There appears to be a significant gap between Folk and Punk. Folk believes not all is right with the world but there is a basic belief in human goodness to rectify the situation. The governing premise is people will do the right thing for the greater good.
Punk knows the world is messed up and that people are vile. The trick is to keep the whole mess at bay for as long as possible. So it is surprising that Tom Gabel, a one-time Gainesville, FL, stool straddling Folk singer should front the Punk band Against Me!. Perhaps the divide is not as great as it initially appears. Though Punk is far rowdier than Folk, both are a form of protest.
Back in '01, Gabel was joined by guitarist James Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and drummer Warren Oakes. As time passed, and demos rolled out, the group got considerably louder. Always a good sign.
Against Me!'s chaotic Punk sound was unleashed the following year on the brilliantly titled "Reinventing Axl Rose." After that, the group moved from No Idea to another, but more prominent indie label, Fat Wreck Chords, releasing "As The Eternal Cowboy." "Searching For A Former Clarity" hit in '05 and led to a nationwide (all 50 states) trek. The relentless touring continued into '06 as Against Me! opened for the Alkaline Trio. Then Against Me! cashed in their experience for the Fat Wreck release "Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live In London!!!" The title says it all.
It's happened many times before. A long time indie band signs with a major label. They have an audience that numbers in the thousands, but not the hundreds of thousands. Maybe it's time to reconsider a major label's overtures or perhaps it's the first time they've asked. Either way, the group leaves the indie, in this case Fat Wreck Chords, for Sire.
With a major label there are some automatics.
1) More marketing/promotional dollars - check.
2) Big name producer assigned - Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, AFI and, of course Garbage - the entire list is much, much longer) - check.
3) Cloying pop ballad hit for mainstream acceptance. Whoops, that was absent.
In fact, '07 release, "New Wave" amped up the group's sound - and for the better.
During a stint opening for the Foo Fighters on their North American tour, Against Me! played smaller shows in support of the Harvest of Hope Foundation. Also in '08, Rolling Stone magazine named Against Me! "Best Punk Band." But that wasn't enough to keep Oakes from leaving to run his Mexican restaurant. George Rebelo was tapped as his replacement.
Previously unreleased demos recorded in '03 (prior to the "As The Eternal Cowboy" sessions), "The Original Cowboy" landed in '09. Just weeks later, the band entered the studio, again with Vig, to work on "White Crosses." The '10 release featured "I Was a Teenage Anarchist." "I want to maintain that feeling of being young and feeling like you can change the world," said Gabel. "That is a very pure and honest feeling."
Speaking of an "honest feeling," Gabel, in a May, '12 Rolling Stone article, came out as a transgender with plans to physically become a woman. The 31-year revealed that she has suffered from gender dysphoria, a recognized medical condition involving a person's self-perception of their gender.
Everybody chimed in with their own version of the story - though nearly all drew from the Rolling Stone report. Gabel became known as Laura Grace.
There were more changes. First, drummer Jay Weinberg left the group in late '12. Then, just months later, Seward announced his departure. While, Weinberg had only been with Against Me! for a couple years since replacing Rebelo, Seward was wrapping up a decade long run.
"No drama here. I reached a point where I need to focus on other things," said Seward. "The last 10 years ruled."
"It's heartbreaking to know that Andrew won't be standing next to me out on stage the next time I stand upon one," added Grace. "I realize that at this point there's a possibility that it may look pretty ridiculous to carry on playing under the name Against Me!"
Adam Willard enlisted as a tour drummer which later turned into a full-time slot. Inge Johansson took over on bass.
Gender dysphoria was the theme of the band's sixth studio album, the first since Gabel had become Grace. For "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," a '14 concept album about a transgender prostitute, issued on the group's own label, Grace served as both the engineer and producer.
"23 Live Sex Acts" was recorded during the tour in support of "Transgender Dysphoria Blues." The '15 release was the group's first live album in nine years.
Of course, the politics of transgender came to the forefront. Grace spoke out when the Trump administration sent a letter to public schools in '17 asking them to annul special protections for transgender students. "This is an administration that doesn't f*cking care about transgender people," said Grace.
2002 Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose
2003 Against Me! As The Eternal Cowboy
2005 Searching For A Former Clarity
2006 Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live In London!!!
2007 New Wave
2010 White Crosses
2014 Transgender Dysphoria Blues
2015 23 Live Sex Acts (Live)
Ever since the post-Grunge '90s anytime someone mentions a new group with Punk leanings they are compelled to add "power-pop," as in "power-pop Punk." The connotation implies the group has a tough edge but tempers it with pop sensibilities. Well, Against Me! is one of the few bands that don't need (or want) the "power-pop" affectation. They are simply Punk. Loud and chaotic, the lyrics are shouted and songs attacked. Just the way Punk should be.
The general consensus (among record promo people and critic types) is that "Searching For A Former Clarity" is more accessible than the earlier "As The Eternal Cowboy." That may be, but "Eternal Cowboy" is far superior. It opens with the high octane "T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)" and rolls into the hard hitting "Cliche Guevara."
Any real Punk band is going to amp it up live. That's what makes "Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live In London!!!" a great set. Before an enthusiastic crowd Against Me! roar through their repertoire, including "Reinventing Axl Rose."
Fears that Against Me! Would be compromised under Sire's watch prove unwarranted on "New Wave." The indie band turned major label "cog" appeared no worse for signing.
For all the obvious reasons, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" got a lot of attention. It is not a happy place, but then what Against Me! album is?