By the time Tom Gabel created the band Against Me! at 17, the singer had already been arrested twice and inked more than once. He started the band alone with an acoustic guitar, playing on the streets of Naples, FL, before grouping with bassist Andrew Seward, guitarist James Bowman, and drummer Warren Oakes. By 2002, their debut album, Reinventing Axl Rose, with its mix of street folk and Clash-style punk, had made them a hit in the underground scene. But it was their breakthrough indie hit album, Searching For a Former Clarity, that got everyone else listening to the band’s impassioned sound and Gabel’s raw vocals. The follow-up, the Butch Vig–produced New Wave, marked their first major-label release. The album spawned plenty of hits and an awful lot of hate mail from fans who accused the band of selling out. Not that Gabel cares. He recently released a collection of acoustic solo material titled Heart Burns EP, and the seemingly anxious frontman has bigger things to worry about—like moving to Los Angeles and what to write about on the band’s next album, now that he can no longer rail against George W. Bush.
INKED: What were you able to accomplish with this solo record that you aren’t able to with the band?
TOM GABEL: I wanted to do something that was the complete opposite of the last record in the sense of approach. I didn’t want to really think about it. I didn’t want to obsess about anything. I just wanted to go in and play songs. I wanted to record because it’ll be fun, and that’s what this is supposed to be about. The next Against Me! record will be a long, arduous recording and mixing process, and there will be a lot of thought that goes into it. That’s not a bad thing because I love that too, but if every single record I made was like that I would go nuts. [Laughs.]
You brought Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba in to record backing vocals. Did you two pound a few in the studio?
Butch brought down some bottles of Duckhorn and fed everybody a little bit of wine to get them loosened up for their vocal take. [Laughs.]
Is drinking usually a no-no when you’re recording?
Days in the studio are usually pretty long. If you start to drink wine and you have a couple more hours left, even if you don’t get hammered, you start to get tired and it wears you out a little quicker. I tend to go the caffeinated route.
You recorded both New Wave and your solo record in Los Angeles. You used to hate the city, but we heard you’re now considering moving there.
I’ve always gotten a certain amount of anxiety in big cities. When you go to Los Angeles or New York or Chicago on tour you think, Oh god, this is going to be hell. You have to worry the whole time whether your shit is going to get stolen. But when we were recording New Wave, I had a totally positive experience. We stayed in Burbank and recorded in Hollywood and had our daily routine. I saw the same people every day getting coffee in the morning. It was nice.
Will you work with Butch Vig again on the next record?
Oh yeah. We will definitely be working with Butch again. He’s great to be around, and he relaxes me in a weird way from overthinking. He’s also the greatest trump card you can ever have. When we went in to record New Wave, there was a definite fear of recording in L.A., because that is where Warner’s offices are. The idea of them trying to push their agenda was a real fear. But any time our A&R people would stop by—and I’m not trying to talk shit—but every once in a while, they’d offer subtle suggestions like, "Why don’t you try bringing up the bass here, or try something different on the guitar there?" When that happened, I would be panicked and filled with anxiety of oh my god what are we going to do? Butch would be like, "Yeah, okay, okay sure." Then, the second they’re gone, he’d be like, "Whatever! Moving right along!" And they can’t say anything. He’s Butch!