Against Me! are known for their beliefs as much as their music. Anarcho punks from the get-go, they play songs that burn fierce with statements about the Bush administration, alcoholism, family, life and love.
Who knew they'd feel as strongly about pants as they do politics?
During an interview with the Indy, drummer Warren Oakes is doing laundry in the band's hometown of Gainesville, Fla. He isn't aware that the Against Me! press materials say one of their keys to success is to "never wear shorts onstage," but nonetheless, he has an opinion: Shorts are too casual.
"I understand that part of punk is that there's nothing special about people in bands -- they're just like anybody, making it more egalitarian," he says. "But ... it stripped a lot of the flair out of it, and made people feel like they couldn't be performers."
How to perform is something the band has learned along the way. Started in 1997 by then-17-year-old singer/guitarist Tom Gabel, Against Me! now includes Oakes, James Bowman on guitar and Andrew Seward on bass.
After several successful underground releases, their latest album, Searching for a Former Clarity, captures the band at their strongest. Fans of Reinventing Axl Rose will find none of the familiar homey harmonies or tongue-in-cheek ballads here.
Clarity (produced by J. Robbins, previously of Government Issue and Jawbox fame) comes fast and hard, reminiscent at times of The Clash, Gang of Four and Fugazi.
According to Oakes, the difference comes from their new accommodations. Against Me! recently signed to the seminal punk label Fat Wreck Chords, and now enjoy taking their sweet time recording. Still, Against Me! are not above biting the hand that feeds them. Several songs on Clarity rip the record industry.
"It's a dream as a band to be able to play music in a sustainable way," Oakes says. "But along with that comes a lot of baggage and a lot of bullshit. This is our job now, and with that, there's lot of people asking you to make compromises."
Surely the punk labels somehow are more redeemable and trustworthy, or at least cooler, than their major-label brothers, right? Not really, says Oakes.
"Quite a few major labels were trying to woo us with booze and money to the dark side," he says, "but even the independent scene, it's pretty much an identical business model to what the big guys are doing."
Punks and fans should be supportive, then, of Against Me!'s success. Unfortunately, in a scene that often plays on the tired "selling out" theme, the band members find themselves at odds with what's expected of them. When Against Me! recently were offered an opening slot in two shows with Green Day and Jimmy Eat World, they accepted. And, what's more, they enjoyed it.
"It was nothing anyone forced us into. And I identify myself as an anarchist even after those two shows; amazingly, my convictions are still intact," Oakes says, laughing.
"Fifty thousand people gathering under any common cause or banner is amazing. I don't think Green Day are the most radical band in the world, but it was a cool, unifying show," he says.
"It was also my first time being on a Jumbotron. I was huge and tiny at the same time -- actual us on the stage like Smurfs, and then Jumbotron us, larger than life, next to it. It's kind of fitting, for the experience."
-- Kara Luger
Against Me! with The Epoxies, Smoke or Fire and The Soviettes
Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood
Sunday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12, all ages; visit ticketweb.com.