For Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel, sometimes you have to get the hell, out just to find your way back in. The past 12 years have seen Gabel rise from acoustic folk-punk gunslinger in the dives of...Expand
For Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel, sometimes you have to get the hell, out just to find your way back in. The past 12 years have seen Gabel rise from acoustic folk-punk gunslinger in the dives of Gainesville, Florida to releasing Against Me!'s four searing, blood-smeared slices of scrappy punk. The last of which, 2007's New Wave, was the major label debut, one that Spin magazine anointed as their Album Of The Year.
And while Gainesville was home, Gabel felt the walls closing in when touring for New Wave came to an end. So he split. With his wife, he left behind the "didja-hear-about-so-and-so" insular Gainesville world for the sleepy beach town of St. Augustine, wandering the streets and driving dusty back roads: searching, pining, hoping for inspiration. He found it in spades. The result is White Crosses, as powerful and as bold a rock record as one can imagine.
The band - Gabel, guitarist James Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and new drummer George Rebelo - roar like fighter jets screaming over a stadium on the anthemic title-track (with its shout along line about smashing the 4,000 crosses on a local church's lawn, ones that signify the number of babies aborted each day in the U.S.). Joining that is the escapist fury of "Spanish Moss," and the short stick of dynamite, "Rapid Decompression." New Wave eschewed some of the roughness of the band's earlier efforts, but White Crosses goes even further in filling out the band's wallop. With its twinkling piano and a glorious whoa-oa chorus, "Because Of The Shame" could be an outtake from Bruce Springsteen's classic Born To Run. "Ache With Me" is a slow-jam that would make Paul Westerberg blush, while "High Pressure Low" is Billy Idol meets fellow Gainesville native Tom Petty. "This is my Florida record," says Gabel. "I spent a lot of time writing this record while driving directionless on forgotten Florida state roads, highly caffeinated, with albums like [Petty's] Full Moon Fever blasting on my stereo." Producer Butch Vig - who also helmed New Wave - pushed the band to make White Crosses more dynamic while retaining the bruising roundhouse rights they've thrown since their 2001 debut Reinventing Axl Rose. "Looking at it now I think [Vig] was a little conservative with New Wave. He didn't want to come in and scare us, says Gabel. "I think it was an unspoken agreement this time around that we were going to push ourselves farther than we ever had before. No direction was off limits. I'm not afraid of melody. I have visions of playing these songs in stadiums, looking out and seeing an ocean of people singing along."
Every band talks about their new record being that giant step forward. It's one of the most hackneyed cliches in rock & roll. And few bands have the chops to back it up, but Gabel can, due to his growing maturity as a songwriter. Many of his previous lyrics were screed n' splatter, so acutely in tune with his own and his band's emotions that they were tough to penetrate. A sign of a great songwriter is one who takes something specific and makes it universal without resorting to tired tricks. On White Crosses, Gabel delivers. "New Wave was very much about my band and the music industry and once I had a little distance from it, I realized that it didn't connect with some people," he says. "With White Crosses, there was a real desire to abandon the storyline. I just wanted to wipe the slate clean and not think about any of that." Gabel's writing prowess is most apparent on White Crosses' centerpiece track, the sparkle-to-a-scream "We're Breaking Up." Ostensibly about the demise of Against Me! but it's couched vaguely enough so that it could be gleaned as a tear-soaked ode to the demise of a romantic relationship. "It's very much about what we were going through as a band over the past year," says Gabel. "I was drawing from those experiences but at the same time I didn't want the song to be relatable to by only us. I wanted to open the sentiment up into something more universal." That passion and verve is something that has never wavered with Against Me!
Fueling that is the notion that Gabel hasn't drawn a line in the sand for just himself, but also for his wife and infant daughter (Seward is also expecting his first child in August). "It gives you a different sense of purpose. It's always going to be important to me to question authority. But I want to do so in a way that is smart and honest to myself." he says. "If we were to come out now with our fifth record, screaming fuck the system! Now we really mean it! I'd feel like I was pandering to a scene I no longer feel a part of. I want to write without limitation. I want to let every thought in my head pour out onto the paper. Take a step back and figure out what I'm trying to say."