Punk band adjusts to the success of major label debut
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The story sounds familiar: An uncompromising punk band with a strong grassroots fan base produces its first major label album and plays arenas. Angst ensues.
But reached at home in Gainesville, Fla., Against Me! bassist Andrew Seward is quick to end comparisons between his band and a certain trio of Seattle superstars.
Despite the Nirvana overtones, including a tour supporting Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters and working with Nevermind producer Butch Vig, Seward hasn’t heard any words of wisdom from the former grunge legends.
“Not yet … they are both great guys,” he said. “It’s a different (situation). Nirvana really blew up — they put Smells Like Teen Spirit out and it was huge. I don’t think that we’re that popular at all. We’re just happy that people come out to see us play.”
That said, there’s no question the groups share some similarities, at least in terms of their shift to the majors. New Wave (SPIN Magazine’s 2007 Album of the Year), moves further from the rawness of early albums toward a more melodic sound. Like Nirvana, the band softened its music, but refused to jettison more difficult lyrics, with singer-songwriter Tom Gabel maintaining his politically charged stance. The question remains whether the band, which also includes James Bowman on guitar and Warren Oakeson drums, can preserve that compromise.
Seward thinks so. Even as a teenager, compromise was part of his life. A self-described punk kid, he listened to Minor Threat and Operation Ivy in his bedroom, but on road trips with his parents, switched to classics like Neil Young, Tom Petty and Tom Waits.
“I had the typical punk role models, but needed to make an agreement on what I was listening to with my parents in the car,” he said. “It was a different style — Credence Clearwater Revival, that kind of stuff, but it was great music as well.”
Joining Against Me! just before the group shifted from its folk-hardcore roots, Seward said their transition has been a natural progression. Even when the band sounded rougher around the edges, an underlying melody anchored their songs. The group might have pushed melodies further up front, but not for lack of energy.
“I don’t like the word restraint … It’s more about playing with dynamics,” he said. “(Tom’s) learned how to control his voice … In every song, even when he’s screaming, there’s always a melody under it. His voice sounds real rough, but it’s almost like a soul singer’s — (it’s) so powerful.”