummer, left in May 2009 and the first and only person we had talked to was George. George was in Hot Water Music but was also working at a bar at that time; being a gainful resident. He's an amazing drummer and we called so he came to practice and that was it. He brought this fresh energy with him and, while this isn't meant to sound bad or against Warren at all, when you change the dynamic, it gets fresh for everyone and we just had this freshness going in to record the album with Butch in Los Angeles. Everyone just had a blast in the studio; we tried a lot of different things and different equipment, it was like kids in a toy store. There's piano on the record and crazy effects; one song has a Smiths guitar effect on it. We didn't use it, but I even tried using a 12-string bass [chuckling]! We didn't use it, we didn't bust out any King's X stuff or anything, but Billy [Billy Bush – ed] – who engineered the record and is a friend of ours – was telling me that he got this thing off a guy for three hundred bucks off a guy on eBay so we got him to bring it in so we could try it.

“That kind of freedom was really great to have too; but we didn't abuse it or anything like that because we knew anything we put on the record we'd have to at least figure out how to work with, or work around, live [chuckling].”

In that last statement lies the catch for Against Me! the thing that always tempers the band and the way it makes music is its live show – the thing that Seward says everyone in Against Me! loves best. Onstage, Seward implies that the band feels responsible to its' fans and would never make a sound it couldn't reproduce live, because that would seem contrary to the point. “As much fun as we had in the studio and as many different things as we tried, we knew where we'd be after the album came out so we had to make sure that whatever we recorded, we'd be able to play onstage,” says Seward in a suddenly serious and almost solemn tone. “I think we're pretty lucky to tour as much as we do, because it never gets old; it's always the best time. I wouldn't call it rediscovering it every time or anything, I'd just say that nothing beats the feeling of playing a great live show; it's better than sex, it's better than drugs, it's just amazing – the best thing. Everyone should start a band – try to be good – and play good shows. People wouldn't come if they didn't think we were any good on stage, so that's why we do everything the way we do it; we make records with an eye on how the songs will sound live and we shape the records by keeping the shows and how they'll sound first in our minds. We give it all every night and, I think we all feel really upset with ourselves if we don't. I mean, on any given night we have about an hour and a half to bash the psyche of everyone that comes out – so that's what we're going to do, every time.

"Maybe that's why we don't notice as much as other people do when we do something that makes people say we've changed: we never do something we couldn't do every night when we're playing it for people onstage [chuckling]."


Against Me! live in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada .

Listing of Against Me!'s upcoming shows.


White Crosses
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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